The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyThe 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Narrator: Brandon Espinoza, Phoebe Strole
Published by Penguin Audio on 5/7/13
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
two-stars

 

Story: C-
Narration: B

Quick Review:

I’ve seen enough reviews of this one to know that I’m definitely the odd woman out in my experience with this book but it failed to engage me for multiple reasons. The narration was fine but didn’t elevate the story enough to overcome my plot, character, and stylistic complaints. It’s not a bad book but I just found it so-so.

Publisher’s Blurb:

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

My Thoughts:

Have you ever read a book and, when you break it down into its component parts, it’s obvious that you should have really enjoyed it but when you consider your overall experience with it, it was just sorta OK? That was my experience with The 5th Wave. I started out appreciating that the post-apocalyptic atmosphere was generated by an alien invasion rather than a man-made crisis but the shine wore off that aspect pretty quickly. The aliens are, for all intents and purposes, absent in the story. Oh, they’re hovering in a spaceship above planet earth. They’ve definitely caused damage to Earth and killed billions of humans. They’ve obviously made incursions onto the planet as  well. My discontent is that there’s no backstory to the aliens which means there’s no depth to their motivation for the invasion and although we meet some aliens, they seem so completely human in their thought processes and actions that I could have easily been reading a regular ol’ dime-a-dozen post-apocalyptic novel.

I liked the concept of waves of destruction intended to decimate the earth’s population in phases rather than having a gun-toting alien force land and commence wholesale slaughter. I liked the way the author configured each wave as a different kind of attack. There wasn’t a lot of detail on how it was accomplished or scientific background to it but that was understandable since the description of the waves was primarily coming from a teenager who had experienced the terrible aftermath of each attack. The story of the progression of the attacks was also rolled out gradually and it worked well as an accompaniment to the story as we learned more about Cassie.

The book is presented from the points-of-view of four characters although two of them get the most page time. The part we see from Cassie’s little brother’s perspective was, with the exception of one scene, completely pointless in my opinion. The POV switches didn’t transition with any kind of noticeable logic and when we moved from a point of drama to an alternate perspective that was in a development phase, any energy built in the storyline was killed. The fact of the matter is, I actually wasn’t involved enough to be truly disappointed at the POV switch.

Part of my lack of involvement was because I wasn’t truly invested in these characters. I came away from the novel with pretty flat character précis:

Cassie: crushed on Ben in High School but Ben never noticed her. She had to flee the aliens with her father and brother but she was separated from them. She’s being hunted by a sniper. She gets shot and then she meets Evan and the girl who started off seeming competent became pointlessly stubborn and willing to put up with this strange guy who keeps standing outside her room/bathroom/any-room-she’s-in breathing heavily. (OK, maybe he wasn’t breathing heavily but he did come across as a creepy stalker.)

Evan: farmboy who lost his family. He rescues Cassie and proceeds to act all creepy stalker. He goes out every night hunting, never comes back with food, and insta-bonds with Cassie, refusing to let her do anything by herself.

Zombie: I can hear you saying it… “wait, wait, who’s Zombie? He wasn’t mentioned in the Publisher’s blurb!” I know, right? I was a little surprised when he showed up too, let alone discovering I was going to spend so much time with him. He’s probably the most interesting of the characters but his part in the story is to act as the third side in some zero-on-the-chemistry-meter love triangle and to act as grist for the story-line mill about the boot camp that’s set up in a military installation where young survivors are broken down and then rebuilt into a fighting force that’s sent out to kill anyone identified as an Other. I found the details and the build-up of the bootcamp scenes no different from most of the “we’re in the army now” movies I’ve watched that cover the topic. (Oh, as for the name “Zombie,” everyone had nicknames in the bootcamp so expect to read about Nugget, Poundcake, Oompa, Flintstone, Teacup, Tank, etc.)

Sammy: cute little boy who gets separated from his sister and his stuffed bear and lives with the hope she’ll come for him.

I took issue with a few plot items that didn’t strike me as logical, one of which was (mild spoiler):

View Spoiler »

My last complaint has to do with the writing. In addition to repetitious descriptions peppered throughout, there were a lot of short sentences; in fact, the average words per sentence count was 9.6. Sometimes that’s an effective way to build tension or create a sense of rapid forward momentum but not so much in this book. For example of the truncated nature of many sections of the book:

Nobody listened. He wasn’t the boss of us anymore. The People in Charge had arrived.

And then, just as unexpectedly as it had come, the helicopter made one last turn and thundered out of sight. The sound of its rotors faded. A heavy silence flooded in after it. We were confused, stunned, frightened. They must have seen us. Why didn’t they land?

We waited for the helicopter to come back. All morning we waited. People packed up their things.

 ***

They prowl in groups. They die in clumps. Clumps of smashups. Clumps of stalls. They glimmer in the distance like jewels. And suddenly the clumps stop. The road is empty for miles.

 ***

I looked up at Corporal Branch. “Isn’t that right?”

“That’s right.”

“He looks like Darth Vader,” Sammy whispered. “Sounds like him, too.”

“Right, and remember what happens? He turns into a good guy at the end.”

“Only after he blows up a whole planet and kills a lot of people.”

I couldn’t help it—I laughed. God, he was smart. Sometimes I thought he was smarter than me and Dad combined.

“You’re going to come later, Cassie?”

“You bet I am.”

“Promise?”

I promised. Whatever happened. No. Matter. What.

That was all he needed to hear. He pushed the teddy bear into my chest.

“Sam?”

“For when you’re scared. But don’t leave him.” He held up a tiny finger to emphasize his point. “Don’t forget.”

He stuck out his hand to the corporal. “Lead on, Vader!” Gloved hand engulfed pudgy hand. The first step was almost too high for his little legs.

Sammy was the last to board. The door closed. Dad tried to put his arm around me. I stepped away. The engine revved. The air brakes hissed.

When they weren’t short, they were often well-populated with commas which (as they absolutely should) the audiobook narrators gave their full attention. Unfortunately, this made even many of the longer sentences sound somewhat choppy.

I like the concept of the story and the idea of how it progressed but the writing style didn’t suit me and there was a bit too much information telegraphed in advance of events that gave them less impact that I would have liked. The ending was a little too quick and tidy and left me unsatisfied. I don’t consider this a bad book, just not a good book for me.

The Narration:

I’m resistant to giving an in-depth review of my experience with the narration because I’m finding it almost impossible not to conflate my issues with the text with complaints about the narration. My primary issue with the narration was the choppy nature of it but I think it’s safe to wholly ascribe that to the narrators’ diligence in chewing the syntax and giving full weight to the author’s intent (and punctuation) rather than a failure in the performance.

Both narrators have pleasant voices and provide the listener with distinct character voices. Phoebe Strole was especially good at infusing Cassie’s more sardonic lines with the perfect amount of humor and I snorted aloud more than once. Brandon Espinoza handled the voices of the various bootcamp recruits well. He gave them age-appropriate voices while also ably voicing the testosterone-fueled tension that erupted between them while maintaining a sense of the vulnerability present in their voices as their world seemed to crash around them.

two-stars

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Snow White Must Die by Nele NeuhausSnow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus
Narrator: Robert Fass
Series: Bodenstein & Kirchoff #4
Published by AudioGO Ltd. on 1/15/13
Genres: Mystery
Source: Audiobook Jukebox
two-half-stars

Story: C
Narration: B+

The Plot:

Tobias Sartorius was sent to prison for the murder of two girls the summer after he graduated from high school. The case against him was circumstantial since the bodies were never found. After ten years he’s been released and returns to his hometown to find his childhood home in disarray, his father’s restaurant shut down, his parents divorced, and he and his family facing boundless hostility from the townsfolk in Altenhain. When his mother is assaulted and a body is found soon after his return and then another girl goes missing, the horrible events from his past are stirred up into a toxic brew.

Called in to investigate the assault and the newly discovered remains, Detective Superintendent Oliver von Bodenstein and Detective Inspector Pia Kirchoff find themselves investigating both the past murder and the current disappearance. At the same time, they have to contend with inter-office strife in the Division of Violent Crimes at the Regional Criminal Unit in Hofheim as well as struggling with various issues in their personal lives.

My Thoughts:

This is a complex mystery story that relies on a multitude of characters as it winds a twisty path to a final whodunit revelation. I couldn’t shake the sense that I’d picked up a cozy mystery that had been thrown into a blender with a true-crime novel and mixed on high. I’d call it an anti-cozy except the in-depth involvement and accompanying portraits drawn of a large cast of villagers was oddly reminiscent of one, as was the “whodunit” nature of the story and the lack of gratuitous descriptions of violence. The amount of venality, anger, unlikable characters, and dysfunctional personal lives in the story pretty much took the “cozy” aspects to the mat for a body slam, however.

I was slow to warm to this book. I suspect there’s one big reason for that: the majority of my reading selections – especially in detective/mystery fiction – have trained me to focus on one or two primary protagonists and I had a hard time adjusting to the sheer number of detailed perspectives and lives in play. This novel has a large cast of characters and while there is something of a focus on Tobias and the police duo who are investigating the current-day crimes, the story branches out in what seemed like far too many tangential directions.

The police procedural aspects of the story made me expect a certain amount of straightforward presentation of detail but the majority of descriptions tended towards factual rather than atmospheric. This created a mental image of this story, the characters, and the environment that was very black and white rather than full-color and multi-dimensional and so my ability to firmly construct vibrant character sketches and connect to them was limited.

Without knowing what the directive was to the translator (i.e. how much leeway he had to make phrases seem more natural to an English-speaking audience) it almost feels unfair to nit-pick but while the meaning of almost everything was clear, I had a few places where I had to make assumptions. Phrasing like a reference to a necklace found in the “milk room under the sink” and “But until today he’d had those black holes in his memory…” – implying his memory returned today when the context of the story actually indicates it should be “To this day he had those black holes in his memory” (indicating the persistence of his lack of memory) – made me pause. I also found it interesting that it wasn’t until I translated a phrase back into the German words I’m accustomed to seeing it in (Kinder, Küche, Kirche) that I understood the cultural implication/context of its use.

The mystery was engaging and I did enjoy the layer-by-layer reveal of motives and connections among the populace of Altenhain once I was grounded in the story and the cast. There are hints dropped throughout the book so it would benefit the listener to pay close attention. This is the fourth book in this series that follows Bodenstein and Kirchoff and although it worked as a stand-alone I got the sense that the events in the Regional Criminal Unit and in the personal lives of the detectives would have been easier to mentally organize (and would have generated more sympathy for the characters) had I started with the first book.

I found the ending frustrating and that had a noticeable impact on how I graded this one. After the basic outline of who/how had been worked out, there was an hour left in which some very unlikely plot twists took place. By that point there was no room in my brain for a couple of not-introduced-until-now names/people and I was just waiting for the end to make sure everything wrapped up. If you are a frequent consumer of mysteries and police procedurals though, I think there’s a lot in this one that will appeal to you.

The Narration:

The narration worked well and I would imagine that Robert Fass’ delivery will satisfy any listener. Characters were clearly differentiated although I would have found additional delineation/characterization through varied cadences and more character-specific emotional delivery to be beneficial. The narrative and character dialogue was, as I would expect in a translated work, delivered primarily in American accent. Proper nouns, however, were given their full German-accented pronunciation which I appreciated tremendously. Male/female vocal range separation was done well, the narrative voice was distinct, pacing was excellent, the delivery was smooth, and production was top-notch.

 

Thank you to AudioGO for providing me a copy of this audiobook for review purposes via the Solid Gold Reviewer program at www.audiobookjukebox.com
 
two-half-stars

Hunter: A Thriller by Robert Bidinotto

Hunter: A Thriller by Robert BidinottoHunter: A Thriller by Robert Bidinotto
Narrator: Conor Hall
Published by Robert J. Bidinotto on 9/13/12
Genres: Suspense
two-half-stars

Story: C+
Narration: B+

The Plot:

A series of vigilante killings have grabbed headlines in the Virginia/D.C. area. Of even more interest is the fact that with each murder, a recently published newspaper article that exposes how the victims of the murdered criminals were failed by the justice system is left on the body. Dylan Hunter, the journalist responsible for the articles, is a man on a crusade to expose the failings of a system that releases criminals to re-offend. When he attends a victim support group, he meets Annie Woods and the two begin a romantic affair.

Annie is a security officer with the CIA. After the Agency traitor she uncovered is assassinated right in front of her, she vows to find the ‘mole’ responsible for giving away the location of the safe-house he was stashed in. As her life begins to intertwine with Dylan’s, the threads of their separate causes start to overlap.

My Thoughts:

Hunter is a vigilante thriller with good pacing, an interesting and hyper-capable protagonist, and a dose of romantic elements thrown in. Overall, this was a decent listen although there were some areas that I struggled with.

The biggest stumbling block to my full enjoyment of this audiobook was the impact of a tendency to tell rather than show. In terms of the justification for vigilante action, there were multiple scenes that provided an information dump with an accompanying dose of moral outrage that explained why the criminals targeted by the vigilante killer were worth inclusion on his list of targets. When justification is presented in that fashion rather than by allowing me to simply “see” the precipitating events as part of the plot I often feel like I’m being hit with a big moral stick rather than reaching my own conclusions. That lack of subtlety and the simplification of good vs. evil affected my reading enjoyment. Symptomatic of this push to give the reader a conclusion rather than leading them is the way even the musings of the protagonist move from singular to a plural that seems intended to include the reader:

He had enrolled in that world of untruth as an eager volunteer. It had been for a vital cause: to protect his country and its people. Because our enemies use clandestine and covert methods against us, we would be insane to handicap ourselves and risk our very survival by foreswearing such measures in self-defense.
 
There’s a difference between deception and treachery. Sometimes, we must use deception to protect the innocent from evil.

 

My second area of discontent was a particular sex scene that seemed out of context and where I feel the following bit of dialogue didn’t meet what I assume to be its intended goal:

He grabbed the back of her hair. Pressed his lips into light contact with hers. His eyes, so close, bore into hers.
 
“You listen to me, Annie Woods. The one word that’s forbidden when we’re in bed is ‘no.’”

 

Dylan’s alpha/uber-male status had been established by that point and if the sudden inclusion of a scene dealing with sexual consent was intended to entice or titillate readers whose reading includes erotica that deals with power dynamics, it would have been more effective to build to it rather than dropping into the middle of an otherwise rather pleasant love affair.

From a plot standpoint, I wasn’t sure how the opening few scenes, which immediately grabbed my attention, would tie into the story (other than introducing Annie) but they eventually folded in nicely. As the story moved to Dylan’s perspective, I was intrigued by the turn the story was taking and the slow reveal of how it all was going to tie together. I enjoyed the mystery surrounding Dylan’s past and the explosive reveal of it.

While the vigilante’s identity wasn’t shocking (and I assume the omission of his name or immediately identifying information about him during his scenes was to build suspense as to his identity),  the scenes from the his point-of-view were engrossing and the tension surrounding whether he would survive each encounter (let alone get away with it) was ably evoked. The range of weapons employed and the creativity when setting the scene for the discovery of the bodies added to the strong pacing of the book.

Dylan and Annie are multi-dimensional characters and I was able to connect to them and their emotional turmoil. The interaction between Dylan and Annie, their increasing attraction to one another, and the secrets each kept from the other added a dollop of tension. If you’re not set on teasing out a path through a moral quagmire, Hunter holds its own in the vigilante sub-genre of thrillers. Although the inclusion of romantic elements should broaden its appeal to a larger audience, I actually would have preferred a straight thriller.

The Narration:

I enjoyed Conor Hall’s narration and, given the skill displayed, was rather surprised to find that this is the only listing under that name at Audible. Mr. Hall has a deep and resonant voice that is pleasant to listen to. He’s a perfect example of how even a narrator with what I’d consider a bass voice can deftly use slight pitch changes to give female characters completely believable voices in the context of the audiobook. His character differentiation was excellent – including tone, cadence, and occasionally accent variations in addition to the standard pitch alterations – and his delivery of the primary bad guy was particularly effective. He pushed the ‘teeth-gritted/hard-boiled’ voice a little too far for a couple of the characters, giving them a noir-like feel that I found unnecessary but he clearly has a facility for vocal characterization and I hope to hear more of his work.

Disclaimer:

I received this audiobook from the author at no cost to me and with the expressed expectation that my review would be objective.

two-half-stars

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Deadlocked by Charlaine HarrisDeadlocked by Charlaine Harris
Narrator: Johanna Parker
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #12
Published by Recorded Books on 5/1/12
Genres: Fantasy

Story: C+
Narration: A-

Quick Review:

The title of this entry in the Sookie Stackhouse series sums up my feelings. Although I liked it better than the previous book, I get the feeling these books have become a bit deadlocked on moving forward. I keep waiting for an exciting plot, further world development, and/or a character arc explosion and Ms. Harris seems to just be waiting with the pacing. It was a pleasant listen and Johanna Parker’s voice now completely embodies these characters for me but it lacked the excitement and rapidly changing events that hooked me on this series originally.

The Plot:

Publisher’s Summary:

“With Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), in town, it’s the worst possible time for a body to show up in Eric Northman’s front yard—especially the body of a woman whose blood he just drank.

Now, it’s up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl’s fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who’s out to make Sookie’s world come crashing down.”

My Thoughts:

The story begins with a pretty interesting little mystery: who is behind the attempt to set up Eric for murder and are they also trying to break up Eric and Sookie and why? Although that question was answered, it felt like the book started off well, took a detour in the middle to follow Sookie around as she dealt with her friends and relatives and normal life, and then picked up again near the end as the mystery reached a resolution. Sookie’s love for Eric, while still steady, seems to be losing a bit of its shine as she is faced again and again with his practical decision making and the violence that surrounds him. Sookie herself is becoming hardened and throughout this book she just seems tired of all the things going on in her life. That made it hard for me to not feel tired of the slow progression of this story. Her job at Merlotte’s is back to its usual routine although she has a little more decision making power and responsibility because of her loan to Sam.

Sookie’s fairy relatives Claude and Dermot are still living with her and it’s on this front that the second piece of conflict in the story begins. With the closing of the portals to Faery, the otherworldly employees of Hooligans strip club are getting restless and when Claude abandons them to go back into Faery with Niall (fairy prince and Sookie’s great-grandfather) in an effort to investigate who cursed Dermot years ago, their unrest increases. Several are drawn to Sookie’s house and begin hunting in her woods while Dermot tries to manage the business and employees in Claude’s absence.

While that plot bubbles away on the back burner, the Queen of Louisiana pays Sookie a visit to size up the competition for Eric’s hand. A quick encounter and Sookie is back to her everyday routine. There’s some progress in the peripheral characters as babies are born and marriages are announced. I was expecting the visit from Felipe de Castro to turn into a critical event as Eric and Sookie dealt with the repercussions of killing his regent, Victor, but that never materialized and Felipe mostly seemed to fade away. If this all sounds a bit disjointed, it’s just symptomatic of a book that never seemed to really hit its stride with any of the plot threads until the very end, when it was too late to effectively capture my interest. I’ve gradually been losing my interest in this series and was almost ready to give up after the last book so I wasn’t crushed by the recent announcement that the final book will be released next year. I’ll be buying it but just to see how the whole story wraps up for these characters that I’ve followed along with for years.

The Narration:

Johanna Parker brings the expected performance to this installment of the series, which is to say – a very good one. She seems to effortlessly capture the voices and personalities of the large cast of characters and transitions with ease between the varied accents, cadences, inflections, and male/female pitch changes without ever leaving the listener behind or confused. The narration unfailingly provides a moment-by-moment sense of “the here and now” and it’s easy to sink into Sookie’s experiences because of that.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey NiffeneggerHer Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Narrator: Bianca Amato
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on 9/29/09
Genres: Fiction, Mystery

Story: C
Narration: A-

Quick Review:

An intriguing premise quickly collapses under the weight of unlikeable characters, a lack of focus on multiple plot fronts that held few surprises for me, and some inconsistencies in character actions and one particular event. Even an excellent narration couldn’t quite save this for me although it did keep me listening until the end rather than DNF-ing.

Publisher’s Summary:

“When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.”

My Thoughts:

Opening with the death of Elspeth, this book then takes a leisurely path through the grief of her lover Robert and the introduction of her twin nieces. The time spent with Julia and Valentina in America watching them interact with their parents is a thin layer of background information that establishes the fact that neither twin is at all ambitious (or employed) and that Valentina has subsumed her wants and desires to Julia as the more dominant twin. Edie and her husband were at odds with Elspeth for almost all of their married life although the reasons aren’t laid out until much later in the book. The twins come across as uncommonly juvenile to me, even though they are twenty, and that was part of the struggle for me given that they have so much page time. I was unable to like, sympathize, or generate interest in most of the the people in this story. Of all the characters in this book, I most liked Martin, with his OCD and more optimistic mindset and his (mostly absent during the book) wife Marjike.

Leaving the intriguing story of what could have been a study of family dynamics, the twins move to England to take up residence in the apartment Elspeth bequeathed to them They set about exploring their new environment but this acted more as a prop piece for further fleshing out the dynamics between the two and otherwise seemed a listless ramble around the new environs and the new characters they meet. What seems to be a case of an overbearing twin further develops as we learn of Valentina’s health problems. As “mirror image” twins, Valentina was born with many of her internal organs on the opposite side and she has asthma and a weak heart. Julia’s at first overbearing demeanor reveals itself as more of a protective streak for her weaker “half” and Valentina’s smothered personality is revealed as partly related to a weak character and an inability to forge her own path. Robert spends much of the middle of the book avoiding the twins and existing in a pool of grief.

As the presence of Elspeth becomes more and more clear to the girls, Robert begins to play his part in the story. He’s weak both with and in his grief. His avoidance of the twins turns into an odd obsession with following them and then a paltry imitation of infatuation with one of them. The supernatural element introduced with Elspeth was a change of pace and I was enjoying it, thinking the story might start taking off but it ended up being just another messy plot slapped onto an already wobbly structure. I did enjoy the complexity of Elspeth’s character while not particularly finding much to like about her but the next change-up in the plot threw me for a loop with it’s utter unbelievability and I was ready to tune out at that point. There were few surprises as to how events in this book would turn out and while I normally appreciate a less-than tidy resolution to stories, I was disappointed that there was nothing to redeem a batch of generally unlikeable characters.

The Narration:

The narration was excellent and is really what kept me listening. Bianca Amato is quickly becoming a favorite narrator of mine because of her care in handling every part of the author’s narrative, her pleasing voice, the understated strength with which she delivers the emotional content of the characters’ arcs, and the easy transition between character voices. The American accent wasn’t perfect but wasn’t “off” enough to really distract me and every other pat of the narration suited my listening preferences.