Tuesday, May 29, 2012


by Mainak Dhar
narrated by John Lee
2012, Tantor Audio
6.00 hours

Zombiestan is a bildungsroman that takes place in the zombiefied country of India in a post-911 world. Mayukh was a seventeen-year old gamer without much responsibility and few concerns when, far away in Afghanistan, bio-hazmat materials that were being delivered to the Taliban were ignited by drone-delivered bombs. The chemical reaction created an infectious compound that found its first victims and carriers with the Taliban members who followed up at the site to see if there was anything to recover. Moving on from the site, these would-be terrorists ended up spreading the contagion as they boarded planes. The rate of the infection spread exponentially and manifested itself in necrotizing humans, rendering them virtually invincible and, transmitting Taliban sympathies into the memories of the newly dead. As the contagion swept into India and black-turbaned Taliban zombies posed an increasing threat to societal structures and personal safety, Mayukh was goaded into action. In a trek towards safety, Mayukh gets a hyper-accelerated lesson in growing up.

Mayukh is not alone as he makes his journey: There is a U.S. Navy SEAL, an older woman with a dual identity as a professor and a romance novelist, a teen-aged girl and, the girl's little brother who may hold the secret to an antidote. All the characters in Zombiestan have an arc of development as each rises to the occasion of the crises they find themselves in. While the temptation always lurks to take the easy way out, this cast of characters, individually and together, clings to their of sense of what is right. One of the great things about Zombiestan is that, unlike many zombie-apocalyptic novels, this one keeps hope alive in the story: There are survivors; There are people who help; There is the idea of a future. The story faces forward even while conditions worsen.

Zombiestan is a fun novel, full of action and a unique take on zombies. The writing is a bit rough, with a number of repetitive descriptions and cliches; but the plot never stalls and scenes are strongly depicted. Mainuk Dhar may have taken the concept of zombies a bit far afield in depicting them with  rapidly evolving sentience, organizational and strategic skills and an ability to learn and adapt; on the other hand, Dhar's terrorist zombies make an obvious political statement if you want to go there.

John Lee, the British-American narrator who won an Audie for his reading of White Tiger (by Aravind Adiga), brings his Indian accent back for Zombiestan. John Lee has a highly enunciated style of delivery and brings well-delineated characters into play. His Americans pretty much all sound like cowboys; but since the Americans in Zombiestan are all U.S. military personnel, it works :-)

See Also:
  • Zombie in Love (by Kelly diPucchio; illustrated by Scott Campbell) - Print review

Other Stuff: Zombiestan (by Mainak Dhar; narrated by John Lee) is a part of the

I received a MP3-CD edition of Zombiestan (by Mainak Dhar; narrated by John Lee) under reviewer auspices from Tantor Audio. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Armchair Audies: Audio Drama

When I first signed onto the Armchair Audies, I hadn't intended to judge a specific category! I had originally intended just to ameliorate my position as a Bad Employee/Bad Wife. I ended up listening to all five finalists in the Audio Drama category; plus one in the Thriller/Suspense category (Unknown, a.k.a. Out of My Head by Didier can Cauwelaert; narrated by Bronson Pinchot) and one in the Original Works category (The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Vol. 3: Encore for Murder by Mickey Spillane and Max Alan Collins; performed by a full cast starring Stacy Keach.) Before the Armchair Audies began, I had already listened to The Thank You Economy (written and narrated by Gary Vaynerchuk ) - in the Business/Educational category and, Go the F*ck to Sleep (by Adam Mansbach; narrated by Samuel L. Jackson) - in the Humor category. This brings the total of finalists that I listened-to to nine and; the fact that I'm only a slightly better employee for having listened to five out of the twelve Blackstone Audio, Inc.-produced titles and; still a bad wife since I didn't listen to any of the audiobook finalists that DH narrated :-/

Without further ado, my picks in win-place-show-the rest order!

The Mark of Zorro
based on the novel by Johnston McCulley
dramatized by Yuri Rasovsky
studio performance by a full cast starring Val Kilmer
and featuring Ruth Livier, Elizabeth Peña, Armin Shimerman and Meshach Taylor
3.1 hours

I'm going to admit that I had reservations heading into this audio. My past listening experiences to audio dramas had not been great: a lot of sound effects, hammy acting and poor editing made me wary; but this audio was slickly produced and a lot of Fun! It is the audio that actually has engendered a real interest in audio drama for me, now that I can see all that it can really be! I was really torn between The Mark of Zorro and I, Claudius as to which to pick for the Best slot; but when The Mark of Zorro was also nominated for Best Achievement in Production, that tipped the scales in its favor. 

+ Excellent Production Values (nominated for Best Achievement in Production)
+ Lighthearted and engaging story
+ One of the late Yuri Rasovsky's last productions
+ Val Kilmer
- There was one sound effect, a musical underscoring phrase that didn't seem right (see my review by clicking on the title link above)

I, Claudius
based on the novel by Robert Graves
A BBC Radio 4 full cast production starring Tom Goodman Hill as Claudius and, Derek Jacobi as Augustus
Ⓟ 2011, AudioGo, Ltd
5.8 hours (12 episodes @ ≈30 minutes each)

I loved this audio drama too! Robert Graves' historical fiction is brought to glorious life with strong performances and the technical and artistic expertise of BBC Radio 4. The production quality of the performances are "edge-to-edge," meaning that the first and last moments of the listening experience are equally good: There isn't a soft start or slagging off in the middle or the end. As for the story itself,  Roman politics makes modern politics look like a children's spat on the playground! It's a great "vicarious" experience of ancient Roman life and Robert Graves' novel.

+ Excellent production values (BBC has production skillz)
+ Thoroughly engaging story
+ Derek Jacobi and Tom Goodman Hill
- Felt like I had been slightly cheated with a bit of a bait-and-switch: Derek Jacobi played Augustus, not Claudius (see my review my clicking on the title link above)
- Instead of being presented as a seamless story, the episodes were broken up with intro- and outro- credits as originally produced. Every set of credits beyond the first and last interrupted the listening experience.

We're Alive: A Story of Survival, The First Season  
created by Shane Salk and Kc Wayland; written by Kc Wayland
12 podcasts  performed by a full cast
10.30 hours

For the zombies fans out there, this is pretty epic! It's a compilation of a very popular podcast program featuring a group of survivors in Southern California. It's loaded with "testosterone grade sound effects," interesting predicaments and some strong performances. The script carries real-life survival considerations and the characters are well-defined. The strength of the performances evolve as the actors settle into their roles (see my review by clicking the title link.)

+ Interesting story that will leave you on the hook for The Second Season
+ "Testosterone Grade Sound Effects" appropriate to the tenor of the story
- "Soft start" until the production settles into its groove.
- Not everyone is a fan of "testosterone grade sound effects" - Also, there was a bit where you actually find yourself listening to two people eat a candy bar :-/

"The Graduate"
based on the novel by Charles Webb and;
the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry
dramatized by Terry Johnson
live stage reading performed by a full cast starring Kathleen Turner and Matthew Rhys
1.65 hours

I had no expectations of the audio whatsoever as I had not read the novel upon which it was based, seen the play or even seen the iconic movie! It turned out to be funnier and perhaps more poignant than I thought it would be. Kathleen Turner was so perfect as Ms Robinson and I really wished I could have seen a live performance in NY. For this recording, which was a live stage reading (not an actual full play performance) I wasn't crazy about the montage of dialogue and sound effects as it removed the listener from the intimacy of the experience. Also, the audience's reaction anticipated what the listener could divine which was a bit disconcerting (see my review by clicking the title link.)

+ Funny, quotable lines
+ Kathleen Turner and Matthew Rhys
+ Dated script
- Sound effects (montage)
- Audience anticipation

The Arthur Miller Collection
by Arthur Miller
performed by various full casts
Ⓟ 2011, L.A. Theatre Works
18.60 hours

This is such an important collection to have! While many may be familiar with some of Arthur Miller's more famous plays, chances are you haven't seen or heard many that are featured in this collection. And too, with theatre no longer a prominent feature in our cultural lives, the chances are diminishing that you will see any but the more famous performed. There are ten plays presented, all from different companies of players. However, the different production qualities inherent in gathering performances from different sources makes for an overall uneven audio offering. The disparity of performance and production qualities probably wouldn't be noticeable if you didn't listen to all the plays back-to-back though; and moreover, Miller is so depressing that you may not want to do that any way :-/

+  Important works
+ Many of the plays are performed by seasoned actors and stars 
- Arthur Miller is depressing as hell
- Uneven production and performance values

One of the tings that I learned about Audio Drama overall is that the term covers quite a bit of different types of production: studio, radio, podcasts and live stage readings! In some ways, it was like comparing apples and oranges, so I had to judge the finalists as to how well they met my expectations as an audiobook offering overall. Production quality and performances were considered on parity with the story itself. It will be interesting to see how my picks stack up against the actual winners!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me
by Ian Fleming
narrated by Nadia May
4.9 hours

The Spy Who Loved Me is the ninth novel in the James Bond series and completely different from Fleming's other books in the series: The story is told from the view point of a female character and is devoid of much of the action and language that are the coin in the world of espionage. Instead, what we have is a sexual ingenue who gains experience rather quickly through this story arc which takes her from her native French-speaking Canada to London, Switzerland and back to North America. In seeking to start over from her misadventures of the heart and body, Viv has fled Europe and seeks to start over in Florida. She first heads back to her hometown and then starts her journey southwards. In upstate New York, short on funds, she agrees to work as a front desk clerk at The Dreamy Pines Motor Court. Here, a situation develops and Viv finds herself in a jam.

Enter James Bond. His car has broken down on a dark and stormy night and he seeks refuge at the motel. The scene is set: There's thunder, lightening, bad guys and a damsel in distress! The action unfolds quickly and with missing scenes: For the first time in a Bond novel, we are not sure of what Bond is doing throughout as we are only seeing him when and how Viv sees him. And the image that she sees, without the benefit of actually knowing him, provides another dimension to Bond's character in that we have a greater sense of his physicality and presence via the impact he has on his surroundings and people.

The sexual content of The Spy Who Loved Me is surprisingly explicit, given that it was published in 1962 - a time when social conventions had not yet allowed for open discourse on sex and sexuality. Even now, nearly fifty years later, the sexual candor may make the listener uncomfortable, especially when Viv delivers the lines about how,
All Women love semi-rape. They love to be taken. It was his sweet brutality against my bruised body that had made his act of love so piercingly wonderful...
Fleming always manages to deliver a provocative sentiment in his Bond novels; but the whole of The Spy Who Loved Me seems to have been intended to incite unconventional sentiment: The departure from the action-adventure modus, the detailing of Viv's sex life, the contempt Fleming seems to bear women... At the same time, there is a certain literary bravery in Fleming's willingness to write something different and controversial, inserting it into a successful series where certain expectations had been set.

The Spy Who Loved Me was narrated by the British-American narrator, Nadia May (a.k.a. Wanda McCaddon.) Nadia May delivered the story with confidence and empathy; but Ms May sounds a bit old to be voicing a twenty-five year-old, especially as there is no convention with the story indicating that The Spy Who Loved Me is the reminiscence of an older woman. The tense is only slightly "future past," so listeners may reasonably have expected a younger voice. There were minor processing issues in regard to the quality of the audio itself, most noticeably at the beginning of the audio; but nothing terribly egregious: Perhaps a slightly-too-heavy hand on the expander which led to an odd sound chop at the end of some words.

See Also:
The Shaken, Not Stirred: A Simon Vance Audiobook Challenge Featuring James Bond (Offical Web-Site)
Casino Royale (Audiobook Review)
Goldfinger Audiobook Review)Quantum of Solace/For Your Eyes Only (Audiobook Review)
Thunderball (Audiobook Review)

Other Stuff: The Spy Who Loved Me (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Nadia May) is a part of the

I received a MP3-CD edition of The Spy Who Loved Me (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Nadia May) from Blackstone Audio, Inc. under professional courtesy/reviewer auspices. I had no involvement in the production of this title. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

We're Alive: A Story of Survival, The First Season

We're Alive: A Story of Survival, The First Season  
created by Shane Salk and Kc Wayland; written by Kc Wayland
12 podcasts  performed by a full cast
10.30 hours

Michael, Angel and Saul are three soldiers in present day Northern California ordered to report for duty: to restore order to their beleaguered city which is ravaged by "zombies." The infected are necrotic bodies that can only be truly taken down by fire or beheading and, the transmutation of the corporeal states is triggered via a bite from one of the infected.

We're Alive: A Story of Survival, The First Season is a collection of twelve podcasts that details the story of Michael, Angel and Saul as they make their way through  the new landscape where the infrastructure is crumbling and other survivors are recovered. The survivors hold a position in an abandoned apartment building, referred to amongst themselves as "The Tower." Here, the military triumvirate fight to provide food, clothing and shelter as well as security against the zombies and "Mallers." The Mallers are the convicts from a local prison who  have holed up at a local mall and who pose a threat with their unchecked violence and ambitions to seize the Tower.  The Tower residents and the Mallers are the antithesis of the other, representing civilization and anarchy respectively.

The production quality of We're Alive: A Story of Survival, The First Season is very much in the tradition of foley inspired radio drama. Sue Zizza of Sue Media Productions, once coined the phrase "testosterone grade sound effects" when describing the heavy usage of sound effects like guns, squealing tires, etc. in an audio drama and, in the case of We're Alive: A Story of Survival, The First Season, the description is apt. This is not to say that the "testosterone grade sound effects" aren't appropriate; only that subtlety is not in play. The sound effects take an almost equal place in the sound track as the characters' lines, as opposed to underscoring or used in service to the action or dialogue.

Jim Gleason, Shane Salk and Nate Geez, as Michael, Angel and Saul respectively are noteworthy in voicing their roles convincingly, naturally and without getting into excessive hyperbole. However, the pulp tenor of the story lent itself to a temptation that many of the other performers could not resist: to drop into over-characterization or stereotyping. Mostly, this works to keeps the characters distinct; but occasionally, a performer's choices didn't work out quite as well as might have been expected: Claire Dodin plays Riley, a French restauranteur/survivor/Tower resident. Ms Dodin seems to have had a little trouble settling into a French accent, which seemed to have come by way of  Britain and Asia; all of which left the character of Riley as something of a enigma until the story spelled it out as to who she was and where she came from. Datu, a Filipino who worked as the apartment building's maintenance supervisor before becoming the Tower's engineer, sounded more like Apu from The Simpsons than he did a native from the Philippines. There was no question as to who was speaking when any of the performers rendered their lines; it was just a bit jarring when a performer didn't really seem to be "in character."

There is plenty of action, adventure, and "testosterone grade sound effects" to galvanize the listener to the story: There are no guarantees as to who will survive and what will happen next and the unexpected twists in We're Alive: A Story of Survival, The First Season will keep you on the hook for Season Two.  

05/24/2012 - Correction: Strikethrough of the word "Northern" in the first line. Bell, CA is a town in Southern California. 

See Also:

Other Stuff:
We're Alive: A Story of Survival - The First Season (created by Shane Salk and Kc Wayland; written by Kc Wayland; performed by a full cast) qualifies for:

I borrowed a LIbrary CD edition of We're Alive: A Story of Survival - The First Season (created by Shane Salk and Kc Wayland; written by Kc Wayland; performed by a full cast) from Blackstone Audio, Inc. I had no involvement in the production of We're Alive: A Story of Survival - The First Season (created by Shane Salk and Kc Wayland; written by Kc Wayland; performed by a full cast.) I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Crucible

The Crucible
by Arthur Miller
performed by Irene Aranga, Rene Auberjonois, Ed Begley, Jr., Bud Cort, Richard Dreyfuss, Judyann Elder, Hector Elizondo, Fionnula Flanagan, Ann Hearn, Carol Kane, Stacy Keach, Joe Spano, Michael York, and others

John Proctor must defend both his wife and himself against the charges of witchcraft that a a former lover of his has instigated against them. Abigail Williams, a spiteful seventeen-year-old who initially accuses Elizabeth Proctor of witchcraft may have done so to get Goody Proctor out of the way and assume the Goody Proctor's place; or she may have leveled the charge as an act of revenge against John Proctor for discontinuing their affair. Whatever the cause, Abigail Williams has only to act convincingly for a community of superstitious and gullible people for the charge to gain credibility. John Proctor, in his attempts to save his wife, gets caught up in the same vortex of ignorance and irrational beliefs and ends up having to decide between honor before God and honor amongst men. The time and setting is Salem, MA in the late 17th century - a time devoid of forensic science and a time when conviction carried the weight of evidence. The Salem Witch Trials became infamous in their unswerving and dogmatic approach that blinded the justice system to the truth.

This classic play of Arthur Miller's was written in response to the McCarthyism that held the Senate and the public in its thrall in the 1950s. Fears of Communism had reached fever pitch and no one was above suspicion. Many were accused with no more than a naming from a "witness"  and as a result, many lives and reputations were destroyed as common sense was routed out in favor of unsubstantiated claims. Overall themes of the father-son relationships and legacy, of the American Dream, of the Greek sense of tragedy that are explored in many of Miller's plays are largely missing in The Crucible owing to the play's very specific intention of being a didactic tool to show the public the insanity of McCarthyism.

The star-studded cast of veteran stage actors promises extraordinary performances and they deliver. This was originally a BBC Radio production recorded in Culver City, CA and the directorial expertise that BBC Radio brings to audio drama is not to be denied. Each role is given its due, creating a dynamic tension. The emotive interpretations, ranging from whispers to screams, generate uneasiness as the tragedy unfolds. There are, however, instances when dialogue is difficult to discern. Uneven sound levels and low registers/frequencies make certain nuances of the play hard to pick out if the listener is not on headsets.

See Also:
The Armchair Audies (Official Page)
The Mark of Zorro (Audiobook Review)
The Graduate (Audiobook Review)
I, Claudius (Audiobook Review)

The Man Who Had All the Luck (Audiobook Review)
All My Sons (Audiobook Review)
Death of a Salesman (Audiobook Review)

Other Stuff: I purchased a library CD edition of The Arthur Miller Collection (by Arthur Miller; performed by various full casts) from PaperbackShopUS via the Amazon Marketplace. The Crucible is the fourth play in the collection and is available for individual digital dnload. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
live stage reading performed by Steven Culp, Maureen Flannigan, Jason Henning, Jane Kaczmarck, Stacy Keach, Sam McMurray, Kathryn Meisle, Tim Morrison, John Sloan, Kate Steele, and Kenneth Williams
2.2 hours

Death of a Salesman is about Willy Loman, a traveling salesman who has worked hard all his life to create a legacy of greatness for his sons to emulate and build upon. This greatness rests not so much on education or cultivated intelligence, but upon a man's innate charisma which Willy believes can be parlayed into networking skills and a successful career (which in turn is measured by who you know.) However, neither of Willy's sons have lived up to his expectations and so the foundation upon which Willy has built his legacy bears examination. The inspection reveals cracks in Willy's ethics and is the substance of this American Tragedy. The idea of a father's legacy to his sons, more specifically the idea of the father doing his best to do what is best for his sons, was introduced in the interview with Michael Hackett, the director of The Man Who Had All the Luck and is a dominant theme in Death of a Salesman.

Whatever the original concept of Willy Loman's physicality was when Death of a Salesman was first written, the image has been "owned" by Lee J. Cobb since Cobb played Loman in the film adaptation in 1966. Since then, audiences expect a bear of a man, a brutish, forceful man to play the role; and if a director chooses to cast against the Cobb-type, criticism is sure to follow. In this regard, Stacy Keach does not disappoint. He is what the audiences want: a mans whose volume in voice is a measure of his will. Neither Keach or Jane Kaczmarck (as Linda Loman) are the most transparent of performers: Listeners will hear both of the actors before they hear the characters; but both actors deliver what the audience wants: assertive and emphatic performances.

See Also:
The Armchair Audies (Official Page)
The Mark of Zorro (Audiobook Review)
The Graduate (Audiobook Review)
I, Claudius (Audiobook Review)
The Man Who Had All the Luck (Audiobook Review)
All My Sons (Audiobook Review)

Other Stuff: I purchased a library CD edition of The Arthur Miller Collection (by Arthur Miller; performed by various full casts) from PaperbackShopUS via the Amazon Marketplace. Death of a Salesman is the third play in the collection and is available for individual purchase in CD edition. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Zombie in Love

Zombie in Love
by Kelly DiPucchio
illustrated by Scott Campbell
Atheneum Books for Young Readers,
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division
Published: 08/23/2011
For Ages: 4-8

Mortimer is a lonely, zombie boy looking for a date to The Cupid's Ball. From the ghoulish environs of his home, he tries to find that special someone; but all the human girls he approaches are nonplussed. Then Mortimer gets an idea...

Zombie in Love is a cute, humorous story about how there is someone for everyone. The reading level is very easy, skewing more towards the four-year-old's reading ability than the eight-year-old's; but the artwork and universal appeal (who hasn't felt like Mortimer in his loneliness at one point in their lives?) makes this a great novelty book for teens and adults as well.

The words in and of themselves create the framework for the art of Scott Campbell. His watercolors wash over the pages in gentle tones, in contrast to the black ink renderings one might expect in a zombie tale. The muted tones make this easy on the eyes (and less-scary for small children.) There is nothing graphically explicit, which isn't to say the illustrations aren't detailed. It's the details in each of the paintings that bring out the humor in the story, contrasting with the text by offsetting the sentences as understatements. Neutral background washes and a balance of cool and warm figures in the foreground are compositionally well balanced and offset each other to create darkish but palatable pictures.

Scan of the first two pages of Zombie in Love

What parents might have to explain: Zombies; and the fact that worms can't do the things that are depicted in the book :-D

Other Stuff: I purchased Zombie in Love (by Kelly DiPucchio; illustrated by Scott Campbell) from Barnes & Noble in Medford, OR. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.