The first 15 or 20 minutes of this book are a little slow--but don't worry; that's the only break you're going to get! Real estate developer Mike Wingate's life takes a bad turn. And then another, and another, and another, and they keep on coming. Several times I found myself thinking, "OK, things have to get better soon..." but then they'd get even worse.
It's hard not to root for Mike, a foster-home kid who's turned his situation around and made a successful life for himself, his wife, and his daughter. Scenes from the past are skillfully woven in with the current tangle of fear and danger, adding an extra dimension. The turning point in this novel was completely unguessable, but still plausible. That's hard to pull off, but Hurwitz does a great job.
At times the rain of bad stuff seemed a little over the top, but it wasn't enough to detract from the story. Narrator Scott Brick, as always, is wonderful, doing a great job on all the characters including 8-year-old Kat. One word of warning: there's some graphic violence which, while not gratuitous, might be unpleasant for some listeners.
Overall a very exciting read. I'll be checking out Hurwitz's other books!
Last year Audible readers were treated to Spanish zombies in Manel Loureiro's "Apocalypse Z." This year, a zombie plague hits the shores of Dear Old Blighty in R. R. Haywood's "The Undead."
Howie is a night manager in a supermarket in southern England, and he has to attend a daytime meeting. Afterward, he goes home, gets some takeout, and turns on the TV to enjoy a rare night off--only to find that zombies have suddenly taken over Europe.
What comes next will be familiar to anyone who's seen much of the genre: hazardous travel, harrowing escapes, and humans more dangerous, or at least more irritating, than any zombie. But then Howie goes back to where he used to work and finds Dave, his former colleague.
From there on the series takes a fresh turn as Dave and Howie begin a search for Howie's sister, Sarah, stuck in her flat somewhere in London. As it is with all the best zombie novels, Haywood tells us more about friendship and human nature than the relentless advance of the undead. A stressful situation can bring out the best in some people, and Howie, fortunately, is one of the lucky ones. The spin on the plague itself is pretty interesting, too.
While I wouldn't call this a comedy, it's quite light-hearted in places, with plenty of British-style sarcasm. Narrator Dan Morgan does a great job bringing it all to life.
I've really been enjoying this series and I certainly hope there are more on the way soon. Recommended for anyone looking for a new take on a favorite genre!
In any big city, people whose lives are in transition drift in and out of places like 23 Beulah Grove, at the edge of the London sprawl. Once a respectable Edwardian house, it's now divided into six small, dusty apartments. The landlord is a creep, but he doesn't ask too many questions--and that's just what these tenants need.
When a desperate woman rents a just-vacated room, she meets the other five tenants: a Persian asylum-seeker, a man who never turns off his music, a self-described "perky scouse" girl from Liverpool, a friendly but boring guy whose work hours have been cut, and an older lady with a "secure tenancy"--a permanent lease.
Everyone is nice enough, but all of them, even the landlord, have some things they'd rather not talk about--especially the one who's a killer with some imaginatively sick preferences. And all of them are in for more adventure than they ever thought they'd have!
Like Alex Marwood's last book (The Wicked Girls), The Killer Next Door is a stand-alone thriller. But again, within that framework, the author manages to explore some themes more often seen only in the Literary genre: the transient nature of some friendships, the sting of class inequality, the difficulty of change in human lives, and the side effects of gentrification, just to name a few.
And again, in spite of the different and bigger cast of characters this time, all are fully developed: like them or hate them, all are real people. I love thrillers, but often I find myself wishing for something a little chewier--this fits the bill nicely, and Marwood is already on my favorite authors list.
One warning: if you're at all sensitive, there are some pretty graphic (and gross!) passages here that were enough to make me pause the book and breathe deeply for a minute before going back to the story. But of course I did go back to the story--I had to find out what would happen next!
Part of that was because Imogen Church's narration didn't let me down--she brought out both the warmth and the fear in this story, as well as doing a great job on all the British accents.
Stephen King described this book as "scary as hell," and I agree--but thanks to Marwood's talent, it's so much more than a good scare. If you liked The Wicked Girls (or if you are a fan of Gillian Flynn, or Laura Lippman), you'll love The Killer Next Door. Highly recommended!
When I read the description for The Wolves of London, I thought it sounded like a good urban fantasy. It was that, but it was so much more!
Alex Locke is a mild-mannered fellow with a couple of ex-girlfriends and a couple of daughters. Each day is much like the others for this single dad, as he gets his youngest ready for school and arranges child care with the neighbors before he commutes to his job as a teacher. Nobody knows about his criminal past--until the day his oldest daughter reveals that she's in a jam. Alex is forced to call in a favor. And that's when the real trouble begins.
A lot of urban fantasy focuses on underground supernatural factions as they battle for control over territory or lives, and often there's some romance thrown in as well. That's what I was expecting, and The Wolves of London seemed to be going in that direction--but then it took a left turn. And then another, and another, until I had zero idea where this story was going next. It was a fresh new take on the genre, and wholly unpredictable!
I definitely appreciated Morris's imagination, but even better are the great characters in this book. So here's a warning--this is only Book One, and there's definitely more to the story. I just finished listening, and already I miss Alex as well as the other people from this realistic world that's also a very unrealistic world (in a good way!). Describing them would spoil too much--let's just say that everybody you'll meet here is full of surprises!
No review for this audiobook is complete without a mention of Ben Onwukwe, the narrator. His voice is just gorgeous, but his range of accents and voices is plain incredible. His reading creates characterization that adds both depth and humor to the weird, weird world of the story.
So if you're looking for something a little different in the urban fantasy line, I highly recommend The Wolves of London. But hold on to your headphones--you're in for a crazy ride.
The postwar era wasn't generally a good time for the "great houses" of England or the noble families that lived in them. Brothers, sons, and tenant farmers were lost or injured; cash flow lessened accordingly. Wartime rationing lasted much longer in Britain after WWII, until 1950, making it hard to throw a grand party. Servants were hard to find, since many young people began to opt instead for the higher pay (and less classist treatment) of factory jobs. The Little Stranger is nominally a ghost story: one of the "ghosts" is the old way of life.
So if you're looking for a Stephen King-style scarefest, this isn't it. The Little Stranger is a creepy, modern gothic tale, in the tradition of The Woman in White or Rebecca, with perhaps a bit of Wuthering Heights thrown in.
Just after WWII, Dr. Faraday has his own practice in the English countryside, near where he grew up. His patients are ordinary country people, but the great house of his district, Hundreds Hall, has long held his imagination. When he is called to the house to examine a servant, Betty, he's sad to find circumstances much reduced. The house has just three residents--the Widow Ayres and her son and daughter--and Betty is the only servant left.
Still curious about the house, he tends to Betty and then has tea with the Ayreses. So begins a friendship that might have been better left unforged. As things go bad over the course of the following year, Dr. Faraday tells us of a house that's as expensive and troublesome as it is grand. In fact, it seems to be less than fond of its residents--and it's got a mind of its own.
This is not a fast-paced story. Instead, tensions build as Dr. Faraday describes the terrible events at Hundreds Hall. We hear a great deal about how helpful he is: Mrs. Ayres, in particular, is constantly mentioning how wonderful he's been to the family, and how much she values his friendship as he makes tough decisions on their behalf.
Part of the joy of this book, therefore, is imagining a different perspective--are things really as Dr. Faraday tells us they are? Another part is the fantastic narration by Simon Vance, who's done a great job on everything from David Copperfield to the latest Terry Brooks novel. (Vance may sound pompous--but just remember, he's acting!)
No shrouded figures are seen; no skeletons dance in the drawing room, and no monsters are hiding under the beds. But I have to say that the end of this story is one of the most chilling I've read recently--and that's coming from somebody who reads a lot of scary stuff! Highly recommended for fans of the Victorian Gothic genre: The Little Stranger has everything you're craving and more.
John is a mid-level functionary at some company or other, sitting in a meeting at the head office in Manhattan. Suddenly everybody gets an alert text to the effect of "Stay in your homes! The dead are coming back to life!"
Of course everybody cracks up laughing and the meeting goes on. But when it ends, reality barges in--the alert text wasn't lying. Worse, John's wife is about to give birth down in Georgia: 900 miles away. He has to get back there. John and his tough new friend, former soldier Kyle, are facing a lot of clogged roads, bandits, and of course there's that whole zombie problem. Will they make it in time?
If this sounds like a "road story," that's what it is--a road trip movie in book form. John and Kyle get into and out of trouble as they go on any way they can, siphoning gas, meeting some new people, and making stops that, in hindsight, were probably not such a hot idea.
Fans of this genre will probably recognize most of the mise en scene from elsewhere--but so what? First-time novelist Davis keeps the story going, with plenty of hand-to-hand combat and close calls. 900 Miles is imaginative without being over-the-top. And it's not too depressing, either, thanks to protagonist John's grimly humorous outlook.
One issue--in terms of the actual writing, Davis is hardly Henry James or T.S. Eliot. But again, so what? For me, the story's movement made up for any grammar problems. Besides, this is a zombie novel; when I want something literary, I'll go shop in the literary fiction section.
Narrator Jamison Jones does a competent job; I could tell he was as interested in what was going to happen next as I was. Overall, a fun ride and definitely worth a credit. Looking forward to the next installment in this series!
I didn't think there were any more possible takes on zombies. I was wrong. I like the genre, but I never saw THIS coming.
Melanie lives in a facility with some other "special" kids. She loves pictures, history, Greek myths, and especially her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau. Each day of learning is fun--and all days are just like the others. Until one day when everything changes.
I won't give more details: they wouldn't be spoilers, exactly, but the events of the book unfold in such an unconventional way that each reader should experience it individually. This is well-trodden ground, and yet that's the genius of this book: just when you're expecting a familiar chain of events, something completely new shows up and puts you way off course.
Most books I've read in this genre focus exclusively on humans; you don't get much of the other point of view, and you wouldn't expect it to be so nuanced--or scary. Melanie's like any kid, but she's also NOT like any kid, and the comparison can be very creepy.
Melanie alone was enough for four stars from me. The book does have flaws--for one thing, it takes a while to really get rolling. The opening sections aren't boring, fortunately, but they felt static, and I began to wonder when something was going to happen. The character development also felt a little slow, and Carey's prose style, while literary, doesn't have the exciting flow I'm used to from other suspense and horror authors.
But as the story developed, I began to get more and more interested with every horrible little surprise that came up. By the end, I was completely glued to my player, all the way through to the absolutely chilling end--yikes! The last hour was utterly and completely different from what I had expected, in a very good way.
The narration by Finty Williams is fantastic, especially the voice for Melanie--little-girlish, and yet also terrifying when necessary. Highly recommended for those looking for a more thoughtful (but still scary) zombie experience!
This book has been coming up in my recommendations for a long time, but I always skipped it. When I listened to the Audible sample it sounded as if the book's world-building was terrible or even non-existent (which is because it's not from the beginning of the book!) Further, descriptions of the book's 80s nostalgia were kind of a turn-off: as a member of Gen X, I'm not always very nostalgic about the 80s.
But I had a credit, and I like Wil Wheaton--so when I read the Audible Essentials review of Ready Player One, I thought I might as well try it. Boy. Was I ever wrong about what this book would be like!
In 2045, Wade Watts is a child of the new era, a teenage orphan living with his aunt and a bunch of other people in a derelict trailer. The planet is a dump and most people are jerks, or worse. The only place he can find peace is OASIS, a Second Life-style digital game environment where he attends school, goes on adventures, and hides from the drag that reality has become (and where Wil Wheaton and Cory Doctorow are elected officials!) The game's creator has been dead for several years, leaving behind an in-game easter egg hunt: the winner gets his entire multi-billion dollar fortune! But nobody's had any luck. Until now.
This book wasn't much like anything else I've read recently: it's part mystery, part quest-legend story, part love story, part fairytale, and part dystopian-future novel. I was afraid it might be depressing, but it wasn't--not at all. Events moved quickly, and the humorous tone kept me laughing out loud. The nostalgia itself turned out to directed mostly toward geeky stuff that I remember fondly, like arcade games and old computers. Puzzling out what might happen next was an additional bonus--I was so proud of myself when I got a crucial reference before Wade did!
Wil Wheaton does a great job on narration. The only thing I was a little disappointed with--it caused me to knock off a star--was the character development. Wade, and especially his friends, come off as somewhat two-dimensional. Perhaps that's because the events of the book are such a wild ride. I could not stop listening! I ran the batteries out in my headphones and was forced to dig through a junk drawer to find an analog pair so I could keep going. That's how determined I was to find out what would happen next.
Overall I recommend this book if you are looking for an exciting and fun science fiction adventure that's also close to home. If you recognize the headline for this review, you're definitely going to like Ready Player One.
Writers of zombie fiction face a problem--you've got your band of survivors, but then what? Most authors keep their protagonists shuffling forward, foraging food, picking among the ruins of civilization. Sometimes there's a small community, and the focus shifts to petty power struggles that keep me hoping the apocalypse won't ever arrive. Occasionally this strategy works (Robert Kirkman), but more often, it just gets depressing.
Not so with Manel Loureiro's Apocalypse Z. In this final installment, our Spanish lawyer, now in Mississippi, faces something even more terrifying than a horde of undead: an unhinged Evangelist dictator backed up by a skinhead army. Even worse, another army is arriving from the other side of the world to do battle over the last inhabited town in the United States. It's up to our lawyer, along with Lucia, Pritchenko, and faithful feline Lucullus, to stop it all in time to save what's left of the planet.
There aren't a lot of marauding undead in this novel--Loureiro focuses on humans this time, with exciting and sometimes sad results (with so few humans left, it's pretty disgusting that they'd kill and mistreat each other!) But there's just as much excitement as there was in the last two books, as the trio get in one imaginative scrape after another. It was impossible to guess what was going to happen next as the twists kept on coming.
The ending did not disappoint here: clearly, the author knew when to end the series. Still, I wish there were more on the way--I'm going to miss these characters! I'll also miss Nick Podehl's fantastic reading, which brings all the emotion and excitement you'd expect from such a story, along with well-done accents that never sound cartoonish.
I highly recommend this suspenseful, insightful series for its excitement as well as its exploration of how horrible and wonderful human beings can be. Five stars all the way!
I've noticed a lack of good old scary stories in the last few years. Gory shock value is all over the place, and that's fine for what it is, but I've often wished authors would spend more time on their characters' psychology. Bird Box turned out to be just what I've been looking for.
Malorie and her sister have moved into a house together when reports start to come in from all over the world: normal people are glimpsing something that instantly turns them into crazed killers. While the Internet boils with theories, people gradually stop driving, stop shopping, and finally they just barricade themselves in their homes with the doors and windows blocked. Society eventually falls apart, yet Malorie finds hope and musters the strength to go on. But she can't live like a prisoner forever, so she begins a terrifying blindfolded journey to what she desperately hopes will be enduring safety.
I have to say it took me a good half-hour to get into this one. The narrator didn't really do it for me, with uneven reading volume and more angst than seemed necessary. It didn't help that Malorie imbues even the most boring object with intense dramatic feelings.
But I'm really glad I spent the time, because Bird Box turned out to be one of the best books I've listened to for a while. After the first chapter or two, we meet the real Malorie (not just the dramatic one) and hear her story--which is compelling, to say the least. By midway through, I completely understood the feelings those objects brought up, and the angst, too.
The real star of this book is the author's handling of his themes: fear, bravery, putting faith and trust in others and yourself. All those things can be scary, but sometimes you just have to face them anyway, even when you're blindfolded. Malorie and her friends give it their best, with varying results, in an evocative illustration of what it's like to be part of a group of survivors.
Throughout the book, Malorie's memories of the past alternate with her frightening present, creating suspense that made it really hard to stop listening. I did the last three hours in one go, putting off bedtime again and again.
There isn't a lot of how-and-why here, and logic nitpickers ("That couldn't possibly happen! It'd be more like..." etc) will probably be driven insane. But if you're looking for real horror, Bird Box is a sustained scare that will keep you thinking long after the book is over.
Most zombie apocalypse stories I've read were set in the USA. Apocalypse Z takes place in Galicia, a rainy region in Northwestern Spain best known for the historic area of Santiago de Compostela. It's a refreshing change that makes for an exciting zombie yarn.
A widowed lawyer and his cat, Lucullus, watch nervously as things go bad in Russia, then the EU, then everywhere. The lawyer blogs his struggles at first, and then is forced to change to paper when the Internet finally dies. He and Lucullus leave home and bravely traverse Galicia, taking out "those THINGS," as he calls them, searching desperately for any kind of safety.
All the regular zombie tropes are present here, but the story is made exciting by the fact that our hero is just some guy--sometimes brave, other times terrified, but able to use the knowledge he has to get by and survive. If you're at all familiar with Spanish culture, another dimension is added: the lawyer is a definite Spanish "type," so the story becomes more of a question of what would this average guy, the guy you see every morning on the train going into the city, what would he do if there were an apocalypse?
Some sections of the story didn't go fast enough for me--our hero was a little waffly at times, agonizing too much over decisions. But he is a lawyer, so maybe the overanalysis is a kind of professional hangover from normal times. Mostly, I was hooked--I had to find out what was going to happen next. And as an animal lover, not listening all the way through wasn't an option: would Lucullus make it? There was no way I could skip the answer to that question!
I can't say enough about the narration, beautifully done by Nick Podehl who did such a fantastic job on The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Podehl makes the fear, disgust, and sadness really come through. His Spanish pronunciation is pretty good, too.
If you're looking for a zombie story that's a little different, this one is a great choice: a little less John Wayne and a lot more guy-next-door, Apocalypse Z will keep you listening through to the end. I can't wait for the next volume in this saga!
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