Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

Flash and Bones by Kathy ReichsFlash and Bones by Kathy Reichs
Narrator: Linda Emond
Series: Temperance Brennan
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on 8/23/11
Genres: Mystery

Book: B
Narration: B+

In a series that remains surprisingly fresh in its 14th outing, forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan is back in North Carolina and investigating the remains of a body discovered in a landfill near the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The discovery of the remains, found packed in asphalt in a metal drum, restarts a long-dead investigation into the disappearance thirteen years earlier of a twenty-four year-old man and nineteen year-old woman who were last seen at the speedway. A plea from the missing girl’s brother and the confiscation of evidence by the FBI induces Dr. Brennan to initiate her own investigation in cooperation with Detective Slidell of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD. The two cross paths with Cotton Galimore, the former lead detective on the initial investigation and now head of security for the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the investigation begins tracking a winding course through the world of NASCAR racing, bio-terrorism, extremist militia groups, and prejudice.

This book delivered what I have come to expect from this series – not in the “been-there-done-that” sense but in terms of a good story with a complex and involved mystery that requires careful listening. The characters – well-developed, often familiar, and certainly intriguing – weren’t what drove the story for me. The central force that carries the reader forward is the mystery and I enjoy being able to rely on Ms. Reichs to consistently deliver a new and utterly engrossing puzzle within the expected mystery conventions of death, investigation, and the unmasking of a killer. Yes, there were some problematic parts of the story for me. I asked myself at least once what a forensic anthropologist was doing becoming so involved in the police investigation portion of a murder. There were a few points in the book where I raised an eyebrow at the level of coincidence in how various characters had ties to each other in both the past and present. Tempe’s repeated internal commentary on how the parts of a case remained just shy of cohesion in her brain until her big “ah ha!” moment is an overly familiar device from previous books. After drifting through my mind, though, those niggling complaints disappeared and I was pulled under by the narrative.

I found the pacing to be ideal, the scene descriptions gave me a strong sense of place that helped build my mental story board, and while I am not going to pretend that reading this series qualifies me as a forensic anthropologist, I’m quite certain I could play one on TV after absorbing the detailed forensic descriptions that pepper this series. They are very well done; clear and neither too abstruse nor too simplified. I always come away from a book in this series feeling a little smarter and vastly entertained.

My listening tastes, in terms of a narrator’s delivery, tend more toward the subtle than the dramatic so for the most part Linda Emond’s narration worked very well for me. I found her voice to be quite pleasing and the various character voices easy to track. I expect that listeners who prefer a more robust performance might have some complaints since even I didn’t feel the level of urgency the plot suggested during the climactic scene. I haven’t experienced Ms. Emond’s narration outside of this series and I’ll be interested to seek out some of her other work. She has created a unique “voice” for Temperance Brennan not just in tone but in what I hear as a specific speech pattern. That distinct cadence (which, if I was transcribing from the audio would cause me to add half-again as many commas as the text indicates) and the inflections perfectly convey Brennan’s droll commentary and have come to be the voice of this character in my head, evicting the voice of my internal reader. It does, though, bleed over into the other character voices which in most audiobooks tends to diminish the level of character differentiation but worked for me in this first-person narrative that is sprinkled with mild Southern drawls.

A complex and engrossing mystery with narration that pulled me in – I would recommended this one for most listeners but only after sampling the narration.

Infinite Days – Rebecca Maizel

Infinite Days – Rebecca MaizelInfinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Series: Vampire Queen #1
Published by Tantor Media on 8/25/10
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Book: C+
Narration: B-

I found the premise of this novel to be an interesting take (as over-used a phrase as that is) on vampire mythology and the YA paranormal genre and I wanted to like this book but in the end, I didn’t so much dislike it as it simply left me indifferent. It was a unique premise that ultimately failed me in the execution.

Lenah Beaudonte has been a vampire for just under 600 years and is the queen of the most powerful vampire coven in existence. In Maizel’s mythology, the vampire is a soulless being whose body has been sealed by black magic into an unchanging state. Emotions and senses for a vampire have narrowed down to acute vision, an enhanced sense of smell, and a sort of E.S.P. – all of which aid the vampire in hunting down prey. Their sense of touch is almost non-existent and a vampire’s emotional palette is limited to pain and suffering on a seemingly constant basis. After tiring of a life of endless pain and increasingly reckless behavior, Lenah learns her creator (a vampire named Rhode) has discovered the secret ritual for removing the vampire curse. She coerces him into performing the ritual for her and after a 100-year hibernation Lenah wakes up as a 16 year-old human. Rhode advises her to immerse herself in her reborn human existence and avoid anything that might bring her to the notice of her coven. Thus begins her life as a student at Wickham Boarding School with the requisite boyfriend, best friend, and mean girls included.

My primary frustration with this audiobook was that I didn’t feel enough narrative tension. Although the threat of discovery by Lenah’s coven is a thread introduced early on, it never becomes more than a vague possibility until about two hours before the end. Lenah herself has some interesting characteristics but only in an objective sense. I admired the creepiness factor of Lenah habitually identifying the location and quality of the veins in the people she first meets as a human but only in a . o 0(that was a nice perspective for the author to include) manner rather than being actually creeped out. With little in the way of the vampire mythology or world-building revealed until the end, I had to rely solely on engaging with the characters in the story and I had a distinct lack of empathy, sympathy or connection of any kind with them because with the exception of Lenah, they are almost all cardboard cut-outs with little to no background information or insight into their thoughts or daily life. The only other character with a somewhat fleshed-out background turned out not to be the love interest and faded away for the middle of the story.

Lenah’s relationship with Justin, the hunky and wealthy LaCrosse player that every girl on campus admires, didn’t give me a warm romantic glow or even a hot sexy blaze.  Other than his having three brothers, nice parents, and love of adrenaline, I know nothing about him. I didn’t get any real idea as to what draws him so strongly to Lenah or why a girl/woman with 592 years of life experience is so entranced by this young man/boy.  I know the intent was to make the attraction on Lenah’s part tied in to how Justin has the ability to bring out her human side and the reduction of Lenah’s vampire senses as her humanity asserted itself made for a nice plot construct but the descriptions of the events that trigger these changes (bungee jumping and the single sex scene in the book) didn’t convey a sense of excitement, wonder, or life-changing drama.

I should reiterate that although I mostly have complaints about this book, it isn’t a bad book: It just didn’t reach me on anything other than an analytical level which is not what I look for in my entertainment listening. I did find that the last two hours of the story really picked up the pace and held my interest. Danger, a new location, a bit more emotional insight into Lenah and a greater knowledge of her coven helped engage me but by then it was too late to save my overall impression of the book.

I’ve experienced Justine Eyre’s narration skills previously with Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series and enjoyed it immensely. I initially thought this an odd match between narrator and genre/book and I still feel it was not the ideal casting choice. I’ve always felt that the tenor of Ms. Eyre’s  voice is more suited to mature characters and in one respect that worked surprisingly well for Lenah, given her 500+ years of existence and experience. Where it didn’t succeed for me was in the moments of Lenah’s great life-changing events. The vocal inflections she gives Lenah at each one was more “how odd that happened” rather than conveying any real sense of awe or transformation.  In addition, I often heard a tone of ennui in Lenah’s voice which again, was appropriate for the character given her history but which also aggravated my sense of disconnection with the character. Lenah’s English accent worked well for me although I had an unintentional moment of amusement when Lenah was describing light emanating from her palms. She described it as shining from her very pores which, with the English accent, sounded like “paws” and I found myself wondering when we had switched from vampires to werewolves. Not a bad narration but, to my mind, miscasting.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah HarknessA Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda
Series: All Souls #1
Published by Penguin Audio on 2/8/11
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

Book: B+
Narration: A

A decision tree to help you decide if you should listen to the audiobook of A Discovery of Witches, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda (yes, there is an actual review after the flowchart):


This audiobook had excellent narration and pacing that, unless you like character-driven novels, might drive you crazy. I, however, loved it. I’ve read comparisons of other books with the Twilight novels and have never seen it as anything other than a marketing ploy but really, if the Twilight series married Gabaldon’s Outlander series and had a literary child this would be it.

Diana Bishop is a professor of history at Yale who has turned her back on the power her abilities as a witch grant her in order to focus on academics. While researching at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Diana discovers an enchanted alchemical manuscript that has been long hidden. The “creatures” that populate the world of this novel (witches, vampires, and daemons) all want the manuscript and they need Diana to get it. Enter Matthew Clairmont, a 1600 year-old vampire and Oxford professor whose quest for the manuscript quickly turns into a more personal interest in Diana. The battle to obtain the manuscript carries the pair from England to France, America, and … well, you’ll have to listen to the book to find out the last location.

The author clearly loves her area of academic study and included info from it in the book in such a way as to completely intrigue me about the history of science and the allegorical imagery to be found in alchemical manuscripts. I rarely regret not pursuing post-graduate studies but this book reminded me of the joy found in academics. There was a well-delivered (although not often exciting) plot progression that appealed to my logical side which probably explains the flowchart. The world-building feels very realistic and rational (if I can say that about a fiction book). I did struggle with the heroine’s passive nature for much of the book and I was frustrated with the hero’s paternalistic actions but was still captivated by the book and enjoyed the growing romance. The secondary characters were well developed and wove their way through the plot rather than popping up as throw-away characters. I ended up listening to this book a second time and only then realized there was a lot of subtle characterization that my conscious mind ignored the first time around. The ending, while not a cliff-hanger exactly, opened a whole new setting for the next book in the series and I look forward to it.

I found Jennifer Ikeda’s narration to be perfect. My previous experience with her work was a YA novel set in Canada so I was unprepared for the level of skill she displayed in managing the multitude of accents that permeate the story. Silly me. She seamlessly switches between multiple English dialects, Scottish, French, Australian, and American and while I am far from an expert on accents, they all sounded very natural and accurate to me. She employed a smooth and almost conversational delivery for the narrative. Usually I would anticipate that style would make a long story seem even longer but the vocal inflections more than held my interest and at the half-way point in the book I was wondering where the time went. The dialogue was voiced in a manner that easily allowed me to immerse myself in the characterizations and get swept away in the story.

An excellent audiobook for the romance reader who likes character-driven stories and with minimal bedroom time, even non-romance readers will find a lot to enjoy.

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna SheehanA Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Narrator: Angela Dawe
Published by Brilliance Audio, Candlewick on 8/9/11
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

I stumbled upon the audiobook of A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan (narrated by Angela Dawe) by chance and am glad of it because I found it to be a compelling listen. It is one of those audiobooks that my mind kept returning to days after I had finished it. It falls in the genre of YA Dystopian fiction (although it could also be termed speculative fiction or soft sci-fi) but is very different from any in that category that I have read and is my favorite read in the genre so far.

Rosalinda “Rose” Fitzroy is awoken (a la Sleeping Beauty) after 62 years in stasis and although the world she wakes to is a future landscape altered by plague, genetic plant modification gone awry, and the monster of UniCorp, the story is not about the Dark Times the world has undergone but about Rose, the gradual revelation of how she ended up in stasis, and an exploration of what happens to those “Sleeping Beauty” left behind during her long sleep. There were some action scenes but so much of my enjoyment with this story was the slow peeling away of the layers of Rose’s past and to reveal any of them in this review would, I feel, diminish the enjoyment of anyone who hasn’t read the book. I admire Ms. Sheehan’s ability to drop the reader into a story with a lot of unanswered questions immediately in play and let the story organically unfold in a manner much more engaging than if she had dropped clues leading to a big reveal at the end.

Rose is a character I could easily have found irritating but instead found sympathetic as she begins to grow and evolve. The flashbacks to her past are perfectly paced throughout the story and give the patient reader a growing understanding of how Rose’s character was formed. In fact, I can’t think of another novel where flashback scenes are more skillfully and less obtrusively employed. There are parts of this story that provoke the reader to consider some typical dystopian themes such as large corporations and the power they wield, genetic manipulation of plants and people, ownership of intellectual property, social infrastructure and its potential failure but at its heart I found this book to be a disquieting meditation on parenting (or rather dysfunctional parenting). It also posed a situation that made for a disturbing metaphor for parenting via medication and what that may teach a child about methods of coping.

My initial thought on the narration was that Ms. Dawe was able to stand aside and let the story speak for itself but really, I think that is a disingenuous analysis of the performance in its implication that little effort was needed/taken by the narrator. This was a very skillfully delivered audiobook. A large part of my sympathy for Rose during the beginning of the story was due to Ms. Dawe’s ability to voice Rose with the weight of her entire past present in her character, even though the listener is unaware of the events that shaped her until much later and will only subconsciously recognize the vocal characterization… or maybe I’m just trying too hard to explain that most narrators would give Rose more whine and a poor-me tone based on her circumstances at the start of the story and I’m glad that wasn’t there. The narration captures the characters’ vocal tics as described by the author and I was particularly pleased with the natural sounding voices of YA characters and the delivery of the lines that encapsulate the uncertainty and emotional exigency of youth.

Character-driven, compelling, and disquieting; this was an excellent audiobook.