Homefront: A Novel of the Transgenic Wars by Scott James Magner

Homefront: A Novel of the Transgenic Wars by Scott James MagnerHomefront: A Novel of the Transgenic Wars by Scott James Magner
Narrator: Allyson Johnson
Published by Audible Studios on 11/11/14
Genres: Science Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible

Story: B-
Narration: B

Quick Review:

Homefront is a thoughtful speculative fiction novel with a nice mix of action and emotion. Although I struggled to remain engaged with it consistently, overall the combination of physical conflict, interpersonal clashes, and internal quandaries kept the story moving forward at a nice clip. The narration allows the listener to easily distinguish between individuals in a diverse cast of characters and enhances the pacing of the story.

My Thoughts:

In a future world where humanity has been infected with a transgenic virus and individuals have mutated with an unbelievable rapidity to gain enhanced abilities—from telepathy to extra arms or eyes—there are both unmodified humans and a range of modified humans (“mods” or “gennies”) . The latter are divided into something like castes—Alphas as the ruling caste then Beta, Delta, Gamma, and Omega—in descending order of mutation away from an unmodified human form. The mods were exiled to the outer colonies and the story opens as a small contingent of mods are returning to the inner worlds with a cargo of “sleeper” mods to establish a hidden colony.

Jantine is a Beta and captain of the mission to establish a secure and hidden base for her crew and cargo. Although it’s generally expected to be a suicide mission, she succeeds in landing her crew but not before encountering local planetary defense forces engaged in an apparent civil war. The people who surround Jantine are varied and complex. In the moment, they are fully realized characters with varied motivations and feelings. Part of my inability to remain engaged with them, though, is that too much of their back story and how that made them who they are is pushed off until later. I struggled with the dynamics that arced between the mods running the operation and was annoyed with some rapid flip-flopping of emotions that seemed odd for such highly trained “super soldiers.” A lot of the cause for that became clear later but by then, it was a bit too late for me to do my usual readerly bonding with them and I was left with a strictly intellectual curiosity for the story instead.

The introduction of an unmodified human to the group provided a nice basis for some mild pondering on what it was about the mods (other than a physical appearance for some) that caused them to be considered inhuman or worth exiling (as if people need a logical reason, right?) There was also a light vein of philosophical musing to be had about how family is defined and where we choose to place our value in that construction. Lieutenant Mira Harlan is unwillingly swept along in the mods’ plan and finds herself irrevocably changed by her contact with them.

There was a fair amount of head-hopping and while the changes in points-of-view added complexity and interest to the story , they also emphasized the tell rather than show aspects engendered by the amount of internal thoughts that recapped events or motivations. That narrative tool struck me as over used and not in line with how thoughts generally manifest themselves. To an extent, this was also emphasized by my biggest point of contention with the narration style: a tendency to slow certain sentences down and phrase them in a thoughtful manner more often that the text or the flow of general human speech would indicate is appropriate.

Magner does an excellent job conveying the sense of “other” the Mods and their changed physiology (and more to the point, thought processes and perspectives) embody while balancing that against the things that still make them human. There’s a lot that comes to light in the last few chapters and while there’s a general wrap-up, I am interested in what the future holds for the mods and the world they landed on.

The Narration:

If you’re familiar with Allyson Johnson’s narration of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series and enjoyed the audiobooks (as I did) then read no farther, you’re good to go with this one. I admit, I was hoping for the more casual delivery she brought to Kim Knox’s Dark Dealings (which struck me as more organic in tone) but she brings considerable skill to this story nonetheless.

Ms. Johnson excels at differentiating characters, both between individuals and in the typical vocal characteristics that cue a listener to male or female. She’s attentive to the author’s narrative and chews over the syntax in service to it. Her dialogue delivery is reactive and flows naturally and while the frequency with which lines are given a thoughtful and slower delivery chimes against my ear as excessive and not always in line with the context, she still keeps the story moving at a nice pace. The narration on this one actually helped me track through some of the complexities in the story so I suggest you check out the sample and see how it works for you.

I received this book at no cost from Audible Studios in exchange for a review. The book’s source does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet MarillierDreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier
Narrator: Natalie Gold, Nick Sullivan, Scott Aiello
Series: Blackthorn and Grim #1
Published by Audible Studios on 11/4/14
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Audible
three-half-stars

Story: B
Narration: B+

Quick Review:

An engaging fantasy novel that smoothly incorporates a bit of mystery and a dash of “whodunit,” Dreamer’s Pool broke me out of a listening slump and I found it easy to become invested in the story and characters. Three narrators deftly shift between the three points of view at play and while all bring different strengths in terms of delivery, all three added to the listening experience.

My Thoughts:

I started my listen of Dreamer’s Pool expecting a pretty traditional fantasy story built on Irish mythology and folklore.  My expectations were incorrect and this is one of the rare instances in which that was a good thing. This audiobook struck me as a mix of fantasy and mystery and was far lighter on magical elements than I anticipated. The mystery wasn’t just in terms of the more-than-one “whodunit” plot lines, it was also in the way in which the characters’ backstories were woven into the overall tapestry of the story.

As the story introduces us to Blackthorn and Grim – imprisoned and facing torture or death – events begin their rush forward and it’s only with some skillful weaving of backstory into ongoing events that we begin to learn some of the history of our main characters. Making a bargain with Conmael, a fey nobleman who offers Blackthorn her freedom (for reasons known only to him) in exchange for her agreement to three conditions, the healer and her fellow prisoner—a taciturn giant of a man named Grim—find themselves free and heading to Dalriada where Blackthorn is to set up as a healer and wise-woman.

There, they cross paths with Oran, the Dalriada prince and the future king of the realm. Oran is an intelligent and unexpectedly romantic figure who has agreed to an arranged marriage and is awaiting his future bride in his holding of Winterfalls. With his intended’s arrival in advance of the hand-fasting, though, comes questions the prince needs answers to. Through her work as a healer, Blackthorn and Grim become embroiled in a sordid investigation involving abduction, murder, and arson. Their success with the investigation leads the prince to seek their help solving the greater mystery of his intended bride and Dreamer’s Pool.

Blackthorn is a hardened and bitter woman whose past has taught her to distrust those in authority. She’s sympathetic overall but that consistent core of anger may make her a frustrating protagonist for some. Her character arc isn’t one of self-discovery so much as it is one of re-discovery: how to trust again, how to be among people again, and (I’m projecting to future books here) how to let go of her anger and desire for revenge against the man who wronged her and learn to build a fulfilling life. Her experiences have made her distrustful of men and blind to the truth on some issues. Although (or perhaps because) I was particularly engaged with this book, I reached a point where frustration made me stop listening for almost a full day when Blackthorn took actions based on those bitter influences from her past in that way that we never recognize in ourselves in real life but get so frustrated with in our fictional characters.

Grim’s character arc is the most nebulous of the three—not because it was poorly written or because he was an incomplete character but because the author was able to make him integral to the story while letting Oran and Blackthorn fill out the majority of the gradual weaving of the tale. The story was neatly wrapped up with no cliff-hanger but there are more than enough threads, many of them Grim’s, for me to look forward to the next in the series.

Oran was an unexpected character for me. Part of that is due to how the narrator voiced him, which I’ll get to in a bit, but I found him to be the most complex character of the three. He was an intelligent and fair-minded ruler but relatively young with a streak of romanticism and poetry in his soul that struck me as atypical (in my experience with the genre) for the character who possessed the most agency and secular power in the world-building structure.

There was one significant point of break-down for me and minor spoilers will be necessary in the explanation that follows. Two threads to the story incorporate violence (physical and sexual) against women. While that’s a theme I’m getting a bit weary of personally (at least it wasn’t used to justify character flaws or toughness,) from an historical and world-building standpoint I can understand the placement of it as well as the inclusion of an attitude reminiscent of “she was probably hooking up with a boy already anyway so she got what she deserved.” It did strike me as an odd contrast to Blackthorn’s more modern view in defense of the victim via a clear statement that it didn’t matter if the victim has slept with everyone or no one, rape is rape. That progressive (for the times) attitude then seemed at odds with her later attitude towards a false accusation of rape. Not that Blackthorn the character wouldn’t have logically fell victim to an issue that hit a personal trigger but that the transition was from historically accurate “women as chattel and not deserving control of their bodies” to the very modern “no means no regardless of the victim’s character/dress/etc.” to a muddying false rape accusation. All that likely says more about me as a modern reader that it speaks to a flaw in the writing but it was… disturbing to me.

Overall, the story is, if not fast, then certainly well-paced, both in terms of a smooth and story-appropriate shift in character perspectives as well as in terms of forward momentum in plot. I was wrapped up in the tale and the characters and the narration was an enhancement to the experience of the written word.

The Narration:

All three narrators are skilled and delivered a listen-worthy (vs. a “go with the text” recommendation) experience. Although I have a few specific complaints, the amount of text I dedicate to them below is not at all indicative of their impact on the audiobook as a whole. For all the narrators, character differentiation was always excellent; voicing the opposite sex never sounded forced or unnatural to me, especially when combined with the “here and now” narrative skills of all three; delivery was smooth and corrections were nicely blended with the original tone and dialogue ebbed and flowed with a pretty natural give and take.

In addition to the above high notes, Natalie Gold has a pleasant voice that meshed well with the age and experience of the character. If I had one complaint, it would be that Blackthorn is, as mentioned, a woman whose life experiences have hardened her and while she showed moments of softening, the emotion I pulled from the narration was delivered more consistently from inflection that vocally highlighted the textual emotion rather than from a wholly organic read of the subtext. This was less problematic for me here than in many of my past listens but it had the unfortunate effect of blunting the impact of what should have been some really great moments. When Blackthorn allows her past to color her perspective on everything she had learned up to a critical point, the fact that vocal inflection is a mask rather than a transformation became evident and her anger didn’t translate as betrayal or a bitter pill swallowed whole against the ways in which her new experiences had been wearing down the edges of her past, it was just a slightly amped up version of the anger she’d carried all along.

If I had been asked to describe how Oran sounded, it wouldn’t have been at all what Scott Aiello delivered… so thank goodness I’m not an audiobook director because Oran’s character was complex and that came though nicely in (or perhaps was truly best illuminated because of) the vocal delivery. I’m tempted to break out into an in-depth wine analogy about top notes and subtle undertones but I’ll spare you and boil it down to the fact that in addition to varied cadences that made each of Mr. Aiello’s characters incredibly distinct, his ability to express the wide emotional range that can be crossed not just in a single character but sometimes within the arc of a few sentences made for a very organic and natural feel to Oran as a character.

I imagine voicing Grim came with its own set of challenges for Nick Sullivan; I know it did for me as a listener. With a deep voice for Grim and as a character with very little to say and a tendency to do it in short sentences, Mr. Sullivan had two text-imposed limits that affected how his delivery struck me. Terse sentences combined with the gravelly, lowered voice invariably set up a hard-boiled noir detective vibe at the start of each section from Grim’s point of view. This set up a disconnect between the actual genre/mood and my immediate interpretation. It’s an artifact forced strictly, I would argue, by the translation from text to audio but it was nevertheless a momentary disruption to my ability to wholly immerse myself in the listening experience.

Overall, though, three strong performances. I would listen to more audiobooks by any of these narrators.

I received this book at no cost from Audible Studios in exchange for a review. The book’s source does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
three-half-stars

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
Narrator: Susan Bennett
Series: ,
Published by Recorded Books on 5/6/14
Genres: Mystery, Paranormal

Story: B
Narration: A

Publisher’s Blurb:

“From Charlaine Harris, the best-selling author who created Sookie Stackhouse the world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a new, darker world – populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town. There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own). Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth….”

My Thoughts:

Charlaine Harris culls two characters from other series she’s written and drops them in the town of Midnight, TX.  Manfred Bernardo – a young psychic who makes a living providing scam readings over the internet interspersed with true psychic visions – moves from the Harper Connolly series to this new trilogy. Bobo Winthrop – on the run from a family legacy of racism and violence covered in depth in the Lily Bard series – lands in Midnight and seems to have found his place in the world. Of course, there’s a host of other residents in town who weave into the story and each one is unusual. Bobo’s tenants: pale Lemuel who only comes out at night and the drop-dead gorgeous Olivia Charity are as deadly as they are mysterious. Across the street from the pawnshop Bobo runs is Fiji Cavanaugh – the proprietor of a new-age shop offering occultist paraphernalia and self-discovery workshops – who is a witch with unexpected power and and amusingly named pet cat: Mr. Snuggles.

This book is a tightly woven combination of mystery and paranormal with the cast of a small-town cozy. As a standalone, it works very well. As someone familiar with the characters from her other series, I had a very hard time adjusting. The Harper Connolly and Lily Bard series always struck me as straight contemporaries, despite Harper’s psychic abilities. To find characters from that world thrown into a small Texas town with vampires and werewolves was jarring. Other than the genre change speed-bump, they actually work really well as characters here and anyone unfamiliar with their pasts should find their presence seamless to the story.

As Manfred learns more about the town and its residents, Bobo’s ex-girlfriend’s body is discovered and he’s the primary suspect in her death. To compound his situation, white supremacists who believe he is in possession of his dead grandfather’s weapons cache are eager to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it. The story moves at a nice clip and I found myself entirely engaged throughout. It was only after it was over that I felt the lack of character building. There’s a thin layer of background for each person and an emotional depth (or lack) that’s primarily comprised of longing and unrequited love but with nothing for a reader to really sink her teeth into.

That kind of perceived flaw is usually a significant issue for me but the story was a lot of fun and it was such a nicely paced plot with a well-blended mix of genres and character types that, in conjunction with an audiobook narration that gave so much vocal depth to characters that it masked much of their actual lack of depth, I ended up enjoying this audiobook immensely and recommend it.

The Narration:

This was my first experience with narrator Susan Bennett and part-way through I stopped to look at what other books she’s done with the intent to pick some up. I was very impressed with her performance. First and foremost was the delightfully dry delivery she brought to the humor; she nailed all the amusing lines without missing a beat. Her character interpretations were excellent, giving me fully-voiced personae with clearly transmitted emotional nuances and varied speech patterns. Her voicing of the eventually-revealed villain of the story was excellent and surprisingly hackle-raising in its ability to reveal shifting glimpses of the evil hiding behind a… well, I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

The story opens with a third-person present tense narrative, a la Pushing Daisies, and Ms. Bennett provides the vocal equivalent (via voice tone) of a camera slowly spiraling in on the little town of Midnight as the omniscient narrator lands us in the story underway. With the switch to third-person past, the sense of being present in every moment is nicely delivered and the narration was perfect for my tastes: lightly burnished with a down-home flavor in terms of accents and laconic delivery and sweeping me into the story without distraction.

The Translator by Nina Schuyler

The Translator by Nina SchuylerThe Translator by Nina Schuyler
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Published by AudioGO Ltd. on 7/1/13
Genres: Literary Fiction
Source: Audiobook Jukebox

 

 

Story: B
Narration: B+

Quick Review:

I liked this book quite a bit. The overall concept, the design of the protagonist’s character/story arc, the parallels between Hanne’s translation ability and how she related to people… all of that held a strong intellectual appeal for me. From the perspective of my internal emotional reader, it took me a long time to fall in sync with what was taking place in the story and although the emotional distress experienced by the characters felt realistic, I neither connected to it personally nor did I have much sympathy for Hanne or her daughter or Moto. That doesn’t make it a bad book (far from it) it just means I had two distinct experiences while listening but I consider it time well spent.

Publisher’s Blurb:

When renowned translator Hanne Schubert falls down a flight of stairs, she suffers from an unusual but real condition — the loss of her native language. Speaking only Japanese, a language learned later in life, she leaves for Japan. There, to Hanne’s shock, the Japanese novelist whose work she recently translated confronts her publicly for sabotaging his work.

Reeling, Hanne seeks out the inspiration for the author’s novel — a tortured, chimerical actor, once a master in the art of Noh theater. Through their passionate, volatile relationship, Hanne is forced to reexamine how she has lived her life, including her estranged relationship with her daughter. In elegant and understated prose, Nina Schuyler offers a deeply moving and mesmerizing story about language, love, and the transcendence of family.

My Thoughts:

Although there are no sudden revelations in this book that will take a listener by surprise, I’m throwing out the spoiler flag at the start of this review because there is a slow build in learning about the protagonist and the story took a path that I wasn’t initially anticipating. That was part of what made this book enjoyable for me and I’m going to talk about some of those aspects of character revelation in the review.

As the motivation for a protagonist’s flight from her existing life into one that forces her to re-evaluate her relationships and how she perceives the world, losing the ability to communicate via your primary language is an intriguing and clever catalyst for a novel’s arc. When Hanne Schubert is suddenly unable to speak any language other than Japanese, she begins a journey that brings her to a point where she is forced to confront the fact that, for her entire life, her ability to seamlessly move from language to language – deriving full meaning from each one – is the polar opposite of how she relates to people and personalities that differ from hers. Hanne’s daughter, Brigitte, whom she has always viewed as too sensitive and as someone who needs to develop resiliency in order to be successful or survive in life, is set adrift by her mother’s inability to understand her.

The book opens with Hanne translating a book from Japanese to English. She develops an obsession with the main character, Jiro, and constructs what she thinks is a deep and full knowledge of who the character is – to the extent that he features in her fantasy life. When Hanne is accused by the book’s author of completely misunderstanding who Jiro is and botching the translation, she seeks out the person rumored to be the inspiration for the character – a Noh actor named Moto – and starts down the painful path of realizing that not only has she mistranslated the book, she’s been “mistranslating” her daughter all her life with disastrous consequences. Moto is similar in personality to Hanne’s daughter: mercurial, emotional, and sensitive. Once the smallest crack in her perceived ability to translate develops, finding herself in the orbit of someone so similar in personality to her daughter but with an adult-to-adult power dynamic leads to a painful series of personal revelations.

It took me a long time to be anything more than intellectually engaged by the writing. Part of that is a resistance to third person present tense as a method of connecting to characters (despite its putative sense of immediacy) and the story seemed weighted more towards “tell” expository rather than “show” descriptive. We spend a lot of time with Hanne and her thoughts and for that reason alone I was surprised it wasn’t in first person. It wasn’t written as an objective narrative and was limited in terms of the narrator’s knowledge and I sometimes had a sense of objectivity or scientific observation in the authorial voice.

Where it did work particularly well for my readerly sensibilities was in the tightly constructed way in which the depth of Hanne’s character was slowly uncovered. Although by the end I disliked the perspectives of both mother and daughter, how they reached that point was completely understandable and even if I thought Hanne was a horrible mother (FYI, I didn’t…exactly) I understood her and what motivated her parenting style. None of that understanding was conveyed to me via a wordy bat upside the head but was explained by simply allowing me to observe Hanne going about her life day-by-day with visibility to the reminiscences that would flit through anyone’s mind.

There’s a lot of food for thought in this book and for that alone it’s worth the listen.

The Narration:

My first thought in describing the narration is that if you’ve heard one Kirsten Potter narration you’ve heard them all but that might leave you with a negative impression. What I mean is that Ms. Potter is the most consistent narrator I’ve listened to in terms of delivering narrative in a measured and clearly articulated manner, character differentiation, point of view, emphasis, and back-and-forth dialogue from book-to-book. If you like her voice and narration style, which I do, then you know all you need to know if you’re deciding whether to go with the audiobook version or a text version because there won’t be any surprises for you in the narration.

Much of the novel takes place in Japan (well, most of it takes place in Hanne’s thoughts but…) and rather than utilize a Japanese accent per se, she simply adds a bit of formality to the delivery of native Japanese characters and that worked well for me. The passion Hanne feels as she goes about translating a novel is evident in the delivery and each character is uniquely presented. The third person present tense narrative has a first person presentation style which works well given the amount of time we spend with Hanne’s thoughts and musings. Overall, a good narration that gives full weight to the author’s words and intent.

 

 

Disclaimer: I received this audiobook without cost from AudioGo via the Solid Gold Reviewer program at Audiobookjukebox.com

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

Omens by Kelley ArmstrongOmens by Kelley Armstrong
Narrator: Carine Montbertrand, Mozhan Marno
Series: Cainsville #1
Published by Penguin Audio on 8/20/13
Genres: Urban Fantasy

 

Story: B+
Narration: B+

Publisher’s Blurb:

Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.

Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

Quick Review:

I really enjoyed this audiobook – not in the “jump up and down when you finish it and shout about it from the rooftops” way but in that calmer “why are these characters still running around in my brain a week later? I think I better listen to it again and hey, it was just as good the second time” kind of way. There was one particular shift (to my mind) in how things developed that left me momentarily adrift but the writing is solid, the characters are interesting, the story is nicely layered, and I sense there’s a lot more to look forward to in this series. The narration was very good and the primary narrator excelled at chewing the syntax in a way that completely individualized all the characters and allowed me to immediately sink into the audio experience.

My Thoughts:

In the early minutes of the story, we find Olivia Taylor Jones at a dinner party with her fiancé. Clearly wealthy, educated, privileged and seeming to have it all, I wasn’t sure what was going to be of interest in her storyline but in no time at all I was hooked by the both the construction of her character and the way in which the events leading up to her adoption were gradually uncovered. Symptomatic of how involved I became in the story and how complete of a character Liv seemed to me: I have never in my life wanted so badly to crawl into an audiobook and chastise a group of people in defense of the protagonist as I did while listening to this one. Early on, Liv is beset by the press while at her mother’s house and I was absolutely infuriated by their behavior. Then I reminded myself they were fictional characters and felt a little silly… but they were obnoxious!

As Liv begins digging into her biological parents’ background, she ends up forming a working relationship with her mother’s ex-lawyer, Gabriel Walsh. He’s an interesting character in that I found him very likable but he’s also completely self-interested. As more of his background is revealed, that becomes understandable but the portion of character arc (or perhaps it’s just reveal) that takes place over the course of the book is tantalizing. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Liv and Gabriel. I don’t know if there will end up being romantic elements there but if so, we’re in for a very slow build-up to it. I think that’s part of why these characters are sticking around in my head: just like real people, they had a life before each other, they have separate interests when they’re together, and they have an organic push/pull relationship that could go anywhere or nowhere. It isn’t that other books I’ve read don’t have fully-formed characters, it’s just that there are often far too many parallelisms in their personalities, mythos, or experiences to make them completely realistic.

There were a lot of structural things I liked about this book: the slow reveal about Cainsville and its origins, the mechanics of how Liv ended up there, the introduction of supporting characters with enough background to make them interesting and well-integrated to the story but not distracting, the gradual peeling back of layers regarding Liv’s seemingly supernatural abilities (although that was a very low key aspect to the story and it felt more normal than paranormal overall), the plotting decision to address just one of the three murders Liv’s biological parents were accused of as the main investigation in the book, and more. The point at which I hit a wall, though, was rather abrupt.

The events that led Liv to Cainsville felt like Tetris pieces falling into place and many of the events that took place there also gave the impression of things clicking into place; even though I couldn’t see the overall design, I liked how it was shaping up. As the action started rising and we hit the climax of the core story/investigation that drove the book forward, it was like I’d been watching red and blue blocks falling neatly into place but the picture that was suddenly revealed when it was over was flowing lines painted in various yellows (this analogy would work better if there were more than three primary colors because I don’t want to imply the resolution was monochromatic) and the disconnect in how it resolved vs. how it started building was problematic for me because it didn’t feel like a plot twist, it felt like the story going off the tracks a bit. I liked both parts/concepts on their own, they just seemed like slightly different stories to me. One positive aspect to that, however, is that I still have a sense of a vast number of stories and underlying mythologies that are yet to be explored.

There are books that strike you as wildly inventive or incredibly fast-paced and exciting and it’s pretty easy for me, when I finish one of those, to point out all the showy bits that made it a great book. Then there are books that just seem layered or dense (not in a lit-fic-y way) or that leave you with an emotionally tangible sense of the characters that lingers as if they were real people and had infinite future possibilities for their lives. Omens falls into the latter category for me and I often find it difficult to rate or review books like that because my logical brain is telling me . o 0(Where are the elegant turns of phrases that merit a high rating? The wildly inventive world-building? What about that slap-in-the-face to your expectations in the last 1/8th of the book?) while the other side of my brain is mooning around about . o 0(Those reporters were so effin’ obnoxious. Don’t they know they can’t do that?! I hope Liv and Gabriel hook up; he’s adorable in an oddly semi-sociopathic way. I bet when he falls for her he’s going down hard. Do you think Peter is a [redacted]? What’s up with Liv and those creepy omens?) Sometimes that’s an artifact from listening to the audiobook version: a well narrated book puts real voices to the characters and I engage with the text on a deeper level. Sometimes there’s something in the story or character that resonates with my personal experience and adds depth to my read. In this case, I think those were factors but all-in-all it’s just a well-written book with a lot of detail woven in and I’m really looking forward to the next one.

The Narration:

This was a dual narration with Carine Montbertrand performing the majority of the story from the first person perspective of Liv and Mozhan Marno delivering short segments interspersed throughout from multiple characters’ perspectives. Both narrators delivered strong performances.

I really liked the way Ms. Montbertrand chewed over the syntax and committed all her energy to each sentence without sounding artificial or too dramatic. She does one of my favorite narrative things: leverages the timing in sentence and individual word delivery in a very natural way. She weights some words with preceding or following pauses (not obnoxiously long ones – realistic ones you would do yourself when speaking) and doesn’t deliver each word with metronomic pacing but draws some out for emphasis. As a related performance trait, she individualizes characters by giving them differing phrasing styles or cadences. When that kind of real-life conversational feel to a story is combined with strong character differentiation and backed by an emotionally invested performance, my opinion on whether the voice sounds age-appropriate or is, in and of itself, aurally pleasing becomes almost irrelevant. Although the emotional content throughout was conveyed nicely, the character of Rose has some zinger lines and I particularly enjoyed the way the humor was delivered with delightful matter-of-factness.

The short third person sections assigned to Ms. Marno contributed to the overall strong narration. She has a very pleasing timbre to her voice and her character differentiation and pacing is very good. I think I would have been equally satisfied with either narrator as the primary.

Although I was happy with both narrators, I am curious about the production decision to a) use two narrators and b) select women for both narrators. The primary narrator should obviously be a woman since it’s Olivia’s first person perspective but the alternating third person viewpoints vary between women and men and include a bit of Gabriel’s perspective which, I would think, would be better served by contrasting Liv’s portions with a male voice. In addition, there’s a section of the third person narration where Olivia speaks and the difference in voices for the same person is jarring. Of note, the alternating perspective contains the only description of Olivia’s voice (contralto) and that’s what we get. I have zero musical/vocal experience but I’m pretty sure the primary narration doesn’t give her a contralto voice. While that has nothing to do with the overall quality of the narration, it was one of those discrepancies that was oddly jarring for a moment when it came up.

A few other niggling issues were present. In particular, I was struck by was how audible the narrators’ breaths were…for both narrators. That seemed particularly odd to me and makes me wonder how much of that was an editing decision to leave natural (non-character) breaths in. I also noticed several sections with a lot of thuds – as if the microphone was being bumped – and there were some pronunciations that struck me as inaccurate such as “eschew” as “as KEW” (yes, that’s technically third in the M-W list of pronunciations but I’m making an argument against using less common pronunciations when it’s a homophone with another word), “femoral” as “FEE moral” and “sociopathy” as  “socio PATHY.”

None of the negatives listed above were particularly detracting to the performance but they were momentarily distracting. Overall, the quality of the performances make audio the way to go with this one.