The Hike (Audiobook) by Drew Magary, Christopher Lane: Well-written adventure that did absolutely nothing for me

The HikeThe Hike

by Drew Magary, Christopher Lane (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 4 min.
Brilliance Audio, 2016
Read: April 25 – 26, 2018
This is one of the more creative, inventive, unpredictable books I’ve come across in a long while. Ben takes a business trip to Pennsylvania, and goes for a hike in the afternoon before his big diner meeting. Somehow, while hiking he runs into … well some creatures that I won’t describe because you should read that for yourself, and realizes that reality has turned off and he’s in a very strange place. Eventually he learns that he needs to stay on the Path (not a yellow-brick road, but might as well be) until he finds the Producer. So he sets out to do just that — and ends up walking a lot further than he imagined possible, doing things he’d never imagined and almost befriending a talking snow crab that curses like a sailor.

I was so annoyed last week when I showed my wife the paperback version of this book — “hey, this is the strange book I was telling you about…” when I saw a blurb on the back from Wired comparing this to The Phantom Tollbooth, because that was almost all the insight I had into this — some (I feared and now know) obvious comparison to the Juster classic, but for adults. But really, that’s the best way to put it — the Adult Phantom Tollbooth, but without the wordplay (or charm, or heart, or . . . ).

The thing just left me cold. I never, ever, ever cared for the protagonist or his plight. I kept looking for the point to all this and never got there (even the thing at the end which came close to giving us the point, didn’t really). I appreciated the skill, the imagination, etc. I quite enjoyed crab. But I just never cared about any of it.

The ending? I’m talking the last paragraph or two (hard to guess on audio) — so the very end ending? That earned .5 – 1 star from me. It didn’t make me care any more, but it floored me. I want to give this 2 stars, that’s how little I liked it, but the talent and skill displayed keep me from it — not to mention that killer ending.

—–

3 Stars

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Batman: Nightwalker (Audiobook) by Marie Lu, Will Damron: aka Gotham Season 9, just didn’t work for me. DNF’d.

 Batman: NightwalkerBatman: Nightwalker

by Marie Lu, Will Damron (Narrator)
Series: DC Icons, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs, 39 min.
Listening Library, 2018
Read: April 27 – 30, 2018

Let me get the Audiobook portion out of the way quickly — Damron does a capable job. He didn’t particularly wow me, but I had no complaints about his work. I could see myself really getting into a book he narrated.

This is essentially Gotham, season 9. Bruce is on the eve of graduation, turning 18 (yet his guardian, Alfred, is still treated as if he has any standing in his life), and finds himself on the wrong end of the law and serving probation by doing community service at Arkham Asylum. While there, he becomes fascinated by an accused murderer — she’s part of a criminal/political (technically a terrorist group, but the label was never used) group targeting Gotham’s one percenters.

The line between the Bruce Wayne of this book and the Dark Knight we all know is pretty weak. You’ve got Alfred, Lucius Fox, Bruce’s dead parents, Gotham City — sure — but there’s nothing that distinctively Batman about them (as used here). Even when you throw in Harvey Dent as a troubled youth with a strong trust in the legal system as one of Bruce’s best friend and numerous references to bats, and you’re supposed to thing that you’ve got yourself the building blocks of the Caped Crusader. But it’d have been incredibly easy for this to be any other rich youth with a knack for electronics. This doesn’t have to be a Batman story, it could be almost any generic YA hero.

If you want to read an inexperienced, fallible, Batman (as seems to be the case here), read Miller’s Batman: Year One or Barr’s Batman: Year Two — they treat the character the way he should be treated. This book just wasn’t. I got about halfway through (maybe a little over halfway) before I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to move on.

I liked the Wonder Woman installment in this series just fine — why didn’t this one work for me? Well, while Diana wasn’t the hero we all know — she was still clear in her purpose, driven to do right and capable. Bruce is none of those things — which is odd, because he’s typically been depicted as driven and single-minded since childhood. That’s the Bruce we all know, and should’ve seen here.

I can see why some people will enjoy this, but I just can’t bother to finish.

My Man Jeeves (Audiobook) by P. G. Wodehouse, Simon Prebble: Tales of Rich Fools Fail to Amuse

My Man JeevesMy Man Jeeves

by P. G. Wodehouse, Simon Prebble (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 Hrs., 8 min.
Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2006
Read: April 24 – 25, 2018
This is a collection of eight short stories — half of them starring Jeeves and Wooster, the other half featuring Reggie Pepper (who is basically Wooster without Jeeves). Like the rest of the books featuring Jeeves and Wooster, this is frequently hailed as a comedic classic, a masterpiece, and has no dearth of fans — highbrow and lowbrow alike.

I am not one of them. Wooster and Pepper are vapid, privileged aristocrats — vain, insipid, too wealthy and seeming incapable of narrating — or conversing — in coherent sentences. Jeeves is a frequently (but not infallibly) conniving and tricky valet, who seemingly knows more than anyone else around him. I honestly don’t know if I’d want him working for me, he’s too nosy, too duplicitous for my taste. All the characters get into farcical situations that are complicated and entirely of their own devices. If they could just be upfront and honest with others (including each other), their lives would be far less complicated.

Prebble did a fine job, I think. Yeah, I had no patience for any of the narrators of the stories — but that’s not on him. That’s totally on the characters. I think he grabbed the personalities perfectly. I just don’t see why anyone would bother.

I’m primarily posting about this experience as a reminder to myself: Just give up, HC. You and Wodehouse are just not compatible. You may have friends (Internet-based and Real Life) that love him, but you just don’t understand the appeal.

Not funny. Not amusing. Not charming. Pretty much a waste of time. Just can’t recommend this to anyone.

—–

2 Stars

Silence (Audiobook) by Thomas Perry, Michael Kramer

SilenceSilence

by Thomas Perry, Michael Kramer (Narrator)
Series: Jack Till, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs and 15 mins.
Tantor Audio, 2007

Read: January 12 – 26, 2018


Jack Till is a retired LAPD homicide detective turned P.I. Six years ago, he helped a woman named Wendy Harper vanish from the face of the Earth. She’d been horribly beaten and was afraid that next time she wouldn’t survive, and neither would her loved ones. But now, for reasons unknown, someone has framed her former business partner/fiancé for her murder. It’s clearly a trap set for her, but the only way to prove his innocence is to prove that she’s still alive.

Even though Till knows the tricks he taught her to disappear, he doesn’t know how she applied his lessons or where she might have gone. It takes some ingenuity, tenacity and luck, but he eventually does. It then takes a lot more of the same to get her back to LA to demonstrate that she habeas her own corpus.

Meanwhile, Paul and Sylvie Turner, ballroom dancing aficionados and professional killers, perpetrated the frame and are on Till’s trail as he looks for Wendy (or whatever her name is now). They flirt, bicker and kill their way across California and beyond in their efforts kill Wendy.

The narration jumps between the perspectives of Till, Paul and Sylvie for most of the book — with a little bit of Wendy’s and, eventually, the man who hired the Turners. Perry makes some interesting choices about whose perspective we see some events through, giving us Till when you’d expect a Turner (and vice versa). Not only do we see the current action from their perspectives, we get a pretty detailed backstory for Till, the Turners and their boss — interestingly, almost everything we learn about Wendy, we learn from her disclosures to TIll, so we only see her from his point of view.

I really got into the story, and found the Turners pretty interesting — ditto for Till. The focus was on the Turners enough that if you told me that Perry’d written a sequel about them, I’d believe it (he did write one about Till). I never managed to get as invested in the backstory (or the current-story) about the man who hired the Turners. There’s some good twists, some smart reveals, and just good action moments.

I found the dialogue stiff, awkward and occasionally painful — the interior monologues of the various POV characters could also grate my nerves. I’m honestly not certain if that’s Perry’s issue or Kramer’s. Thankfully, the story was strong enough that I could put up with the problems I had.

Kramer’s got a huge list of credits, and is clearly beloved by many. But man . . . I found him tolerable at best, and frequently annoying. There’s a lot of problems that I had with the book that I’m attributing to his narration — I may be wrong about that, but I think if I’d been reading the book, I’d have overlooked and/or not had many of the problems that I did.

A strong story, with enough tense moments to satisfy any thriller reader, Silence is something to try, but probably only in text-form.

—–

3 Stars

The trouble with audiobooks…

This morning I heard the phrase, “her two perfect teeth,” describing the surgically enhanced and improved trophy wife of an entertainment executive. Which made no sense at all to me and, frankly distracted me from what he went on to read.

Two minutes or so later, it hit me that what the narrator had actually said was actually, “too-perfect teeth” (punctuation is a guess). Which is actually fitting for the context.

My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½-Star books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

The Squirrel on the Train (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

The Squirrel on the Train (Audiobook) The Purloined Poodle (Audiobook)

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles/Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs, 54 min.
Kevin Hearne, 2017
Read: December 2, 2016


I posted about the text version about a month ago (and reposted last week), but wanted to say a little more about the audiobook — so for the sake of those who just clicked on the Audiobook post, I’ll just repeat everything I said before, but tag on something at the end about Luke Daniels’ work. Can the magic of The Purloined Poodle be recaptured? Yes — maybe even topped. For many, that should be all I need to write. If that’s the case, you’re fine — go ahead and close this, no need to finish this.

If you’re still here, I’ll write a little more — While on a trip to Portland to go sight-seeing, er, sight-smelling, Oberon, Orlaith and Starbuck get away from Atticus (er, I mean, Connor Molloy) while chasing after a suspicious-looking squirrel. That’s a tautology, I realize, if you ask the hounds, but this was a really sketchy-looking squirrel. Anyway, this brought the group into the path of Detective Ibarra. She happens to be at the train station investigating the odd murder of a man who looks just like Atticus.

Naturally, that gets him interested and investigating things as best as he can. Thanks in no small part to the noses of the hounds, Atticus and an old friend are able to uncover what’s going on to help Atticus’ new friend make an arrest.

It’s a whole story in Oberon’s voice, I don’t know what else I can say about the writing/voice/feel of the book. That says pretty much everything. From Oberon’s opening comparison of the diabolical natures of Squirrels vs. Clowns to Orlaith’s judgment that “death by physics” “sounds like justice” to the harrowing adventure at the end of the novella, this is a fine adventure for “the Hounds of the Willamette and their pet Druid!”

No surprise to anyone who’s heard the audiobook for any of Oberon’s other appearances in short stories/novellas/novels, but Luke Daniels killed it here. From the overall characterization and narration he does as Oberon on down to the little details, like Oberon’s particular pronunciation of “Port-LAND,” I just love it. Frankly, how anyone can listen to his rendition of Starbuck’s first steps with words like, “Yes food!” and not giggle like Ron Swanson is beyond me. He gets the serious moments, the anger, the awe, the silliness just right. I just can’t say enough good things about this audio presentation.

There’s a nice tie-in to some of the darker developments in the Iron Druid Chronicles — that won’t matter at all if you haven’t read that far, or if you can’t remember the connection. This was a good sequel that called back to the previous book, and told the same kind of story in a similar way — but didn’t just repeat things. Just like a sequel’s supposed to be, for another tautology. I smiled pretty much the whole time I read it (as far as I could tell, it’s not like I filmed myself). I don’t know if we get a third in this series given the end of the IDC next year. If we do, I’ll be happy — if not, this is a great duology.

—–

4.5 Stars