Monday, April 25, 2011

"Over the End Line" by Alfred C. Martino

"Over the End Line"
by Alfred C. Martino
Read by Todd Licea
Produced by Listen & Live Audio (2009)
Approx 6 hours

I don't usually start out an audiobook review talking about the reader, unless it is a multi-cast performance, but this time around I have to jump to it and get it off my chest. The reader of this audiobook, Todd Licea, Is overwhelmingly awesome at presenting this book. The book is told in first person and the author, Alfred C. Martino, provides some beautiful wordsmithing to create the story which in and of itself creates a theatre of the mind effect, but Todd Licea presents the story with such great quality that basically the listener has no choice but to strap in and enjoy the ride.

Martino creates such clear images of everything that it is as if you already know everything as it is happening. For example, when describing the scenes from the soccer practices or games the reader/listener doesn't need to know the rules, they are explained in such a way you feel as though you already know everything about the game. That teamed with the excellent delivery of Todd Licea makes for a superb story worth hearing.

Johnny Fehey has been friends with Kyle Saint-Claire since they started school, but as they enter their senior year, the distance between their obvious social differences could not be clearer. Kyle earns excellent grades and is the school’s star soccer player. Johnny has no interesting quality to own up to but tries. There also seems to be an economic social factor dividing the two also.

Legend has it that the school's social structure has been drawn out into a ladder diagram with those higher on the ladder being the most popular and those lower, the social outcasts. Johnny spends his weekends at the library, where the legendary diagram is said to be hidden, trying to find the Ladder and figuring out how to change where he stands on the ladder. Fate steps in, Johnny shoots the winning goal in the county championships, he becomes part of the popular crowd. At the victory party, Johnny witnesses the rape of a girl by Kyle and a teammate. Kyle and Johnny’s friendship hangs in balance as they ponder what to do and whether their choice will be the right decision. Little does Johnny know that the life of the closest person he understands is also at stake: his own.

The complicated relationship between Kyle and Johnny is very realistic. It is a perfect example of a story in which the characters are not divided easily in to the popular kids vs. social outcasts. The ending is very unexpected, but the lead up will keep you on the edge.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"The Lottery and Seven Other Stories" by Shirley Jackson

"The Lottery and Seven Other Stories"
by Shirley Jackson
Read by Carol Jordan Stewart
Published by BBC Audiobooks America (2010)
Approx 3.5 hours

Shirley Jackson has been called one of the best short story authors, but when she first released her story, "The Lottery," many people did not appreciate the story and she was ridiculed. Luckily we still have the chance to read these stories and be better off for it. I will admit these short stories go against the grain in both the story content and delivery.

On the delivery, I was always taught that good fiction has a beginning and and end with tension building to a release. Jackson doesn't follow that line and that the end of the stories don't release any tension, instead they leave the reader/listener with even more questions and a big void wondering what happened? Whether wanting to know what happened to the character or the events, you are just left on edge with no promise of easing that tension. When writing reviews I don't like to talk about the end of the story because I want to leave that up to the reader. I still won't break that policy with myself, but I will tell you that really the ending of each of these stories will only leave you wanting to know more and even to the point of frustration. Yes, I was frustrated at the end of some of the stories, but after I got over that tension and frustration I realizid I had just been taken on a journey and while the ending is somewhat pessimistic it was definitely an escape, which is all I ask from good literature.

The stories included in this audiobook are:

"The Lottery"
In a small village of about 300 residents, the locals are in a strange and nervous mood on 27 June. Children gather stones as the adult townsfolk assemble for their annual event, that in the local tradition has been practiced to ensure a good harvest. In the first round of the lottery, the head of each family draws a small slip of paper; One man gets the one slip with a black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. In the next round, each Hutchinson family member draws a slip, andhis wife gets the marked slip. In keeping with tradition, which has been abandoned in at least some other neighboring communities, she must meet the fate of the lottery.

"Flower Garden"
A woman comes from New York City and purchases a cottage in a small town. When the New York woman asks a young African-American boy to help with her garden the town begins to shun the newcomer.

"Come Dance with Me in Ireland"
Three women are visiting and watching baby at home and indulging in gossip, when the doorbell rings. An elderly man, who looks extremely poor if not homeless, attempts to sell one of the women old shoelaces. Suddenly he nearly faints, and the women all try to help the man. The feed him and help him out and see him on his way, all the while criticizing him. This may not seem to intriguing as a summary but the story has more including the response the man has at the end, pretty interesting.

"Men with Their Big Shoes"
Mrs. Anderson, who works in Mrs. Hart’s home, engineers a conversation where she leads Mrs. Hart to believe that the neighborhood is gossiping about her relationship with her husband, and that to protect herself from further gossip she needs to let Mrs. Anderson live in her home.

"Trial by Combat"
An older woman is stealing things from Emily Johnson and is thus stealing her identity. When Emily realizes that they have parallel lives, she feels enough empathy for the thief that she does not react with any antagonism. I found this to be a very intriguing story especially in the twist at the end.

"Pillar of Salt"
A woman trying to cope with the change of visiting New York City after living her life in rural America. At first the sights and sounds are exhilarating but soon become overwhelming after witnessing a house on fire, a human leg washing up onshore and the death-defying feat of crossing the street in the middle of the day.

"Like Mother Used to Make"
A man is very meticulous with his apartment from the type and color of drapes to the look of the silverware, but his girlfriend seems to be, well in short, a slob. His passiveness is his downfall after he invites her over for dinner and she seems to have invited someone else.

A woman goes to the doctor to inquire about her husband’s possible insanity. The doctor’s response is so confusing that she becomes hysterical and might be the crazy one herself, though she thinks she might be the only sane person around. This one was definitely fun to hear.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"The Last Days of Krypton" by Kevin J. Anderson

"The Last Days of Krypton"
by Kevin J. Anderson
Read by William Dufris
Produced by Tantor Media, 2007
Approx 15.5 hours

I have only recently become a fan of DC comics, "Make Mine Marvel" was my slogan, but after tackling audiobook novelizations of DC heroes I've received a more in depth knowledge of what makes up the DC Universe. The only problem is that after almost a century of heroes it's hard to keep continuity. There have been many stories, for example, told of the destruction of Superman's home planet, Krypton. Did the sun go supernova, did something strike the planet,did the planet implode? An answer to each of these questions has appeard as a bit of an explanation throughout the run of Superman comics and if someone were to read all the comics from the beginning they may get a bit confused. There are other questions I've had such as where did Supergirl come from, some versions she's the cousin of Superman other's she's an angel. Well if Krypton was destroyed how did she survive? Remember the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve? How did General Zod and his two assistants come to be trapped in the neutral zone? Then there's Brainiac, what's his story?

Kevin J. Anderson has tried to sum up all these problems and write a history of Kal-el's (Superman's) home planet, Krypton in the days just before the little baby that would become Superman was blasted off toward Earth. Kevin is not a stranger to taking an established piece of work and adding to it, he has teamed up with Brian Herbert, son of Frank Herbert, to add stories to the "Dune" universe of novels. Having read and appreciated the work he has done in that realm I knew this would be a good book. The interesting aspect of this novel is that it is really not a superhero story but rather a piece of science-fiction with some superhero potential added to push the story along. This story not only explores the destruction of Krypton but also reveals the politics of this planet that just wanted to stay alone in the universe.

The reader, William Dufris, did an adequate job of reading the book, but there were times when some of the characters seemed parodies in the vocal changes. It's like Dufris wanted to turn this into a superhero story from with similar vocalizations to the '60s "Batman" tv series. There was no campiness to the writing but some of the dialogue was read that way. But it was not enough to keep me from enjoying the fun sci-fi story from Kevin J. Anderson.

The novel explores how Jor-el (Superman's father) discovers the planet and its sun is dying, and through the xenophobic politics of the elders is constantly sent packing when he is trying to save the planet. Soon alien forces invade some friendly some not so friendly and change the way the council works but it is too late and soon Commissioner Zod takes over and is determined to rule Krypton. In doing so, Zod, sacrifices many lives needlessly and puts the planet at risk, it is up to Jor-el and Zor-el (Jor-el's brother) to save Krypton. Are their efforts to late?

This story is full of adventure, excitement, passion and glory and is a perfect read for comic book and science fiction lovers alike.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Cargo of Coffins" by L. Ron Hubbard

"Cargo of Coffins"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multi-cast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio, 2009
approx 2 hours

My audiobook excursion into the Stories from the Golden Age continues with more pulp fiction from the master story-teller L. Ron Hubbard. This time around I gave another Sea Adventure a listen.

While Hubbard knew how to write in the twists and turns in a story to keep a reader on the edge and eager for more, the folks at Galaxy Audio know how to take these exciting stories and produce them into audio dramas that not only keep the story true to the original form but also seem to push the listener even closer to the edge. With superb voice acting, dynamic sound effects and original music, these audio books could easily be promoted as audio dramas and find a place on the radio waves. In fact with the fun character actors and excellent narration these audio books have the feel of the old radio dramas of the mid-20th century.

This time around the Sea Adventure takes us across the ocean. "Cargo of Coffins" was originally published in the November, 1937 issue of "Argosy." Lars Marlin is out to seek revenge on Paco Corvino, he vows Paco will die at his hands, but a fluke of a moment finds Lars as Captain of an ocean going yacht where Paco is working as chief steward. The wealthy family on-board all wish they could meet someone of royalty. Paco fakes an illness and eventually his death. He has expressly forbidden anyone to open certain envelopes in his cabin unless he dies. With what seems like his death the crew opens the envelopes to find Paco is actually royalty, at least that's what he wants them to believe. After a day Paco "comes back to life" and is immediately treated according to his new-found position.

Lars knows this is a scam but under threat, by Paco, does not wish to expose his background, having escaped from a penal colony island. Paco orders the ship to dock at the same penal colony where he loads aboard the yacht some coffins, under the guise of returning the dead men to their home soil. It turns out Paco has alternate plans for the yacht and passengers and Lars is set to prevent that from happening before the ship can pull into Casablanca.

In an exciting story that will keep the listener wanting more, Galaxy Audio will place you on an ocean going yacht with action that seems so real you will be ducking bullets and hoping not to get seasick.

"A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry

"A Raisin in the Sun"
by Lorraine Hansberry
Live Cast recording
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works
Approx. 2.5 hours

Wanting to revisit my theatre days, I set myself to listen to a few plays turned into audio books. I read several plays while earning a degree in theatre from Southern Illinois University and I know that plays are meant to be performed but now residing in an area where live theatre just doesn't happen on a regular basis, I decided to go back and listen to some audio performances as part of my constant audio book stream. I first tried some Shakespeare, I actually love Shakespeare, but the audio performance wasn't clicking with me at the time. So, after a while I find this treasure L.A. Theatre Works' Production of "A Raisin in the Sun." I remember reading this play in my Theatre History class and seeing a couple performances with some great actors and knowing I have enjoyed the play in the past, I gave this one a shot.

I was in for a couple of treats when putting this cd into my player. First that one of the performers, Rutina Wesley is one of my favorite actors from the TV series "True Blood" (she plays Sookie's friend Tara). And second that the recording is superb. Every subtlety of the voices is captured and it seems as though the actors have been doing audio only acting for a while because events that may be seen in the performance and not necessarily heard were clearly communicated. The recording was superb and the acting was excellent in this audio version. Even the sound effects were captured perfectly, things such as shutting of doors, flushing of toilets and clinking of glasses were heard when needed. This makes for the perfect audio book experience that I have come to expect. I know I will be searching for more productions from L.A. Theatre Works.

The story covers a struggling African-American family in Chicago, the Youngers. The Youngers represent the 4th, 5th and 6th generation of their family brought to America via slavery. The family is struggling to make a go at living out the American dream. Mama Lena Younger's husband has passed and the family is expecting a $10 thousand check from the insurance company. Mama Lena has plans to move into a better home, however, her children have other plans. Son, Walter Lee wants to buy a liquor store and daughter, Beneatha wants to go to medical school.

On the day the check arrives, Lena goes out and comes back that evening having used the money as a down-payment on a house in a white neighborhood. Eventually she entrusts Walter with the remaining amount. She tells Walter to put $3 thousand into the bank for Beneatha's school and use the rest as he sees fit.

This story is full of ups and downs as the family is told they are not wanted in the white neighborhood, Beneatha gets a marriage proposal, and Walter invests all the remaining money (including Beneatha's share) and loses it. How the family handles the good and the bad creates a play that is a true testament to hope, not only to African-Americans, but to anyone. Virtues and vices are explored and true hope is found.

A classic play produced with excellent quality create this great audio masterpiece.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle" Graphic Novel by Jim Butcher

"The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle"
Graphic Novel
by Jim Butcher
Illustrated by Ardian Syaf
Published by Del Rey (2008)

Jim Butcher confesses in the preface to this collected edition, that when he writes a Harry Dresden story he pictures the action in comic book form and I found it interesting that as I read each new novel my mind immediately interprets into a comic book /animation format. Jim says it's because he collected Marvel comics for a large part of his life, maybe that's my reason also. I find it amazing that he and I shared the same passion, if only I had turned that passion into great writing like he did.

Anyway, these stories were originally published in comic book form in four issues. This edition collects those comics into one graphic novel and includes a section with extra artwork representing the covers and character development sketches. Reading this story in comic book form allows the reader to enjoy the action with some great artwork.

This story is a prequel to the Dresden files taking place just before the first book , "Storm Front." A side note here "Storm Front" has since been adapted to graphic novel form.

After a security guard at the Lincoln Park Zoo is found dead at the zoo, the police immediately think that a gorilla named Moe is to blame. Special Investigations Lt. Karrin Murphy, doesn't think it fits that the gorilla escaped, killed the guard and locked himself back in the cage. So she calls in the only guy capable of handling the world of the weird, Chicago's own wizard, Harry Dresden. Harry has to find what actually happened and present it to Murphy so the officials can somewhat swallow the story. Harry is soon attacked by several jungle cats, a black dog and a hag. With some help from Bob the skull, Harry finds out what is killing but now he has to figure out how to stop them or more than just the zoo will be in trouble.

With excellent Jim Butcher storytelling and beautiful artwork "Welcome to the Jungle" is a great introduction to the Dresden files series.

Friday, April 08, 2011

"Sabotage in the Sky" by L. Ron Hubbard

"Sabotage in the Sky"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multi-cast performance
produced by Galaxy Audio
Approx 2 hours

It's time once again to go on an air adventure with the master of story-telling, L. Ron Hubbard. As always make sure you're strapped in because this one will keep you on th edge of your seat. (Or as the the old monster truck rally commercials used to say, "You'll pay for the whole seat but you'll only need the edge, edge, edge.")

Hubbard wrote many stories for the pulps in the mid 20th century and every one was meant to captivate the reader in only a few pages. His writing achieved this but Galaxy Audio's production of these stories into audiobooks pushes this audience captivation further. Each of these books released by Galaxy Press and Galaxy Audio are produced with excellent character acting, realistic sound effects and original music to fit the genre to transition between chapters.

This time around I listened to "Sabotage in the Sky." This story was originally published in "Five Novels Monthly" August, 1940 and tells the story of test pilot Bill Trevillian. None of the fighter planes test pilot Bill Trevillian flies are hotter than the BCA 41 pursuit ship, so he takes it up. But someone has deliberately rigged it for failure and destruction—and for Trevillian's death.
France and Great Britain are looking for the best fighters to use in the war against the Nazis and they must choose between different American plane designs to outfly the newest and deadliest Nazi fighters, the competing companies send their two best test pilots . . . Kip and Bill. Kip turns out to be an old friend of Bill's but not one he remembers at first. Kip is a dame, and according to Bill, "Dames can't fly." But Kip is out to set him straight.

Kip and Bill grew up together, Bill was always the best pilot, and Kip looked up to him. But when Bill ridicules her on her crash landing she sets out to get back at him. But what is worse is that the Nazis have sent a saboteur to Bill's crew in order to keep the Europeans from gaining the air advantage.

Soon Kip and Bill suspect the other of sabotage, problem that not only threatens their already electric relationship but their very lives. The contract is to be decided in a mock air battle, but soon turns deadly when the Nazis sneak a saboteur onto each plane and plan to highjack the planes for their own use. What soon turns out to be a sea and air battle the two pilots' skills are put to the test.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

"The Code of the Zombie Pirate" by Scott Kenemore

"The Code of the Zombie Pirate"
by Scott Kenemore
Published by Skyhorse Publishing (2010)
248 pages

Okay to be honest, I've never really been a fan of pirates, however, give me a good zombie apocalypse and I can't refuse, but having read a couple of other books by Scott Kenemore, I saw no harm in reading this, in fact I knew I was going to have some fun. That's exactly what I got some fun and some zombies and you will to if you pick up this fun handbook on how to sail the seas pillaging with a crew of zombies.

Scott Kenemore taught us how to get ahead in the business world in "Z.E.O," how to win a war with "The Art of Zombie Warfare" and has a novel about what it's like to be a zombie during a zombie apocalypse called, "Zombie, Ohio." So Scott knows what he's talking about when it comes to zombies.

Scott gives you the secrets to selecting, customizing and managing a crew of zombie pirates, including such important decisions like how to find the right vessel, where treasure chests are buried, how to create your pirate zombie flag and when to fly it. Taking the various assortment of zombies; fast, slow, voodoo created, brain eating and others, he plunks them down in the Caribbean during the 1700s hey day of piracy. You would think that placing the zombies in that era would hinder some of the arrangements and motivations but that just makes it more fun.

So whether you are a fan of pirates or a fan of zombies or both Scott Kenemore will tell you how to combine the two and be successful at your plunders and be able to retire to your own desert isle when all is said and done.

This book is full of some supernatural undead fun so check it out.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

"A Touch of Dead" Short stories from the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris

"A Touch of Dead"
Short stories from the Southern Vampire Mysteries
by Charlaine Harris
read by Johanna Parker
Produced by Recorded Books (2009)
Approx 3 hours

"A Touch of Dead" is a collection of short stories from Charlaine Harris's series "The Southern Vampire Mysteries." For those of you that are fans of the HBO series, "True Blood" this is the series that started it all. This title was released on October 6, 2009. and only contains the short stories Harris has published in which Sookie Stackhouse is present. Harris has written other stories in the Sookie Stackhouse world that don't include Sookie and are worth checking out.

The first story is "Fairy Dust" from the book "Powers of Detection" (October 2004). It introduces Sookie's fairy cousins Claudine, Claude, and the deceased third triplet Claudette. Claude and Claudine are recurring characters in later books of the series. "In Fairy Dust," Sookie is working at Merlottes when Claudine the fairy comes in and asks Sookie to read the minds of some human guests of her brother Claude. When Sookie arrives at Claude and Claudine's home in Monroe, she finds three people tied up in the house. Everyone involved (except Claudine) is associated with Hooligans, an exotic dancing establishment. Claude, who dances, tells Sookie that they believe that one of the people murdered their triplet Claudette while she was working at the club earlier that night. Claude explains that Claudette came to her siblings in spirit form to tell them of her death. Using her telepathy, Sookie interviews each suspect to discover the guilty party. If only Sherlock Holmes had Sookie's talent (or "disability" as Sookie calls it).

"One Word Answer" from the book "Bite" (2005), introduces the topic of Hadley's death, which kicks off the events in the sixth Vampire Mysteries book, "Definitely Dead." The mysterious Mr. Cataliades shows up in a limousine at Sookie's home bringing the news of her cousin Hadley's death. The rebellious Hadley had not been in touch with the family in years, so they did not know she had become a vampire several years ago. Nor did they know that she was the lover of the vampire Queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne Leclerq. It seems that Waldo, a former lackey of the Queen, was jealous of Hadley's position, so he lured her to a cemetery and killed her. Mr. Cataliades informs Sookie that Waldo has been caught, and that his punishment is in Sookie's hands - she must decide. Her answer surprises him, and Sookie notices that it also surprises the hidden occupant of the limousine: the Queen. In this one there were some continuity problems that were incongruent with how the story played out in the series, but this is definitely a story worth hearing or reading, especially since it's another one involving the dimwitted vampire, Bubba, who is a famous King of rock and roll turned vampire.

"Dracula Night" is from "Many Bloody Returns" (September 2007) and is just a fun story from the southern vampire mysteries series and occurs some time after Sookie's tryst with Eric sans memories. Eric's vampire bar, Fangtasia, throws a party each year for the vampire observance of Dracula Night, in honor of the infamous Count Dracula. According to legend, the Count will choose one lucky party from all over the world to grace with his presence. The book characters are amused by Eric's childlike hope that the Count will appear at his party, just like Linus of the Peanuts comic hopes in vain to greet the Great Pumpkin. This was a funny story due to the references to the Great Pumpkin.

"Lucky" is from the book "Unusual Suspects" (December 2008) and spotlights one of the many supernatural yet not vampire characters from Sookie's hometown of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Insurance agent Greg Aubert asks Sookie (and her witch friend Amelia) to investigate a break-in at his office. He is concerned that someone will discover that he uses magic spells to protect his property and his clients. Amelia and Sookie discover that the break-in was just Greg's daughter and her secretive boyfriend, who is actually a newly-turned vampire. However, Sookie learns that two other agents in town have had break-ins, and all are getting excessive amounts of claims which may drive them out of business. It seems that Greg's spells have been using up all the luck in town.

"Gift Wrap" is from "Wolfsbane and Mistletoe" (October 2008) and finds Sookie alone for Christmas. Her brother and closest friends each have their own plans, and she perversely chose not to ask other friends for an invitation. She recalls that she heard a noise in the woods the night before, so she trudges out to investigate. She finds Preston, a naked, muddy and bloody man, who is nevertheless very attractive. To save him from further injury, she brings Preston back to her house and shields him from the Weres who come looking for him. When he starts kissing her, he tells her to pretend she found him gift-wrapped under the tree, and she succumbs to his charm. On Christmas Day, she is relieved to find a note saying he is gone. Her great-grandfather Niall Brigant turns up on her doorstep, surprising her with his company. In the woods behind the house, Preston and a Were chat about Niall hiring them to give Sookie a pleasant Christmas Eve, tailoring the scenario to her personality, and using a bit of fairy magic to attract her. This to me was a dull story in that there was no real mystery to solve, just a fling with a werewolf/fairy or whatever.

If you're a fan of "True Blood" or of the Sookie Stackhouse books, this may not be a "must-read" but it is a fun one to pick up while waiting for that next book from Charlaine Harris.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"Man-Killers of the Air" by L. Ron Hubbard

"Man-Killers of the Air"
by L. Ron Hubbard
Multi-cast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio (2009)
Approx 2 hours

I've said it before and I'll say it again, these audio performances of the works of L. Ron Hubbard's pulp fiction era are magical. The stories are great adventures and fun by themselves but when Galaxy Audio does their magic in producing them into audio books they spare no talent in creating what sounds like an old time radio drama. Being a radio professional, I have a strong sentiment toward audio drama and these guys really know how to create the entire atmosphere of adventure as written by L. Ron Hubbard. They use superb voice actors who not only move the story along but through some nice vocal athletics create characters that are fun and intriguing. The Special effects are superb, these guys even duplicated the sound of an experimental aircraft from the 1930s. The music definitely keeps you in the mood between chapters.

This time around it's another air adventure called, "Man-Killers of the Air," originally published in the June, 1935 issue of "Five Novels Monthly." This story introduces the daredevil air racer, Smoke Burnham and his pet Cheetah, Patty. Patty usually rides co-pilot with Smoke and in combination with the name "Smoke Burnham" creates what could have easily been turned into a regular series in the funny papers.

Smoke has won his chance to be entered in an international air race, he really needs to win this one because of a bet he's made with a newspaper mogul who has been trying to sabotage him. If he wins the mogul will rebuild Smoke's hanger, but if he loses he has to give over plans to a new aircraft which the newspaper man will then turn over to the military to help prevent the rumored attack from the Japanese. This will make the mogul look good, and sell papers.

The race will carry Smoke across the Brazilian Jungle and the Andes and will be his most dangerous flight ever. Not only does he have to fight the stressful flight but someone is trying to sabotage his planes. On top of this, there's a dame involved. Smoke is in love but the woman resents his love of flying. So on top of beating the odds and winning the race he must win over the gal.

Great adventure to keep you on the edge of your seat for this check it out.