Tag: Review

For Me, 2014 Was The Year Of Audiobooks – part 2

As promised, here’s part 2 of 2014 in review:

“Skingame” by Jim Butcher. It’s no secret I’m a Dresden Files fan. I’ve posted about the series here. I’ve posted memes on social media. I’ve referenced Jim Butcher’s stories as examples in writing discussions. This one was a hard copy. It’s also number 15 in the series and the latest published. I won’t delve into any details, but I enjoyed the book. There were a few things that left me scratching my head such that I had to chat with other fans to figure out, but hey, it left me talking about the book days later.

“Pines (Wayward Pines #1)” by Blake Crouch narrated by Paul Michael Garcia. What can I say about this story besides wow, what a head spinner. Although this is the first of a series of books, I stopped at the first one. I have not yet decided if I’ll continue the series. The narrator did an acceptable job, but did not leave me with a memorable performance. Crouch does a great job with descriptions, but some of his plot enforcing seems a bit, well forced.

“Kiss the Girls (Alex Cross, #2)” by James Patterson narrated by Robert Guillaume and Chris Noth. I was disappointed in the narrators’ performance. I can’t put my finger on whether or not the switching between narrators for hero and villain threw me off or I had Charles Turner’s performance as Alex Cross stuck in my head. The story itself was an admirable follow up effort to “Along Came A Spider.” Perhaps this was one best left for hardcopy.

“Die Trying (Jack Reacher #2)” by Lee Child narrated by Jonathan McClain. Thus begins the McClain era of Jack Reacher. At first I wasn’t sold on McClain as Reacher, but he grew on me. The story is well plotted out and begins to show that Lee Child has hit on a formula that works. His trademark descriptions continue and weave a tale that keeps me coming back for more Jack Reacher.

“Tripwire (Jack Reacher #3)” by Lee Child narrated by Jonathan McClain. McClain’s character voices truly shine through in this performance. I think “Tripwire” is my favorite in the Jack Reacher series. The villain, Hook Hobie, is a memorable one who deserves a place among other great literary blackguards.

“Joyland” by Stephen King. I had high hopes for this book. It was published in 2013 as the second book for the imprint Hard Case Crime. I have enjoyed King’s evolution into mysteries and thrillers and away from the purely supernatural horrors he started with. The descriptions are great. The concept is great. The execution, eh.

“The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire, #1)” by Craig Johnson. I picked up this book for no other reason than I’m a fan of the TV series “Longmire” on A&E. As I read, I could easily hear most of the characters’ voices in my head. The writing style is unique at times, so unique I was left confused on a few pages and had to thumb back and read again to figure out what was being said. Despite that problem, I did enjoy this book. If you’re a fan of the TV show, read this book.

“Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King narrated by Will Patton. Of all the books that blew me away in 2014, this was near if not at the top of the list. I love watching Will Patton on the screen, but listening to his narration was a whole new experience and really made me a bigger fan of Patton. As of this date, this performance is the only one that has made me actively search for a way to leave this narrator a love note for his reading. Now, King did an admirable job as well. I loved this story and found myself conversing with a stranger in an airport over the book. If any book could bring back the age of Stephen King movies, this would be it.

“The Dragon Factory (Joe Ledger, #2) by Jonathan Maberry narrated by Ray Porter. What can I say about this book that I didn’t say about “Patient Zero.” This is my new favorite series. The descent in madness of the world around Joe Ledger is near palpable in this book. Read this series.

“The King of Plagues (Joe Ledger, #3) by Jonathan Maberry narrated by Ray Porter. Maberry wrote a “love letter” to Ray Porter on Audible.com saying that when he writes Joe Ledger’s lines now, he hears Ray Porter’s voice in his head. What bigger compliment could a narrator receive. I loved this book, but its reach for a global scale nearly slipped through Maberry’s fingers. Some of the plot points were confusing. Some of the chapters unnecessary. But, I’ll still pick up book 4 for a listen.

“Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft” by Joe Hill. I was turned on to this graphic novel after having read Joe Hill’s “N0S4A2.” The art is wonderful and the story gritty and magical. I’d love to see this come to the small screen. If you don’t mind a little horror and gore in your comics, pick this up. Disclaimer: not safe for the kiddies.

“Running Blind (Jack Reacher, #4) by Lee Child narrated by Jonathan McClain. This book is the last of the McClain era, but his performance holds true. One of the parts of Child’s Reacher formula is that he’s always on a deadline. And those deadlines can be tight at times. This story had Reacher flying all over the place to talked to witnesses, potential suspects, etc as he worked with the FBI. Having faced first hand much of the read tape and the slow moving bureaucracy of the U.S. Government, I found it hard to believe he was able to jet all over the country at a moment’s notice so easily. Good story, Lee Child. But, keep it closer to home next time.

“Echo Burning (Jack Reacher, #5) by Lee Child narrated by Dick Hill. The return of Dick Hill. I don’t know if the fans spoke out for Dick Hill’s return or if the author did, but either way, he’s here to stay. I listened to this book out of order, but it didn’t matter. It still worked out just fine. Apparently, Lee Child took my advice from #4 and kept everything in a much smaller locale, although that locale was Texas. Reacher faces off against a killing team with high stakes if he fails…formula complete.

“Without Fail (Jack Reacher, #6) by Lee Child narrated by Dick Hill. Reacher is haunted by the life of his brother. This time, he interacts with the Secret Service and provides advice on how one might kill the vice president of the United States. At this point, Child may run out of government agencies to call on Reacher’s expertise before he even reaches book 10. But, as I said before, the formula works. Child’s writing is solid. Dick Hill’s performance is superb.

“The Curse Merchant” by J.P. Sloan. I picked this book up at a book launch at a local brewery. The author let each person who bought a book pick a tarot card. If they chose a particular card, they got the book for free. Very cool. I don’t want to say much about this book at this point because I intend on doing a full blown review and author interview on this book. Yes, J.P. Sloan is in my writing group. Yes, I’m doing a little sucking up. But, I don’t care. I liked the book. You will too.

Check out some of these books.  Heck, check out all of these books, and leave me a comment to say what you think!

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For Me, 2014 Was The Year Of Audiobooks – part 1

2014 was the year of audio books for me because of an Audible subscription. I did manage to read a few books both electronic and old fashioned paper. I also purchased a new Kindle Fire HDX this past year as well. And, I discovered I truly enjoy a new genre: thrillers. All in all, 2014 was a year of change.

“Storm Front” by Jim Butcher is the first book in The Dresden Files series. The narrator is actor James Marsters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. I listened to this book as my first foray into audio books at the beginning of 2014 to see if I had the time to listen to a book and if I could pay attention to an audio book during my morning and evening commute. Marsters does a decent job of reading the novel, but does fall a bit flat on the ears. I have talked to friends regarding his continued reading of the series and have been told he develops different voices and cadences for the different characters in the book. I am already a big fan of The Dresden Files and have reviewed here.

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker was a lovely surprise. The narrator was mainly Alan Cumming, but also included Tim Curry as Van Helsing. I’ve read “Dracula” in print form, but was quite curious about the narration by Cumming and Curry. Curry’s voice was unrecognizable as Van Helsing, but the Germanic accent used was engaging and entertaining. Cumming’s performance held my attention. Even though Stoker’s writing can be stilted and rife with troublesome words, Cumming made the story fun and the archaic speech understandable. Overall, an audio book I strongly recommend.

“Patient Zero (Joe Ledger #1)” by Jonathan Mayberry is my favorite new series this year and Ray Porter my new favorite narrator. Porter’s delivery of Joe Ledger’s lines is natural and shows the snark and control of the protagonist. Mayberry has created a great cast of characters that make you want to continue following their adventures. “Patient Zero” revolves around a terrorist plot to unleash a bio-engineered threat against the United States. Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences must stop them. I love Ray Porter’s narration, but this is a series that I recommend in both audio and print form.

“Killing Floor” by Lee Child is the first book in the Jack Reacher series. If I have a guilty pleasure in 2014, it’s Jack Reacher. The narrator’s have changed a couple of times through the series, but Dick Hill is definitely the voice of Jack Reacher for me. If you’ve watched the Tom Cruise movie, “Jack Reacher,” please don’t take that as representative of this series. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Tom Cruise movie as well, but I keep that completely separate from the book series. The myriad of voices Dick Hill produces is nothing short of amazing in this performance and is an narrator I will continue to look for in other audio books. The plot of “Killing Floor” is a bit predictable in places, but the story remains enjoyable. Lee Child has created a truly memorable character worth reading, or listening to in this case.

“Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel” by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris was a book I read in January of 2014. I reviewed it in February here. I am enthralled with many things Steampunk. But, “Phoenix Rising” was my first foray into the literature. Ballantine and Morris are authors to watch.

“Feed, Newsflesh Trilogy #1” by Mira Grant and narrated by Paula Christensen and Jesse Bernstein has a unique take on the Zombie Outbreak. Instead of the action, gnawing, and shoot-em-ups a zombie novel normally consists of, “Feed” is based on a group of bloggers struggling to be legitimate journalists as they are chosen to follow a Congressman on the Presidential Election trail. The zombies are merely a backdrop for the world Grant has created. The constant checking of characters for the zombie virus does become a bit tiresome by the end of the book, but the plot was engaging enough to follow the book to its conclusion. The narration switched back and forth a few times between Christensen and Bernstein which broke the mystique for me. If I had been reading the book instead, this might not have affected me quite so much. If you’re looking for a fun and different read, check out “Feed.”

“Steelheart, The Reckoners #1” by Brandon Sanderson and narrated by MacLeod Andrews was my first superhero/villain novel. You might recognize Sanderson as the author chosen to complete “The Wheel of Time” series. His great storytelling talent brings to life a comic book world which leaves you wanting more and wanting more again. Andrews voices a myriad of characters believably and is a pleasure to listen to. If you’re looking for a book that’s just plain fun, pick this up.

“N0S4A2” by Joe Hill was my slip back into reading horror. You can see my review for Unleaded here. After reading “N0S4A2” I followed it by several other horror novels (2015 reviews to come soon :). I blame you, Joe Hill.

“Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming and narrated by Simon Vance was another of my eccentricities as I explore the original books of famous movies. I’ll start with Vance. He seems to be the go-to British narrator these days. And there’s a reason; he’s quite good. If you haven’t heard any of his performances, you’re in for quite a treat. Now, to Fleming. If you pick up “Casino Royale,” you must keep in mind the time frame the book, published in 1953. Bond’s language and view of women are absolutely in touch with the times and absolutely out of touch with today’s views. Don’t let those facts nor the existence of the movies dissuade you from reading or listening to this book.

“Wolf Hunt” by Jeff Strand … what can I say about this book except, go get this book now. I loved this book. It has its horror moments; it is a book about a werewolf. It has its humorous moments; no I won’t spoil them here. The premise of the book is that two organized crime heavies are hired to drive a man in a cage who claims to be a werewolf to a mob boss in another city. Horror and hilarity ensues. I would love to see this story turned into a film.

“Along Came a Spider (Alex Cross #1)” by James Patterson narrated by Charles Turner. This was my first James Patterson book. I was not disappointed. Similarly, I was not disappointed by Charles Turner’s performance either. This is a reverse situation in my movie/original book theme. I have not yet seen the movie starring Morgan Freeman, but after having heard this book, it is in my Netflix queue.

“Mitosis” by Brandon Sanderson. This novella takes place right after the events in “Steelheart” and fills the gap between “Steelheart” and book 2, “Firefight.” For my thoughts on this book, I point you to my notes above for book 1.

“A Kiss Before Dying” by Ira Levin narrated by Mauro Hantman was the book that most disturbed me in 2014. This book has been made into a movie several times, but I was unaware of that until after I had listened to this book. Hantman’s performance was a pleasure. Levin’s story is, as I said, disturbing. But, isn’t the trait of a good author one that leaves you emotionally touched after reading their work? If you’re unfamiliar with Levin, he is also the author of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Boys from Brazil,” “Sliver,” “The Stepford Wives,” and the plays “No Time for Sergeants” and “Deathtrap.”

 

More to come…

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Compare and Contrast the film vs book version of “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold”

I’m here to fulfill my promise of another review in December. This one bookends my previous one and the subject is at the request of our own Day Al-Mohamed. My reviewRichard Burton of “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” by John le Carré was met with the comment of “perhaps you should compare and contrast the book vs the movie (1965 starring Richard Burton, CBE).

Let me begin by saying spycraft as John le Carré writes it, and from what I understand is the case in real life from my own research, is dry, can be boring, and is convoluted with aliases, more aliases, and code names. To fully appreciate the novel and the movie, I’m convinced one must either be involved in this trade or have a deep understanding of this vocation as practiced at the height of the Cold War.

The movie starts the same as the book with the protagonist, Leamas, waiting at a Berlin Wall checkpoint for one of his spies to make the trek from the bowels of East Germany to West Germany. This is the end of his time as a spymaster in that part of the world. Alarms are sounded and spotlights blaze when his man’s credentials are closely scrutinized. Bullets fly and Leamas is left with the last action in his official career with Britain’s security services staring at the body of a man in his care knowing who betrayed him, and East German named Mundt, and realizing there is nothing he can do about it.

Burton’s performance at this point in the movie is typically Burton, lots of stoic expressions mixed with his staccato speech pattern. The scene is equally short in the movie as in the book. This pivotal event sets up the reasons for Leamas’ participation in the scheme that is the rest of the book/movie.

As Leamas returns to London, he is approached by his handlers and top security service brass. They lay out a plan to eliminate the man responsible for the death of Leamas’ agent, Mundt, and reveal this man was also responsible for several other agents’ deaths. However, this requires Leamas to live a life of shame on a pitiful salary and pretend to defect to the East German side. John le Carré spends several pages in the book describing this in detail and what all will be required of Leamas to accomplish the subterfuge. But, in the film version, Leamas spends less than five minutes of screen time on this particular and confusing scene.

Here is where I had to first admit to myself, and disappointingly early in the movie, that without having read the book, I would be lost in the direction the film was taking. Without Burton in the starring role, I most likely would have prematurely ended the film if I stumbled on this sans novel.

Leamas begins to live his sham lifestyle and meets a young lady with whom he quickly falls in love. Unfortunately, she is a communist, but this does not hinder their liaison. To lend validity to his dissatisfaction with his former employers and his mother country, he concocts a plan to land him in prison. The life he begins to lead working in a library, subsequent money and drink problems, along with his general social pariah facade, goes on for a decent chunk of the book. This is basically the “first black moment” in the story. Burton’s film glosses over the descent into that life so quickly, I had to go back and watch again to ensure I had not missed a few scenes. Even when Leamas beats a grocer for extending him credit to buy caviar among other ridiculously expensive items, the ordeal unfolds so rapidly, I did not quite understand why the protagonist’s anger built suddenly just prior to the attack. Finally, the prison time is explained in detail in the narrative, but is completely left out except for a mere mention of it when Leamas’ lady friend questions his extended absence.

Waiting for Leamas’ exit from prison is a dandy posing as a representative of an organization that wants to help ex-cons get back on their feet. This man turns out to be Leamas’ ticket to the East German “defection” he and his superiors schemed. Again, quite a detailed explanation of places and people and meetings goes into the description of this upswing in the story line. This is one part of the film I was happy with and felt held true to the story, despite its brevity. The film does leave the romantic wondering why the hero so rapidly and callously leaves behind his “girl” to further pursue his deceit.

The remainder of the story takes place in East German as Leamas is interrogated first by an East German handler, then by Mundt’s second in command, Fiedler. These interrogations lay the foundation for the race to the finish, so quite a bit of detail is thrown out to establish that groundwork. Here is one of the places I note as boring and confusing as aliases, names, descriptions of procedures and organizations, and code names are presented for one interrogator then another. Burton’s performance here is quite good as he shows how the hero must submerse himself in the persona he has created and indulge in spirits yet keep his stories straight. His anger at insisting he knows nothing more, is an emotional high point of the film.

the spy who came in from the cold

Fiedler has taken a great interest in Leamas as he sees the Brit as the key to bringing down Mundt and assuming Mundt’s position in the East German political structure. Leamas happily leads him down that road as Fiedler is following the plan laid out by British security services as if he himself were part of the initial birthing of said design. Oskar Werner, an Austrian portraying a Jew in the film, does an admiral job of depicting the weasel of a man that le Carré creates in the book.

Leamas’ “black moment” comes when he is brought before a court where Fiedler is accusing Mundt of collaboration with the British intelligence services using Leamas’ stories as evidence and his communist girlfriend is brought in from London to testify. At that point, Leamas realizes he is not truly in control of the situation when it is revealed that his British handlers have apparently betrayed him. Leamas goes to an East German prison cell with no hope of escape.

Without giving away the ending of the movie, things rapidly escalate as they should in that “race to the finish” I mentioned earlier. However, revelations and twists in the plot happen so quickly, again, I’m at a point where I would be lost in the movie plot had I not read the book.

Overall, I will say the screenplay version of “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” was faithful to the book despite skipping some key points and rushing through others. To the director’s credit, he did not seem to take creative license and add plot points or side treks to the story to “make it more interesting for film.” If you want to see the film and are not well versed in Cold War history, I would strongly suggest you read the book prior to viewing.

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“Storm Front” by Jim Butcher

“Storm Front”. Book One of the Dresden Files. Jim Butcher’s breakthrough hit. All describe this month’s book. Although Butcher’s first Dresden Files story was titled “Semiautomagic”but edited to later become “Storm Front,” it is notable that at 25 years old this was originally written for a creative writing class.

Butcher has created a number of memorable characters who are poised to become legendary within the fantasy genre. The first of these is Harry Dresden himself. He’s the only wizard listed in the Chicago Yellow Pages who cares deeply about his friends, too deeply where children are involved, and has a soft spot for animals. Dresden’s attire is also one for the legends, magic enforced leather trench coat, magic necklace and bracelet, magic wand and staff, and of course, a pistol.

Second of the heroes gallery is Bob the Skull. Bob is a spirit trapped in a human skull. He has been adviser to wizards both good and evil. Now, he is Harry’s best friend and magical consultant and trashy romance connoisseur. While ancient and wise, he is the comedic relief as well as a sleeping giant. Harry has said he is quite afraid of what Bob could be if turned to evil.

Lastly, Inspector Karrin Murphy, the petite, martial arts wielding, director of the Chicago Police Special Investigations unit. She is often the one who brings Harry some of his stranger cases and remains the anchor to reality in Harry’s life.

Butcher expertly introduces the reader to Harry’s world of magic and guides the ride-a-long with with Dresden on his investigations. The story has a rich plot, bringing the protagonist on a roller coaster ride as clues are unveiled often bringing Harry down physically and emotionally before lifting him back up again.  The success of “The Dresden Files” has spawned a TV series, a successful series of audio books, a comic book run, an RPG, and a major cult following. It is well known that Butcher has planned a total of 20 books in the series and has just released the 13th.

Technically, “Storm Front” is an example of the Hero’s Journey and follows the basic tenets of the mystery/detective novel. Aesthetically, it is a fun read with wonderful characters and a colorful world all of which will leave the reader hungry for the next novel in the series. I give “Storm Front” four flags, but would give the whole series five. Enjoy this series, it’s worth the read.


“Drama City” by George Pelecanos

Drama City“Drama City” by George Pelecanos is the story of Lorenzo Brown, a Humane Society animal control officer, and Rachel Lopez, his parole officer. Such a simple sentence to sum up this work by Pelecanos does not do the book justice. The story is so much more. Originally written in 2005, the themes and lessons are as germane now as in 2005.

Lorenzo Brown is a man with a past that only haunts the edges of his post incarceration existence. His best friend from his early days is one of the local drug lords in Washington D.C. Even though he maintains a distant, but friendly relationship with this kingpin, Lorenzo sticks to his new, clean lifestyle which is checked regularly by his parole officer, Rachel Lopez.

Rachel Lopez is a woman who lives to work. Her job is her life since her personal life is rife with alcohol and sex addictions. She is vigilant regarding her parolees and concerned about their lives. Throughout the book, she remains guilt-ridden with her own behavior, but comes out of her self-destructive nights ready for another day on the job.

When the three worlds of Lorenzo Brown, his kingpin friend, and Rachel Lopez collide, a violent kid from the streets brings everything to a screeching halt.

Pelecanos taps into D.C.’s heart and pulls out a story that could have been related to him as truth or pulled from the headlines. He captures the dialogue and culture of his subjects well, bringing the reader to a front seat in the theater of real life.

“Drama City” is masterfully plotted. Pelecanos has put together a wonderfully realistic story with characters that jump off the page, inhabiting his plot and his fictionalized version of D.C. I highly recommend “Drama City” for your reading list. Whether you’re into street fiction or not, this is sure to be a book you will enjoy. I give “Drama City” five flags!

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“A Demon Bound” by Debra Dunbar

I’m running a few days late for my regular book review post. The holidays are apparently affecting my brain and time management skills. That and the new Dresden Files book came out. This month’s review is special because the author is not only someone I’ve met, but lives in the Maryland and has focused her novels on the towns around Washington, DC.

Debra Dunbar‘s debut novel is “A Demon Bound” and was released in July of 2012. The heroine is one Samantha Martin and she’s a demon. More accurately, she’s an imp and has been living among humans unbeknownst to the angels for forty years. She thoroughly enjoys life on earth as a human and revels in the sensations the human body provides. When she crosses a werewolf clan, she gets involved in a world that threatens to expose her to the angels, possibly getting her killed in the process.

Dunbar has created an amazingly fun protagonist in Samantha Martin. Dunbar has captured the mischievous spirit of an imp with this character as Samantha fumbles through human emotions she thought has been mastered many years before as well as new ones in the underlying danger through the book of staying under the angels’ radar.

This book shows Dunbar’s exceptional talent in accelerating a story through dialogue. I found myself wanting to skip some of her descriptions in order to keep the conversation from ending. Each character in the book is well developed and each skilfully contributes to the story as a whole. The quirks of each character are especially amusing.

For a debut novel, Dunbar has shown extraordinary talent and seems to have quickly found her author’s voice. The dedication to details is superb and had me guessing at what real life locales match the places in her book. A few I recognized immediately and others had me pulling out a map to trace Samantha’s travels in the area. Dunbar maintains a blog and has been kind enough to pull together photos of the places that inspired the scenes in her book.

The Imp Series, of which “A Demon Bound” is the first volume, continues in “Satan’s Sword” and “Elf’s Blood” due out March 2013. I look forward to seeing more of Dunbar’s work. If you enjoy the supernatural and you enjoy a fast paced fantasy story, pick up “A Demon Bound.”  Hop on over to my personal blog, “Thoughts From My Head” to check out an interview with the author. Ms. Dunbar and “A Demon Bound” get four flags!

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