Review: The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

Review:

dispatcher

My original The Dispatcher audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

 

John Scalzi is an author that’s been in my to-read pile for a while, but I somehow have been unable to get around to reading his work. Thankfully, he and Audible teamed up to produceThe Dispatcher, an audiobook that runs a bit shy of two and a half hours, and which fit nicely into my daily commute.

Scalzi presents a world much like our own in The Dispatcher, with one crucial difference – people who are murdered or who die of unnatural causes automatically come back to life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher. His job is to intervene in a moment of crisis. Say somebody gets hit by a car or is about to die on the operating table. Tony’s job is to kill them in a humane fashion so they can come back to life and get another chance. There are loopholes, of course, because aren’t there always? And some of these loopholes are what drags Tony into a police investigation of another Dispatcher who has gone missing.

This premise of a world where murder is largely impossible is certainly an intriguing one, and it makes for a highly effective, attention-grabbing MacGuffin. While the mystical or theological elements undergirding the premise are inexplicable and unexplained, the effect this odd, new state of being has on the world and daily life is well rendered.

The investigation into the missing Dispatcher is well written, and poses plenty of questions, most of which the author approaches directly and satisfactorily. The real star, though, is Zachary Quinto’s narration. Although he’s best known for his roles in Star Trek and Heroes, this dude can truly and utterly perform a book reading in spectacular fashion. He inhabits the role of Valdez nicely, and demonstrates a wide range of voice talent in tackling the other characters, as well. While the story alone is great, Quinto elevates the material to the next level with his narration. As expected from Audible Studios, the sound quality and production values are top-notch.

The Dispatcher is free through Audible until Nov. 2, 2016, making this a very low-risk investment if you act fast, and one that presents wonderful returns for the price. On his blog, Scalzi noted this freebie is a thank you to his and Audible’s audience, as well as a nice enticement to draw in new readers and listeners. As someone who falls into this latter category, The Dispatcher is certainly a terrific incentive to lure me deeper into Scalzi’s backlist. I may even have to reshuffle a few commitments so I can get one or two more of his titles in before year’s end.

 

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Review: The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

Review: Pressure by Jeff Strand (audiobook)

Review:

pressure

My original Pressure audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Pressure can be defined as the exertion of force upon something by something else, as well mental or physical distress. Either definition is appropriate for Jeff Strand’s aptly titled suspense thriller, Pressure. At its core, this a story of two forces impacting one another, forcefully and violently, and the result is a hefty dose of distress.

Alex and Darren are two boarding school brats, their friendship cemented by a late-night excursion into the woods behind a strip club, where they hide out and hope to catch sight of the action inside. Darren, though, has a secret, and once Alex and their schoolmates discover Darren’s morbid fascinations nothing is the same. What follows is a decades-long story of friendship, adversarial rivalry, and gruesome deeds that can only leave one of them alive.

Strand does a terrific job building his characters, giving them enough dimension and subtle shadings to make them relateable, even if you don’t particularly want to relate to them. And although Darren’s actions are often outside the din of understanding, you at least get what motivates him, even if the results are terribly aberrant. Alex is a solid every-man character caught up in a situation beyond his control and struggling to cope, struggling to make sense, and, mostly, struggling to find a solution to the problem that is Darren. The first-person viewpoint Strand uses allows us to see the world from Alex’s point of view, and while the story itself is pretty pitch-black, Strand, via Alex, is able to interject enough levity and enduring positivity to keep Pressure from collapsing under its own misery.

Pressure is narrated by Scott Thomas, whose voice talents I greatly enjoyed in a prior Strand title, Wolf Hunt. Here, Thomas exhibits a nice a range and listeners are unlikely to confuse characters during stretches of dialogue. While the story belongs to Alex, Thomas injects plenty of different voices and speech styles to mark the other characters that inhabit Pressure. Soundwise, this is a cleanly narrated book, with terrific production quality and no technical issues to speak of.

Clocking in at seven hours, Pressure is a solid psychological suspense thriller with dashes of Strand’s typical wry humor, and packed with plenty of history between the central antagonist and his nemesis. It’s entertaining, occasionally bleak, but highly worthy of attention. Between the two works I’ve listened to that Strand and Thomas have collaborated on, I think it’s fair to say they make quite a good team. As long as Strand keeps writing, and Thomas keeps giving a voice to those words, I’ll be listening.

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com.]

 

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Review: Pressure by Jeff Strand (audiobook)

Review: Bite by K.S. Merbeth (audiobook)

Review:

bite-audio

My original Bite audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Bite, a post-apocalyptic offering from new author K.S. Merbeth, comes with a neat little hook with its focus on cannibal wasteland scavengers and killers, but I would have enjoyed a little more meat on the bone.

Kid, a young woman hitchhiking her way through the irradiated ruins of Australia, accepts a ride, only to learn she’s bit off way more than she can chew. In short order, she soon finds herself a part of the gang and on the run from various forces, many of whom, unsurprisingly, don’t look to kindly at having cannibals in their midst.

The premise alone is a huge part of the draw in Bite, and I appreciated Merbeth’s wasteland saga’s focus on a group of people who are, quite arguably, the bad guys. Kid quickly makes friends with these ne’er-do-wells, led by Wolf, a dread-locked survivor with a knack for pulling off scores by the seat of his pants, and they all soon find their survival linked to one another. Dolly, a blue-haired tough, is an easy standout for fan-favorite of the bunch, with her quiet ways and easy violence making her an unsettling sort, but also an attention-grabbing mystery.

My biggest hurdle in Bite, unfortunately, was the main character herself, Kid. I prefer my female heroines to have a bit more agency, and felt that Kid too often fell into role of victim who needs saving. Granted, this is a sort of hero’s journey and she grows and adapts as the story progresses, but frankly I found it a be too unbelievable that this wasteland survivor would so freaking useless at the outset. She doesn’t know how to fire a gun or use a knife, she’s of little use in hand-to-hand fights, and despite this being an action-heavy book she spends too much time in hiding or waiting to be rescued. The first half of the book felt repetitive with its focus on members of the gang getting captured, followed by thwarted rescue attempts, and then their eventual escape only to again find themselves captured by different people in a different setting. By the time Merbeth gets around to explaining why Kid lacks any sort of adeptness or situational awareness, it feels too little too late. And, although Kid eventually levels-up, I think there were better options than starting her off as a nearly-constant damsel in distress.

Tonally, the narrative strikes an uneasy balance between serious and aloof. At times, this felt like a Young Adult title trying too hard to be a foul-mouthed, adult actioneer, and characters like The Queen only served to amplify this imbalance. The Queen is shrill and loud-mouthed, but is mostly a caricature reduced to exclaiming things like “Get them!” in lieu of villainous depth.

Narrator Stephanie Willis inhabits the role of Kid nice and smoothly, and she does a fairly good job with the reading of Bite. In my purely subjective opinion, though I found some of her male voices, particularly Wolf’s, to be a little too over-the-top for my ears, and The Queen was gratingly cartoonish, but I’ll chalk some of that role up to the writing itself. Her delivery of Tank’s and Pretty Boy’s lines, though, were well-handled and far more realistic. The voices Willis adopted for the other female voices were nicely differentiated, and she helps give a character like Dolly a certain charm that might otherwise be lost in reading the text. Bite is certainly well-produced, as one should expect of a major publisher like Hachette, and the sound quality is even and comes through cleanly with nary a hiccup.

Mostly, I enjoyed Bite, but found it a touch too uneven to really satisfy. It does recall a bit of the charm from other post-apocalyptic wasteland adventures, like the Mad Max films and the Fallout video games, and I am at least curious enough to see what this cast of characters get up to next, particularly Kid, who exhibits a lot of promise by book’s end. Besides, who doesn’t want more irradiated cannibals in their life?

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com.]

 

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Review: Bite by K.S. Merbeth (audiobook)

Sept. 2016 Read and Reviewed Roundup

Happy October! It’s hard to believe we’re closing in on the end of another year. Halloween is coming up soon, and it’ll be a short jaunt from there to Thanksgiving, and Christmas will rear up fast after that. Yowza.

In hindsight, September was pretty busy and hectic. On a personal note, it was my son’s very first birthday. My baby has grown into a little boy, and he’s hitting all the right milestones pretty much on target. He is also thoroughly a mama’s boy, big-time, but I on occasion he’s willing to tolerate me and I can get to make him laugh, which always feels amazing. His birthday required a good deal of preparation as we gathered the family at a park for kiddo’s cake smash, which he enjoyed quite a lot. By the end of that, he was pretty covered in frosting and smiling exhaustedly. I think I was even more tired than him by the end of it all, though.

Book-wise, I read, mostly, a lot of good stuff and some very, very good stuff. Chills hit some sweet spots for me, but Barry Eisler’s upcoming release, Livia Lone, was easily the best book of the month for me.

  1. Red Right Hand by Chris Holm
  2. The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There (audiobook), edited by Jonathan Maberry
  3. Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully
  4. Out by Natsuo Kirino (audiobook)
  5. Chills by Mary SanGiovanni
  6. The Warren by Brian Evenson
  7. Livia Lone by Barry Eisler
  8. Stranded by Bracken MacLeod
  9. Corpse Rider by Tim Curran
  10. Ship the Kids on Ahead by Bill Stokes (audiobook)

Looking ahead a bit, expect a review on the latest Vince Flynn novel, Order to Kill, by Kyle Mills soonish. I’m reading a paperback ARC of it, which the publishers were kind enough to send my way after selecting me to be a Mitch Rapp Ambassador. I was pretty geeked about that! And I just bought the latest Alastair Reynolds title, Revenger, which is sitting pretty on my Kindle. Hopefully I can get to that one next!

Sept. 2016 Read and Reviewed Roundup

Review: Ship the Kids on Ahead by Bill Stokes (Audiobook)

Review:

shipahead

Let me say at the outset that Ship the Kids on Ahead is not the typical sort of audiobook or reading material that I tend to gravitate toward, even in the realm of non-fiction. The time I’ve devoted to reading non-fiction as a whole is woefully inadequate, unfortunately, and tends to lean toward science-related topics or historical events rather than the slice-of-life minutia that Bill Stokes wrote about for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Happily, I found myself surprisingly entertained by Stokes view of small-town America circa the 1950s and ’60s. Obviously, quite a lot has changed since that era, but there are still plenty of timeless experiences that are easy to relate to, particularly in the matters of family and parenting, which is a topic that Stokes turns to fairly often. And I’m right there with him in thinking there needs to be time off work for the random occurrences of dumb days, those days that begin with a sudden breaking of a shoe lace and a small piece of shell in your eggs, portents that this will be a no-good, very bad, rotten day, one better spent in bed, perhaps reading a book.

These short stories are narrated by a handful of performers and all of them are up to the task of bringing Stokes’s words to life. RC Bray and Joe Hempel in particular were stand-outs for me, and they seemed to really connect with the material. Xe Sands, too, brought a nice feminine touch to the production for a few segments and it’s clear that I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of her work in the future.

Ship the Kids on Ahead presents the kind of columns we no longer see very much of in newspapers (at least by my estimation), and Stokes words in particular were designed to give the reader a smile or a bit of a chuckle after reading some of the more sobering stories print journalism brought to your doorstep. These are stories of daily life, of being stuck in traffic, or putting up a pegboard to hang tools from, or watering the Christmas tree and imbibing a bit too much in the process. Short, quirky, and entertaining, there is a broad appeal to the columns recorded here, and plenty to relate to.

[Note: I received a copy of this title from the publisher, Paul Stokes, in exchange for an honest review.]

 

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Review: Ship the Kids on Ahead by Bill Stokes (Audiobook)

Review: Out by Natsuo Kirino

Review:

out

My original OUT audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Out, an Edgar Award nominated crime novel out of Japan, is a deep, twisty, and complex thriller that is neither for the faint of heart, nor the uninitiated.

Natsuo Kirino does a masterful job penning this tale of murder, greed, corruption, and sexism taking a slow-boil approach and letting it all steep and simmer. Coming in at more than eighteen hours, this is not a quick whodunit kind of listen, but more of a howdunit – how, after a woman kills her husband, will she and her friends dispose of the body, and how will the act of mutilation that follows spiral out of control? How, exactly, will all their lives unravel in the wake of this rage-induced violence?

Out is a deeply layered story, with superb characterizations, and a number of plot threads intertwining and separating. These are women under stress, and Kirino paints intimate portraits of each, showing you both the good and the awful as they cope with the stress of not only their jobs at a box lunch factory, but with their personal lives and problems, and the growing complications of their complicity in a criminal conspiracy. New wrinkles subtly appear to keep both the characters and this book’s listeners on edge as the women are thrust into a strange, new world of police detectives, organized crime, betrayal, blackmail, and, ultimately, revenge as they find themselves scrutinized by an unknown outside force.

Emily Woo Zeller does an excellent job narrating the story, providing enough distinction between the four central women at the heart of this story, and hitting a (mostly) properly deep register for the males of the cast. At times, I thought she hit a little too-deeply for some of the men, giving the effect an almost comical vibe that didn’t jibe with the story, but it’s a minor enough caveat given the overall strength of her reading of the material. Out‘s production quality is top-notch, and the audio comes through cleanly and without a hitch, as I’ve come to expect as a listener of Audible Studio’s productions.

Out is a slow-going crime story, but one that’s well worth the time and attention required. It’s a dark story, punctuated with insight on Japanese culture and the treatment of women in their male-dominated society in between flashes of violence. Kirino does not shy away from violence – and, perhaps it should be noted that this is violence Kirino deals with here, not action as you may find in most other popular crime stories. The people in this book are not running around with guns and knives because it’s sexy and thrilling, but because they seek to do brutal damage to others, either to kill or to prevent themselves from being killed. This is a book where the actions of these characters carry a particularly heavy weight. Out is filled to the brim with bleak stuff, with depictions of rape, murder, and dismemberment, and Kirino puts his audience right in the middle of it all. These are characters who are seeking a way out, and at times it’s uncomfortable enough that the listener or reader may themselves be hoping for an easy escape as well.

 

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Review: Out by Natsuo Kirino

Review: The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There (Audiobook)

Review:

xfiles

My original The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

 

The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There is the second prose anthology in IDW Publishing’s series edited by bestselling author Jonathan Maberry.

As a long-time fan of The X-Files, going back to the pilot episode in 1993, I’m delighted by the resurgence and interest in the on-going investigations led by FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (aka, The FBI’s Most Unwanted), and the anthology format provides readers and audiobook listeners with plenty of interesting new cases from various writers. However, while I mostly enjoyed my time with The Truth Is Out There, I can’t help but feel that it is a weaker anthology than its predecessor, Trust No One. There are several stories that stand out as being incredibly strong, but there are also a number of mediocre entries, and one, “We Should Listen To Some Shostakovich,” that is downright awful.

Kelley Armstrong and Jon McGoran get the book off to a strong start, the latter presenting a really interesting story of time travel. Bev Vincent’s “Phase Shift,” was easily the highlight of the anthology for me, and centers around a house and its inhabitants confronted by a strange anomaly. This is a really good story with a strong, and strongly executed, premise, the ending of which highlights the particular darkness one may confront in such an odd situation. Sorry for being vague, but this is a good one to go into blindly.

Hank Schwaeble brings a welcome dose of ludicrousness to the table with “Male Privilege,” where the men of a small town have suddenly grown breasts. Over the years, The X-Files has shown considerable elasticity in the nature of its premise, ranging from ultra-serious to straight-up goofball comedy, and “Male Privilege” runs to the latter end of this continuum, feeling a bit like a Darin Morgan tribute. On the other end of the continuum then, is Sara Stegall’s “Snowman,” a terrific conspiracy and monster caper involving a search for missing Marine’s in the wintry woods of Washington, and reunites Mulder and John Doggett. Props to Stegall for bringing Doggett, an X-Files alum who has been underserved in the latest renaissance of The X-Files, back into the fold for a brief time.

Glenn Greenberg’s “XXX” revolves around murder on a porn set, which sounds like Mulder’s dream case but is nicely understated and provides some solid twists. As somebody who has read several titles by Tim Waggoner in the past, I was excited to note his inclusion in this anthology and expected a solid effort from him. Thankfully, “Foundling,” did not disappoint and revolves around Mulder and Scully discovering an abandoned baby in an eerily, and suddenly, empty town.

Of the fifteen stories comprising this anthology, the above-mentioned are the ones that really stood out to me. Unfortunately, “We Should Listen To Some Shostakovich,” by Hank Phillipi Ryan, stood out as well, but for entirely different reasons. Set in 2017, the story is far out of continuity with the series and its recent reboot and features a married Mulder and Scully who are expecting a child. I could have given this premise a pass, but Ryan’s characterizations are so out of synch with the character, and the central mystery surrounding numerology and a painting of the composer Shostakovich making its way to their apartment door, is so lackluster it barely feels like an X-File at all. Not much happens aside from the intrepid FBI agents staring at the painting and Googling stuff.

Those who listened to the previous anthology will know what to expect in terms of narration. Bronson Pinchot and Hillary Huber return, and take turns narrating individual stories depending on who the central point of view character is. If it’s primarily a Mulder story, Pinchot delivers a fairly flat voiceover, which turns even more monotone during Mulder’s dialogue in an effort to capture actor David Duchovny’s performance. Overall, though, Pinchot seems flatter in this anthology than he did with the previous one. Huber does solid work, which struck me as an improvement over her prior turn with these characters and their stories. Unfortunately, neither know how to pronounce the name of Frohike – long-time fans will know the Lone Gunman’s name is said “fro-hickey” and not “fro-hike” as it appears in print.

On the production side of things, there’s little to complain about. The sound quality is fine and the narrator’s maintain consistent tones and levels in their work. For whatever reason, the introduction by Lone Gunman actor Dean Haglund, which appears in the print volume, was not recorded (which is a shame, as I would have liked to have heard it).

The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There provides some solid entertainment over the course of 13 hours, even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark as well as Trust No One did. Still, it’s worth a listen and die-hard fans will find plenty of stories, the majority set during the series initial nine-year run, enjoyable and familiar enough to satisfy their itch for fresh cases of alien abductions, haunted houses, weird science, physics gone awry, and the occasional exploding head or two.

 

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Review: The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There (Audiobook)