My Top 20 Audiobooks of 2013

23 01 2014

2013 was an up and down year for me. While I achieved some wonderful personal goals, I have also experienced some of the toughest trials and tribulations of my life. Some of that has been reflected on this blog and social media, where my presence is not as active as it once was. Typically, when I write this list, I give a statistical breakdown of my listening. While my overall consumption of audiobooks was up this year, my tracking, recording and reviewing of them were down. In 2013 I reviewed I posted 164 reviews of audiobooks, many of them including multiple titles. Roughly, I believe I listened to around 200 books his year, which would exceed my highest previous total.

2013 was a great year for audio. Any of the Top 5 titles in my list could have been contenders in any previous year. There were so many books that simply blew me away. It is always tough for me to choose my favorites. Instead of asking "What were the best books of 2013?" the question I asked, upon reflecting on the year is "What 2013 books affected me the most?" Whether through heart stopping action, stylistic writing or characters that stay with you, these are the books that lingered in my brain long after they finished. Some made me laugh, a few made me cry, and some made me cringe and want to grab on the closest person near me for a comforting hug.

When compiling this list, I also look for titles that truly stand out in the audio format. Scanning over this list, there is only one title I would say that the narration didn’t enhance the experience, yet that book was full of such awesomeness that the less than amazing performance couldn’t keep it off the list. For a bit of a surprise, there are no Zombie titles and only one true apocalyptic title, so those of you who have pigeon holed me as the "zombie apocalypse guy" may be a bit shocked. Don’t worry, my favorite Zombie and Post Apocalyptic Audiobooks of 2013 list will be on its way.

So, thanks for sticking with me through 2013, and be sure to keep injecting stories into your brain through your earholes for the rest of 2014.

 

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

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

Hachette Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: Love Minus Eighty is one of the most engrossing science fiction novels I have read in a long time. McIntosh has created a darkly beautiful near future world and populated it with characters you truly wish were real. It is an exploration of our romantic future and an affective romance all in one wonderful novel.

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 35 Min.

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller

What I Said: Brilliance is a smart blockbuster movie for your brain, with a complex and engaging main character, a stunningly created world, and so much action you should probably keep your cardiologist on Speed Dial. It’s a a straight thriller with enough science fiction elements that I want to force all my Speculative Fiction friends to read, at gun point if necessary. I absolutely loved this book.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Read by Will Patton

MALE NARRATOR PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR.

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 35 Min

Genre: Horror

What I Said: Doctor Sleep is an audiobook that will linger with me for a long time, a wonderful and moving story combined with one of the favorite narrator performances of all time. Doctor Sleep is a prime example of just how special the medium can be.

 

Extinction Machine by Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger, Bk. 5)

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Science Thriller

What I Said: Extinction Machine is like a sick blend of The X-Files and 24, amped up on meth, laced with cocaine, marinated in Jolt cola and mainlined directly into my brain through my earholes. I absolutely loved this book. It’s a novel so tailored to my likes that I briefly wondered if my 2-year-old self was correct and the world actually does revolve around me.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Read by Benjamin Percy

Hachette Audio

Length: 21 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Literary Horror

What I Said: Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon tells the tale of the afflicted, the demagogues and the victims that this world of werewolves has created. It combines the detailed political and social alternate history of Harry Turtledove or Robert Conroy with the gut level horror of Stephen King told with a literary flair that escalates the novel beyond its influences.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Read by Fenella Woolgar

Hachette Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 34 Min

Genre: Fiction

What I Said: Life After Life is a novel that defies easy categorization. It’s a genre busting look at life in the 20th century through the eyes of a normal women given the extraordinary ability to relive her life. Life After Life is one of the most fascinating novels I have read in a long time, and while at times I felt dragged down by the melancholy of the tale, by the end, I wanted to keep experiencing the many lives of Ursula Todd.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Read by Kate Mulgrew

FEMALE NARRTOR PERERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

Harper Audio

Length: 19 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Horror

What I Said: Joe Hill’s latest novel is lush vivid horror tale full of wonderful characters, and unsettling imagery. Hill manages to take the thing we love best, the innocence and joy of Christmas time, and flip it on its head, making it a representation of all that we fear. NOS4A2 is brilliantly executed, leaving a lingering affect on the reader long after it is over.

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Alternate History Urban Fantasy/Steampunk Superheroes.

What I Said: Larry Correia brings the arc than began in Hard Magic to a natural and completely satisfying conclusion in Warbound. With a combination of amazing storytelling, wonderful characters and one of the best narrator performances I have experienced, The Grimnoir Chronicles has earned it place as perhaps my favorite all time Speculative Fiction Audiobook series.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Read by Neil Gaiman

Harper Audio

Length: 5 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Fantasy

What I Said: I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

Read by Graham Winton

Recorded Books

Length: 22 Hrs 23 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: Robert Jackson Bennett takes on the American Dream, and twists it in so many bizarre ways it becomes a kaleidoscope of what-the-fuckery. An engaging plot full of wonderful characters, that Bennett sends on one of the weirdest, wildest sciency fiction adventures my poor brain has ever had to process. Some narration issues may have held back some of it’s overall potential, but it’s still one heck of a good listen.

The Doll by Taylor Stevens (Vanessa Michael Monroe, Bk. 3)

Read by Hillary Huber

Random House Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Thriller

What I Said: In The Doll, Taylor strips away the trappings of her writing and presents a balls to the wall fast paced action thriller that will leave the reader awash in adrenaline soaked bliss. While her normal touches are still there, her vivid international setting, her complicated character’s unique skill set and her spin on typical action hero motivations, the action in The Doll is crisp and mean which makes it the most satisfying entry in an already excellent series.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Read by RC Bray

Podium Publishing

Length: 10 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: The Martian is probably my biggest surprise awesome audiobook this year. If you like realistic space travel tales, with cursing, 70′s pop culture references, laugh out loud one lines and plenty of fascinating creative science and engineering problem solving, download this sucker now. It’s really good.

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett (The Demon Cycle, Bk. 3)

Read by Pete Bradbury

Recorded Books

Length:  26 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Fantasy

What I Said: The Daylight War is not just a wonderful edition in perhaps my favorite fantasy series, but the proof of the validity of the trust I have put in Brett as a unique storyteller. The Daylight War continues with the characters and themes we loved in the first two novels, yet also manages to take the story in a whole new direction. While the clash of cultures is brilliantly done, and the increased menace of the demonic enemy even scarier, it’s the intricate relationships that Brett has built that is the true beauty of this novel.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Read by Kate Rudd

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

What I Said: : The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a melancholy near future tale of love, family and robots, told on a canvas of a fascinating post disaster world. She fills her world with fully realized, flawed characters that filled me with joy as they were pissing me off. Clarke has managed to create a wonderful science fiction tale with a romantic tilt that I totally bought into. which isn’t the easiest of feats.

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly (Mickey Haller, Bk. 5)

Read by Peter Giles

Hachette Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 49 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Why I Chose It: Connelly continues to prove he is a master of both plotting and characterization as he guides his broken creation, criminal defense lawyer Mickey Haller, along a bumpy road to redemption. Connelly redefines the concepts of innocence here, both legally and morally, while creating a compelling procedural tale. Giles continues to give a masterfully subtle performance that captures the nuances of Connelly’s writing.

The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

Read by Will Collyer

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 19 Min

Genre: Historical Western/Thriller

Why I Chose It: I tend not to be a huge fan of historical/western tales, but The Thicket simply blew me away. Lansdale’s writing has a way of sneaking up on you. There are no bells and whistles, just straight forward storytelling, that surprises you with it’s emotional depth, colorful characters and dark humor. Collyer is quickly becoming a go to narrator for me. His performance of 16 year old Jack Parker manages to balance the naiveté and maturity of a young man forced to grown up due to tragedy.

The City of Devi by Manil Suri

Read by Vikas Adam and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Literary Post Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Read by Michael Beck

Random House Audio

Length: 20 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Why I Chose It: Grisham returns to Clanton and his Jake Brigance character in a tale that rivals the A Time To Kill. Honestly, if you told me that Grisham would appear on my Top 20 list, I would have yelled OBJECTION! but Sycamore Row manages to be a effective legal thriller as well as a socially poignant tale. What makes matters even better is Michael Beck’s narration which is emotionally charged and pitch perfect. His performance enhances this novel, giving it a bump over a few other stellar legal thrillers this year, like Sheehan’s A Lawyer’s Lawyer and Ellis’s The Last Alibi.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

1 10 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Read by Will Patton

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 35 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Doctor Sleep is an audiobook that will linger with me for a long time, a wonderful and moving story combined with one of the favorite narrator performances of all time. Doctor Sleep is a prime example of just how special the medium can be.

Grade: A+

I think it’s impossible for me to review anything by Stephen King without putting it into context of my history as a reader. Over the past few years he has released books, or had audiobooks released that tie in with significant moments in my reading history. Whether it’s a new Dark Tower novel, or an audiobook version of The Stand, it’s hard for me to write a review of listening to just that book. My experiences with any Stephen King novel is so tied into my past experiences because so much of his work informs and is informed by his other books. There are other worlds than these, and Stephen King’s books bend and weave through these many other books, wrapping a mutliverse up like a beautiful but uneven tapestry. This is why I approached Doctor Sleep with hesitation. I first read The Shining during my initial wave as a Stephen King reader. I was about 14 or 15 and devoured many of his early novels like Carrie, Christine and Cujo. These novels where straight in your face horror tales, some of which could have passed for modern Young Adult novels, which was perfect for me at that point in my life. Then I read The Shining. I’ll be honest, The Shining was never my favorite Stephen King novel. I didn’t have the same relationship that Jen from Jenn’s Bookshelves talked about in her brilliant post about her relationship with that novel. The Shining was a different kind of horror novel than I was used to. It was more subtle, a lingering horror that played around the edges and sneaked into your nightmares from side doors and shadows. It’s a much scarier experience than say, Cujo or Carrie, which hit you in the face with their horror, but it was also an adult style of horror. It scared me for reasons I didn’t understand.

As part of my preparation, I decided to listen to The Shining. I think I understand the brilliance of the novel more now. It still isn’t my favorite Stephen King novel, but I think it’s because the horror the Torrance family undergoes, and the secrets of REDRUM have become an iconic part of our culture that it’s tough to experience it today as King intended it to be experienced. Still, I was surprised by how much I missed within King’s characterizations of Jack Torrance. As someone from a broken home, who hadn’t yet understood what kind of man his father was, back when I first read The Shining, I felt sympathy for Jack Torrance and was almost resentful of Wendy. Now, I realize what a truly despicable man Jack Torrance was. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but any sympathy I had for the character is gone. King’s depiction of a selfish, self delusional man being manipulated by an evil that tapped into his true nature makes much more sense to me as an adult than it ever did a child. I am glad I decided to listen to The Shining. While I still had issues with it, and my feelings on the narration was that it was pretty much lackluster, and may not have done the story justice, it did make me even more excited to start Doctor Sleep.

Danny Torrance never believed he would give into the temptations of alcohol like his father, but years later he finds himself a drunk, full of regrets and about to hit rock bottom, when his old friend Tony, a remnant of his Shining, lead him to a small New England town. There with the help of a curmudgeonly former drunk, he joins AA, and tries to piece his life back together while working in a hospice where he helps the dying to transition to the next stage, Yet, his Shining isn’t fully dead, and on occasion he is reached out to by Abra, a young girl with perhaps the strongest power he has ever felt. When the True Knott, a group of not quite human travelers who feed off the essence of those with such powers, targets Abra, Danny Torrance, called Doctor Sleep by those who know him, must confront his past in order to protect this young powerful girl.

I often find it really hard to put my thoughts about a work like Doctor Sleep into words that effective portrays the experience I had listening to it. Unlike almost any other author, Stephen King has an ability to totally suck you into a world, where you become so enthralled in in, you never want to escape. Yet, this is hit and miss. There are times where I have struggled through a Stephen King novel like a junky trying to relive the experience of that first high, only to be disappointed. There are other times where you feel like if you just stand on your tippy toes, you may be able to lightly touch that feeling with the your fingers. Then there are times you are just transported into that world with no effort of your own. Doctor Sleep was this type of experience. From the first moments, I was pulled into Danny Torrance’s world, and the special magic of the written word that encompassed it.  Stephen King has created a tale that is both familiar and utterly different. While a sequel to The Shining, and dependent on it for back-story, it doesn’t depend on it for style or substance. King creates a whole new mythology for this world, and does it seamlessly like it’s what he intended from the very start. I found the True Knot to be one of his most fascinating concepts, a group of olderish road travelers riding the American roads in Winnebago’s and Recreational Vehicles who are in fact, a unique type of vampiric community. King does what he does so well, taking something that is seemingly innocuous and tapping into its hidden creepiness. He somehow makes you feel like you have always felt there was something just a bit off when you would see people like this, even if you never realized it on a conscience level.

Yet, the true heart and soul of Doctor Sleep is the journey of Danny Torrance. Danny’s journey feels like his father’s journey in reverse, a man giving into his inner goodness. Doctor Sleep is full of so many touching, self revelatory moments.  Ever since the infamous accident that almost killed King and very well may have ended his career, each novel, on some level, has seemed to be King trying to come to terms with his mortality and eventual journey into the irrelevance of history. Doctor Sleep feels like the natural conclusion to this journey. King seems to have finally found some middle ground with the haunting specter of death, and guides us through that discovery. What he has seemed to discover is that in order to accept death, you must come to terms with life. Doctor Sleep is about this, a man discovering his life, and finding his relevance through community and family. It’s also one heck of a wonderful tale, exciting and well told. I know this isn’t much of a review per se. Doctor Sleep affected me in a way where I can’t say, "Oh, I loved the witting here… what great world building or wonderfully developed characters.”  I’m sure the internet will be full of review analyzing and critiquing the novel for its literary value positively or negatively. For me, it was one of the more meaningful listening experiences I have had in a long time, and reminded me that when King is truly on, you should just give into the experience.

One of the interesting things about audio is that it’s easy to pinpoint how a bad performance affected your feeling of the novel, yet it’s not always as easy with a great performance. How much of my love for Doctor Sleep comes from Stephen King’s ability to tell a wonderful story and affect me on a personal level, and how much came from Will Patton’s amazing performance? In the end, I don’t think the answer is that important. In audio, sometimes the symbiosis between text and performance is so intermingled, it does a disservice to try to separate them out. As audiobook reviewers, we often talk about how a narrator’s performance can elevate the text, but less frequently we mention how the author’s words can elevate a narrator. I think Doctor Sleep may have been about as perfect a symbiosis between prose and performance that I have experienced in a long time. Will Patton’s performance was breathtakingly brilliant. His reading of Doctor Sleep will easily find its way into the pantheon of all time great audiobook performances, in my opinion. With a simple pause, or peculiar emphasis, Patton brings King’s words to full life. King will often use italicize and other tricks in his print texts that doesn’t always translate into audio, but Patton let you hear each word as it was intended in ways that even King may not have realized he intended them. Doctor Sleep is an audiobook that will linger with me for a long time, a wonderful and moving story combined with one of the favorite narrator performances of all time. Doctor Sleep is a prime example of just how special the medium can be.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.