Audiobook Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

5 03 2018


The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson

Read by Candace Thaxton

Simon & Schuster Audio

Grade: A

Typically, I put a lot of research into what books I am planning on reading yet The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza was one of the rare incidents where I took a head long flyer into a book without knowing anything about the it or author other than the cover image and a brief description. This time it paid off. Almost instantly I fell in love with this book. When it truly dawned on me that this may fall into the weird “YA dystopian” category that is often misapplied, I was wary, but each time Hutchinson seemed to be going down the well worn paths, he would take a jarring turn. Typically in YA books, I endure the romance and school politics while getting to the underlining plot, here the characters and their interactions were what made me love the book. In this book, the pat adult solutions to kids problems never worked and the complex emotions of the young adult years were actually respected. In many ways, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows, Wonderfalls, and I loved it for that.

Candice Thaxton was perfect for this audiobook. Her performance was quirky and fluid, capturing the humor of the novel without ever making it feel cartoony. How often can someone organically deliver a conversation between a girl, her best friend and a stuffed baby cthulhu and have it feel natural. She achieved the rare feat of actually making me laugh while listening to a book. The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza is simply a book I’m glad I read.


Audiobook Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

15 04 2014

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Bk. 3)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Grade: C

Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters was one of my most anticipated releases of spring 2014. I loved the first books in the series, particularly in audio. Taylor’s prose was like poetry come to life, dripping magic with every word, brought into life like music through the voice of Khristine Hvam. Even the angst filled forbidden love between Karou and Akiva, the star crossed angel and his lovely monster, managed to keep me entranced. Her world full of angles and demons, of battles spanning time, fate and worlds was unique in a genre filled with stilted cliches. I was anxiously awaiting the final ballad of the trilogy, the last burst of magic that would bring this story to it’s ultimate world changing climax.


I did not love Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Oh, the beauty and magic were still there, and Taylor’s writing still enthralls me, but the final chapter of this trilogy was 12 hours of angst interwove between 6 hours of story. There was stuff I did like. I really liked the new character of Eliza, a doctoral candidate who worked as the assistant for the scientist studying the genetic makeup of a discovered mass grave of Chimera, whose dark past hid secrets to her dreams of monsters and angels. Even though her story arch took some odd turns along the way, Taylor’s prowess at developing strong characters is on full display her. My major problem, beyond the long eloquent ruminations of fated love, was the way the plot was concluded. The Angel invasion into earth was anticlimactic at best. I applaud Taylor for trying to bring an nontraditional closure to this storyline, yet, it’s execution paled in comparison the nature of the set up. The large battle between the Seraphim and the joint rebel Angel and Chimera was totally Dues Ex Machina, even worse it was an off camera Dues Ex Machina in service of an unnecessary twist. All this blunted the tale, allowing the angst to become the driving force of the tale, instead of an influencing factor. Taylor explores some fascinating new physics concepts, adding more Lovecraftian spins and examining the nature between magic and science. It was a wonderful, beautifully formulated thought experiment, and if added in more detail to the earlier novels, or explored on its own in another book, I may have really digged it, but by the time these concepts were fully examined, I was so frustrated with the book and ready for it to end. All criticisms aside, Dreams of Gods and Monsters didn’t diminish my view on Taylor as a writer. It just didn’t offer what I was looking for in a conclusion. I am sure, those who love the tragic love tale between Karou and Akiva, will be thrilled by this ending. I was not one of those people.

As always, I have nothing but high praise for Khristine Hvam. More than once her reading of this novel gave me chills. I highly doubt I would have made it through the 18 hour production if it was read by a lesser narrator. Her performance is music, and beauty and humor in all the right places. I almost enjoyed the long soliloquies on love and fate… well, almost almost… well, not really, but at least there was a bit of sugar to help those bitter pills go down.

Audiobook Review: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

27 09 2013

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

Read by Christina Moore

Recorded Books

Length: 5 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The classic Young Adult Post Apocalyptic tale holds up well since my initial reading over 30 years ago. There is a reason this novel is a classic, and it’s themes of overcoming misogyny, the destructiveness of science, and individualism still has value for today.

Grade: B+

Note: If you have yet to read this novel, This review may contain some spoilers. BE WARNED!

When I was in elementary school at good old Christ Home Christian School, I remember the bookcase. The bookcase was a shelf of donated books that the kids in the lower grades could sign out and read on their own volition purely for entertainment sake. Growing up in a fundamentalist household, church and school, this was the first time I felt like I could choose my own entertainment. Of course, it never entered my brain the books here where highly vetted acceptable books, just that I could choose them. Through this shelf I had my first boyhood crush on Laura Ingalls Wilder, went on my first otherworld adventures in Narnia, Oz and on the Phantom Tollbooth, and traveled with some strange characters across the Atlantic in the belly of a giant peach. I was also introduced to some rather amusing rats trying to escape from the National Institute of Mental Health. Every once in a while, new books would be added to the bookshelves. One day, a book titled Z for Zachariah by the same author as the NIMH books was added to the shelves. Since the Rats of NIMH was one of my favorites, I just knew I had to read this book. Little did I know that this would be my first foray into the subgenre known as Post Apocalyptic fiction, which would one day become my literary obsession. So, for those of you out there disturbed by my fascination with the end of civilization, you very well may have a bunch of talking rats to blame for it.

Z for Zachariah is the tale of Ann Burden a teenage farm girl from a small town, who due to a geological anomaly finds herself the last resident of a valley that offers protection from the radioactive fallout of a global nuclear war. She lives day to day, supporting herself through hard work, longing for the company of other human beings yet fearing the dangers others may bring. When a strange man wearing a protective suit shows up, her world is forever altered. While not in any way the first Post Apocalyptic novel, for many of my generation, Z for Zachariah was the introduction to the genre and can be listed as a classic example and predecessor to books like The Hunger Games and other modern YA dystopian. It’s also a darkly fascinating tale of claustrophobia and loneliness battling hope in the midst of the fall of humanity.

The main theme of the novel, both as a young elementary student, and now a much older, bordering on middle aged man, is just how stupid men can be. Ann Borden is young and naive sure, and can be frustrating but she is a strong character, full of the right mix of knowledge to survivor the apocalypse. When Mr. Loomis shows up, you can’t help but think he’s hit the jackpot, a young farmer girl who can run the tractor, cook, fix engines and grow crops, plus well, let’s face it, if you believe you are the last man on earth, finding a smart, resourceful 16 year old woman is reason to celebrate. Yet, the chemist, Mr. Loomis, who never had to worry about where his next meal came from before the apocalypse, decides that this young women isn’t his ally in survival, but his property, and not much more valuable than breeding stock. I remember, the younger Bob being flabbergasted by this. Remember, I grew up in a culture where women were encouraged to call their husbands "Lord and Master" and even I found Mr. Loomis to be a stupid misogynistic dillweed before I even understood what the concept of misogyny was. Rereading it now, and understanding things I didn’t as a kid, including the near rape scene, only cemented my belief the Mr. Loomis is not only one of the most despicable characters in literary history, but one of the stupidest.

This is not in anyway to say that Z for Zachariah is a bad novel. I am focusing on the area that stuck out most to me. In reality, Z for Zachariah should be applauded for creating a wonderful strong female character in Ann Burden, who despite her naiveté, displayed true strength in a devastating world. I know if I was to find myself in similar circumstances of this young girl, I would be dead within weeks. O’Brien’s use of the diary format gives us a very limited perception on the story, yet also adds lots of depths to the tale by showing us Ann’s thought processes, and the evolution of her understanding of Loomis. In many ways, this style allows us to see the process of her maturation, from the girl hiding in a cave but dreaming of marrying the mysterious stranger, to the girl who finally bests the highly educated scientist. There is a reason why Z for Zachariah is a classic of the genre. It’s a wonderfully plotted tale that taps into the essential issues of a post apocalyptic world, highlighting the evolving moralities of the changed world. 

While the audio production is solid, it also displays one of the problems with the format. Christina Moore reads the first person tale with a sort of stunned coldness at first, morphing eventually into something harder. While this is appropriate for the character, it doesn’t make for the most entertaining of listens. Moore often uses a flat affect to show how much Ann is affected by the world, muting her emotions. This makes some scenes more powerful at the end of the novel, when Ann’s emotions finally shows through, but it also at times gives the book an almost dreamlike flow that creates a barrier between the listener and the tale. Overall, I think Moore gives the right performance which brings out the author’s intent but, this doesn’t always keep the reader entranced as a more emotive performance would have.

Audiobook Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

14 06 2013

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Read by Phoebe Strole and Brandon Espinoza

Penguin Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Young Adult Post Apocalyptic Alien Invasion

Quick Thoughts: The 5th Wave is a fast paced terrifying apocalyptic vision that is well executed until one moment of total crappihood has it all crash down on my weeping torso. If not for my one not-so-little plot hang-up, The 5th Wave would have been in contention as one of my favorite audiobooks of the year. But, dammit. I just couldn’t get past that one moment.

Grade: (Was so an A… until it wasn’t. So, let’s say B-ish)

Note: Fair warning, there are moments in this review (in the second paragraph) that a somewhat spoilerish. I will warn you along the way.

I should really thank Rick Yancey. I have never worried too much about my blog stats. If I get 20 people reading my review on the day I post it, I’m pretty much satisfied. I do pay attention to trends, to see what is driving people to my blog. I recently saw an upswing in people checking one of my Feature posts from last year, were I listed my 10 Favorite Alien Invasion novels. Since most of this has come from random search engine entries on Alien Invasion books, I can’t help but think that Yancey’s alien invasion novel The 5th Wave has inspired a renewed interest in the subgenre. I’m down with that. It’s no secret that I love Alien Invasion novels of all sorts. From more straight forward tales like Footfall, to the stranger subtler invasions, I have always been intrigued by why alien species would develop to a point where interstellar travel was a possibility, then come all the way to earth to perform weird medical procedures followed by a sloppy invasion where a few ragtag guerrilla fighters manage to find a way to stop them. I always wondered what motivated the aliens. It can’t be for our natural resources, since there are countless planets, moons, asteroids and comets that provide more than enough materials for some space faring saurian monkey jellyfish hybrids.  Do humans just taste really good? Is this why almost every apocalyptic scenario ends in an orgasmic smorgasbord of cannibalism? Many people have said that there really is no reason for aliens to search us out. I really don’t believe that. I know that is we discovered a sentient alien species living some crazy number of light years away, and we developed the technology to reach those distances, we would probably head right out there waving like some crazy hillbillies hopped up on caffeine and Coors Light. I just hope we don’t go there to probe them, invade them or eat them. Unless they are really tasty.

When the ships were discovered heading towards Earth no one knew what to expect. For 10 days they approached, no message, no indication of their plans. Then the first wave of destruction begins with an EMP blast that wipes out the electronic infrastructure and sends the planet into chaos. With each wave, more and more died. Now, Cassie is one of the last people left, traveling alone, trying to avoid the enemy in human form, in a search for her brother kidnapped by the invaders. The 5th Wave is a fast paced terrifying apocalyptic vision that is well executed until one moment of total crappihood has it all crash down on my weeping torso. Really people, I was loving The 5th Wave. Totally. Yancey creates a surprising realistic portrayal of the dire situation a probable encounter with an aggressive alien species would create. He shakes off the bonds of Independence Day and V, and uses pop physics, and intriguing science fiction concepts to make for a fascinating apocalyptic adventure story. Then, in one moment, I was like NOOOOOOOOOO!! PLEASE GOD NO!! THAT JUST DIDN”T HAPPEN! *Sigh* OK, really, this could get a little spoilery. I loved the beginning of the book with the details of Cassie’s journey and her perspectives of the apocalypse. I love the segments with Sam being trained to fight the aliens. I loved the mystery and intrigue and the constant guessing of what exactly was what. There were moments where I questioned assumptions, held back suspicions, and in turned felt the bitter betrayal of the alien maskirovka. Even when Cassie met up with Evan, I was OK, despite my suspicions. Yet, there is this moment. A turning point. A point where one alien decided enough is enough and turns on his own species and sides with the humans. Does this come from a disgust of the genocidal policies of his brothers? The unnecessary brutal elimination of an entire species? The use of children in the alien’s twisted schemes? No, it’s all because he met a cute 16 year old girl. GODDAMIT! Ok, ok, I get the whole love conquers all, and yes, there are some incredibly cute girls out there, but really? REALLY? Maybe I’m just not a romantic, but I have never fallen in love with an alien girl who I have only seen through the scope of my rifle, and barely have known that long to a point where  I am willing to betray the last remnants of my species. Maybe this is why I am still single. Really, The 5th Wave is a lot of fun, and you should totally read it. Maybe the whole love thing will make your heart flutter and birds suddenly appear for you. For me, it was like a turd floating in a beautiful pond.

Luckily, for you wonderful audiophiles like myself, the audio production of The 5th Wave is excellent. The narration duties are handled by two, new to me narrators, Phoebe Strole and Brandon Espinoza. Both of them did an outstanding job. I especially enjoyed Strole’s first person performance of Cassie. She did exactly what I liked in a first person narration, she infused it with personality, adding vocal quirks and making interesting decisions to allow Cassie to seem like a real person and not just a character being read to you. Espinoza had more of a challenge bringing multiple roles to life. At first, I though he struggles a bit with 5 year old Sam, but honestly, voicing young kids is quite hard. Yet, he managed to pull it off, and went on to do some excellent work with the other perspectives. The scenes came together well, with little to no dissonance between the alternating narrators. It just felt smooth, with crisp pacing and engaging characters. In fact, if it wasn’t for my one not-so-little plot hang-up, The 5th Wave would have been in contention as one of my favorite audiobooks of the year. But, dammit. I just couldn’t get past that one moment. Yet, don’t blame the narrators. They were excellent.

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

Audiobook Review: The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

10 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan (Forest of Hands and Teeth, Bk. 2)

Read by Tara Sands

Listening Library

Length: 11 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Dead Tossed Waves is another unique spin on undead literature full of vivid images, well conceived characters and a darkly beautiful world. Carrie Ryan manages to change the voice of her series seamlessly while still delivering on the promises set up in the first novel.

Grade: B+

There are three major aspects of Zombie Apocalypse literature, Zombie Outbreak, with humanity dealing with the initial outbreak, Zombie Apocalypse, dealing with the first generation Survivors of the initial onslaught, and Societal Adaptation, how society generations later has changed to live with the realities of an undead world. I am always quite fascinated by the Societal Adaptation aspect. It probably one of the least explored Zombie Apocalypse themes. We have seen many different takes, from societies built on fear and superstition, to others almost making the act of hunting zombies a rite of passage. I have always been fascinated by religious adaptations to zombies explored in literature, and wondered often about how I would form my own apocalyptic death cult. This is often how I spend my time. So many apocalyptic death cults simply do it wrong. Now, I get the accessorizing of the de-jawed zombies on chains. That’s pretty badass, but must they wear black or white ceremonial garb. It seems like you would just stick out like a sore thumb. I think my ritual death cult would use forest or jungle tones. For us, our castes would be named after the greats of Zombie fiction like Keene, Maberry, and Grant as part of a pantheon under the all powerful god Romero. Each caste of the cult would have their own patron saint. The Maberry caste would walk around in carpet body armor, while the Keene caste would perform regular exorcisms on their Zombie accessories. The Grant Cast would be a group of disgraced scientist attempting to create a zombie Red Heifer and Golden Zombie Calf. Last year, for Zombie Awareness Month I listened to The Forest of Hands and Feet, and based on that knew that Carrie Ryan should definitely have a place among the patron saints of my death cult but I plan on waiting until finishing the series to see exactly how her caste’s belief structure should manifest itself, because when organizing an apocalyptic death cult, research is key.

Gabry has lived her entire life within the safety of her small harbor town. Her mother, once a stranger to the town, whose strangeness is a source of shame for Gabry, runs the lighthouse and keeps the shores safe from the undead that wash up with the tide. Gabry always feared leaving the walls of her town, but one spontaneous decisions leads to disaster and forever alters her life and unlocks the secrets of her past. It’s no secret that I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I was actually quite shocked by how much I loved it. That being said I was still a bit hesitant about continuing the series. I thought that the first novel of this series was so brilliant and different that it would be nearly impossible to continue it without a major change in tone. Well, I was right. What I wasn’t right about was that it would affect my overall enjoyment of the novel. Carry Ryan does something that is quite hard to do, complete alter her world, and her voice, yet still create a novel that is almost as compelling and heartbreaking as the original. Now, I still have to say I like the original better, but The Dead Tossed Waves is a totally worthy follow-up.  Ryan explores a whole new aspect of the world she created. In many ways, The Dead Tossed Waves in The Forest of Hands and Teeth told in reverse, instead of a novel about an isolated young women discovering there is more to the world than she thought, The Dead Tossed Waves starts as a broader novel, and slowly becomes more intimate and personal. The key to this story is the personal development of Gabry, as she learns more about who she is and what she is capable of. My only complain about the novel is the repetitious moments of self doubt by Gabry. Every time something bad happens, and I promise you, a lot of bad things happen, Gabry went on a huge pity fest listing the many reasons why it was all her fault and how she simply is responsible for all the world’s woes. It was probably true to character, but it became a bit much at times and influenced the pacing of the novel. And of course, there was the dreaded lovey dovey angsty love triangle. It also sometimes became a bit much, but it was just original enough where I didn’t feel like bashing my head in with a ball peen hammer. The Dead Tossed Waves is not as much of a standalone as The Forest of Hands and Teeth, there is a definite direction for the next novel, and an intriguing one at that. In fact, my original plan was to wait and review the finale for next years Zombie Awareness Month, but I’m not quite sure I can wait that long. The Dead Tossed Waves is another unique spin on undead literature full of vivid images, well conceived characters and a darkly beautiful world. Carrie Ryan manages to change the voice of her series seamlessly while still delivering on the promises set up in the first novel.

One of the things I loved about the original of this series was Vane Millon’s exotic and totally unique narration. I will say, part of my hesitancy about this series is that each novel has a different narrator. Yet, as each novel seems to come from a different perspective character, this decision makes sense. While Tara Sands has more of a traditional YA narrator style, I felt her voice was appropriate to the setting. While the perspective character of the first novel needed to stand out, Gabry’s attempts to fit in with her society made Sands approach appropriate. Sands delivers a smart, well thought out performance. Her characters were strong and distinct, but more importantly, she managed to capture the rhythms and poetry of Ryan’s writing, I especially enjoyed her delivery of the climatic scene. She filled it with just the right amount of tension, never rushing the narrative but still creating a sense of urgency. She somehow managed to tap into my inner fear of heights and allowed me to keep holding my breath until I knew the outcome of the character’s crazy adventure. My only point of contention was with the pronunciation of the name Elias. Not that it was pronounced wrong, just not as I expected, and it took me a but to put the sound and name together  This is my first experience with Tara Sands’ work, and I felt she really delivered.

Audiobook Review: Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan

8 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan (Zom-B, Bk. 2)

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable.

Grade: B

Note: Zom-B Underground is the 2nd Book in the series, and this review may contain spoilers for Book 1. You have been warned. And mocked, but mostly warned.

There has been a recent trend with me in my Young Adult Scifi and horror reads where a protagonist will totally annoy the craphole out of me in Book 1 and when I reluctantly pick up Book 2, I find that they have actually grown on me for some reason. I find this odd, because in adult fiction, I tend to find second books in series and trilogies less satisfying then their prequels. So, I was trying to figure out if this was something in the nature of Young Adult novels that has me react this way. Now, I’m a man who’s closer to 40 than 14 so my perspectives are different than that of most of the target audience of these books. I think at the core of Young Adult novels, particularly the types I read which tend to be Apocalyptic or Dystopian tales, there is an element of rebellion.  I think, often in YA debuts, the rebellion is either internal or intimate, striking out against the established beliefs of your close circle or family, and when we move away from the first novel, the rebellion becomes more external, and broader. I think, due to my place in this world, I find  that the initial rebellion against parents or guardians tends to come off bratty, based on some misconception of the world but when they strike out against the establishment, whether it be a corrupt government or just the overall world view, they become more reasonable. In Zom-B, there was an added elements, B just seemed to want to strike out against anything, because she was unable to strike out against her father. In a way, her anger was reflecting her establishment, buying into the world view of a racist father. Her rebellion was selfish based in weakness and she became more of a bully projecting the abuse of her father onto those beneath her. In Zom-B I found her not just unlikable, but reprehensible, almost bordering or irredeemable at a gut level. I find this is rare in YA because much of the development is based on the fact that these younger characters can break away from their upbringing and their mistakes can be redeemed. Now, despite my reaction to B, or maybe because of this reaction I was quite interested in where the author was taking the series.

After the turbulent ending of Zom-B, B is now a Zombie. Yet, something about her is different. During an encounter with a group of Zombie fighting teens, she has an awakening, no longer a moaning shambling zombie, but aware. She finds she is part of a strange experiment involving an anomalous group of aware walking dead. Yet, information is sparse and freedom a pipe dream, and B finds herself at the mercy of people she doesn’t trust. So, I found Zom-B Underground a much more enjoyable listen. Here, B is still a flawed character, but now her hatred and vitriol is turned towards more deserving people. I like that Shan is showing a reasonable transformation in B. She hasn’t instantly become a better person, but you get the feeling she is honestly trying. It’s definitely a help that she’s away from her father, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of him. I actually found the story itself quite original. While I felt its predecessor had more gut punch shocks and twists, Zom B Underground had enough small, well executed twists that despite the obviousness of some of them, there were enough to keep the reader on their toes. As far as down right creepiness, Underground wins by a land side. Its crazy finale is filled with some twisted, Acid Trip style horror images that really, I didn’t need in my brain. Let’s just say their may have been spiders involved. And a clown. Well, all sorts of creepy. Shan continues to build a nice little mythology, giving small reveals here are there, but not even coming close to filling out the whole picture. Where Zom-B left me thinking "Hmmmm…" Underground pushed me more into the "What the holy hell is going on and what exactly is wrong with this man for putting these images in my tidy little brain?" category. Did I mention the clown and his twisted accessories? *shivers* My only complaint is that each small book so far in this series feels more like a chapter in a larger novel than a complete work able to stand on it’s own. There is an almost serial feel to the Zom-B series and if that is something that frustrates you as a reader you may want to wait until a few of the books are available before jumping into the pool. Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable. I was sorta interested in seeing where Shan was going to take us in Zom-B Underground, now WANT BRAINS THEN ZOM-B CITY NOW!

Emma Galvin is just a fun narrator, whether she’s using an American or English accent. Here she’s busting out the English accent to bring this story to life. Here accent is relatively soft, but authentic sounding. She brings the wide array or characters to life. She really manages to capture both the brash, in-your-your face external Becky, while also showing her insecurities in her internal dialogue. This struggle is really the essences of the first two Zom-B novels and Galvin delivers it beautifully. She also really ups the pacing, alternating between some dreamlike horror sequences with some fast paced action without missing a beat. Some of the issues with the prequel, where twists that come into play in print just couldn’t be delivered affectively in audio, are no longer and issue, making audio an ideal medium for this story. Zom-B Underground was a quick, fun, and all sorts of creepy listen that had enough thrills for adults, both young and well, not so young.

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

Audiobook Review: Fragments by Dan Wells

6 03 2013

Fragments by Dan Wells (Partials, Bk. 2)

Read by Julia Whelan

Harper Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 20 Minutes

Genre: Young Adult Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Fragments didn’t just tickle my Post Apocalyptic obsession but full on assaulted it. Wells blends a dark Apocalyptic road trip with the claustrophobia of a military siege creating a moody adventure novel with well constructed action and fully realized characters. By expanding the story and offering just the right number of answers Fragments is the rare second novel in a trilogy that improved over its predecessor, while still leaving enough on the table to get readers excited for the final installment of the trilogy.

Grade: A

It seems that we are coming to a very interesting part in the history of humankind where science and technology may very well redefine what it means to be human. This of course, will not come without speed bumps. Our bodies have been indistinctly tied to morality, both in how we treat it, and in what choices we can make as individuals. There has always been a sort of emphasis of purity of the body in many religions. Our bodies are seen as the temple of god, made in God’s image, and anything from tattoos to imbibing alcohol can be seen as a violation of our bodies. Yet, as we explore more about what can be done with out bodies, assisting the disabled and augmenting out natural skills, we will see more and more questions on what it means to be human. Fiction has already begun postulating this question. Just over the past year we have seen books about genetically enhanced super soldiers, physical augmentations and even cloning, all which ask how far is too far, and how much of our natural humanness are we willing to sacrifice to technology? I find the questions fascinating. It’s often so hard to reconcile philosophies from thousands of years ago with modern technology and social mores. How tough it going to get to discuss the sanctity of human life when we have the ability to alter and manipulate the essence of what makes us human? I love science and working with people with disabilities makes me intrigued by the potential we have using technology and science to alleviate suffering. Yet, I also worry about just how far is too far. We are a society obsessed with profit, and I can’t help but wonder what exactly we are willing to do to increase profits. Are we ready to sell out own humanity?  Were do we actually draw the line.

After the events of Partiasl, Kira, unsure whether she can fit in with either Humans or Partials, sets out for answers, while those left behind on Long Island must deal with pressures from within as well as the encroachment of a desperate Partial faction. Kira’s search for answers will take her on a cross country journey, through devastated cities, and toxic lands, in search of answers she may not really want. While Dan Wells fascinated me with Partials, I was blown away by Fragments. Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for a good Post Apocalyptic road trip, and Kira’s journey through a changed America was harrowing, and darkly brilliant. Wells understands the hazards that runaway nature and neglected technology could cause, and embraces it throwing one situation after the next at our unlucky travelers. Although I felt we were on somewhat comfortable ground, I’m not sure I was prepared for the level of devastation, and the truly dark poetry of the journey. Add to the journey the desperate situations of those left behind, where they must deal with the hopes that a cure for the devastating plague that kills infants will be found before humanity is eradicated from the planet. Wells takes us deeper into Partial territory where he shows us the stunning horrific nature of a Partial battle, told in a highly choreographed action sequence that will leave you breathless. While there was so much to like about Fragments, what really affected me the most is Well’s handling of tricky moral issues. Wells never talks down to his audience, but takes on issues of bigotry, the value of life and the very nature of humanity with a brutal honesty that allows the reader to immerse themselves into the discussion.  Wells never feeds you a philosophy, telling you the proper way to think, but presents an intelligent dialogue with thought provoking arguments on many sides of the issues. At times, I did become frustrated with Kira, but then I had to remind myself she is 16 years old, and when I was 16 I was so sure of what was right as well. In fact, when I remembered that the major characters of this story were teenagers, it really allowed some of these issues to hit home. Now, Fragments isn’t all thinky stuff, there’s plenty of action, adventure, and even a touch of non-oppressive romance. In fact, Fragments didn’t just tickle my Post Apocalyptic obsession but full on assaulted it. Wells blends a dark Apocalyptic road trip with the claustrophobia of a military siege creating a moody adventure novel with well constructed action and fully realized characters. By expanding the story and offering just the right number of answers Fragments is the rare second novel in a trilogy that improved over its predecessor, while still leaving enough on the table to get readers excited for the final installment of the trilogy.

Once again, Julia Whelan handles the narrating duties and I feel she did an excellent job. She brought the right amount of youthfulness to the reading while displaying the maturity of the characters. There were plenty of characters for Whelan to voice, of all stripes, and each one came alive in performance. Whelan definitely had a strong grasp of the story, and it showed in her reading. Her pacing was brisk and pristine, giving just the right level of urgency and tone to each situation faced by the characters. The action really came alive, with the many elaborate set ups created by Wells presented to the listener in a manner that made it easy to picture in their heads. Whelan’s narration captured the breathtaking storytelling of Wells, never allowing the listener to miss a step. Fragments is probably my favorite Young Adult listen in a long time, and I know the wait for the final edition of the series will not be an easy one.

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

Audiobook Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

19 02 2013

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Divergent, Bk. 2)

Read by Emma Galvin

Harper Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 22 Min

Genre: Young Adut Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: Insurgent is a fast paced, action packed near future adventure novel filled with apocalyptic visuals, a fascinating world and a cast of fully drawn characters. Any fan of Young Adult Dystopian novels should be thrilled with Insurgent, and Roth should expect a horde of fans clamoring for the next book in this series.

Grade: B

They say the key to any relationship is communication, and since I want the relationship here with those who may stop by The Ole’ Guilded Earlobe Weblog to be a good one, let’s talk about communication. The more I read, the more I think 90% of plots in books would fall apart if people would just talk to each other. The problem is that literary characters have all these great reasons for not sharing valuable information. They may not trust someone, or worry that if they tell someone something that happened it would cause that person not to trust them. They spend so much time trying to figure whether or not to tell someone something, or exactly when the best time to reveal something is, that it allows the plot to go on an on, when in reality, the right word to the right person would have had the story wrapped up at about the novella range. It seems this lack of information sharing is even more prevalent in Young Adult fiction. Not only does a character not talk about things because the boy or girl of their dreams may not be all crushy on them if they do, adult won’t tell teens crap because they are just kids. Even if the young person is key to the survival of their group or the overthrow of the dystopic order, adults will rather keep it to themselves than tell some a young person whether it be a bratty outsider or their own responsible progeny. So, when I think of all the important traits a young adult protagonist needs, the most important is the ability to eavesdrop on adults. Hell, even Harry Potter probably would have ended up as basilisk chow if he didn’t have all the tools he needed to sneak around Hogwarts, and spy on adults. So no matter how competent, how cute and perky, or how tragic and moody you are, if you are the star of a Young Adult novel and you can’t find ways to gain information from unexpecting adults, the odds will never be in your favor.

After the shocking finale of Divergent, the Dauntless faction is split up, and those loyal to their faction are being hunted along with Abnegation by the tech savvy Erudite. Now, with the city on the verge of war, Tris and Four must search for allies and uncover secrets to prevent more death and the rule of as oppressive system, with the key to everything possibly being her Divergent status. Insurgent is a fast paced, action packed near future adventure novel filled with apocalyptic visuals, a fascinating world and a cast of fully drawn characters. I loved the thought and detail Roth put into her world, and how she lovingly developed each character, making them jump off the page. The plotting was strong, all though it did meander at moments. At points it got bogged down in the inner struggles of Tris, romantically, ethically and politically, but Roth does a good job pulling it all together. Yet, despite all the awesomeness she packed into this novel, I didn’t fully connect with it, the ways that many others seem to have. The problem, for me, was in the world she created. There’s nothing wrong with it, and she deftly creates this interesting societal structure, but it didn’t ring true for me. One of the things I love about dystopians is following the natural extrapolations of the process of the breakdown of our society. Like with Divergent, I had trouble seeing the structure of Roth‘s world being a natural development of the world we live in. I felt like I do when I try and read comic books, the world just doesn’t fit exactly for me. It was like I was in the Matrix, and not a true version of the world. Now, I understand there is a reason for this, and Roth does take steps to explain some of this feeling, but, I still found myself feeling a bit cold as I read it. All that being said, my qualms where more due to my preferences as a reader, and not any problem with this book. Any fan of Young Adult Dystopian novels should be thrilled with Insurgent, and Roth should expect a horde of fans clamoring for the next book in this series.

Emma Galvin again gives a solid reading of Insurgent. She is fast becoming one of my favorite Young Adult narrators based on the thoughtful detail she puts into her work. Galvin doesn’t assume that the main character sounds like her, but uses her voice to reflect the character that Roth creates. Galvin does a great job pacing the many elaborate action sequences that Roth sets up, keeping the flow, yet never muddling the action. Insurgent is a wonderfully produced and narrated audiobook. The characters feel real, and Galvin gives the setting a hyper reality that seems to fit in with the author‘s intent. It’s nice to have a Young Adult novel narrated in a way where the teenagers seem like teenagers, and the adults seem like adults.

Audiobook Review: This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

18 01 2013

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Read by Stephanie Cannon


Length: 6 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: If you’re looking for an apocalyptic thrill ride full of hardcore zombie action and blood gurgling horror, This Is Not a Test may not fit your bill. Yet, if you enjoy well written, atmospheric tales full of complex problems with no easy answers, then you absolutely should give this one a try.

Grade: B

As a huge fan of the Zombie genre, I love when a novel has cross genre appeal. I think it is great when people who typically wouldn’t be drawn to books about the shambling carnivorous undead take a chance on a book featuring them. Yet, there is also a level of frustration to it. People will often tag their praise of such a novel with “It’s not really about Zombies.” Now, I understand this. People don’t want others who may be turned off by these horror icons to avoid the book. Yet, I find these sort of caveats up there with the term “guilty pleasure.” I like zombies. There is no shame in enjoying tales of ravenous hordes of undead as they tear through society one infected bite at a time. Yet, most importantly, most good zombie novels aren’t really about the zombies. In fact, there is a lot of great horror tales out there that aren’t about the monsters and evil, but the people it affects. Horror is about extremes, about how people react when they are put in these horrible situations. It’s easy to create characters that rise above their troubles, when their troubles are romantic entanglements or minor financial setbacks. Yet, when each decision you make could lead to a horrific death, it is much harder for the humanity to bubble to the surface. This is why horror often features flawed characters from tough situations. These people have already survived the horrors or regular life so taking on Monsters isn’t that big of a change. So, yes, This Is Not a Test is not really about Zombies but it definitely is about the living dead.

16 year old Sloane Price was already dead inside when the undead came. Abandoned by her sister and left in the hands of a controlling and abusive father, Sloane just wanted it all to end. Now, with the world in chaos, she finds herself holed up in a school with a group of her classmates. As the tension grows, and conflict blooms Sloane sees the infected bite of the undead as a potential solution to all her problems. This Is Not a Test is a moody, atmospheric tale of isolation, both physical and emotional, set within the chaotic world of the Zombie Apocalypse. Summers explores a lot of interesting issues involving acceptance, social perceptions and status that seem to permeate YA literature today, yet does it in a fresh way. I loved that throughout the whole novel, Summers stays true to her character. This is not a story of redemption or revelation but a detailed look at a broken girl in the most extreme situations. Filtering the conflicts and entanglements of the various characters through the eyes of someone so isolated, allowed Summers to skip past the caricatures, and create a group full of realistic and frustrating characters. Yet, This Is Not a Test isn’t, like many Zombie novels, about surviving the survivors. This Is Not A Test is about attempting to survive yourself and your history. Each character must come to terms with decisions, past occurrences or simply the perceived perceptions of their peers to find whether or not they can fit into this changed world and the answer is rarely yes. This is what makes this novel a tough listen. There is little in the way of thrills and chills of a traditional manner. Summers writing has a claustrophobic feel, trapping you in the mind of her main character, and it’s not always an easy place to be. If you’re looking for an apocalyptic thrill ride full of hardcore zombie action and blood gurgling horror, This Is Not a Test may not fit your bill. Yet, if you enjoy well written, atmospheric tales full of complex problems with no easy answers, then you absolutely should give this one a try.

Stephanie Cannon delivers a solid but flawed reading of this novel. Sloane is not an easy character, and Cannon reads her with an emotional deadness that while appropriate to the tale, made it less than engaging for the listener. Also, her muted tones transferred over to many of the other characters, and while they had somewhat different voices, the rhythms and cadence remained constant for every character creating confusing dialogue. It was also hard to determine Sloane’s internal and external dialogue, making you wonder at times whether she said something or just thought it. For a novel that was so intimate, and took place largely in the head of one character this could be problematic. Yet, I also thought Cannon did a good job capturing the mood and rhythms of Summer’s prose. She transitioned well from slower moments to the action, and allowed listeners to follow along well. Overall, I felt the production was well done, but the style of the book was either better suited to print, or could have used a narrator with a bit more vocal diversity.

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

Audiobook Review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

15 01 2013

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans (The Memory Chronicles, Bk. 1)

Read by Jenna Lamia

Listening Library

Length: 8 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Level 2 is a cyberpunk version of Dante’s Inferno told with an imaginative flair. Appelhans has turned the classic coming of age novel on its head, giving us instead a "coming of death" tale full of emotion, heart and a whole lot of adventure.

Grade: B+

I have always been a fan of the unreliable narrator. Ever since the 14 year old me had his mind blown by Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I have leaned that when you are put into the mind of a character, you cannot always believe what you are told.  A savy author can use your expectations of honesty against you through a first person POV. One of my favorite things an author can do is create a world so vital to the story that it becomes a character itself. Yet, for some reason, I have never even considered the concept of an unreliable setting. Not that this is a brilliant new idea, just something that never even dawned on me. With the use of virtual worlds, the prospects for unreliable settings offer an endless supply of possibilities. We have seen these ideas explored through movies like The Matrix and novels like Nick Sagan’s `Idlewild. The very fabrics of the reality in which these tales take place are not solid, but malleable. Even the truth cannot be trusted, because a truth told with the purpose to deceive has the same moral weight of a lie, and in a virtual world, everything can be a lie. Level 2, the debut YA novel by Lenore Appelhans, explores some of these possibilities in a fascinating way. Applehans has created a world that is a sort of cyberpunk afterlife, where the main currency is memory, and those very memories could be corrupted or manipulated. In Level 2 you can’t trust anything, even if you see it with your own eyes.

Felicia has been in Level 2 for what seems a very long time. While her two friends seem content to spend their time reliving their memories and using their credit to view the memories of others on the net, Felicia can’t help but want something more out of her afterlife. When a shadowy, but beautiful boy from her life, shows up to remove her from her pod, Felicia finds herself a part of a rebellion that may be just as bad as those they are rebelling against. Level 2 is a highly imaginative tale of the afterlife that blends genres and defies easy classification. Appelhans seems to embrace a smorgasbord of influences drawing just as much on Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson as she does classic contemporary Young Adult authors. The world she creates is hauntingly beautiful, but a bit confusing at times. I found myself more thrilled with the world that she created than her main character, which I found a bit unlikable and frustrating. The novel itself had a very strange balance to it. Appelhans developed her character in peace meal chunks allowing us the relive memories of her tragic past and romantic entanglements through the use of viewing memories. This created a constant strange shift between two realities neither of which felt trustworthy. Yet, this isn’t a complaint, but the opposite. Applelhans created a theme of deception throughout the novel, which actually leads to revelation. As the reader tries to piece together Felicia’s past with her current situation, you couldn’t help but evaluate each piece of the puzzle as the author gave it to you, turning it over to examine it from every side.  Despite the fact that I didn’t really like Felicia, I could relate with her at times, which isn’t something that is always true for me in Young Adult novels. I really enjoyed her depiction of a religious youth group, which was quite similar to a group I attended as a teenager, as well as the experiences of Felicia living abroad. These little touches along the way allowed me to deal with the romantic subplots and angsty teenage fare with a touch of nostalgia and not just my typical grumpy-old-man-oscity.  Level 2 is a cyberpunk version of Dante’s Inferno told with an imaginative flair. Appelhans has turned the classic coming of age novel on its head, giving us instead a "coming of death" tale full of emotion, heart and a whole lot of adventure.

This is my first experience listening to a Jenna Lamia narration and I was quite impressed. Lamia gives a beautiful reading, creating an ethereal mood that fit perfectly into Appelhan’s world. Lamia managed to give the teenage characters an authentic feel without making them sound like bad caricatures from some teenage television melodrama. Lamia paced the novel perfectly, easily transitioning from the real world, with a straight foreword approach, to the world of Level 2, which she read with a more poetic flair. Lamia was easily able to tap into the emotions of the main character, adding depths to her experience and eliciting a genuine response from the listener. There were a few moments towards the end, when reliving some of the more devastating moments of Felicia’s past that Lamia’s reading gave me chills. Overall, I really enjoyed Level 2, due to the fascinating world the author created and the wonderful performance by the narrator.

Note: Special Thanks to Listening Library/Random House Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.