Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Close Your Eyes Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian cover image
Click to visit publisher
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
by Chris Bohjalian
read by Grace Blewer

©2014 Random House Audio
8 hours 15 minutes unabridged
Genres: young adult, general fiction
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  5 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the best-selling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless teen living in an igloo made of ice and trash bags filled with frozen leaves. Half a year earlier, a nuclear plant in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom had experienced a cataclysmic meltdown, and both of Emily's parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault. Was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to flee their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that, as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer's apartment, and inventing a new identity for herself - an identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. When Emily befriends a young homeless boy named Cameron, she protects him with a ferocity she didn't know she had. But she still can't outrun her past, can't escape her grief, can't hide forever - and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

A story of loss, adventure, and the search for friendship in the wake of catastrophe, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is one of Chris Bohjalian's finest novels to date - breathtaking, wise, and utterly transporting.

©2014 Chris Bohjalian (P)2014 Random House Audio

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: It’s just an ordinary day at school for 16-year-old Emily Shepard and her friends when the day is broken by emergency sirens. The sirens are coming from the nearby nuclear power plant. For these kids it is just about the worst sound in the world. Cape Abenaki is centered around the power plant. The houses are where the plant employees live and the exclusive private school is where their kids attend classes. This horrible day is just the beginning for poor Emily.

Emily doesn’t have just one parent in the plant, but both. In fact her father is chief engineer at the plant. Soon rumors begin circulating that Emily’s father may have been drunk at work and the meltdown was his fault. All those people dead, all those families evacuated from their homes, and Emily’s father may be to blame. How can she ever face her friends again? Will she be forced to testify against her father at a trial?

Unable to bear the shame Emily runs away and lives on the streets and it seems she is headed for a bad ending until she meets 9-year-old Cameron. Cameron has just escaped from an abusive foster home. He needs someone to take care of him and Emily takes on the job. The two survive, barely, living on the streets and in shelters until Cameron gets sick. Emily knows he needs to go to a hospital but that would almost certainly mean turning herself in and facing the horror of the power plant all over again.

Close Your Eyes Hold Hands is a sad story of how a young girl can so quickly lose everything she knew and end up on the streets. What makes it so sad is that even though it is a fictional story, I know things like this happen to kids all the time. Emily bounces from shelter to shelter, falls in with a drug dealer who prostitutes her and other girls, and eventually just lives on the street in a shelter made of leaf-filled trash bags. Her story is a sad one, but also compelling. You can’t help but root for her as she survives one day at a time. It’s a hard time for her but also a time of growth and for coming-of-age if you’ll pardon the cliché. I’m not exactly sure if the ending was a happy one or not, but it was appropriate. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Narrator Grace Blewer was a good match for Close Your Eyes Hold Hands. She handled the character of Emily Shepard perfectly in my opinion. A drama major at New York University, Blewer also happens to be the daughter of author Chris Bohjalian, which created an interesting dynamic in the reading. At the end of the audiobook there is a short interview with Bohjalian and Blewer together discussing the experience. Of his daughter’s reading, Bohjalian said, “I love the way Grace brought Emily Shepard to life, and the way she gets Emily’s sense of humor — and what the character describes as her ‘brain chemistry issues.’ It’s a poignant and powerful and authentic reading.”

The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell (Audiobook Review)
Love In The Time Of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (Audiobook Review)
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Random House Audio for this review copy. Audiobook review by Steven Brandt. This audiobook review is based on the unabridged audiobook. Come back soon for more audiobook reviews from Audiobook-Heaven.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sector 64: Ambush by Dean M Cole (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

Sector 64: Ambush by Dean M Cole cover image
Click to visit publisher
Sector 64: Ambush
by Dean M Cole
read by Mike Ortego

Sector 64 #1
©2014 Dean M Cole
11 hours 57 minutes unabridged
Genres: science fiction
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  4 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: A dizzying chain of events thrust US Air Force fighter pilot Captain Jake Giard into a well-intentioned global conspiracy with extraterrestrial roots. However, as Jake finishes indoctrination into the program, it renders Earth a pawn in a galactic civil war. Within and above Washington DC, Captain Giard and two wingmen fight through a post-apocalyptic hell. On the West Coast, his girlfriend and fellow fighter pilot, Captain Sandra Fitzpatrick, wades through blazing infernos and demented looters in a desperate attempt to save her family. Finally, with the fate of the world in the balance, they take the battle to the enemy, humanity's very survival hanging on their success.

Tapping his experiences as a combat pilot, Dean M. Cole creates authentic dialogue and gripping action in this present-day apocalyptic thriller.

©2014 Dean M. Cole (P)2014 Dean M. Cole

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: During a training mission over the Nevada desert, Captain Jake Giard and his wingman Vic have a close encounter of the weird kind. A craft, no bigger than their F-22’s, buzzes around them flying at unlikely speeds and completing seemingly impossible maneuvers. Finally the oddly shaped craft comes close to their formation and Vic’s fighter jet goes completely out of control eventually crashing to the desert floor. Upon landing, Jake is promptly arrested and interrogated about the encounter, not exactly the treatment he had expected. Captain Jake Giard of the United States Air Force has just stumbled into one of the biggest secrets mankind has ever held.

One hundred thousand years ago, an ancient race called the Argonians began exploring the universe in an effort to discover other beings and create something like a galactic confederacy. One of the first races they met were the Zoxyth. The Zoxyth were also interested in meeting other races but only so they could conquer them. A great war was fought with the Argonians eventually coming out on top. The Zoxyth, however, never forgot their humiliating defeat and for many thousands of years have been planning their revenge. Now that time has come and the Argonians newest and weakest ally, Earth in Sector 64, will provide the perfect spot for Zoxyth vengeance. The Zoxyth fleet is coming and their terrible weapons of war could spell certain doom for the human race.

Author Dean M Cole actually was a combat pilot who now flies commercially and he clearly draws on his own life experiences for Sector 64: Ambush. His descriptions of aerial battle and military procedure are accurately detailed and his knowledge of the aircraft themselves fascinated me. I think Cole has a good thing going here. He created a couple of races of aliens, gave them their own histories and cultures and just made them outright interesting. His characters are realistic and believable as well. Sector 64: Ambush is a great read for lovers of science fiction and alien invasions.

Narrator Mike Ortego was simply great. He has a very pleasant sounding voice and he just reads very smoothly and competently. Actually his voice sounds very much like George Guidall and while Ortego doesn’t read with quite as much heartfelt emotion as the legendary Guidall, he is still a very good audiobook narrator. I would definitely like to hear more from Mike Ortego.

Resurrection by Arwen Elys Dayton (Audiobook Review)
Steal Across The Sky by Nancy Kress (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Dean M Cole for this review copy. Audiobook review by Steven Brandt. This audiobook review is based on the unabridged audiobook. Come back soon for more audiobook reviews from Audiobook-Heaven.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blind by Rachel DeWoskin (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

Blind by Rachel DeWoskin cover image
Click to visit publisher
by Rachel DeWoskin
read by Annalie Gernert

©2014 Listening Library
10 hours 40 minutes unabridged
Genres: young adult
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  5 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: When Emma Sasha Silver loses her eyesight in a nightmare accident, she must relearn everything from walking across the street to recognizing her own sisters to imagining colors. One of seven children, Emma used to be the invisible kid, but now it seems everyone is watching her. And just as she's about to start high school and try to recover her friendships and former life, one of her classmates is found dead in an apparent suicide. Fifteen and blind, Emma has to untangle what happened and why - in order to see for herself what makes life worth living.

Unflinching in its portrayal of Emma's darkest days, yet full of hope and humor, Rachel DeWoskin's brilliant Blind is one of those rare books that utterly absorbs the listener into the life and experience of another.

©2014 Rachel DeWoskin (P)2014 Listening Library

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: So you may not be aware of this if you haven’t done much exploring around Audiobook-Heaven, but I used to be blind. Long story, but I was blind for almost three years before recovering my eyesight. It was an interesting time in my life to say the least: learning to walk and use the computer and lots of other things all over again. In fact that was when I was introduced to audiobooks, which I still love even now that I have my sight back and it was because of my own experience as a blind person that initially drew me to Rachel DeWoskin’s Blind.

Main character Emma was a pretty ordinary teenager before her accident. She was at an age where she was starting to notice boys even if they weren’t noticing her. Like most teenagers she was still a bit self-centered. Then in the blink of an eye, so to speak, her whole life changed. Everything she took for granted had to be relearned. Emma, already an introvert, drew even further into herself and often lashed out at those closest to her. Leaving her old friends and going to a special school for the blind was tortuous. But as she gradually learns to navigate a world designed for the sighted, her true healing begins. This is Emma’s coming-of-age story. Helped along by her accident, the death of a classmate, and the betrayal of a best friend, Emma matures into a strong and courageous young woman, even someone that others look to for leadership. It’s the story of the difficult journey that we all must make at some point in our lives.

Listening to the story of how Emma lost her sight in a tragic Fourth-of-July accident and had to learn new ways of doing all the things she used to take for granted struck a deeply resonant chord in me. I was vividly transported back to my own blind days as Emma walked with her cane, learned how to pour a drink without spilling, and struggled to find a balance between independence and the need for help. I totally related to her initial feelings of wanting to be left alone, to become invisible, but as Emma herself says, ”…being blind is the exact opposite of being invisible.” I thought for sure that Rachel DeWoskin must be blind to have captured the experience so deftly but I read her bio on Wikipedia and it doesn’t mention anything about it. I’m guessing she has probably spent a good deal of time with a blind person because she shows an amazingly in-depth knowledge of what it’s like.

Blind is a great book for anyone who has experienced being blind, but I think it has a much more general appeal than that. We all, mostly when we’re young but not always, suffer from blindness, some of us literally and others figuratively. Growing up and learning how to navigate in the world is a process we must all go through. Rachel DeWoskin’s description of Emma’s journey would be a good read for anyone.

Annalie Gernert’s narration was entirely appropriate for this book. Her voice was an excellent match for main character Emma, not only the physical sound of her voice but her intonation and inflection. Gernert captured Emma’s wit and sarcasm perfectly. Her voice actually reminded me a lot of Emma Galvin, which is high praise indeed (see the 2012 Halo Awards). Annalie is relatively new to the audiobook industry and has only a handful of books to her credit but I predict she will have a long and successful career in the field if she chooses to stick with it.

Traveling Blind: Adventures In Vision With A Guide-Dog By My Side by Susan Krieger (Audiobook Review)
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Audiobook Review)
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Listening Library for this review copy. Audiobook review by Steven Brandt. This audiobook review is based on the unabridged audiobook. Come back soon for more audiobook reviews from Audiobook-Heaven.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Breakers by Edward W Robertson (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

Breakers by Edward W Robertson cover image
Click to visit publisher
by Edward W Robertson
read by Ray Chase

Breakers #1
©2013 Podium Publishing
12 hours 10 minutes unabridged
Genres: post apocalypse, science fiction
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  5 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: In New York, Walt Lawson is about to lose his girlfriend Vanessa. In Los Angeles, Raymond and Mia James are about to lose their house. Within days, none of it will matter. When Vanessa dies of the flu, Walt is devastated. But she isn't the last. The virus quickly kills billions, reducing New York to an open grave and LA to a chaotic wilderness of violence and fires. As Raymond and Mia hole up in an abandoned mansion, where they learn to function without electricity, running water, or neighbors, Walt begins an existential walk to LA, where Vanessa had planned to move when she left him. He expects to die along the way. Months later, a massive vessel appears above Santa Monica Bay. Walt is attacked by a crablike monstrosity in a mountain stream. The virus that ended humanity wasn't created by humans. It was inflicted from outside. The colonists who sent it are ready to finish the job - and Earth's survivors may be too few and too weak to resist.

©2012 Edward W. Robertson (P)2013 Podium Publishing

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: In New York City, Walt discovers rather by accident that his live-in girlfriend Vanessa is preparing to leave him to pursue an acting career in California, leaving Walt with some serious questions about what he did wrong and what happens next. In Los Angeles, Raymond and Mia are on the brink of losing their home because Ray can’t find a job. In both cases the future does not look good. Then people start dying, including Vanessa, and future prospects go from bad to worse.

Within a couple of weeks the so-called Panhandler virus kills billions, an estimated ninety-nine percent of the world’s population. Even though the situation in L.A. is grim, Raymond and Mia decide to stick it out and aren’t doing too badly for themselves. Losing their house to a fire, they move into a now abandoned mansion up on the hill. They plant fresh vegetables in the back yard and forage for the things they need in the surrounding neighborhoods. In New York, Walt simply doesn’t want to live anymore and decides to walk to Los Angeles knowing that he will probably be killed on the way. And then worse finally becomes worst when the alien ships appear in the sky. The Panhandler wasn’t created on Earth after all. But why did these aliens cross the unimaginable depths of outer space to come here and kill off all the people?

I think that Edward W Robertson is drawing some interesting parallels in Breakers. The Panhandler virus, as described by one of the characters, “nickels and dimes you”, weakening you little by little before finally going in for the kill. Robertson seems to be saying that people are the same way. You lose yourself little by little, you give an inch and then another and another, sacrificing your principles and morals bit by bit, until suddenly you don’t even know who you are anymore. This is especially evident in the character of Walt. He did a lot of soul searching on his walk from New York City to Los Angeles and he came out the other side a whole different person. We see it happening all through the story, people reacting to events and being forged into new people, sometimes for the good and sometimes for bad. Robertson does a great job of introducing us to his characters and showing us how they evolve over the course of the book.

Outstanding character development isn’t the only thing that made Breakers such a great read. Robertson is just an all around good storyteller. The chapters of the book alternate back and forth between Walt in New York and Raymond and Mia in California. Each chapter ends with kind of a mini-cliffhanger that leaves you wondering what happened in New York while we’re catching up on events in California. Robertson keeps the suspense at a high pitch all through the book right up to the explosive ending.

This was the first time I had heard a narration by Ray Chase and I liked him a lot. His pace and inflection are very comfortable and he does very good character voices. He even does convincing voices for the female characters, which not many male narrators can pull off. Ray is also good at reading dialogue so that it really sounds like two or more people talking to each other. This is an especially good thing because Robertson uses dialogue heavily to show us who his characters are. I would definitely like to hear more from Ray Chase and I will definitely get my chance since he has narrated all five books (so far) in the Breakers series.

Swarm by B V Larson (Audiobook Review)
White Horse by Alex Adams (Audiobook Review)
The Passage by Justin Cronin (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Brilliance Audio for this review copy. Audiobook review by Steven Brandt. This audiobook review is based on the unabridged audiobook. Come back soon for more audiobook reviews from Audiobook-Heaven.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Armor by John Steakley (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

Armor by John Steakley cover image
Click to visit publisher
by John Steakley
read by Tom Weiner

© 2009 Blackstone Audio
13 hours 37 minutes unabridged
Genres: science fiction, military
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  1 out of 5 haloshalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: The planet is called Banshee. The air is unbreathable, the water poisonous. It is the home of the most implacable enemies that humanity, in all its interstellar expansion, has ever encountered.

Felix is a scout in A-team Two. Highly competent, he is the sole survivor of mission after mission. Yet he is a man consumed by fear and hatred. And he is protected not only by his custom-fitted body armor, the culmination of 10,000 years of the armorers' craft, but also by an odd being which seems to live with him, a cold killing machine he calls "the Engine."

©1984 John Steakley; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: I love military science fiction and I have also grown quite fond of the powered armor fighting suits that have become so prevalent in the genre. When I saw Armor on Blackstone’s website it was a no-brainer; I had to have it. Boy was I disappointed. I started listening to this book and right away I found it difficult to keep my mind on the story. I kept drifting here and there as the story did not engage me at all. I gave it the benefit of the doubt and started again from the beginning, this time trying extra hard to focus on it. I had slightly better results the second time and got through part one.

Part one of Armor is about a guy named Felix who signs up to fight in the Ant War. Yes, I said Ant War. The enemy is a race of three-meter tall ant-like creatures. Felix’s squad is dropped onto the planet Banshee, where the Ant population is thought to be low. They are, of course, surprised when the Ants come boiling up out of the ground by the thousands. Out of Felix’s group of more than 200 soldiers, he is the only survivor and of the entire army of about 10,000 only a couple thousand survive the initial onslaught with more dying with each new wave of enemies.

Then began part two of the book. Suddenly we’re in a different place following a guy named Jack Crow who is apparently some kind of space pirate. His story begins with his escape from prison and how he was taken aboard a ship where the crew had mutinied. I listened to part two for more than an hour and have no idea what it was about. Again and again I kept rewinding to listen to the same parts trying to pick up on what I had missed. There were some mentions of the Ant War but from what I could gather we are now far away from where it is being fought. I tried really hard to make Armor work but eventually had to give up on it.

When you are having trouble with an audiobook like this, it is sometimes hard to tell if it’s a bad story or a bad narrator. With Armor I believe that at least half the problem (probably more) was the narrator Tom Weiner. Part one of the book should have had me riveted but I kept having trouble focusing on it. Part two got a little boring and I lost interest altogether. Weiner’s voice just drones on and on without ever really changing much. I think if I had a print version of Armor I would probably have enjoyed it.

Germline by T C McCarthy (Audiobook Review)
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Audiobook Review)
Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Blackstone Audio for this review copy. Audiobook review by Steven Brandt. This audiobook review is based on the unabridged audiobook. Come back soon for more audiobook reviews from Audiobook-Heaven.