Review of Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

September 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen KingMr. Mercedes
By Stephen King; Narrated by Will Patton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 22 minutes

Themes: / suspense / thriller / horror /

Publisher summary:

In a mega-stakes, high-suspense race against time, three of the most unlikely and winning heroes Stephen King has ever created try to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands.

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

I think last year’s Joyland was one of my favorite Stephen King novels in awhile, meaning this book had a lot to live up to. I don’t this one is nearly as good, but I think most fans of Mr. King will find this enjoyable. Most of the novels by Mr. King I read have some sense of the fantastical to them. This one doesn’t. It’s straight up horror/thriller. No supernatural beings or unexplained phenomena here. That might be why I didn’t like it as much.

The premise is pretty straightforward. A decorated retired cop whose depression is suddenly shelved after being taunted by the perpetrator of one his most high profile unsolved cases. The killer murdered a crowd of people, including a baby using a big stolen gray Mercedes. They are a lot of psychological elements as both cop and criminal attempt to out think one another. While the majority of the story is told from Retired Detective Bill Hodges point of view, we are also given numerous chapters told from the killer’s perspective as well.

The story itself is nothing that special. Where this book shines (as usual) is in the characters. Mr. King always seems to write the most realistic and interesting characters. They aren’t necessarily someone you’d want to hang out with or even know, but they are the type that make it hard to look away (or in this case stop listening to the book).

Holly and Jerome are both memorable characters to add depth to the duel between our retired detective and the killer who got away. I especially enjoyed Holly’s character.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, but far from a must read.

Will Patton seems to be an excellent fit for this story. His natural reading voice just seems to suit the tone of the book. He doesn’t really do voices, but you can tell his characters apart. I’m not sure how I’d like him as a narrator in general, but for this book, he’s an excellent choice.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Influx by Daniel Suarez

February 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Influx by Daniel SuarezInflux
By Daniel Suarez; Read by Jeff Gurner
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 20 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 30 minutes

Themes: / near future / technology / thriller /

Publisher summary:

The New York Times bestselling author of Daemon–”the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured” –(Publishers Weekly) –imagines a world in which decades of technological advances have been suppressed in an effort to prevent disruptive change. Are smart phones really humanity’s most significant innovation since the moon landings? Or can something else explain why the bold visions of the 20th century–fusion power, genetic enhancements, artificial intelligence, cures for common disease, extended human life, and a host of other world-changing advances–have remained beyond our grasp? Why has the high-tech future that seemed imminent in the 1960′s failed to arrive? Perhaps it did arrive…but only for a select few. Particle physicist Jon Grady is ecstatic when his team achieves what they’ve been working toward for years: a device that can reflect gravity. Their research will revolutionize the field of physics–the crowning achievement of a career. Grady expects widespread acclaim for his entire team. The Nobel. Instead, his lab is locked down by a shadowy organization whose mission is to prevent at all costs the social upheaval sudden technological advances bring. This Bureau of Technology Control uses the advanced technologies they have harvested over the decades to fulfill their mission. They are living in our future. Presented with the opportunity to join the BTC and improve his own technology in secret, Grady balks, and is instead thrown into a nightmarish high-tech prison built to hold rebellious geniuses like himself. With so many great intellects confined together, can Grady and his fellow prisoners conceive of a way to usher humanity out of its artificial dark age? And when they do, is it possible to defeat an enemy that wields a technological advantage half a century in the making?

Influx is a techno-thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole way through. The question of what happens when a small group is allowed to hoard technological advances is very interesting here – is it all really for the greater good? The tone of this book reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton but a bit less thriller and a bit heavier on the speculative science/technology. The story kept up a pretty good pace throughout and did not slow down much even once the mystique of the fantastical technology was revealed.

Whenever I read/listen to a techno-thriller, there is this anticipation of what the technology at work is and how it has become this terrible thing that must be defeated or survived for the rest of the book. That anticipation almost always delivers but some books slow down after that reveal happens. There was a moment or two with Influx that I thought that could happen but Daniel Suarez did a great job of keeping parts interesting that could have been pretty dry. It does mention the prison in the description of the book and I didn’t know if I was in store for a The Count of Monte Cristo..thankfully the prison time was just about as interesting as the rest.

There are many technologies at play in this novel and Suarez made great use of them for some good suspense and actions sequences using them. The only small gripe I had with the novel is that the technologies work too well. Sure they have some really bright minds working on these things but to turn around production quality material in so little time, covertly, and for those things to seemingly not have glitches is kind of unbelievable (even for fiction). There were a couple of minor holes in the usage but overall it was really well done.

As for the audio performance, Jeff Gurner did a good job doing voices for the character and narration. He was always clearly understood and the voices were distinct enough that I could usually tell which character was doing the talking. I would enjoy listening to other books narrated by Jeff Gurner.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Archetype by M.D. Waters

February 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

ArchetypeArchetype (Archetype #1)
By M.D. Waters; Read by Khristine Hvam
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 2 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 22 minutes

Themes: / dystopia / reproduction / romance / near future / suspense / thriller /

Publisher summary:
Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.

Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men – one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which….

This audiobook kept me listening until I finished. I couldn’t stop! Comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood are unavoidable with this book, but in this world where women are valued and imprisoned in order to bear children, M.D. Waters has also added in an element of romance. This means descriptions of the men Emma is interested in, and sex. I don’t mind romance, but I think if I were a woman being controlled and manipulated by men, I would be less obsessed with marriage and sex. But Emma has very little memory, and at first no reason not to trust her husband. All she wants is to get past her accident and back to normal life.  She can’t fully recover because of her dreams.

I can’t say much more without giving it away, and the best part about the book is how all the details are revealed. Archetype is suspenseful and creepy up until the end, and the end leads nicely into the setup for the next novel (Prototype) while being its own self-contained story.

I enjoy Khristine Hvam as a narrator – I had listened to her performance of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and her voice is well suited to a near-future dystopian romance.

Posted by Jenny Colvin

Review of Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

October 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Doctor Sleep by Stephen KingDoctor Sleep (The Shining #2)
By Stephen King; Read by Will Patton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 24 September 2013
ISBN: 9781442362390
[UNABRIDGED] – 18 hours, 35 minutes

Themes: / Horror / Paranormal / Thriller / Ghosts / Alcoholism /

Publisher summary:

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted fans of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

I’m not a fan of sequels. I’m not really sure The Shining needed a sequel. Sure there were lingering questions about Danny and Wendy at the end, but they weren’t critical in my mind. That said, Mr. King’s novels tend to interconnect on several levels, so I was curious to see what he would do in a sequel to one of his most popular books.

Doctor Sleep is a very different book from its predecessor. The shining plays a key role of course, but I would categorize this book more as Paranormal Thriller rather than Horror. I would however recommend you read/reread The Shining before this though.

The first part of the book catches you up with Danny, his mother and Dick Halloran, and then proceeds to catch us up to Danny in the present day.

Unfortunately for Danny, Mr. King is a big believer in like father like son. Danny has become an alcoholic and has the same anger issues Jack struggled with in the first story. It hard to blame him given his traumatic childhood coupled with the horrors being so strong in the shinning has exposed to him.

A good part of this story felt like an advertisement for the Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m not sure if that’s how Mr. King got himself sober, but it certainly seems like it, as he talks about it to excess. It does make for an interesting idea of “what might have happened if Jack Torrence sought help?”, but I could have done with less time being spent on that aspect of the story.

Keeping with his themes of the cyclical nature of life, the other main protagonist is a young girl who is even stronger in the shinning than Danny was in his youth.

We are also introduced to the True Knot, a pack of “physic vampires” that are near immortal by traveling the country and feeding on the shinning for their longevity. Can you guess where this is going? I could.

So it wasn’t the most unpredictable of stories, but in many ways I enjoyed it more then The Shining. I’m not a big horror fan. This book explores the shining in much greater detail than its namesake novel. Mr. King introduces some well developed new characters, and doesn’t just retell the same story again with minor changes like many sequels tend to.

Mr. Patton does an excellent job reading this book. He has many distinct voices and accents that adds a little something to the story. I was surprised they used a different reader than the The Shining, but as it turned out to be a fairly different book, I think it was a good decision.

So will you like it? If you’re a big horror fan hoping that Mr. King can scare the hell out of you again, probably not. If you’re like me and enjoy the fantastical nature of Mr. King’s novels then you just might.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

August 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Red Sparrow by Jason MatthewsRed Sparrow
By Jason Matthews; Narrated by Jeremy Bobb
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: June 2013[UNABRIDGED] – 18 hours

Themes: / thriller /  spies / secret agents / Russia / sexpionage /

Publisher summary:

In present-day Russia, ruled by blue-eyed, unblinking President Vladimir Putin, Russian intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the post-Soviet intelligence jungle. Ordered against her will to become a “Sparrow,” a trained seductress, Dominika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a young CIA officer who handles the Agency’s most important Russian mole.

Spies have long relied on the “honey trap,” whereby vulnerable men and women are intimately compromised. Dominika learns these techniques of “sexpionage” in Russia’s secret “Sparrow School,” hidden outside of Moscow. As the action careens between Russia, Finland, Greece, Italy, and the United States, Dominika and Nate soon collide in a duel of wills, tradecraft, and—inevitably—forbidden passion that threatens not just their lives but those of others as well. As secret allegiances are made and broken, Dominika and Nate’s game reaches a deadly crossroads. Soon one of them begins a dangerous double existence in a life-and-death operation that consumes intelligence agencies from Moscow to Washington, DC.

Page by page, veteran CIA officer Jason Matthews’s Red Sparrow delights and terrifies and fascinates, all while delivering an unforgettable cast, from a sadistic Spetsnaz “mechanic” who carries out Putin’s murderous schemes to the weary CIA Station Chief who resists Washington “cake-eaters” to MARBLE, the priceless Russian mole. Packed with insider detail and written with brio, this tour-de-force novel brims with Matthews’s life experience, including his knowledge of espionage, counterintelligence, surveillance tradecraft, spy recruitment, cyber-warfare, the Russian use of “spy dust,” and covert communications. Brilliantly composed and elegantly constructed, Red Sparrow is a masterful spy tale lifted from the dossiers of intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Authentic, tense, and entertaining, this novel introduces Jason Matthews as a major new American talent.

When Jason Matthews retired from the CIA, he was able to provide the spy-thriller genre with a book that probably rings truer than most for how things actually work. I have to think that the main character, Nate Nash, is based either on Matthews himself or on someone he was close to.

Red Sparrow is a fairly typical spy-thriller. It opens with the main character, Nate, meeting one of his agents inside Russia, Marble. Nate is a CIA operative, a handler, of foreign spies. Marble is a high-ranking member of the Russian equivalent who is now playing for the Americans. As with most novels in this genre, the book starts with some excitement, as Nate is almost caught in his meeting with Marble.

From there, the story takes on the familiar aspects of showing both sides of the world, spy vs. spy. The Russians embody “Soviet Russia.” I’m not sure how much of that is real today, if many high-ranking officials (especially in their equivalent of the CIA/spy services) still think like “Soviets,” that there is a cold war ongoing…regardless, that’s the way they’re painted in this modern-day book. The Russians have realized that there is a mole within their organization and so develop the talented ballerina-turned-spy Dominika into a the one who will infiltrate the American intelligence community and unmask the mole. Her mission is to seduce Nate, to basically turn him into a mole for the Russians.

The entire book is fairly predictable. Right at the start of the book, once Dominika was introduced, it became obvious what would happen between her and Nate. From there, as the story evolved, even if it wasn’t obvious how they would get to the ending, it was pretty easy to tell what would happen next. But that’s not really a bad thing; that happens in almost every spy novel. Heck, if they told us how they really do things, they’d probably have to kill us….or develop some Men In Black-type flash-thing to wipe our memories of it all. Even though the story is predictable, the reader is drawn in through the characters, who are all believable. Most readers can probably empathize with Nate’s and Dominika’s feelings, can see how they feel loyalty to their countries and where that loyalty can be misused. As Marble’s story unfolds, one can see why he turned into a mole for the American spy service–and how he was able to carry out that role for such a long time. Even the Russian spy service members’ motivations can be seen and understood, even if the ideals seem somewhat outdated. Who’s to say Putin isn’t really trying to re-wage the cold war?

I enjoyed this book for what it was, a spy-thriller book that made me want to know what was going to happen to the characters. I found myself making excuses to listen so that I could see just how the next scenes would unfold, how the characters got from point A to B to C. Matthews also puts in something unique at the end of each chapter, a rough recipe for a food item that was mentioned in the chapter. I almost want to get the book in print so that I can try to make some of the dishes. I suspect that in his duties as a member of the CIA, Matthews may have been able to travel a bit and wanted to share some of his food experiences in an unconventional way. All in all, while not deep, the book was enjoyable to read, to experience along with the characters.

I liked listening to this book, though I admit I had one small problem, and that problem may be just showing my ignorance. Jeremy Bobb’s narration is fine–if a little flat. He reads the book, he doesn’t try to add too much emotion to any character. But many of the characters are Russian…and have Russian names. It took me about half the book to figure out the difference between Dominika’s uncle and the Russian spy who seems to order most of the wetwork. The names, to my ear that’s used to listening for names like Smith and Jones, were too similar-sounding for me to keep straight. First names were much easier.

All in all, if you like spy novels, you’ll probably like this book. You’ll probably like it even more if you also like descriptions of food. I wonder if spies commonly meet in restaurants!

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

June 24, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Other TypistThe Other Typist
By Suzanne Rindell; Performed by Gretchen Mol
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 7 May 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours; 8 discs

Themes: / 1920s / thriller / crime / speakeasies / stenographers / obsession /

Publisher summary:

It is 1923. Rose Baker is a typist in the New York City Police Department on the lower east side. Confessions are her job. The criminals admit to their crimes, and like a high priestess, Rose records their every word. Often she is the only woman present. And while she may hear about shootings, knifings, and crimes of passion, as soon as she leaves that room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for making coffee.
 
It is a new era for women, and New York City is a confusing time for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. Now women bob their hair short like men, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. But prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her childhood and clinging to the Victorian ideal of sisterhood.
 
But when glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under Odalie’s spell. As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully into Odalie’s high stakes world and her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.
I’m not huge on suspense or psychological thriller, but I make an exception for well-crafted books such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train, and even Gone Girl. I don’t mind characters who might be evil and I have to keep reading to find out their secrets.That’s pretty much the reading/listening experience for this book, but it was magnified since listening to CDs takes longer than it would take for me to read the print. I knew something had happened, but had to keep listening to untangle everything and figure out what. Unfortunately I felt like too much time was spent on the details and the setting and the mundane part of life, and the payoff wasn’t enough for me. I would have preferred more insight into the obsession, if that’s what it was, or the many lies, if that’s what it was. You see, I still don’t really know. I’ve listened to the last epilogue three times and I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to think now. In some cases, that’s good, but in this case, I feel a bit robbed of the payoff I was expecting.Gretchen Mol was a good reader, particularly because she never lets you read anything into her voice, adding to the veiling of the mystery. She had a very even tone and I liked her voice for Odalie.

I can see why this book is on the “must-read” list for book clubs, because there would be a lot to discuss.  Who is the “other typist” and what exactly happened in the end?

Posted by Jenny Colvin

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