The Mask (Audiobook) by Taylor Stevens, Hilary Huber

The MaskThe Mask

by Taylor Stevens, Hillary Huber (Narrator)
Series: Vanessa Michael Munroe, #5

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs., 54 min.
Random House Audio, 2015
Read: June 1 – 6, 2017


I spent a lot of time being annoyed with Michael in this novel — more time being annoyed with Miles, however. Well, that’s not true — events keep Miles off of the board for most of the book, so let me say that I spent more time annoyed with him while he active. I get that communication is hard for them, and I guess it was good to see that Miles was human, too — even his ability to understand Michael’s needs and desires has limits.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So Michael’s got her head on right after The Catch and goes to join Miles in Japan. He’s there in a strange corporate security consulting gig that he really won’t clue her in on. They spend a few months together, him working days and her trying not to get bored and learning Japanese. The latter of those two works a whole lot better than the former. She needs something to do — and not in the “I’ve gotta kill someone or take drugs” kind of way she did back in The Vessel. She just needs something to occupy her time while he’s putting in 15 hour days. Which isn’t dong their relationship any good. Before she can have it out with him, he gets arrested for murdering someone at the tech company he’s working for. If she had tried to talk, if he’d explained himself a little better — if they had communicated at all . . . so much of this novel wouldn’t have happened. Too many books/movies/TV shows rely on this poor interpersonal communication to force plots forward, it really gets on my nerves.

First, we get a little lesson in Japanese jurisprudence, which by itself was enough to convince me that I don’t want to end up arrested in Japan (not that I really want to be arrested anywhere). Then Michael goes to work to clear his name, no one else is going to. The hoops she has to jump through make her previous adventures seem easy — sure, she was in more peril in most of the previous books, but it seemed easier for her to get around and get the information she wanted. Cultural and corporate protocols are tougher to beat by bribery, sensuality and violence than other things, I guess. Throw in some underworld figures and you’ve got yourself a thriller worthy of Monroe. I really enjoyed this story once Miles got arrested and things got moving — Stevens is getting better at plot intricacies.

There’s a great corporate espionage plot throughout with an operative that could probably sustain her own novel if Stevens ever got around to it. I’m not sure I can say more than that without messing something up. But as despicable as I find (some of) her methods, they made for good reading.

About the time that I’d given up on Michael doing more than outwitting her opponents, she got sucked into a very violent confrontation. I didn’t spend a second thinking that she was in trouble, but man, she had to work hard to eliminate these guys. There’s that scene in The Vessel where Stevens cuts away from the action, and we don’t get to see Michael kill her captives, we just know she’s about to do something and then Miles comes along later and finds the aftermath. This fight scene was probably pretty similar to that — but there’s no cut. We get the whole thing.

I should take a moment to talk about Hilary Huber, but I can’t say anything about her narration than I’ve said before. Now that I’m caught up with these, I’m going to have to track down some other books that she’s narrated.

I never expected a happily ever after scenario between Michael and Miles — but I expected something better than this (not that this is in any way, shape or form the end of their relationship), and that took some of the shine off this book for me. Otherwise, this was very entertaining, gripping, and so on — a Michael Monroe thriller that tops its predecessors, and deepens our understanding of Michael. Not much more to ask.

—–

3.5 Stars

Moon Over Soho (Audiobook) by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Moon Over Soho (Audiobook)Moon Over Soho

by Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Narrator)
Series: The Rivers of London, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs.
Tantor Media, 2012
Read: June 21 – 23, 2017

When I think back over the first books in this series, I remember them being a lot of fun — pretty funny, really, with moments of tension and drama.

I don’t know why I think that. Listening to the first two have been a good corrective. Yes, Peter is witty, and some of what he does while learning magic or talking to other police officers is amusing. But these are not light books — this is solid police work mixed with dark magic. They’re still fun, just a lot less light than I recall. Actually, my poor memory extends beyond just the tone. I remembered almost nothing about the plot of this one (I remembered almost everything that wasn’t involved in the main plot, the long-term investigation into the Faceless Man, the stuff with Lesley, etc.). Which made it a great experience to re-read.

Jazz musicians are dropping dead after performances of a lifetime — in ways that seem like natural causes, but Peter (and Dr. Walid) can tell there’s something more going on — just what that might be is a touch beyond them. There’s another supernatural predator traveling in London hotspots, preying on unsuspecting men. Peter and DS Stephanopoulos work together to get to the bottom of things — we also meet PC Sahra Guleed. After Guleed’s appearance in Body Work, I’ve been trying to remember where I knew her from, but I couldn’t come up with it, so pleased to have that question resolved for me — I remember now, and I remember what a great character she is.

Peter’s spirit, his curiosity, his drive — they make for a great protagonist, and I quite enjoy spending time with him. I would’ve liked a bit more Nightingale — but I understand why he wasn’t around. Even Peter’s new love interest and his new musician friends are a blast. Really, I can’t think of any characters in here I don’t dig.

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith . . . I’m telling you, this guy is just great. His characterizations of the regular characters, plus the ones that we meet here, are great, he just brings everyone to life. But, the job he does with Lesley May’s voice as she recovers from the devastating injuries she sustained at the end of Midnight Riot? I don’t know how to talk about how wonderful — and heartbreaking — I found that.

Another little plus that the audio books bring (not attributable to Holdbrook-Smith) are the interstitial music, that little jazz bit between chapters. It’s just perfect for this series. If you could get that on a chip in the paperbacks to play when you turn the page of a new chapter (or on a whim)? That’d be gold.

A great installment in the series, solidifying the world and helping every character move forward following Midnight Riot.

—–

4 Stars

Kindness Goes Unpunished (Audiobook) by Craig Johnson, George Guidall

Kindness Goes Unpunished (Audiobook)Kindness Goes Unpunished

by Craig Johnson, George Guidall
Series: Walt Longmire, #3
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 42 min. pg.
Recorded Books, 2011
Read: June 29 – July 3, 2017

I was going to try to come up with something original for this time through the book, but mostly, I liked what I said last time, so let’s stick to that. I do have a few new things to say at the end, I should note.

It’s a sure sign that I need to spend more time reading Johnson than watching the show based on this series in that I’m consistently surprised at how funny these books are. Sure Henry Standing Bear’s dry wit is there, Vic is brash and inappropriate — amusing enough — but the narration, Walt himself? I chuckled a lot.

So, Walt and Henry (and Dog!) are off to the City of Brotherly Love to visit Walt’s daughter, Cady, meet her boyfriend, and for Henry to do something at a museum (just an excuse to see Cady). Oh, and conveniently enough, to meet Vic’s family (three police officers, one former police officer, and one attractive mother). After arriving in town, Walt doesn’t even get to see Cady before she’s brutally attacked and hospitalized.

Naturally, Walt stumbles upon the one person in Philadelphia who’s more knowledgeable and interested in Indians than Henry. It’s that interest (obsession?) and his connection to Walt that makes Walt the best man to track down the man who put Cady in the hospital (and other assorted nefarious acts). That’s a level of coincidence that you just buy — like Gideon Oliver vacationing somewhere that a set of bones surprisingly shows up; Nero Wolfe needing information from someone who’s a sucker for orchids; or that every falsely accused murderers that Andy Carpenter stumbles upon happen to own a cute dog.

There’s enough twists, turns — and one seeming unnecessary but entertaining diversion (that turns out to be not so ancillary) — to satisfy any mystery reader. Even out of water, this fish can swim. There’s some very interesting things that go on in the character’s personal lives that should make things interesting down the road (and that I can’t talk about while remaining spoiler free) — enough to make this more than a tale of a father’s vengeance.

The first chapter (only one in Wyoming) is great — Walt totally failing to connect with an elementary school classroom, a fun and prototypical Absaroka County shootout, and other things that make up a typical day for Sheriff Longmire on the eve of his trip.

One thing that I did take note of last time, but didn’t write about was the theme of daughters and parents. There’s a lot about Vic and her mother, but the focus is on Cady and the place that she has in Walt’s head and heart. I’m not sure how you could read/listen to this without your heart melting a bit — particularly if you have a daughter who’s growing up a bit too quickly, like me. Guidall did a solid job with his narration of this book, but his performance in the last chapter just about broke me.

Walt in the big city, like Walt in the least populated corner of Wyoming, is just a pleasure to spend time with — even if things are going horribly for him.

—–

4 Stars

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