Monday, July 2, 2012

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Shelter by Harlan Coben

I'm just full of ideas for new features lately.  This one is courtesy of my new job.  Every day that I work, I drive roughly 45 minutes each way.  The drive is beautiful, and this time of year there are always sandhill cranes in the grasses near the highway, but it's still a long commute.  My boss strongly urged me to try audiobooks.  I protested a bit, as I prefer print and claim to be a bad listener.  Really, I retain what I read far better than what I hear.  But, I gave it a try with a nonfiction true crime by Ann Rule (to be reviewed in a double feature with another of her audiobooks soon).  It does pass the time.  And, I take in more books than I would otherwise - and therefore have more to review.

Welcome to cover-to-cover commuting, my audiobook review feature.  First, let me tell you about Shelter, a YA mystery by bestselling author Harlan Coben, and read by Nick Podehl.

Checkouts: I'll keep it in mind for when I get the charter school's audiobook collection started.
Source: Checked out from school/public library (sources' checkouts: 10)
Typical reader/listener: Teen boys, fans of Harlan Coben

Synopsis: Mickey Bolitar is having a rough year.  His father died in a car accident, his distraught mother turned to drugs and is currently in rehab, and Mickey has to live with his estranged uncle Myron (protagonist of Mr. Coben's primary series).  He starts the new school year on the right foot, with a beautiful, kind girlfriend ... but then she disappears with barely a trace.  Can Mickey find her?

My Goodreads rating: A generous 5 stars

I'm not a fan of mysteries, and was skeptical when my boss practically shoved this book on CD into my hands as she gushed about it.  But, I'm glad I gave it a try.  This really works well as an audiobook, and it held my interest throughout the narrative.  A major reason for this is Mr. Podehl's voice acting.  He captures the tone of a teenaged narrating protagonist very well, with distinctive voices for the supporting cast.  The voices for some of the adult females, particularly the gym teacher, came across as flamboyantly gay instead of feminine, but it worked - that's likely just how Mickey would have imitated her!

If all of Mr. Podehl's work is this good, I may seek out other audiobooks he's voiced.  (Here's a list of works he's been a part of, from his web site.)

The other half of the audiobook, the writing that's being read, objectively pleased me.  The plot was engaging and edgy.  There were side-plots and unraveling back-stories.  I found the characters interesting, particularly Mickey's new friend E-ma, the sassy, plump, emo girl who is initially reluctant to be befriended by a tall jock like the protagonist.  And I must not leave out the goofy sidekick Mickey finds himself with - Spoon, who is unrepentantly geeky and spouts random trivia.  These are such vivacious characters.

While I'm being generous and giving a mystery 5 stars, I do have to say that I realized what I don't like about the genre.  Mickey is just a teen boy, trying to solve what could be a kidnapping.  Other mystery novels feature librarians, caterers, cat owners, and other ordinary people not normally involved in crime-solving ... solving crimes.  Once you go beyond who took Aunt Gertrude's antique candy bowl or where the elderly next-door neighbor buried a box of money during the Great Depression, you're entering territory that's, well ...

... the stuff of cartoons.
Really, when all is said and done in Shelter, I'm surprised the bad guys didn't say something like, "If it weren't for you pesky kids!"

But I know that many people like mysteries, and they probably look at my preferred novels that are full of dragons and magic, and shake their heads too.

If you're looking to try a mystery, give this one a shot.  If you're looking for a step between the Hardy Boys and adult mysteries, this probably fits the bill.  And if genres are irrelevant to you, you're awesome, and so is this book.

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