Hungry Heart (Audiobook) by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

by Jennifer Weiner , Jennifer Weiner (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs, 15 min.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Read: February 6 – 14, 2017

I’m not the biggest Jennifer Weiner fan in the world, nor am I in her target demographic in any way, shape, or form — but I’ve enjoyed (in some cases more) those books of hers that I’ve read. So I figured there was a better than even chance that I’d appreciate this collection of essays about her life, career, love life, dogs, social media and more. It’s also read by Weiner herself, which is almost always a winning characteristic for me.

Sadly, this audiobook was better in theory than it was in real life.

There’s a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Logan points out to Rory that despite her prejudices, attitudes and belief, she’s actually part of the same privileged class that he is — which she doesn’t take too well (understandably). I kept thinking about that as I listened to some of Weiner’s tales of woe about her childhood and college life. I’m not saying that she didn’t have problems in her childhood, that she didn’t have trials that no one should have to go through, or overcome a lot in her professional life. But man…the self-pity was overblown — she got an Ivy League education, came out of it with less debt than many people I know who went to less prestigious schools, took a high school trip to Israel, and a largely pleasant childhood.

It doesn’t get much better when she starts talking about her adult life, either. She assumes sexism — and has faced, continues to face, and will probably face a good deal of it in the future — but seems to have some fairly strong gender biases herself. She will frequently say something like “As a woman, I know I’m supposed to be X in this situation.” Almost every time she said something like that I thought, actually a man in the same situation would be expected to behave the same way — it may not be honest, healthy, or “authentic” in the contemporary understanding — but it’s what how an adult person in polite Western culture should act.

Oddly, for someone who lamented her own inability to be a stay-at-home mom/writer, the scorn she displays for stay-at-home moms later in the book seems out of character. Actually, she is dismissive of people with other beliefs and convictions than hers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that she shouldn’t be an opinionated person (of any sex), but it’s hard to respect anyone who can’t reason with their opponents with out dismissing or vilifying them.

I actually had a few more things in my notes along those things, but seeing this on the screen makes me want to stop before this becomes a diatribe against the book. Because, believe it or not, I enjoyed this book — when she tells a narrative or goes for a laugh, I really got into the book and wanted to hear more. It’s when she gets on her soapbox or when she doles out advice that wouldn’t work for women less-well-off than she is, I couldn’t enjoy it.

If anything, this book makes me like her fiction more — because the flawed people she writes about are a lot more relatable than she presents herself as. But listening (I think reading would be better — see below) to Weiner describe her problems with overeating, or the journey to get her first book published (and the real life experiences that shaped the book), her mother’s reactions to her book tours, getting the movie In Her Shoes made, stories about her dogs, and so on — man, I really liked that and would’ve gladly consumed more of that kind of thing.

As an audiobook, this was a disappointment. I found the little sound effect/chime thing between chapters grating. Weiner’s reading was too slow and her cadence demonstrates that she reads a lot to her kids. Which would be fine if the prose matched, but it didn’t.

I can’t rate this too low — it was well-written I laughed, I felt for her and some of the other people she talked about in a way that I can’t justify rating below a 3. But man, I want to.


3 Stars

Midnight Riot (Audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Midnight Riot (Audiobook) Midnight Riot

by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)
Series: The Rivers of London, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 57 min.
Tantor Media, 2012
Read: October 11 – 14, 2016

The best part about listening to this was being reminded just how good this novel was — sure, I remember liking it a lot (if for no other reason than I’ve read five more plus a collection of comics), but I didn’t remember it being this good.

Briefly — in this we’re introduced to a probationary constable named Peter Grant who’s approached by an odd witness to an odder (and disturbing) murder. What makes the witness odd? Well, he’s been dead for a couple of centuries. Soon thereafter, Peter’s meets a Chief Inspector who happens to be the last wizard in England. Peter’s transferred to his unit (doubling the size), taken on as an apprentice and thrust into a type of policing he wouldn’t have believed existed a week ago.

The investigation into this murder turns into an investigation for several murders — and a few other assorted crimes. Which, of course, involves diving into the history of London and brokering peace between competing river deities. That old yarn. It’s a great mix of magic and police work, basic Latin and advanced bureaucracy.

Holdbrook-Smith did a fine job with the narration, very engaging, often compelling — capturing the feel of the novel in just the way that everyone wants in an audiobook. I’d be more than happy to hear more from him.

It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s pretty complex — and, in retrospect, — does a much better job laying the foundation for the series than I’d remembered. A good amount of wonder and action combined.


4 Stars

Off to be the Wizard (Audiobook) by Scott Meyer, Luke Daniels

Off to be the Wizard Off to be the Wizard

by Scott Meyer, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Magic 2.0, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs, 15 min.
Brilliance Audio, 2014
Read: August 8 – 16, 2016

I’m just going to steal most of what I said about the book before and add a little bit at the end about the audiobook — and Daniels in particular.

The first thing Martin always did when he found some new data file was to search for his own name. It may seem egocentric, but Martin wasn’t worried about that. He had spent a lot of time thinking about himself, and had come to the conclusion that he was definitely not self-absorbed.

There’s a great temptation — and frequently a rush — when discussing an amusing/funny book in SF or Fantasy to compare it with, well — the name rhymes with Schmouglas Schmadams — this can be damning, because almost nothing can live up to it. So I’m going to resist even saying the name. If anything, I think you could say this was reminiscent of Schmon Schmalzi — only funnier.

Martin Banks is the rather unimpressive hero here — a college dropout, living in a poorly-furnished apartment, working in “a cubicle farm, . . . a fluorescent-lighted, beige-walled abattoir for the human spirit where he had to spend most of his time,” and doing some minor hacking on the weekends, just to amuse himself. He stumbles upon a way to manipulate reality, to change things just a little bit here and there around him. Being human, it takes very little time before he begins using that ability in a way to draw the attention of the Federal Authorities. Which is not all that comfortable, so he heads off to England in the Middle Ages where he figures he can do okay for himself, living as a wizard using these abilities.

That’s when things start to get really entertaining (and I had no complaints up to this point). Anything more I say on this front is a horrible spoiler, so we’ll just leave it with really entertaining.

This is a coming of age tale — and, as it’s about a Millennial, it’s a delayed-coming-of-age story. But Martin’s not one of those protagonists that you have to see mature before you like him — you connect with him right away (or you’re probably wasting your time reading on). He definitely doesn’t mature in your typical way, which is part of the fun. I can’t help comparing Martin to Wesley Chu’s Roen Tan. But without the stakes that Roen had to deal with (and a nicer mentor).

Most of the characters we get to know are met after Martin’s time jump — so don’t worry if you find everyone in 2012 a little shallow and undeveloped. They are, but other people won’t be.

There are several things in the book that won’t hold up to much scrutiny — like his ability to get a smartphone signal in Dover, England in 1150. Adapt the advice Joel and the ‘bots used to give us, “just repeat to yourself . . . you should really just relax.” It’s worth it.

The book is just littered with wit — from the extended jokes, the funny visuals, or little asides like: “The fact that wristwatches weren’t invented yet made it difficult to look impatient, but he managed.” On nearly every page, there’s something to make you chuckle or laugh — or at least grin. I laughed enough that it was annoying to my family — not that I cared, mind you. But it’s not just a yuk-fest, there’s a well-written story here, in a great world with some characters you want to spend time with.

Daniels scores again here — his performance didn’t really remind me of his work on the Iron Druid Chronciles, which, I have to admit I was a little worried about. I got a kick out of his voice choices for Martin and Jimmy in particular — Martin’s voice when he got excited was perfect. I’m not sure I liked his choice of voice for Philip — it reminded me too much of Douglas Reynholm from The IT Crowd (I’m probably the only person on Earth who hears that, so take it with a grain of salt), and I never got used to it. But I loved everything else he did, so who cares, right? If anything, Daniels’ narration helped the material (not that it needed it).

Meyer’s writing holds up to a second-read, even jokes/situations I knew were coming worked pretty well — more than well, actually, judging by my laughter. I enjoyed it as much the second time through as the first, so that’s a pretty good sign.


4 Stars

Before the Fall (Audiobook) by Noah Hawley, Robert Petkoff

Before the Fall Before the Fall

by Noah Hawley, Robert Petkoff (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs, 59 min.
Hachette Audio, 2016
Read: August 25 – 30, 2016

A small, but luxurious, private plane goes down between Martha’s Vineyard and New York — two passengers survive, a painter (a guest of one of the other passengers) and a 4-year old boy. The boy is the son of two of the passengers — a man who runs a FOXNews doppleganger and his wife. The painter is a recovering addict named Scott Burroughs who’s on the verge of his big break. Thanks to a childhood obsession with swimming, Scott is able to swim he and the boy to safety — catapulting them both into a level of celebrity that nobody wants.

The investigation into the plane crash begins even before Scott makes it to shore — and looks into the background of everyone on the plane to find the responsible party. As the investigation — and the narration — gets into their pasts, it’s easy to believe that many of the people on board are responsible for the tragedy (either as perpetrator or target).

The other primary storyline follows the lives of Scott and the boy in the days following the crash. Their lives are forever changed — and intertwined. This was the heart of the book — by far the best part of it, while there was no suspense, no danger, just picking up the pieces of their life while under intense and unwanted media scrutiny.

The commentary this novel makes about the role of the Twenty-Four News Cycle in commenting on, shaping, and twisting whatever story it chooses to focus on needs to be heard. On the one hand, it’s nothing that many haven’t said before, but the way Hawley says it should help his message to resonate with people.

I read Hawley’s first novel, A Conspiracy of Tall Men, when it was first released and it blew me away — and I lost track of him after that until his show, The Unusuals premiered (still annoyed with ABC for canceling that too soon). This book has convinced me that I need to go back and read the books I missed — this isn’t as good as his debut, but it’s easier to believe. Hawley has a great way of getting into his character’s heads — and bringing the reader with him. These are all clearly drawn individuals with intricate and distinct backstories and voices, throw in an equally intricate plot that kept me gripped (even after I stopped really caring about “how did it happen” — I’m not sure that makes sense).

Petkoff’s narration is pretty good — he’s able to keep the story moving and deliver convincing characters (although I’m not crazy about his kid-voice, thankfully, he didn’t have to use it often). Petkoff’s a name that I’ll keep an eye out for.

A novel with two (main) stories — one that’s really good, and another that’s ultimately disappointing, while gripping up until that point. Hawley delivered here, and I look forward to reading more of his work (almost as much as I look forward to another season of his TV work). I recommend this — either in text or audio — it won’t be the best thing you read, but it’ll reward the time.


3.5 Stars

NYPD Red 2 (Audiobook) by James Patterson, Marshall Karp, Edoardo Ballerini, Jay Snyder

NYPD Red 2 NYPD Red 2

by James Patterson, Marshall Karp , Edoardo Ballerini (Narrator), Jay Snyder (Narrator)
Series: NYPD Red, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs, 8 min.
Hachette Audio, 2014

Read: October 6 – 7, 2016

Yeah, I was underwhelmed by NYPD Red, but thought that maybe this series would pick up a little, with everything established in the first. Wow, was I wrong.

This is basically a Dexter retelling — murderers who got off thanks to good lawyers, bad prosecutors, etc being kidnapped, tortured and killed. Before they’re killed, they record a video confession to their crimes, which is uploaded to YouTube shortly after their body is discovered.

Of course, one of the victims is the campaign manager for a mayoral candidate, and the body is discovered 8 days before the election — making the whole investigation a political issue in addition to a pressing crime. Given the prestige and notoriety of the latest victim, the case is bumped up to the NYPD Red team.

From there, it’s pretty much a paint-by-numbers affair — I called the whole thing, even the twists, early on. There’s so little to commend in this book that I can’t think of a positive way to finish this sentence.

I guess I understand why you’d have two narrators for the audiobook — one for the first person detective narration, one for the other perspectives. But I think we’re all smart enough to follow things with just one voice. Both narrators did a decent job, but nothing remarkable. They probably did the best they could with the flat prose and dull dialogue.

Dull, predictable plot with personal side-stories that made me like everyone less. Both authors are capable of such more — I don’t know why they aren’t delivering with this series.


2 Stars

The Dispatcher (Audiobook) by John Scalzi, Zachary Quinto

The Dispatcher The Dispatcher

by John Scalzi, Zachary Quinto (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs, 19 min.
Audible Studios, 2016

Read: October 5, 2016

Last year, when he was in Boise, I heard John Scalzi read the first chapter of this book and I’ve been waiting for this ever since.

It’s an Urban Fantasy set in a world where natural or accidental death is possible, but if you’re murdered there’s an almost 100% possibility that you’ll come back to life. Huh? Yeah — heckuva hook, right? There’s no explanation for this, it just started — and it may just end at some point. But in the meantime people are taking full advantage of this.

Tony Valdez is a dispatcher — insurance companies and individuals have started hiring dispatchers to “dispatch” someone just before they die, so there’s a good chance — a fantastic chance, really — that they’ll survive. One of Tony’s coworkers has disappeared and a Chicago police detective has drafted him to help her track down his colleague. To find him, they have to look into the dark side of the dispatcher trade and the desperate lengths some will go through to extend the lives of their loved ones or themselves.

It was a fun book to listen to, a story that drew you in and drug you along to the gripping end. But once it was over, and I started thinking about it, all sorts of questions came to mind, not really plot holes, just things that weren’t adequately addressed. I think a lot of it was length, if this had been a novel, some of them wouldn’t have come up. The more I thought of it, it was almost like this novella was Scalzi’s attempt to prove a point/win a bet that, yes, he can write UF. A strongly written, convincing story that entertained from beginning to end — but there was just no heart to it, it just seemed like a writing exercise.

Quinto did a bang-up job — I think I only thought of him as the actor once or twice — he nailed every bit of this. If that whole movie star thing doesn’t work out for him, he could have a future doing this sort of thing. I should probably give this an extra star just for his work.

Very entertaining, a great experience — just don’t think about it too terribly much.


3 Stars

The House of Secrets (Audiobook) by Brad Meltzer, Tod Goldberg, Scott Brick, January LaVoy

The House of Secrets The House of Secrets

by Brad Meltzer, Tod Goldberg, Scott Brick (Narrator), January LaVoy(Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs, 14 min.
Hachette Audio, 2016
Read: September 22 – 28, 2016

I’ve appreciated the work of Meltzer (comics only, haven’t tried a novel) and Tod Goldberg in the past, so I was intrigued by the idea of them working together, but the book itself just didn’t seem like my cup of tea. Then I heard them interviewed on The Writers Panel podcast and I changed my mind (give it a listen, it’s fun).

Boy was that a mistake. Mostly.

So, the host of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not-esque show all about the crazy conspiracies, hidden stories, and unexplained throughout history is about to retire but is killed in an auto accident. His son and daughter are in the car with him — Junior survives with minor bumps and bruises, Hazel is seriously injured and suffers a traumatic brain injury. She pretty much forgets who she is.

She starts investigating her own background and starts finding questions about her father and his show — there seems to be more than just a TV show afoot. And…yeah, I just can’t care enough to do more than this, I’ve already spent more time on this than I wanted to.

It was a fun, potboiler-y book that was entertaining enough to justify the ten hours — and then the ending, the explanation for everything, and the denouement were horrible. Not just disappointing, but worse. It really made me mad.

I typically like Scott Brick’s narration — but something about the approach he used this time just didn’t work for me. I can’t put my finger on why — maybe it was a bit too aggressive sounding? Like I said, I really don’t know. I did find LaVoy’s work interesting and engaging, however. Maybe it was the contrast between the two that left Brick’s performance wanting (I don’t think so, but it’s a thought that occurs).

As frustrating as I found the story (eventually beyond frustrating), it was an entertaining, gripping book. Structurally sound, moved along at a good pace — everything you want in escapist fiction. But man . . . the ending (and really all of it, therefore, as it is a mystery) was plain ol’ bad. The first 9-ish (maybe 8-ish) hours were good enough that I can’t rate this too low (but man, the ending made me want to).


2 1/2 Stars