This was a great companion for my work commute. Nicely done, from the writing to the audio narration. The only thing that has me confused is the narraThis was a great companion for my work commute. Nicely done, from the writing to the audio narration. The only thing that has me confused is the narrators choice of accent. I don't think Ohioan's speak with a southern twang.....
Listened 5/15/15 -5/30/15 4 Stars - Highly Recommended in audio; an intriguing watery apocalypse with a floating circus, you guys! Length: Approx 11 houListened 5/15/15 -5/30/15 4 Stars - Highly Recommended in audio; an intriguing watery apocalypse with a floating circus, you guys! Length: Approx 11 hours Publisher: Random House Audio Narrator: Katy Townsend Released: May 2015
The premise of Kirsty Logan's debut novel The Gracekeepers - a post apocalyptic world where the sea has swallowed most of the land - immediately brought to mind the 1996 Kevin Costner film Waterworld. (Oh come on, don't tell me your mind didn't go there! But also, don't worry, it's miles better!) In it, society has been broken up into two parts: the "landlockers", a higher class of people who live privileged lives on the remaining islands, and the lower class "damplings" who are forced to make a life at sea.
Callanish hovers between the two, self-exiled on a small island where she performs the solitary and somber role of Gracekeeper. That's a fancy term for administering shoreside burials, known as restings, for the damplings who sail their recently deceased into her graceyard. Once she releases the body into the water, she marks the spot with a caged Grace - lovely little birds that are raised to be starved to death out on the ocean. Their death, interestingly enough, signifies the end of the grieving period for the bereaved. Callanish performs these restings in exchange for food and supplies.
Floating from archipelago to archipelago is the glorious Excalibur and its motley crew of circus performers - led by Jarrow, the ringmaster, and his demanding and extremely pregnant wife Avalon. The circus boat pulls itself ashore, night after night, to entertain the landlockers and fill their bellies with their hard earned food. Theirs is a show unlike any others - with gender bending maypole dancers; acrobats; a fire-breather; bitter, subversive clowns; and a girl who dances with a bear.
When an unexpected storm takes the life of one of their acrobats, the Excalibur makes its way to Callanish's graceyard and an instant bond develops between the Gracekeeper and North, the circus's bear-girl. Through their meeting, North finds the strength to share a secret that has been weighing heavily on her for some time and Callanish finds a kindred spirit, someone who will not judge her for her differences. Once the performer's body had been laid to rest, the two women reluctantly say goodbye - North and her bear climb aboard the Excalibur as the circus moves on in search of work among the islands, and Callanish is left alone again, to grieve the things she thought she'd put behind her for good. But they have left lasting marks on each other and its ripple effect will change the course of both their lives.
Kirsty Logan's world is very much on the brink of war. Tension is building everywhere. It's found within religion, both that of the 'World Tree' worshipping islanders from Callanish's past to the more ritzy Revivalists who sail the seas in giant luxury ships. It lives in the social struggles between the damplings and landlockers, which greatly influences our little circus - many of those on the Excalibur have ties to land in one way, shape, or form, but none hunger for it more greatly than Jarrow and Avalon, though for very different, and potentially deadly, reasons.
A haunting, stirring novel, The Gracekeepers was brought to life beautifully by Katy Townsend's whispery narration as Kirsty's mystical and dreamlike prose gently guided us through the book's alternating chapters. And like any good performer, Kirsty subtly weaves Scottish lore and myths throughout this watery world of hers as she distracts us with the glitter and gold of the circus life....more
Listened 4/20/15 - 4/22/15 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of dark comedies parading as science fiction and raspy-voiced narrators Length: approx 5 1/2 hoListened 4/20/15 - 4/22/15 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of dark comedies parading as science fiction and raspy-voiced narrators Length: approx 5 1/2 hours Publisher: Random House Audio Narrator: Barbara Rosenblat Released: March 2015
It's summertime, 2015, and the city is in the grips of a nasty heatwave. Retired twin sisters Kat, who has lived her entire life evading responsibility, and Edith, an ex-librarian who has squirreled away letters from their mother's old advice column in the hopes of having them published one day, live together in a row house beneath Vida, an uppity actress and negligent landlady. Kat and Edith have been leaving messages for Vida regarding an odd smell in their apartment for weeks and now, well, they seem to have stumbled upon an odd, glowing mushroom growing out of their closet wall.
Turns out Vida has one in her apartment too, which she uncovered in the back of her own storage closet, along with a surprised young Russian runaway who was apparently squatting there unnoticed for months.
Hazmat is called in and the four women are forced to evacuate the property with nothing but the clothes they are wearing (and the letters Edith manages to smuggle out). The Super-Mold is unlike anything the city has seen before and it begins to spread at a incredibly rapid pace. Vida's insurance company calls it an "Act of God" and the remainder of the book is spent following the now-homeless and bereft women as they move through the city, dazed and confused, and leaving a trail of sparkling spores in their wake.
The audio book was a pleasure to listen to. Admittedly, Rosenblat's voice took a bit of getting used to - she's got this very throaty, raspy smokers-voice but I felt it actually fit the main characters' personalities quite well. It's strange, I can still hear her voice in my head as I'm recalling parts of the book for this review.
I've come to the conclusion that Jill Ciment has one strange sense of humor. Her characters were just eccentric enough, their situation just bizarre enough, to categorize it as dark comedy, though she teased the hell out of us in the beginning there. I see some people have the novel shelved as science fiction over at Goodreads but, sadly, there was nothing other-worldly to be found. I do admit that, as I listened to the book, there was a big part of me that was hoping the Super-Mold would've had extraterrestrial origins, or that the Russian girl would turn out to be not quite human. Maybe that's a residual effect of having read and loved Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy? But I really felt as though that was the direction Ciment was initially taking us. There came a point in the audio where I just finally accepted that the book really was as straight forward as it seemed - sometimes mother nature just gets one over on us - and that there wasn't going to be some big mama-mushroom monster revealed to be amassing itself beneath the city, preparing to launch a war against humankind in a John Wyndham, Day of the Triffids sort of way.
Bummer that, too. That would have been pretty badass. Picture it, phosphorescent mushrooms weeble-wobbling down the streets, sparkling up the world with their deadly glowing spores, what a glorious apocalypse that would have been!...more
2/8/15 - 2/27/15 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of overly simplistic, sweetly strange short stories that have no beginning and no end Audio: 8 hours, 352/8/15 - 2/27/15 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of overly simplistic, sweetly strange short stories that have no beginning and no end Audio: 8 hours, 35 mins Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Narrator: MacLeod Andrews Released: 2014
I listened to Thomas Pierce's Hall of Small Mammals on my commute to and from work. More and more I am finding that, though I love short story collections, they don't work well for me on audio. For starters, I'm not in the best frame of mind - I have to leave the house at 4:30 am so I'm kind of still half asleep when I start listening. I can't take notes because, well, I'm driving and it's dark out. And that would be dangerous. So by the time I park the car and walk into my office to start the day, most of what I've listened to has already begun to fade away.
In the evening, I spend the first five minutes of my drive home trying to (a) let go of all the work-bullshit so I can concentrate on the book and (b) remember what the heck MacLeod read to me that morning. Fun (not)! And kinda frustrating. Then I walk in the door, eat dinner, go to sleep, and promptly forget the story I was currently listening to.
While I am listening though, the book is an absolute pleasure. MacLeod has a wonderful reading voice and Pierce writes in simplistically short sentences. His characters are awkward and full of flaws, and you find yourself liking them immediately. They are ordinary people in some pretty extraordinary circumstances. You're fascinated by their dilemmas. You're rooting for it to all work out. Which is kind of fucked up because his stories, while drawing you in immediately, evolve quickly and end abruptly. Pierce, in my opinion, concerns himself much more with the 'telling' of the story than he does with the 'resolution' of the story. Then again, maybe his art is meant to imitate life. Much in life is left unresolved. Isn't it? And so, we the reader are treated as passers-by. We are given quick glimpses, experience mere slices, of their lives and are left forever guessing about how things turned out for everyone.
My favorite stories bookend the collection. The opening story, Shirley Temple Three, follows the sad and confusing life of a dwarf woolly mammoth, dubbed Shirley Temple by the man who cloned her. The final story, about a unwitting, brain damaged brother who follows his sister on a revenge mission, opens with the two of them hiding in a closet from two menacing dogs and thinking back over their own damaged relationship and the circumstances that brought them there.
Pierce has a knack for making odd situations appear completely normal through the use of well-timed snark and an absolute refusal to admit that the situations are, in fact, abnormally strange. These are stories everyone can sink their teeth into. A father and son heading off into the middle of the woods to camp out with a slightly cultish boy scout troop in Grashopper Kings. In The Real Alan Gass, a dude, after his girlfriend confesses that she's happily married in her dreams, becomes obsessed with tracking down her faux-hubby, convinced he's a real person. There's a story about a guy who takes his girlfriend's spoiled, snotty son to the zoo to see a monkey exhibit in the hopes of winning some brownie points. And another in which a strange woman updates a man on the ever changing whereabouts of his dead brother's quarantined body.
Pierce has mastered the middle of the story. Now someone just needs to teach him how to tell the beginning and the end....more
Listened 11/17/14 - 11/24/14 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of edgy, straight up trailer trash fiction Audio: 8.3 hours Publisher: FSG Narrator: Kathleen EListened 11/17/14 - 11/24/14 3 Stars - Recommended to fans of edgy, straight up trailer trash fiction Audio: 8.3 hours Publisher: FSG Narrator: Kathleen Early Released: November 2014
Typical teenage girls getting into typical teenage girl stuff, only so much worse. In Ugly Girls, the writing was always on the wall of what ultimately boils down to the story of two incredibly incompatible BFF's who test one another, pushing each another from bad decision to bad decision, eschewing the consequences in lieu of the thrill of the moment, until that one final moment. The moment neither can take back though they wish like hell they could.
Though you don't want to, you'll find the edgy, hard-core trashiness of the girls intoxicating. Baby Girl has made herself physically ugly, shaving her head, outlining her lips in a grotesque clown's mouth, donning her brother's old clothes, while Perry's ugliness is more behavioral, emotional, using her physical loveliness as a weapon.
Home's nothing to get all worked up over. Both live boring, dead-end lives. Baby Girl lives with her uncle and struggles with the fact that her once handsome and devilish older brother has been reduced to a drooling, temper-tantrum-throwing five-year-old as the result of a tragic bike accident. Perry, she lives with her drunk-as-a-skunk mother, who never seems to care where she is or what she's up to and her step-father, a saint of a man for being able to put up with the two of 'em.
Oh god, how this book brought the memories of my teenage years rushing back to me. For all intents and purposes, I was a fairly "good girl". I'd sneak around with the boys in the middle of the night, sure, slipping out the bedroom window like Perry did, my father never the wiser. I skipped school and chilled at friends' houses listening to music and watching them get high. A group of us would hang out in the local trailer park - skin heads and hippies talking about the ways they were gonna change the world, gawking at the strung out pregnant girls shoving ice cream and pickles into their junkie mouths. Making nuisances of ourselves at the local coffee shop, batting our under-aged eyelashes at the cute college boys who worked here. Cruising the main streets by the beach with the windows down, radio blasting, the wind in our ears, like nothing could touch us, just passing the time till something better came along.
Unlike us though, to get even with the world for the bum deck they were dealt, Perry and Baby Girl get off on having fun at other peoples expense, joyriding in the middle of the night, stealing cars, skipping school and cutting classes. They even end up in the dunk-tank overnight for attempting to steal stuff from the local pharmacy. But all that becomes child's play when the two of them discover that they're both being chatted up by the same guy - a guy who has a serious crush on Perry. When the girls finally agree to meet up and show him what's what, that's where the real trouble starts brewing. And once they start that ball rolling, there's no stopping its momentum.
From slow start to awkward and abrupt ending, Lindsay's multi-charactered novel is all about the ugly. The ugliness inside of us, how feeling ugly makes you act ugly, like there's no other way to be. Ugly Girls is a hopeless, grimy, gritty sort of novel that leaves you feeling as unwashed and skanky as its characters do and makes you thankful that you aren't raising teenage girls. Though now I feel I have to go and warn my teenage son about girls like them. ...more
Listened 10/28/14 - 11/10/14 3 Stars - Recommended to readers who enjoy apocalyptic fiction that focuses less on the apocalyptic and more on the relatiListened 10/28/14 - 11/10/14 3 Stars - Recommended to readers who enjoy apocalyptic fiction that focuses less on the apocalyptic and more on the relationships of those who are surviving it Audio 10.7 hours Publisher: Random House Narrator: Kirsten Potter Released: September 2014
I was talking to a girl at work the other day, when I was about halfway through the audio, about the freakish timing of this book's release. Emily St. John Mandel's entire novel hitches on the Georgia Flu pandemic, which nearly wipes humanity clean out - spreading around the globe at break neck speed, claiming its victims within days of exposure. And here we are, in the midst of the Ebola breakout... wondering and worrying over its potential to do a similar thing.
Chilling, to be reading a work of fiction that so closely mirrors our current reality. Because as you slip into the pages of Station Eleven, it practically begs you to question "would I survive the pandemic?" And if I did, which is a big fat if, "would I be able to survive in the aftermath?" And to that I'd have to say Oh. Hell. No. As much as I'd like to THINK I'm a survivor, I have to be honest here. I know nothing about scavenging for food, making a fire from nothing, living off the land. Unless I lucked out and hooked up with a group of people who kinda knew what they were doing. Then I might be ok. But otherwise, I'm as good as dead.
But hang on. Here I am, taking about the pandemic as if it's the entirety of the book when in actuality, it's treated more like a back story, since Station Eleven is much more concerned with Arthur, an aging Hollywood actor who died of a heart attack on stage while performing King Lear on the same evening that the Georgia Flu begins taking lives, and the way he is still remembered and connected to (and connecting) survivors 20 years later. Because when the human race is facing complete extinction, it totally makes sense that a handful of people will survive who all knew the same dude way back when... AND end up in the same place together, right? We're talking only 1% of the WORLD'S POPULATION exists now, and five of the non-infected knew Arthur in the time before are about to start hanging out. Really? Really?!
Kirsten, a child actor, was on stage with him when he died. She stood by and watched as an audience member attempted CPR on him. Fast forward 20 years later, and she is now part of a Traveling Symphony who roam town to town playing classical music and -oh yes- putting on renditions of King Lear. She also carries copies of two limited edition comic books that were written and designed by Arthur's first wife pre-collapse. The CPR guy, Jeevan, also survives the collapse, and remembers those few anxious moments trying to save Arthur under the bright stage lights. Though no one knows who he is, Kirsten often thinks about Jeevan and how he attempted to calm her during the whole Arthur-dying ordeal. Then we have Arthur's closest friend Clark, who was traveling to Arthur's funeral with Arthur's second wife Elizabeth and their only son. Arthur, Elizabeth, and the kid end up stranded at an airport during the outbreak and manage to survive, along with other lucky/unlucky airport-goers.
Told in chapters that rush back and forth between the early days of the Georgia Flu and the collapse to the here and now, Station Eleven puts a special emphasis on the importance of art and culture, and the role it plays in keeping the last vestiges of civilization... well, civilized. As I read, I found parallels to other post-apocalyptic novels - in the sense that people must make a conscious choice to remain human. Otherwise, they're bound to become monsters, letting their animal instincts take control. That's the power behind the post-apoc novel, isn't it? That tender balance between managing your humanity and totally forsaking it in the face of survival. Mandel's focus seemed to be placed more so on the THINGS of civilization and how they influenced her characters to remain human, rather than delve deeper into the internal struggle. But even that plot point was mashed in and sometimes completely sideswiped by Arthur's story and the ultimate climax to the story lines of those who were impacted by him.
I suppose when I first asked to review this book, I had been under the impression it would've concentrated more on the actual collapse of society, and was rather disappointed to find that it had chosen to center itself on this jaded, womanizing actor and the influence he still yielded over people when, frankly, influence no longer seemed to matter. I began to grow tired of the chapters that shared his history, and much preferred to be in the post collapse world Mandel was developing.
As I have in the past with big-press books that garnered impressive pre-release buzz, I sit here and wonder if I read the same thing as everyone else. Don't get me wrong. I would definitely recommend this to readers who want a slow paced, multi-charactered death-by-pandemic novel in which almost nothing seems to happen. But calling it the best book of 2014? I'm not seeing it. If you want a kick-ass book about the collapse of civilization, I'd highly recommend Eric Shonkwiler's Above All Men, which I called out as the best book of 2014 when I first read it back in January, and which still holds the title, in my opinion!...more
Listened 10/1/14 - 10/13/14 4 Stars: Strongly recommended to readers who enjoy being warned away from an inevitable and unwelcome future Audio: 10.8 hrsListened 10/1/14 - 10/13/14 4 Stars: Strongly recommended to readers who enjoy being warned away from an inevitable and unwelcome future Audio: 10.8 hrs, narrated by Will Damron Publisher: FSG Released: September 2014
Science will be man's downfall. We are getting too smart for our own good and it will be the end of us.
In Peyton Marshall's near-future dystopian novel Goodhouse, we have discovered the genes that predict criminality. Believed to be passed down from parent to child, all male children born to convicted parents are tested at a young age for these genetic markers. If they test positive, they are taken away to Goodhouses - part boarding school, part prison - where they are locked away and trained how to be "right thinking" members of society by their 18th birthday.
The problem with this? Well, for starters, the genetic coding seems to only detect criminality in boys. Not girls. So we're only in a position to attempt correction or rehabilitation on a portion of our population. To that I say, if you can't go big, you might as well go home. Throw the friggen towel in. The battle was lost before it even began. Talk about unfair. In other cultures and countries being born a boy meant a life of privilege.But not anymore. Turn up positive for those tell-tale genes and all of your rights are stripped from you in the blink of an eye. By the end of this century, you'd be better off born a girl.
However, after hearing about all the shit that goes on behind the gates and walls of those Goodhouses, you'd think that the proctors and teachers were actually trying to break, instead of heal, those poor young boys. Paired up in dormitories, as you might be during your freshmen year of college, the boys are issued new names and these neat little GPS chips - surgically placed under the skin near their bellies - that broadcast where you are, where you've been, and what you've been doing. If you fail to follow a rule, or report to your class or dorm room late, or you back-talk a class leader or proctor, you and your roommate are issued demerits. Yup. Both of you. Nothing like pitting you and your bestie against each other and creating a stressful, hostile situation, right? Hell, to sweeten the pot, not only do those demerits cause conflict among roommates once you earn them, those demerits also weigh against your statuses. Ultimately, you want to be a Level 1. That means you're top-notch. You behave yourself and abide by all the rules. When you graduate from Goodhouse at a level 1, you're guaranteed to return to society with all the privileges and responsibilities of a normal "civilian".
Needless to say, Goodhouses are breeding grounds for some wicked fighting and mistreatment. An entire school, populated by frustrated, confused, brainwashed teenaged boys with mouths full of hate and fists of fury.... nah, we never predicted THAT would go bad, did we? As if they needed any more provocation, Class leaders are allowed to torture and torment their peers, right in front of teachers and proctors, without repercussion. And the only way to unseat a Class Leader is to challenge them in a fight. Win the fight, and you're the new Class Leader. Lose, and... well... it could be confinement for you at the worst, or a boatload of demerits at the best.
Oh, and did I mention that there's this crazy religious group called The Zero's who view the Goodhouses and all those who live within its walls as abominations? And they torch the buildings and students, setting purifying fires to purge the world of these miscreants? And some of them have worked their way into the system and function as Goodhouse staff, working their evil from the inside out?
Marshall's novel, written from the pov of one of the students, an older boy named James, is a tentative, cautionary look at the road humanity is heading down. And a warning to those of us who look to science as the cure for what makes us human in the first place. Free will. This is the story of James' fight to take back his free will, to regain his entrance into society as a normal "civilian" and to tear apart the corrupted Goodhouse system, once and for all.
I highly recommend experiencing this novel as an audiobook. The narration was incredibly well paced and though I'd never heard anything read by Will Damron before, I was really impressed with how well he conveyed James' evolution from confused and fearful student to eventual unsung-hero. A great match between reader and content. ...more
Listened 9/23/14 - 9/27/14 4 Stars: Recommended to fans of the kind of literature that's cold and dark and gets into your bones Audio 6.7 hours PublisherListened 9/23/14 - 9/27/14 4 Stars: Recommended to fans of the kind of literature that's cold and dark and gets into your bones Audio 6.7 hours Publisher: Liveright Publishing / Blackstone Audio Released: September 2014
I am not ashamed to admit that I was trolling downpour.com looking for something to fill my ears during the commute to work when I stumbled across Hold the Dark. I hadn't heard a peep about it (which is usually a sign that I am onto something), but the cover and title caught my attention right away, and the blurb sold me seconds later.
Set in an Alaskan village so far off the map you'd never know it existed unless you were born there or beckoned there, during the teeth-chattering and snot-freezing dead of winter, Hold the Dark is a twisted, chilling thriller of a story. The wolves are starving and desperate. Children are going missing. And when Medora Slone swears one took off with her son, she sends a letter off to wolf expert and nature writer Russell Core, begging him to come to the village to help her reclaim his bones.
As Russell attempts to settle in and starts digging into the goings-on in Keelut, Medora disappears and her husband Vernon returns from the war to discover the news of his son. With his crazy-ass childhood friend Cheeon in tow, Vernon goes on the hunt for his wife, driving deeper into the Alaskan wilderness, leaving a trail of dead bodies for local detective Donald Marium to clean up after him. Things are definitely not what they appear on the surface of this strange and unfriendly place and we soon discover that it's going to take a whole lot more than Russell and Marium to ebb the grieving father's desire for revenge.
Hold the Dark is an extremely dark and violent, slow moving, tension-filled tale that's meant to mess with your mind. In it, we witness the lengths to which an isolated village will go to stand together and protect its own. A place where law is not necessarily recognized and strange, murdery deeds typically go unquestioned. A place where a man will put himself through hell to get back the one thing he wants most and death will befall those who are dumb enough to get in his way.
William Giraldi's careful prose and simplistic world-building go a long way to pulling the reader in, despite it's slow place. His willful withholding is actually part of the book's charm. And the near-tender descriptions of his characters' violent acts render them almost beautiful. Kudos also to Blackstone Audio, for finding a reader capable of conveying the quiet fierceness of Giraldi's words.
My only real critique is the final chapter. Despite the fact that had a different feel to it, as if it was written by a different hand, it felt like a sad surrender to a story that could have, and should have, gone off in another direction. Perhaps by eliminating that last chapter, the book would have been stronger. Perhaps if Giraldi had a little more faith in his readers, he wouldn't have needed to take it that far? Look, if you're an attentive reader, you'll pick up on some of what Giraldi's laying out as he goes along; you'll already have a sense of what's coming, of where he's heading. Trust me. That final chapter just cleans up what should, in my opinion, remain a messier tale.
Also, can we get off the whole "comparing every new author to a super-famous author that they kind of sort of write similarly to" now? Can we, please? I've seen Giraldi compared to both Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. Why? Because he writes sparse, bleak landscapes? Stop. Just stop. Let's not pollute the waters around a fresh and emerging writer. Let him be who he is without the pressures of having to stand as tall as our literary heroes. And let's just agree to enjoy the cold Alaskan landscape he sets his words in, as it freezes our skin solid and sends icy cold chills up and down our spines. ...more