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Michael Hicks

Michigan
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  • The Border

  • The Cartel Trilogy, Book 3
  • By: Don Winslow
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 29 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,164
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 1,116
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,114

For over 40 years, Art Keller has been on the front lines of America's longest conflict: the War on Drugs. His obsession to defeat the world's most powerful, wealthy, and lethal kingpin - the godfather of the Sinaloa Cartel, Adan Barrera - has left him bloody and scarred, cost him people he loves, even taken a piece of his soul. Now Keller is elevated to the highest ranks of the DEA, only to find that in destroying one monster, he has created 30 more that are wreaking even more chaos and suffering in his beloved Mexico.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Wow! What a way to end a brilliant trilogy

  • By Stu Ruwe on 03-06-19

An Epic Conclusion

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-19-19

Thanks to political connections made during the Guatemala raid at the climax of The Cartel, Art Keller is named head of the Drug Enforcement Agency to combat America’s burgeoning heroin epidemic. His efforts at combating the flow of opioids opens an investigation that takes Keller, his agents, and a host of author Don Winslow’s secondary and tertiary characters from the poppy fields of Mexico to the financial barons of Wall Street, and into the heart of the darkest corridors of power in Washington, D.C. As the 2016 presidential election campaign heats up, Keller soon learns that despite now being nearly two thousand miles away from Mexico, the border — and the influence of notorious drug cartels — is closer than ever.

As with the prior two novels, this final book in Winslow’s Power of the Dog series is a labyrinthine crime epic, one that approaches its subject in a mosaic style, offering a large number of subplots, points of view, and characters that weave in and out of the narrative and intersect in surprising ways. The Border closes out Winslow’s examination of the last forty years of America’s War on Drugs, fictionalizing plenty of dramatic real-world occurrences and high profile figures as he tackles a broad view of the illegal drug trade and its various players. Winslow takes us from Keller’s office as director of the DEA to the junkies on the street, exploring the connections between federal and local police forces as an undercover investigation is launched to connect local drug traffickers to their Mexican cartel suppliers, and the money laundering that occurs on either end. With an investigation focused on following the money, Keller eventually finds himself mired in an unholy level of corruption that could not only destroy him, but the country as well.

Casting a large shadow over Keller’s investigation is in-coming president, John Dennison. Dennison is transparently the Donald Trump figure of The Border, to the point that Winslow had to do very little creative juggling to develop this character and simply transcribed Trump speeches and tweets. In short, then, Dennison is every bit the amoral, loudmouthed, obstructive, and corruptive influence as his real-life counterpart, only with Mexican drug cartels swapped out with the Russians as the primary colluding figures. As Keller’s investigation heats up, Dennison takes to Twitter to call him weak and decry the DEA’s work as a witch hunt, in between demands to Build The Wall.

The November 2016 election results propels Keller to stand against not just the Mexican cartels but against his country as well, turning him into a patriotic pariah. Winslow absolutely nails the feelings of depression and despair that washed over the majority of American voters in immediate wake of Trump’s election as we helplessly watched as our country was handed over to a repugnant, immoral racist, sexist, bigot and con artist who rode into the highest office in our land on a wave of hatred and fascist rhetoric. Keller wakes up November 9, 2016 to the disheartening realization that his country is far different than the one he thought he knew.

Winslow is on record as having thought he was finished with his story on the War on Drugs with The Cartel, and in so many ways that book felt like a definite conclusion. Of course, the story dictated otherwise, and the result is The Border, the definitive conclusion to a story that began with The Power of the Dog in 2005. Winslow has been writing about the American War on Drug and all the various facets such an operation has entailed for more than decade, fictionalizing so much of reality, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. The resulting books are absolute must-reads, and Winslow has created a powerful and necessary trilogy about one of the US’s longest, bloodiest, and most morally compromised wars in its relatively short history as a nation. The Border is an epic of its time, and it just so happens that its time is so heavily influenced by the orange, idiotic, 800-pound tweeting gorilla in the room, Donald Trump. It’s impossible to avoid a figure like Trump in a contemporary American crime novel about US drug policy, drug trafficking, and the porous nature of the Mexican border and US ports, particularly a figure that routinely shoots his mouth off about building a wall, dehumanizing Mexican immigrants, and belittling Mexicans as nothing more than rapists and murderers. Winslow, and Art Keller, are left with little choice but to face all this head-on.

It would be unfair to characterize Winslow’s depiction of Keller’s investigation as little more than wish-fulfillment, because let’s face it — if it were actually wish-fulfillment, the manchild Trump/Dennison would have never been made president in the first place. Instead, any wish-fulfillment is left to the readers hoping for a lone American patriot to win against a corrupt government and a twisted, morally bankrupt leader. Those who have read Winslow’s prior two Power of the Dog novels know full well that any such victories are not easily won. They come at a cost, and never without deeply personal loss. And Winslow, master that he is, makes you feel each and every inch of this grueling, challenging, hard-fought war.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Cartel

  • By: Don Winslow
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 23 hrs and 24 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,596
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,993
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,970

From the internationally best-selling author of the acclaimed novel The Power of the Dog comes The Cartel, a gripping, ripped-from-the-headlines story of power, corruption, revenge, and justice spanning the past decade of the Mexican-American drug wars.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • One of the best ever…

  • By Kindle Customer on 03-24-16

Dense, Powerful, And Painful. This Is A Must-Read!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-18-19

Writing a review for a work like The Cartel is intimidating. Don Winslow presents an epic narrative of the War on Drugs, populated with rich characters, an immensely strong sense of place and time. The events that carry us from one scene to the next, from one character to the next, are all beautifully constructed and pack an emotional wallop. It’s a supremely intelligent work of crime fiction, but the simple fact of the matter is that The Cartel is so good it’s actually surprisingly difficult to express all the various ways for which it deserves praise.

Winslow knows his stuff, and that knowledge appears on each and every page, living within each of this book’s broad cast of characters. It’s clear that Winslow has done his homework, and the plot points of The Cartel are backed-up with plenty of factual research that bleeds seamlessly into the narrative, informing every aspect of the book. It’s both provocative and frighteningly impactful.

Writing about the Mexican drug cartels and the US response requires a firm commitment to honesty, arguably now more than ever, and the relationship that exists between Mexico and America is a deeply, deeply complicated web, one that is frustrating at the best of times, and violently brutal at the worst. At one point, a character sums up these complexities in the most succinctly, and devastatingly accurate, way possible: America hates Mexico for selling it the drugs it buys and consumes. If ever a relationship could be both parasitical and symbiotic, it is that of the drug cartels and the various drug enforcement agencies and governments that war against and feed off one another. The War on Drugs itself is an ouroboros, infinitely consuming its own tail.

The War on Drugs is a grand idea, but the reality of it is far, far different than the governmental public relations talking points. In The Cartel, it’s a war that draws in and insinuates itself amongst the people, the police, government, oil industries, the press, and terrorists. Mexico is, of course, the focal point, with cocaine and heroin pouring unstoppably across the border, but it’s an issue that ranges far wider than merely this one country.

Following his arrest, Adan Barrera is sentenced to prison and extradited back to Mexico. But even behind bars, the former head of the Barrera drug cartel is still able to buy influence and allies that will allow him his eventual escape from prison to reestablish his dominance at the head of the various syndicates of the Mexican drug cartel. Hunting Barrera, again, is DEA Agent Art Keller. Keller’s choices in The Power of the Dog have made him a wanted man, and Barrera has put a multimillion dollar bounty on his head. Keller knows its either him or Barrera, and so he finds himself drawn back to the border, back to Mexico, back to the cartels.

Winslow spares readers none of the pain that lingers in the fallout of these two men’s lives, actions, and consequences. The Cartel is a brutal, bloody, vicious read, with scenes of torture and violence regularly punctuating the narrative. As Mexico falls deeper into the control of rival drug gangs and the violence between Barrera and the burgeoning Zeta cartel escalates, Winslow paints a grim, almost apocalyptic picture of hopeless ruthlessness. Police are murdered, busloads of innocent civilians are captured, raped, and executed. Journalists are hunted. Politicians are forced into exile or slaughtered in the streets. DEA agents are gunned down on the side of the road. Rival gang members are abducted and set on fire, or beheaded, or dismembered with their body parts littered around town as a warning to others.

And Winslow makes you feel every inch of it. Over the course of this audiobook’s 23 1/2 hours, we become intimately familiar with the central players in his densely populated crime drama. Winslow grandly manipulates our sense of empathy, to the point that we feel even for some of the drug kingpins and gang members who meet terrible ends. How odd is it that we see some of these character perform such contemptible and grisly acts, but at the moment of their demise we actually feel a twinge of sadness, if only because they’re not as bad as the crazed leaders of the Zetas?

That, too, becomes a powerful point of The Cartel. The more we fight against the tide of drugs, the more the violence escalates. There is no clean exit from Mexico and the powerful drug cartels that ruin it, no easy solution to the war, not a single magic cure-all that will fix everything, regardless of what politicians on either side of the border promise. We are all the cartel, each and everyone one of us, and the only thing we ever succeed in is making the war worse. Action and reaction, until we are forced to compromise our morals, our sense of basic human decency, into making peace with the lesser of two evils, all so the war can go on… and on… and on…

  • Dead Moon

  • By: Peter Clines
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 11 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 2,556
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,446
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 2,444

In the year 2243, the Moon belongs to the dead. The largest graveyard in the solar system, it was the perfect solution to the overcrowding and environmental problems that had plagued mankind for centuries. And the perfect place for Cali Washington to run away from her past. But when a mysterious meteor crashes into one of the Moon’s cemeteries, Cali and her fellow Caretakers find themselves surrounded by a terrifying enemy force that outnumbers them more than a thousand to one. An enemy not hindered by the lack of air or warmth or sustenance. An enemy that is already dead.

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • Why did you do this? Just why?

  • By Veronica on 03-02-19

Zombies On The Moon!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-23-19

Zombies on the moon!

That basic, low-level pitch either just sealed the deal for you and you’re ready to click Buy Now, or it made you groan derisively with a reflexive “Dear god, not another freaking zombie book!” Depending on if your instincts followed either the first or the second reaction, there’s probably little more I need to tell you about Dead Moon, an Audible Original written by Peter Clines exclusively for audiobook release by Audible, and narrated by Ray Porter.

While I recognize the zombie genre has been pretty well beat to death and shot in the head a few times over, I’m not personally wholly exhausted by these types of books just yet. I think that, like any other story prop that’s a bit worn and decidedly unoriginal, zombie stories can still be used successfully provided the story surrounding them is well executed and I have a reason to care about something other than gruesome deaths and violent mayhem.

Although Dead Moon is, at its very basic levels, little more than zombies on the moon for much of its runtime, Clines makes this conceit pretty damn delightful, and Porter, as usual, narrates the hell out of it. Putting a rotting horror staple in outer space is actually pretty brilliant. In real estate, the thing that makes a home the most desirable comes to three things: location, location, location. And it’s just as true here, too. The setting of Earth’s moon gives the story extra layers of tension, which is much needed given our familiarity and expectations of zombie stories and the devices such plots require to be effective. Zombie novels nowadays are a dime a dozen, so to be truly effective an author has to go the extra mile (or, in this case, about 238,900 miles) to make them worthwhile.

Dead Moon, in my opinion, is certainly worthwhile. Yes, it’s a pretty trope-ridden affair and if it were set on Earth, like virtually all other zombie books, I doubt I would have appreciated it as much. The setting completely sold Clines’s story for me. Sure, getting torn about by a zombie horde is bad, but suffocating in the cold vacuum of space or experiencing the paralyzing dread of atmospheric decompression as your space suit is assaulted is worse. Much, much worse. Staging a zombie apocalypse on the desolate, arid, airless, low-gravity surface of the moon adds a whole other level of heebie jeebies. In space, nobody can hear you scream, but there’s a hell of a lot of worse ways to die besides becoming a salty snack for the undead.

By now, you’re probably wondering how and why there are zombies on the moon. Dead Moon is set a few hundred years in the future, and although mankind has begun to colonize the solar system, religious practices still mandate the burial of corpses. Ransacked by climate change and overpopulation, Earth has run out of space for its dead. When there’s no more room in hell, the dead get sent off to the moon for burial. After a meteor crashes near one of the several lunar habitats, 16 million undead start to rise, which is terrible, no good, very bad news for the moon’s 300 fleshy inhabitants.

On the bright side, they at least have the brilliant Ray Porter narrating their gruesome deaths, which is, frankly, something the rest of us can only ever aspire to. Porter delivers his usual wide array of voices, tones, accents, and emotions that turn each character into highly distinguishable, real-life people. The hardest part about reviewing a narrator like Porter is that I ran out of superlatives for the guy a short while back. He’s one of the most engaging readers I’ve had the pleasure of listening to and I haven’t heard him make a single flub in close to a dozen of his audiobooks I’ve listened to thus far. His readings are always top-notch, and he’s a virtuoso performer. He excels at bringing an author’s characters to life, no matter how short-lived such a character may be…and let’s face it, when you’re trapped on the moon and surrounded by millions and millions of zombies, life expectancy isn’t exactly measured in anything but hours and minutes, at best.

In a lot of ways, Dead Moon feels like a George A. Romero movie the famed director didn’t live long enough to create (this could just as easily be called Colony of the Dead and if the Romero estate ever wants to adapt this book into film, I’m game to fork over the cash for a ticket.) Peter Clines has gleefully accepted the torch and created here some good, pulpy fun that’s chock full of awful deaths, a handful of characters worth rooting for (like gravediggers Callie and Jake, who are escaping sordid pasts on Earth, with the latter being a former military man), and plenty of others to dislike and root against. Dead Moon doesn’t reinvent the undead wheel, but it is a highly capable zombie story enhanced by its unique setting and some interesting cosmic horror elements that help flesh out the material in lively ways. But, again, it all just boils down to the selling point of its premise. It’s zombies on the moon! You’re either hungry for it, or you’ve already had your fill by now. You’re either going to shamble toward this one, or flee screaming in terror and begging for the madness to stop.

Note: Dead Moon is billed as the third book in Peter Clines’s Threshold series. I have not read the prior two installments, and this is, in fact, my first experience with Peter Clines at all. Looking at the synopsis for 14 and The Fold, it sounds like each of these books function well enough as stand-alone reads, and Dead Moon takes place a few hundred years after the last one. I simply don’t know enough about this series as a whole to comment on whatever it is that links them all together or how successfully it’s done, but based on how much I enjoyed Dead Moon, I’m certainly game to check out the prior two titles.

1 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Lost Solace

  • By: Karl Drinkwater
  • Narrated by: Marisha Tapera
  • Length: 6 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 27
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 26
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 26

Opal is on a mission. She's been seeking something her whole life. Something she is willing to die for. And she thinks it might be on a Lost Ship. Opal has stolen Clarissa, an experimental, AI-controlled spaceship, from the military. Together they have tracked down a Lost Ship in a lonely nebula far from colonized space. The Lost Ship is falling into the gravity well of a neutron star and will soon be truly lost...forever. Legends say the ships harbor death, but there's no time for indecision. Opal gears up to board it.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Smart Sci-Fi!

  • By Michael Hicks on 02-09-19

Smart Sci-Fi!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-09-19

Sometimes ships mysteriously disappear in space, marooned amongst the stars, cut off from all forms of communication, their whereabouts unknown. But sometimes…sometimes, these lost ships come back.

Such is the premise of Karl Drinkwater’s Lost Solace, which finds former military grunt, Opal, hijacking an experimental ship and hacking its AI in order to recover one of these lost vessels. What she finds, though, is not entirely what she expects. The lost ship has been altered in odd ways, an alien fungus clinging to its interior walls, and the odd feeling of…something…a presence inhuman. Finding herself aboard an otherwise desolate ghost ship is one thing; being pursued by the military looking to recover their stolen ship and court martial her on all kinds of various charges is another, a particular complication she doesn’t need but must contend with. Or die trying.

Drinkwater layers Lost Solace with a number of mysteries, first and foremost being the secrets behind the derelict cruise liner, both its disappearance and its transformation. But there’s also the question of why Opal stole the specific ship she did, why the military is so desperate to get it back, and why she has reprogrammed the ship’s AI to model a woman named Clarissa.

Surrounding all these mysteries is plenty of action. Every step of Opal’s journey is complicated further and further by outside forces, and it’s always interesting to see what the author has up his sleeve to force his protagonist into a position of struggle. Drinkwater excels at making Opal struggle, wrinkling every one of her plans with unexpected dangers and opposition.

Thankfully, Opal is up to these challenges. She’s an intelligent and resourceful heroine, one who relies on her brains just as much as, if not more-so than, her brawn. She’s smart and bold, and Drinkwater constantly keeps you guessing how she’s going to get out of whatever particular corner she’s been boxed into. Clarissa is an excellent counterpart, both friend and ally, to Opal, and their relationship develops a richness the more it deepens, borne initially out of a fight for survival, but also a mutual admiration and respect. As an artificial intelligence, Clarissa is clearly smarter than Opal thanks to raw processing power, but both find ways to complement each other in both skills and brains.

Complementing the material nicely is Marisha Tapera, who reads Lost Solace with solid efficiency. She has a good vocal range, giving Opal, Clarissa, Clarissa’s unhacked default AI mode, and the various tertiary characters that weave in and out of the story their own distinct voices and characteristics. There’s no mistaking one character for another. Her Opal has a confident authority befitting her skills and military tenure, whereas her Clarissa is very young, almost childish in tone, which helps to emphasize the relationship between these two figures marvelously.

Lost Solace is an intelligent work of science fiction, one that is quite literally built around the brain of its smart, highly adept female (or female-identifying in the case of the AI) protagonists. It’s packed with plenty of action, to be sure, but it’s much, much smarter than your typical run-and-gun sci-fi romp.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • The Power of the Dog

  • By: Don Winslow
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 20 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,427
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,782
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,763

This explosive novel of the drug trade takes you deep inside a world riddled with corruption, betrayal, and bloody revenge. From the streets of New York City to Mexico City and Tijuana to the jungles of Central America, this is the war on drugs like you've never seen it.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Gripping Drama

  • By Deborah on 01-06-11

An Essential Work of Epic Crime Fiction

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-31-19

Since its release in 2005, The Power of the Dog has been praised by critics and readers all over the world, and for good reason. Don Winslow’s epic powerhouse of a story about the Mexican drug cartel and the US War on Drugs is flat-out incredible! If you’re a fan of shows like The Sopranos and The Wire and you haven’t consumed The Power of the Dog in some form, you’ve made one hell of a serious mistake with your life. This is a vital and necessary work of epic crime fiction, one that is consistently interesting as it is entertaining.

Spanning nearly thirty years, The Power of the Dog charts the rise of the Barrera crime family and the syndicate of Mexican drug cartels they are at the head of. Obsessive DEA agent Art Keller is partly responsible for the rise of the Barrera’s and he risks everything — his life, his family, and even his own country — to stop them.

While Keller and the Barrera’s are the core characters, Winslow paints a very broad picture of drug trafficking and the efforts of the United States’ government to curb the incoming shipments of heroin and cocaine from across the border. There’s rival Mexican cartels, the New York mafia, the CIA, the DEA, prostitutes, and killers, all of whom are ensnared in some way, shape, or form with drugs. Winslow has meticulously researched the War on Drugs, the relationship between the cartels and the police, the levels of corruption within both that support and fuel one another, and the ways in which this war grew intertwined with covert efforts to halt the spread of communism in Latin America, bringing us into the world of organized crime and gun smuggling as the Mexican Trampoline provides a conduit for Colombian cocaine to enter the US.

In addition to be an incredibly rich and layered narrative, one that examines drug crimes from multiple perspectives and levels, The Power of the Dog is also a searing indictment of American policies in drug laws, Mexican corruption, and the US War on Drugs. Over the course of thirty years of foreign policy, the US has only succeeded in helping the cartels grow fat and rich, helping to spread drugs to its citizenry, and operating with flagrant hypocrisy smugly wrapped up in a false air of moral superiority — and there ain’t no wall that can contain that. Keller’s attempts to halt drug trafficking over the thirty year period Winslow examines oftentimes puts him at odds with his own bosses, as well as the Attorney General who far too soon declared victory on the War on Drugs and maintains there is no cocaine in Mexico. The DEA’s efforts, meanwhile, are sabotaged by CIA operations in South America, which sees the US government covertly providing Contra guerillas with training and support, helping them to smuggle guns and drugs, in turn aiding the cartels to ensure drugs are distributed all across America.

Although this is a work of fiction, Winslow has clearly done his homework and his narrative has a crystal clear measure of authenticity. The procedural aspects of the narrative ring true, from Keller’s investigation to the operations of a brothel, from the CIA operations in Nicaragua to the mob-run streets of New York City, it all rings true. Thankfully, so do the characters. You can wholly understand Keller’s obsessions, his attempts to make up for earlier mistakes and avenge those who have fallen victim to the violence of the Barrera cartel. Adan Barrera is fully fleshed out, his journey from a young street thug to the head of a crime syndicate immaculately told. Winslow does not skimp on any of the finer details, not even the violence that surrounds both of these men in their daily lives. The violence in particular is especially and shockingly potent, and there are two scenes in particular, one a very long and gruesome torture scene and the other an act of merciless violence atop a bridge, that I believe will stick with me forever.

Winslow expertly navigates the story of drugs over several decades, and narrator Ray Porter delivers the pitch-perfect reading this material deserves. Porter is a narrator that in very short order has risen to the top of the ranks in terms of my personal favorite narrators, and he’s absolutely one of the best in the business, to the point that I’ll now buy an audiobook simply because he’s attached. This man is a freaking powerhouse of a performer capable of making each character distinct, no small task given the number of characters we meet over the course of this book’s 20 hour-plus runtime. Porter utilizes a wide range of tones, pitches, inflections, and accents to make every one of Winslow’s characters stand out. He has a full command of the text and understands the nuances of the spoken word, injecting appropriate measures of gravitas as needed and making you feel the sharp, edgy points of Winslow’s words. I haven’t heard a bad production from Porter yet, and I’m not honestly sure there even is one. Winslow’s talents as an author are obvious, but it’s Porter’s narration that’s going to ensure I listen to The Cartel rather than explore it in print or ebook.

And oh yes, to be sure, I will be digging into The Cartel soon. I do need a short break from crime epics, but short it will indeed be. I’m already jonesing for another fix from Winslow, and with the third and final installment in this series, The Border, just weeks away I can tell I’ll be going on a bender with these last two books. For all the failings in US drug policy and ills and evils of the Mexican cartels that Winslow recounts in immaculate detail, I suppose it’s only natural that he succeed in making me an addict, the hypocrite.

  • Assassin's Code

  • The Joe Ledger Novels, Book 4
  • By: Jonathan Maberry
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 15 hrs and 35 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,041
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 4,699
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,683

When Joe Ledger and Echo Team rescue a group of American college kids held hostage in Iran, the Iranian government then asks them to help find six nuclear bombs planted in the Mideast oil fields. These stolen WMDs will lead Joe and Echo Team into hidden vaults of forbidden knowledge, mass-murder, betrayal, and a brotherhood of genetically-engineered killers with a thirst for blood.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Hang On To Your Shorts!

  • By Mel on 05-05-12

Joe Ledger & Ray Porter, Always A Good Time!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-14-18

Having reviewed the prior Joe Ledger audiobooks, I'm not sure I can add much here. If you've liked the previous three volumes (plus a short story collection), odds are you'll dig Assassin's Code, too. And if you haven't enjoyed them by now, well, you're on your own.

Maberry packs in plenty of wit (Ledger referring to Iran's then-president Ahmadinejad as Armani Hand Job was pretty funny, as was many Middle Easterners apparent obsession with destroying Joe's nut sack [yeah, sometimes my funny-bone can be easy to tickle, what can I tell ya], and the squad's disbelief over their foe du jour was used to good effect with some nicely added reminders that "this time a year ago, we were shooting zombies!") amidst all the violence as Echo Team squares off against another horror genre staple that just might be their toughest opponent so far.

Ledger continues to be a great character, Bunny and Top continue to be excellent compadres, and the assassin Violin is a groovy addition. Narrator Ray Porter is freaking incredible behind the mic. 'Nuff said.

I dug Assassin's Code, but didn't find it to be quite as compelling as prior entries. Still, lots of fun to be had here and Maberry had me worrying about a few particular Echo Team members in the excruciating and violent finale. Good stuff.

  • Joe Ledger: The Missing Files

  • By: Jonathan Maberry
  • Narrated by: Ray Porter
  • Length: 4 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,281
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,191
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,182

In this collection of five short stories, Jonathan Maberry fills in the blanks in his action-thriller Joe Ledger novels.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • READ BEFORE BUYING LEDGER SHORT STORIES

  • By Lisa on 04-27-12

Fun, But Not Indispensible

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-30-18

Joe Ledger: The Missing Files presents five short stories that exist in and around the events of Jonathan Maberry's first three Joe Ledger novels. As I've come to expect of Maberry, each story is competently written, filled with plenty of action and smart-ass wit, and the audiobook's narration by Ray Porter is, also as expected, a top-notch delivery.

The main sticking point here, though, is that the first few stories feel pretty disposable. Kicking off this collection is "Countdown," a wholly unnecessary prequel to the first book, Patient Zero. I'm not sure who this story is ultimately aimed at, frankly... If you read the first Joe Ledger book than you already know this story, which involves the raid on a Baltimore warehouse that ultimately earns Joe the attention of Mr. Church. If you haven't read Patient Zero, I'm not sure there's enough meat on this short story's bones to compel you to latch onto and stick around for the main course. Mostly, this story feels like stuff that was edited out of an earlier draft of Patient Zero and was re-purposed as a very short short story.

Zero Tolerance follows on the heels of Patient Zero, with Joe and his DMS squadron tracking down one of that book's surviving terrorists. It's a sharp little story, but, like "Countdown," it's not exactly indispensable. Ditto "Deep Dark," which has Ledger and his crew squaring off against terrorists in an underground vault. It's a neat story involving transgenic modification of human test subjects, written as a precursor to help tease The Dragon Factory. While I can't say it's redundant, and Maberry does enough things differently in this short story, "Deep Dark" also feels almost exactly like a particular encounter that occurs in The Dragon Factory.

It's not until the last two stories that we get to the really good stuff, and they present some original concepts as Maberry finds his feet with Ledger and company existing in short-form narratives. "Material Witness" sees our band of DMS operators taking a trip to Pine Deep, the setting of another Maberry series. I haven't read the Pine Deep trilogy yet, but there's enough teases of information in "Material Witness" and Church's presentation of the official cover story to pique my interest and move those books further up my To Be Read pile. This story is just flat-out cool, involving an author whose cutting edge thrillers have made him a wanted man by various terrorist factions. Maberry shades "Material Witness" with plenty of The X-Files inspired intrigue, enough so that I could practically hear Mark Snow's theme playing as the story's final denouement plays out. That's no bad thing at all, mind you.

"Dog Days" was my main reason for checking out The Missing Files, and it delivered exactly what I had hoped for. Ledger's second novel-length outing, The Dragon Factory, ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. I was immediately disappointed to discover all those loose ends wrapped up before book three, The Plague Factory, even started, and with Ledger suddenly having a canine partner to wage war alongside of. Well, all that connective material is told in this short story, which introduces Joe's new partner, Ghost, and puts him on the hunt for The Dragon Factory's escaped assassin. Maberry does a fantastic job condensing all of the fun interpersonal dramatics between Ledger and his comrades into this short, before launching into all the action. Given the way the second book ended, Joe is in a bit of a dark place; it has some necessarily sad overtones, but thankfully revenge is sweet and Maberry writes one hell of an action-packed finale.

Joe Ledger: The Missing Files is not an indispensable read, at times coming across more like deleted scenes from the core body of work, but it does tie up a few loose ends here and there, even if it sometimes feels repetitive of particular plot points covered in the full-length novels. "Material Witness" and "Dog Days" are the clear stand-outs here, providing enough story to satisfy. The rest are largely ancillary, recommended only for Ledger completionists.

  • The Summer Job

  • A Satanic Thriller
  • By: Adam Cesare
  • Narrated by: Stacey Glemboski
  • Length: 7 hrs and 21 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23

Massive nights, picturesque days: There is nothing Claire doesn't love about her summer job in Mission, Massachusetts. Claire is just trying to keep her head down and start a new life after burning out in the city, but those kids out in the woods seem like they throw awesome ragers.... It's only once she's in too deep that Claire discovers the real tourist trade that keeps the town afloat. It's then that her soul-searching in Mission becomes a fight for her life.  

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • The Best Horror Movie Never Made

  • By CKDelay on 11-17-18

Terrific Satanic Folk Horror

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-16-18

In a recent blog post to promote the audiobook release of The Summer Job, Adam Cesare wrote about how it hasn't been as successful sales-wise as his Video Night but that he's still hopeful it's able to find the right audience. "While I’d never say one of my books is better than the other, I will say that The Summer Job feels more personal," he said. Following Cesare online, through his blog and social media, anytime The Summer Job comes up, it's obvious that this book has a very special place in his heart and that he is - rightfully - damn proud of the work he did here.

The Summer Job is a work of satanic folk horror that finds goth-punk chick Claire taking a job at the Brandt Hotel. Located in a small town a few hours outside Boston, the hotel is Mission's best-kept secret - a popular and well-regarded establishment, it's been highly praised by past guests. Or at least those who have lived long enough to talk up the perks of their accommodations. When Claire takes on the role of guest liaison, she thinks it's a chance to redefine her life and maybe reinvent herself. It's not until later, of course, that all the peculiarities of the Brandt and its staff start pointing toward much, much darker secrets...

Whether you read or listen to the audiobook edition, it's readily apparent that The Summer Job is a labor of love. I've read, maybe, half of Cesare's oeuvre thus far and I dig his style and startlingly clear affection for the horror genre a lot. The Summer Job, though, is Cesare operating a higher level. His characters and their story arcs are pretty phenomenal, and the writing is solidly on-point.

Early on, he describes a chef behind the pick-up counter at a restaurant as being window-boxed by the frame; it's a small thing to be sure, but the particular word choice and details provided are careful and deliberate, as are a lot of Cesare's other stylistic choices here. The ensuing description of the man's sweat clouding the metal counter-top, and the dialogue between him and Claire, make for a highly memorable and cinematic scene that cements exactly who these characters are, and more importantly that Cesare knows exactly who these characters are. He knows these people and he's smart enough to get out of their way and let them work their mojo. Through a bit of deft dialogue, he introduces Claire's friend Allison, along with her particular ticks that let you know right off the bat who this girl is, unnecessary abbreviations and all. "What are you doing on the Newb," she asks Claire, referring to Newbury Street, and calling her "babykins."

Cesare's operating in a character-rich environment here and we get to know most of his cast very, very well over the course of the book. This is both good and bad. Good because we become intimately familiar with Claire and the people of Mission, and bad because getting to know the employees of the Brandt means we can't fully trust any of them and we're constantly on edge waiting for them to freak out. Cesare does a fantastic job establishing Mission's behind-the-scenes power struggles, letting readers in on alliances, history, and secrets Claire isn't privy to. We worry about her, and Claire is pretty damn easy to sympathize with, even as we're never sure what those around her want or what they'll do to get it.

The Summer Job has a lot going for it, from its leading lady to the clashes between opposing forces within Mission, but reigning supreme over it all is narrator Stacey Glemboski. It didn't take me long to start searching out other titles she's narrated, knowing full well that I'm going to be looking for more of her work. She's an excellent narrator, shifting smoothly between male and female voices, accents, tones, and delivery. This isn't a long book, less than eight hours, but it's so easy to listen and sink into that it feels much shorter.

Between Cesare's writing and deft characters and Glemboski's reading, I was freaking hooked the whole through. The Summer Job was absolutely terrific, and also a necessary reminder that I really need to get my ass in gear and fill those gaps that I've missed in Cesare's work.

[Note: I received an Audible copy of this title from the author following my request through AudioBookBoom and I provided this voluntary review.]

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The First Cut

  • Gushers Series, Book 1
  • By: Chuck Buda
  • Narrated by: Lillie Ways
  • Length: 6 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 1
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1

The popular kids of Tenafly High School were bored with upper-middle-class life. With a few months left before graduation, they made a decision to spice things up. What they intended quickly got away from them. Aiden is the shy one, the one who follows along quietly. But now, he will find himself forced to stand up to his tormentors or die.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • These Cultists Will Do You Right...And Then Wrong!

  • By Michael Hicks on 11-11-18

These Cultists Will Do You Right...And Then Wrong!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-11-18

Do you like a little bit of horror in your pornography? Or maybe a lot of pornography in your horror? Because if so, hoo boy, Chuck Buda has got a doozy for you with the first in his aptly titled Gushers series, The First Cut.

What ever are a bunch of sex-starved high school seniors supposed to do as they bide their time for graduation and the start of college but form a secret society among themselves to get their rocks off? What seems like a good idea quickly escalates into something more as power-hungry Zoe leads them off into darker realms with some cult-like practices, with some support from her second-in-command Spencer, a young man with a strong interest in the Dark Arts, and a lot of hot tub orgies. A lot. Of hot tub. Orgies.

The First Cut comes with a reader advisory warning, and Buda ain't messing around there. This sucker is explicit in its erotic endeavors and nothing is left to the imagination as Zoe leads all the boys around by their nether regions, and even a pair of the kid's parents engage in some secret extramarital shenanigans. There's plenty of taboo titillation throughout, but since this is a horror book some scenes veer pretty far from the Penthouse Letters style as these characters' hook-ups go from amorous to aberrant. All kinds of bodily fluids gush and spill and mix together as the group seek new thrills and new highs.

Cutting through all the sex and violence is a surprisingly sweet center in Aiden and Leah, the quiet ones of the group who find their friendship deepening and blossoming into something more meaningful as their closest friends grow ever more hedonistic. Their relationship isn't without its fair share of complications, obviously - being in an insane sex cult presents its own fair share of hurdles - but Buda makes good use of their position in the story as the moral middle, their mostly-normal relationship providing a necessary and much-needed break from the more extreme craziness.

Narrating all this madness is Lillie Ways, who delivers an even-keel and professional reading. She differentiates character voices enough to make those conversations lacking dialogue tags easy to follow, and keeps the book's 54 short chapters moving along a nice pace for its six hour run-time. All in all, The First Cut provides a pleasing, at times surprising, aural experience.

Readers looking for some hot-and-heavy erotic horror in the split veined style of the Hot Blood anthologies should have a good time with The First Cut. These cherry-popping cultists will do you right...just before they do you very, very wrong.

  • The Consuming Fire

  • The Interdependency, Book 2
  • By: John Scalzi
  • Narrated by: Wil Wheaton
  • Length: 8 hrs and 19 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,009
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 5,598
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 5,585

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it - unless desperate measures can be taken. Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Building upon a collapse, this follow-up exceeds!

  • By C. White on 10-16-18

The Collapse of Galactic Civilization Is FUN!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-05-18

Readers who enjoyed John Scalzi's previous entry in his latest series, The Interdependency, should find The Consuming Fire a fun romp. That said, being a second book in a trilogy, it does have a fair bit of middle-child syndrome, even if it is, overall, an engaging and fast-paced listen.

The Collapsing Empire, 2017's most appropriately named book release, set the stage for this series with its central premise of interstellar travel by way of the Flow (think rivers in space) and what will happen to these intergalactic civilizations when those streams begin to collapse. As The Consuming Fire picks up, more Flow streams are collapsing, setting off a political brouhaha between Emperox Grayland II and the ruling houses either hellbent on denying the science behind the Flow's collapse or usurping the throne in order to further their own power.

There's a dark vein running through the core of The Consuming Fire, what with its promise of civil war, attempted assassinations, and ENTIRE FREAKING PLANETS FULL OF PEOPLE being cut off from civilization and the resources required to keep them alive as the Flow disappears to condemn everybody to certain death. And yet, somehow, Scalzi avoids miring this series in prolonged, protracted portrayals of misery. The political shenanigans involving various houses competing for control of the empire recall a certain Game of Thrones In Space! element, but The Consuming Fire never devolves into violently brutal bloodbaths and Scalzi is hardly the sadist George R.R. Martin is, even though his plot promises the untimely deaths of waaaaaaay more people than Martin ever conjured to kill. No, somehow Scalzi manages to keep it all fairly light and, somehow, comical, even when bodies are hitting the floor.

Operating as an allegory to climate change and how the rich and powerful attempt to profit from science denialism in order to become even more rich and powerful, right up until the moment of complete and utter collapse, really shouldn't be this entertaining. Yet I found myself laughing frequently, thanks to Scalzi's wordsmithing, particularly at one point late in the book when a formerly human-now artificial intelligence jokes about dying in the flow.

“We have to talk about your sense of humor,” the formerly human-now AI is told.
“It was like this before. How do you think I died?”


Yeah, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at that one. A lot of this is due to Wil Wheaton's narration. The Collapsing Empire was my first introduction to both Scalzi as an author and Wheaton as a narrator, and I immediately fell in love with the both of them. It was apparent right from the start that Wheaton is a perfect match for Scalzi's work and sensibilities, and Wil just flat-out gets it. The Consuming Fire isn't just funny, it's plenty freaking snarky to boot, and Wheaton does a fine job delivering snarkiness. Having been an actor since his childhood, he brings along that element of role-play to his audiobook narrations, injecting the reading with emotion and verve that really keeps things hopping along nicely.

The Consuming Fire is a worthy follow-up to the prior book, and while it doesn't advance the story of The Interdependency in huge leaps and bounds Scalzi does inject a few interesting wrinkles and side adventures for his cast of spacebound lords and ladies. Being the middle-child, its primary mission is to move certain pieces into place for the grand finale next book, and Scalzi does this really well, presuming that the next book, ominously (or at least tentatively, per Scalzi's February 2018 blog update) titled The Last Emperox, is indeed the last. Throughout this necessary bit of set-up, though, Scalzi at least injects enough new stuff, and even a few new mysteries, to make it a highly worthwhile listen. Plus, it's just damn good fun, and that's always welcome and necessary considering the time and reality we currently live in.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful