Category Archives: Sound Bytes

This Book Scared Stephen King and Grossed Me Out: The Troop by Nick Cutter (Audio) @SimonAudio

cover image of audiobookIn case you’ve missed me, I’m trying to recover from an unexpected blogging slump. I had actually hoped to post more audiobook reviews than usual during June to celebrate National Audiobook Month, but instead, June got away from me almost completely.

Put The Troop by Nick Cutter on your audiobook listening list if you’re looking for a good scare from a book that’s firmly in the traditional horror genre but has enough character development and Lord of the Flies overtones that fans of literary horror might like it too. Did you notice Stephen King’s blurb featured prominently on the cover?

The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best. Not for the faint-hearted, but for the rest of us sick people. It’s the perfect gift for a winter night.” — Stephen King

The Troop came out in February, which is still deep winter up in Maine, but the story takes place over a long weekend in the summer, so it would be perfectly suitable for a summer vacation read, as well as in the winter. Unless, of course, you’re camping alone on an island off the coast of Prince Edward Island in Canada – in which case, The Troop might come a little too close for comfort.

OK, when Stephen King says it’s not for the faint-hearted, that’s saying something. The Troop really is a gross-out fest and pretty darn scary, so it would not make a good family road-trip audiobook choice. (I was listening to this on my way in to work one morning and was the first one in the building. A few minutes later, I jumped a mile when I heard the door open, and this was first thing in the morning and broad daylight.) Remember I mentioned Lord of the Flies (as has every other review and publicist’s notice, I’m sure). The Lord of the Flies isn’t a jolly camping story you want to read to the family around the campfire, and neither is The Troop!

Nick Cutter is actually a pseudonym for Canadian literary fiction author Craig Davidson, I found out while writing this review, so that explains the literary overtones that seep into this story of blood, gore, and other bodily fluids coming out instead of staying inside where they belong. The author says in an interview that he was a voracious consumer of horror fiction and movies, growing up, and that’s why he decided to write a horror novel himself.

The audiobook edition is narrated by actor Corey Brill, and is excellent! I highly recommend listening to The Troop if you have a strong stomach and are in the mood for some no-holds-barred horror.

The Troop
Cutter, Nick, author
Brill, Corey, narrator
Simon & Schuster Audio
February 2014

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Scary Stories for Grown-Ups: The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4 (Audio) @BlackstoneAudio

cover image of audiobookThe Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4 (Night Shade, 2012) is an anthology of stories published in 2011, selected by editor Ellen Datlow. In the 2014 audiobook edition from Blackstone Audio, the stories are read by various narrators, all experienced, apparently, but new to me; each narrator was well matched to the stories he/she read.

For someone looking to dip a toe into the world of audiobooks and/or horror, this anthology (and the other volumes in the series) is a good way to go. I only read horror occasionally, so The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4 serves as a reminder that horror is a wide genre, encompassing dark fantasy and psychological thrillers, as well as Gothic fiction and classics like Dracula by Bram Stoker. Non-fans tend to pigeonhole horror as slice & dice, but the thematic variety and literary quality of the stories in this collection will probably make you think twice about lumping all horror stories into a single category. There are no zombies, vampires, or werewolves here – although monsters of other sorts, human and inhuman, do make appearances.

The print edition of The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4 has a long introduction by editor Ellen Datlow, citing numerous short stories, novellas, novels, and other works of horror that she also recommends from the current year’s publications, including naming stories she wishes she had had space to include in this volume. Listing all award winners, etc., the introduction is really an overview of notable publications in the horror genre over the previous year. Since the introduction doesn’t elaborate on the stories that are in the volume or on the editor’s selection process, it makes sense that it is left out of the audiobook edition.

At the end of the print edition, however, there is also a list of Honorable Mentions and mini bios of the writers whose stories were selected for the current volume. It would have been nice to have the bios included at the end of the audiobook edition, at least, because I was curious about the authors, most of whom I was unfamiliar with. Also, I would have liked the audiobook narrators to identify themselves along with the title and author of each story, because I didn’t have any packaging that included this information, so I didn’t know who was reading what.

The lead-off story in this volume is by Stephen King, who needs no introduction. His chilling story, The Little Green God of Agony, is about a man in chronic pain over a year after a plane crash and his live-in physical therapist, during a last-ditch attempt to conquer the pain. Like most readers probably will, I wondered how much of this story came to him as he lay in agony after being hit by a car and coming close to death himself. In the beginning, I thought The Little Green God of Agony wasn’t especially scary and wondered how much drama the author could possibly squeeze out of a story that takes place in a few hours around a man lying in a home hospital bed. But the answer turned out to be – quite a lot!

Although all of the stories in this collection are very good, these memorable stories seemed especially well suited to audio:

The Moraine by English writer Simon Bestwick – A middle-aged husband and wife on a hike in the mountains in the Lake District of England choose a challenging trail, ignoring the warnings of the locals. This story is written in the first-person with the frightened husband telling the story, and is read really well by a narrator with an English accent.

Looker by Canadian writer David Nickle – Told by a guy talking in his head to his ex-girlfriend, this story’s perfect for audio, because a reader isn’t sure how reliable the narrator is. It starts with his meeting a new girl on the beach that he’s walked down to to escape the party that his ex is also attending – with her new boyfriend.

Little Pig by English writer Anna Taborska – A horrifying description of a family’s horse-drawn carriage flight through the woods in Poland during wartime.

Omphalos by American writer Livia Llewellyn – The author of this story writes in the sub-genre of “dark erotica;” this story about a family vacation is highly disturbing and strange, told in the second-person from the point of view of the family’s daughter.

All in all, there are 18 stories in the collection, touching on a variety of phobias (from spiders to dogs to monsters); taboos; secret insecurities; and buried childhood memories. Something for everyone, but these are definitely stories for adults!

The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 4
Datlow, Ellen, ed.
Various, narr.
Blackstone Audio, 2014
9781482951257
16.9 hrs.

Disclosure: I received a free download of this audiobook for review purposes from the publisher, Blackstone Audio, through Audiobook Jukebox.

Other opinions (on the print edition):
chaotic compendiums
Now Is Gone

Sound Bytes badgeThis review is linked up to Sound Bytes, a monthly link-up of audiobook reviews at Devourer of Books.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Audio) & Musing About Series @BlackstoneAudio

cover image of How the Light Gets InHow the Light Gets In, published by Blackstone Audio at the end of August, is another fine example of the great partnership of author Louise Penny and audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham. It’s the ninth novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

If you haven’t heard of these books yet, where have you been? The author writes a unique blend of police procedural and cozy mystery that seems to please both literary fiction fans and suspense fans, as well as readers who “don’t read mysteries.” Louise Penny blends dark and light themes, using humor and the fully developed personalities of her characters to keep death and its attendant depression and despair from overwhelming the reader.

Also, the audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham, as I and many other audiobook listeners have said before, IS Armand Gamache. No other voice will do.

These books about Chief Inspector Gamache and his fellow homicide detectives, their families, and their friends in the remote village of Three Pines, are also a good example of why they should be called a sequence, not a series. “Series” used to mean that you could pick up any book – the first or the thirty-first – and find a complete story with just enough about the characters to get by on, and you would get the skinny on the characters in every book, because they stayed pretty much the same from one book to the next. It was often even different authors writing the books, all under the same pen name. Series books were formulaic, so readers familiar with the series would get what they expected and new readers could jump in any time with no problem.

Series books are different now. They are sequential in more ways than by publication date. Characters develop. Circumstances change. If you read a book out of order, you’re going to hit major spoilers for the book that came before. The main character could be married or newly divorced, thought dead, gone into retirement or come back out of retirement; secondary characters could actually BE dead, or be double agents, or be having an affair.

This is a problem for publishers, and librarians, and probably booksellers too. And not just because publishers seem to be unwilling to print the series titles in order inside the book anymore. We all want people to be as excited as we are that the latest book in one of our favorite series is out, but a reader who starts reading Louise Penny with How the Light Gets In is not going to have the benefit of understanding how events in the earlier eight books have built up to the crucial moments for Chief Inspector Gamache and his department that take place in How the Light Gets In.

So the bad news about these books being a sequence and not a series is: you need to start with Still Life and keep reading until you get to this one. The good news is: you’re going to love all of them.

If you’re an audiobook listener, you will want to listen to these! Even if you don’t like mysteries.

How the Light Gets In
Penny, Louise
Cosham, Ralph
Blackstone Audio
August 2013
9781427233011
$39.99 US
approx 13 hours on 11 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.

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