Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

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All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
read by Zach Appelman

2014 Simon and Schuster Audio
16 hours 2 minutes unabridged
Genres: general fiction, World War 2
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  5 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

©2014 Anthony Doerr (P)2014 Simon & Schuster Audio

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Oh boy! I absolutely loved this book. I don’t even know what to say about it. Gosh! Okay let’s do this: instead of trying to write a synopsis for All The Light We Cannot See that would not even begin to do it justice, why don’t I just introduce you to a few of the main characters.

The Sea of Flames An enormous blue diamond, 130 carats, with a flare of red at its core, the Sea of Flames has a long and tragic history. The story goes that the goddess of the earth created the diamond as a gift for her lover, the god of the sea, and sent it to him through the river. When an earthly prince picked up the diamond she became enraged and cursed the stone. The keeper of the stone would live forever but misfortunes would fall on all those he loved. A tragic tale follows the diamond through time until finally it came to the King of France on the condition that he lock it away for 200 years. Thus it has been kept in a special vault at the Museum of Natural History in Paris for the last 196 years.

Marie-Laure (mar’-ee lore) Marie-Laure is the young daughter of the keeper of keys at the Museum of Natural History and she knows all about the Sea of Flames. She went blind at the age of six and her father built an exact scale replica of the six-block walk from their apartment to the museum so she could memorize it by touch. When the Nazis invaded, Marie and her father were forced to flee their home and they ended up in the coastal town of Saint-Malo (san ma-lo’) at the home of her father’s uncle. Unbeknownst to Marie, the Sea of Flames went with them in an effort to keep it safe. Remarkably, Marie ends up working for the French underground, carrying messages hidden in loaves of bread and using the radio transmitter in her great-uncle’s attic. The Nazi grip on Saint-Malo tightens however, and the members of Marie’s household disappear one by one, including her uncle, her father, and the housekeeper. As the war nears its end Marie is alone in the house while the city is being bombed to pieces all around her. Also, the radio transmissions have caught the attention of Nazi specialists and the Sea of Flames is also being traced to her location. This all places Marie in a very precarious position.

Werner (ver’-ner) Werner grew up an orphan in a small mining town in Germany with his sister. He once found a simple radio that someone had cast out because it was broken. He studied the device very carefully until he saw what was wrong with it and fixed it. From then on radio was his passion. By the time the Nazis came to power Werner had earned something of a reputation as a radio repairman. Even though his lowly status as an orphan would have precluded him from joining the third reich, his skill with radios caught the attention of the Nazis and he was sent away to a Hitler youth camp, where conditions were hard and he was taught many horrible things. When he was old enough, Werner was sent to the front but not as a soldier. Rather he was sent into France to track down underground radio transmissions using signal triangulation equipment that he had helped to build. After shutting down many transmitters, he stumbles across one that is broadcasting the voice of a girl. It is a sweet sounding voice that seems completely out of place in the bombed out city of Saint-Malo. Instead of reporting the signal to his superiors he just listens, undecided what to do.

von Rumpel Sergeant Major von Rumpel is a German officer who is primarily a treasure hunter. It is his job to scour France for the most valuable treasures: paintings, gems, sculptures, you name it. He is very aware of the Sea of Flames diamond and wants to possess it very badly for obvious reasons. What is not so obvious to the casual observer, however, is that von Rumpel is being eaten alive by cancer and more than anything he believes that the Sea of Flames is his only chance to survive. Beginning at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, von Rumpel tracks the progress of the priceless diamond to a house in the devastated city of Saint-Malo.

And those are the primary players from All The Light We Cannot See. It was fascinating to watch their individual stories slowly come together in the ruins of Saint-Malo. I don’t want to give away too much so all I can say is that some of them survive the war and some do not. But one way or another, the war had a permanent effect on them all.

Mostly this is the story of Werner and Marie-Laure. You see, many years before the war, Marie’s great-uncle and his brother built the radio transmitter in the attic of their family home. They would broadcast classical music and lectures about dinosaurs and anything else they could think of. All the way up in Germany, a young orphan boy who had just found his first radio and fixed it, came across their regular program and was captivated by it. Later on, near the end of the war, Marie finds herself all alone in her great-uncle’s house and there are no longer any messages to transmit for the French underground. Finally despairing of any hope, Marie decides to transmit one of her uncle’s old records, an album containing classical music and dinosaur lectures along with a call for help, even though it may alert the Nazis to her location. This is the transmission that Werner hears, the same one that captivated him as a child in better times, and the sweet voice of the girl. Even though she is supposed to be his enemy he knows that he must help her.

Gosh, I just want to sit here and tell you the whole story as I relive it for myself. It’s a beautiful story, definitely one of the best I’ve read this year. I’m going to try hard to restrain myself because I don’t want to spoil it for you. But you definitely need to read this book or listen to the audio as I did. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

I have no complaints at all about Zach Appelman’s narration of All The Light We Cannot See. He was easy to listen to for several hours and his French and German accents sounded just fine. Appelman is an accomplished stage actor with a long list of credits on and off broadway. He also has a few television guest appearances under his belt including Law & Order: SVU, and Sleepy Hollow. He has very few audiobook credits so I’m guessing he’s new to the genre, but I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from him in the coming years.

The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck (Audiobook Review)
On The Wings Of Heroes by Richard Peck (Audiobook Review)
Ghosts Of Bungo Suido by P T Deutermann (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Simon & Schuster 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, September 10, 2014

The Slickers by L Ron Hubbard (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

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The Slickers
by L Ron Hubbard
performed by a Multicast

2014 Galaxy Audio
2 hours 14 minutes unabridged
Genres: murder mystery, pulp fiction
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  4 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: When Sheriff Tex Larimee of Cactus County, Arizona gets a message from his ailing friend, copper magnate John Temple, to escort him west from New York, he’s more than happy to oblige.

Things go bad for Tex soon after his arrival when his wallet is stolen, and he gets held up by a gangster at gunpoint. But when he finds Temple stabbed to death in his hotel, Tex’s situation gets downright desperate. He’s framed, accused of the murder and pursued by the New York police as their top suspect. Not bad for his first day in the big city. . . .

Also includes the mystery stories “Murder Afloat” and “Killer Ape”

©2014 Galaxy Audio

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Okay, The Slickers reminded me a lot of that old TV show McCloud, where a lawman from New Mexico goes on assignment to the big city. It was always a case of the honest and hardworking backwoods country bumpkin teaching the more “sophisticated” city crooks a lesson or two.

Tex Larimee isn’t from New Mexico, he hails from right next door in Arizona. He heads off to New York City to help out a friend in need, something any self-respecting range rider would do. When he gets there, however, he finds himself the victim of an elaborate setup. His friend has been murdered and the blame has been pinned squarely on Tex. Those city boys think they have Tex backed into a corner but they’re about to find out that that is where Tex Larimee is most dangerous.

L Ron Hubbard himself was born and raised on the frontier, right here in Nebraska as a matter of fact. And he too headed off to the big city but he had a better time of it than Tex Larimee did. It didn’t take Hubbard’s writing career long to take off and he eventually became one of America’s most prolific fiction authors, writing hundreds of short stories for the leading periodicals of the day.

Now Galaxy Audio is collecting all of those stories Hubbard wrote in the 1930’s and 40’s and reproducing them in stunning audio editions. Those old stories come to life with theater quality music and sound effects and Galaxy’s talented cast of voice actors who don’t just read the stories, they actually act them out. Voices for these stories include R F Daley, Enn Reitel, Tait Ruppert, Thomas Silcott, Michael Yurchak, Chandra Bernal, Corey Burton, Jim Meskimen, Phil Proctor, Kristin Proctor, and Tamra Meskimen. If you haven’t experienced one of these productions yet, then I highly recommend it.

This 2-disk set also includes the mystery stories Killer Ape, in which a man frees a mistreated orangutan, only to end up with a monkey on his back, as he’s accused of aiding and abetting the ape in a case of murder, and Murder Afloat, the story of a top narcotics cop in the U.S. Secret Service who’s pursuit of a million-dollar score could land him in some hot—and deadly—water.

Tomb Of The Ten Thousand Dead by L Ron Hubbard (Audiobook Review)
Hell'S Legionnaire by L Ron Hubbard (Audiobook Review)
Gunman'S Tally by L Ron Hubbard (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Galaxy 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, September 3, 2014

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

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The Forever War
by Joe Haldeman
read by George Wilson

1999 Recorded Books
9 hours 19 minutes unabridged
Genres: science fiction, military
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  5 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: When it was first published over 20 years ago, Joe Haldeman's novel won the Hugo and Nebula awards and was chosen Best Novel in several countries. Today, it is hailed a classic of science fiction that foreshadowed many of the futuristic themes of the 1990s: bionics, sensory manipulation, and time distortion.

William Mandella is a soldier in Earth's elite brigade. As the war against the Taurans sends him from galaxy to galaxy, he learns to use protective body shells and sophisticated weapons. He adapts to the cultures and terrains of distant outposts. But with each month in space, years are passing on Earth. Where will he call home when (and if) the Forever War ends?

Narrator George Wilson's performance conveys all the imaginative technology and human drama of The Forever War. Set against a backdrop of vivid battle scenes, this absorbing work asks provocative questions about the very nature of war.

©1974 Joe W. Haldeman; (P)1999 Recorded Books

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Well I decided to take a break from the new releases I’ve been listening to and revisit an oldie but a goodie. I like new books, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and relax with an old favorite. It’s like sitting down for a chat with an old friend. I know people who will never read the same book or watch the same movie twice and that just seems odd to me. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman was actually one of my very first audiobooks that I borrowed from the public library all those years ago and I’ve listened to it a few times hence but never got around to writing a review. So here I am finally doing it.

In the distant future of the late 1990’s, humanity is spreading itself out across the stars. Naturally we make contact with an alien race and naturally we start a war with them. As the war machine on Earth springs to life, a draft is initiated. They don’t just draft anybody, however, they only draft the best and brightest young men and women the planet has to offer. William Mandella is among the first of these. These elite draftees are taught to be lethal killing machines and they also learn about our enemy, the Taurans, although little is known about them as yet. And so begins the Forever War.

Science fiction writers naturally love to sit around and dream about what kinds of advances the future may bring. If said author simply wrote down his or her ideas about the future it wouldn’t be very interesting to read. So they come up with story ideas about characters who travel forward in time and then simply report what those characters see. If you’re a sci-fi fan then you are probably familiar with this type of story. Wells’ The Time Machine and Heinlein’s For Us The Living are good examples.

Joe Haldeman uses the time-distorting properties of near-light-speed travel to propel his characters forward. During the days and months that William and his squadmates are zooming across the universe chasing after the Taurans, years and centuries are passing on earth. Of course things have changed very drastically each time they make it home or to another human colonized planet. By the time the war ends, a thousand years have passed and William has hardly aged at all. So what we basically have here is Joe Haldeman’s thoughts on what the next thousand years of evolution and technological discovery might bring for the human race. But in between visits to Earth, Haldeman writes some great battle scenes. I think The Forever War was the first science fiction book I read that featured soldiers in fighting suits, highly advanced suits of weaponized armor. These have become fairly common in military science fiction today. Haldeman goes into a lot of detail about how they work and all the neat things they can do. And there’s even a little bit of a love story here as well. Not the gushy romance kind of love story, but simply two characters who, after spending a few decades fighting the enemy together, realize that they have fallen in love. That’s all well and good as long as they continue traveling together, but not so good when they are separated and realize that they will never see each other again. They did, however, find a rather ingenious way around that whole time-distortion thing. Or rather they learned how to use it to their advantage.

Anyway, The Forever War is a great science fiction book that has become a classic. I enjoyed the technology Haldeman dreamed up and it was interesting watching humanity battle problems like over-population and rampant crime and poverty. I highly recommend this audiobook to any fan of the genre.

George Wilson did a good job in his narration of The Forever War. I wouldn’t call him a great narrator, but he’s easy enough to listen to. His pacing and inflection are good even if his voice characterizations aren’t great. In addition to narrating over one hundred audiobooks, Wilson has a long list of credits in radio and television including ten years of radio broadcast news for Armed Forces Radio and mainstream radio stations. He has scripted and hosted several corporate videos for some big name global corporations and is currently working on his own novel and short story collection.

Germline by T C Mccarthy (Audiobook Review)
Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Audiobook Review)
Gears Of War: Coalition's End by Karen Traviss (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Carrollton Public 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, August 27, 2014

Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

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Iron Man: Extremis
adapted by Marie Javins
performed by a full cast

2014 Graphic Audio
5 hours unabridged
Genres: science fiction, comic heroes
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  5 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: Advanced technology has given Iron Man life, but now that same future tech threatens to become Stark's death. A dangerous terrorist has ingested a new techno-organic virus, transforming him into a superhuman killing machine. Now immensely powerful, but driven mad by the virus' effects, the terrorist is seemingly unstoppable. To halt this madman's psychotic rampage, Iron Man must face this dangerous new virus a life-or-death battle that will forever alter Stark's calculated balance between man and machine. Experience Warren Ellis and Adi Granov's blockbuster re-imagining of the armored Avenger like never before in this new adaptation!

© Marvel

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Ever since the creation of Captain America during World War II, scientists have been trying to re-create the super soldier serum that gave the Captain his super abilities and then was lost for all time. Now, Maya Hansen, a top researcher in the field, has made a major breakthrough. Her Extremis serum has been successfully tested on animals but before it could go any further it was stolen by a low-level thug named Mallen, who promptly tested the serum on himself. Extremis was a huge success, giving Mallen all kinds of super strength and abilities.

What does Mallen decide to do with his new-found power? Naturally he wants to destroy the government whom he blames for the death of his wife and child. However, it just so happens that Maya Hansen is an old friend of Tony Stark so when Mallen begins his rampage she turns to Tony in hopes that Iron Man can stop the destruction. Now Iron Man is a pretty tough dude but let’s just say his first duel with Mallen does not go well. In fact, Iron Man gets his butt kicked. But don’t take my word for it, let’s hear it in Tony Stark’s own words as he describes his injuries to an EMT on the scene:
Everything is broken. I have pulverized bones, excessive bleeding and internal injuries. And the piece of Velcro I use to scratch my nose is missing.
So Tony’s in pretty bad shape. His armor is all busted up and his body is even more busted up. In fact, if the armor wasn’t holding his broken body together he would probably be dead already. Modern medicine might be able to save him, but that would take months and a full recovery seems doubtful. Stark’s only hope may be the Extremis serum itself. If successful, the Extremis could heal him and give him enough power to stop his enemy, but in his current state there’s no guarantee he could even survive the violent changes brought on by the serum. Probable death versus saving lives: it’s the same decision superheroes face all the time and there’s no question which way Tony Stark will go.

I appreciated the capable way in which Warren Ellis handled the character of Iron Man. Of course, the superhero in any story is at the mercy of the person doing the writing and it’s up to that person to have a good working knowledge of how that hero should act. Ellis showed a good amount of knowledge and imagination in handling Iron Man and using the abilities, and weaknesses, of his armor to the fullest extent. There was one scene in particular where Iron Man was trapped beneath a car and being burned alive until his suit began to actually draw energy and power from the fire itself. I never even knew Iron Man could do that but it makes sense; his armor is the most technologically advanced piece of equipment on the planet after all.

Okay, here are a few things that caught me by surprise in Iron Man: Extremis. While I was listening to the audio I thought this book was borrowing from the Iron Man origin story from the first Iron Man movie, where Tony Stark was wounded and captured by some insurgents in Afghanistan and he built his first suit of armor to save his own life and also to escape. I also thought that the Extremis story was borrowing heavily from the plot of the third Iron Man movie, where ordinary humans were deliberately infected with some sort of virus that gave them all sorts of crazy superhuman abilities like super strength and breathing fire. After I finished Extremis and began reading about its production I was surprised to learn that Iron Man: Extremis was originally written in 2005, three years before the first Iron Man movie hit theaters. It was actually the movies that borrowed heavily from the Extremis story.

Iron Man: Extremis was a six-issue storyline originally published in Marvel’s Iron Man comic book series. It served as a “new beginning” for Iron Man, redefining his origin and significantly upgrading his power and abilities. The original comics were written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Adi Granov. It was adapted for audio by Marie Javins. The audio production was directed by Richard Rohan and featured the voice talents of Richard Rohan, Richard Cutting, Sherry Berg, Andy Brownstein, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Kimberly Gilbert, Michael John Casey, Scott Graham, Nora Achrati, Jacob Yeh, Steve Wannall, David Harris, Christopher Graybill, Evan Casey, Drew Kopas, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, Sasha Olinick, Nanette Savard, Rex Anderson, Rebecca Sheir, Matthew Schleigh, Tim Pabon and James Lewis.

Batman: No Man's Land Part 1 by Greg Rucka (Audiobook Review)
Civil War by Mark Millar (Audiobook Review)
Enemies & Allies by Kevin J Anderson (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Graphic 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, August 20, 2014

The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom (Audiobook Review)

Audiobook Reviews from Audiobook-Heaven

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The First Phone Call From Heaven
by Mitch Albom
read by Mitch Albom

2013 Harper Audio
7 hours 40 minutes unabridged
Genres: general fiction, inspirational
Filed in: Audiobook Reviews

  4 out of 5 haloshalohalohalohalo

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY: The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief - and a page-turner that will touch your soul - Albom's masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.

Readers of The Five People You Meet in Heaven will recognize the warmth and emotion so redolent of Albom's writing, and those who haven't yet enjoyed the power of his storytelling will thrill at the discovery of one of the best-loved writers of our time.

©2013 ASOP, Inc. (P)2013 HarperCollins Publishers

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: If you follow the news at all you’ve probably heard this story a few times before. Somewhere in the world, someone sees the face of Jesus in a piece of toast or a potato chip or a tree and for a few days the whole world seems turned upside down. Religious fanatics flock to the site holding all-night vigils, the media swarm the area, the pope has to make a monumental decision on whether it’s a genuine miracle or not, while the rest of us watch in stunned disbelief wondering how things came to this.

In Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call From Heaven the miracle that has everyone so excited is just what it says, a phone call from heaven. Actually many phone calls from heaven. In the small town of Coldwater, Michigan, several of the residents are receiving phone calls from deceased loved ones. It started with a single call, a woman who got a call from her mother who died four years before, and soon there were at least seven reported cases of these ethereal person-to-persons. The calls are usually brief and there are some common themes in the messages they deliver: don’t be afraid, stop mourning me, the end is not the end.

Just as in real life cases of alleged miracles, Albom’s characters respond in a variety of ways ranging from the skeptical to the fanatical. Some people believe it to be a hoax, some take it as a sign that the end times are approaching. Some of the people receiving the calls wonder why they were chosen, and some of those who have not received calls are left wondering just the opposite. Albom illustrates this point clearly and heart-breakingly in the form of a young boy who becomes obsessed with the notion that his deceased mother will soon be calling him. There is a group of fanatics who camp out on the front lawn of one person who is receiving calls. The media begin circling like sharks. And one man, the father of the aforementioned young boy, a man who has been struggling with faith since the tragic death of his wife, is determined to prove once and for all that the whole thing is just a fake.

Mitch Albom has written a compelling and completely believable story of faith and religion in modern times, although frankly it can’t have been that hard to write since, like I said before, we’ve all seen the story before. Still, Albom always does a good job of exploring the depths of human emotion and he always brings it home at the end, shooting straight for the heart with unerring accuracy. Upon reading The First Phone Call From Heaven you may find yourself wondering how you would react in a similar situation or how you might feel, and any book that can do that has done its job.

As with a few of his other audiobooks, Mitch Albom narrated The First Phone Call From Heaven himself. As with many author-narrators, Albom did a fine job. If you’ve ever read any of my older reviews, I always used to say that authors make terrible narrators but after listening to several hundred audiobooks I finally realized that that is just not true. Apparently I was unlucky enough to get a couple of bad ones early in my audiobook career. Albom has a pleasant speaking voice, his pacing is good, he differentiates the characters so you can tell when someone different is talking, and he reads dialogue pretty well, which I think is one of the hardest things. Overall it was a good performance.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom (Audiobook Review)
The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (Audiobook Review)
The Returned by Jason Mott (Audiobook Review)

Special thanks to Harper 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.