Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

PriestChapelwoodWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrators: James Patrick Cronin, Julie McKay

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2015)

Length: 13 hours 32 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Borden Dispatches

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it reads just fine as a stand alone.

Set roughly 30 years after the events that take place in Book 1 (Maplecroft), Lisbeth Borden is finding retirement lonely and boring. She orders books and papers, adopts feral cats, and keeps up an on going letter to her now dead sister Emma. Then the odd and gruesome events of Birmingham, Alabama catch her eye. Then an Inspector Wolf contacts her and asks her to join him on his investigation into the hatchet murders as he suspects that there is more to it, and also that Lisbeth has had some previous dealings with this particular evil.

While I enjoyed Book 1 more than this book, it was still worthy. Book 1 had all the mystique of the Lizzie Borden historical case tied to it even before I cracked open the cover. This book didn’t come with that mystique, so the story in and of itself had to build the anticipation and it did a great job of it! It’s early 1920s and Prohibition is still firmly in place. In Alabama, we have the True Americans group, which is trying to look a bit more respectable than the Ku Klux Clan and yet still trying to push politics and civil rights in the same direction. Unwed daughters, despite their age, don’t have the legal right to go against their father’s wishes on where to live or work. Essentially, it’s a hotbed of angry, dissatisfied people. Perfect for the summoning of Cthulu monsters.

Inspector Simon Wolf played a very small part in Book 1 but he is front and center here in Book 2. A dear friend of his, a Catholic priest, asks for his aid and he arrives too late to do much for his friend. But he does his best to assist the young lady (Ruth Stevenson) who befriended the priest. He often portrays himself as attached to a police office, but he’s not. No, his office investigates the unusual. Here in Alabama he’s still referred to as the Yank and he has to learn the niceties of Southern hospitality to get along with folks. Wolf is an interesting character being a gentleman, a man who enjoys a good meal, and the owner of a peculiar sense of humor.

Ruth is in her early 20s and is determined to get away from her parents. On the surface, her father is the typical abusive domineering patriarch of the family while Ruth’s mom is this submissive servant of her husband’s orders. She’s tried running away multiple times, but she’s always dragged home. Legally, she can’t go against this because she isn’t married. Her Catholic priest friend helps solve that by finding her a kind (if older) husband. However, Catholics are not accepted by the mainstream Protestant Alabama society. Her father doesn’t approve of Ruth’s elopement to a Catholic Puerto Rican. But what’s more, he joined the Chapelwood church and Ruth was suppose to join too. She’s key to the church’s sinister endeavors. She’s no fainting lily. Betimes she’s scared but she acknowledges that and then pushes on. She also has a strong sense of her personal rights and that makes it ever so much harder for those who want to continue on with their human sacrifices.

As you can see, we have an awesome setting. It’s a slow burn as all the people and aspects get into place. There’s plenty here to intrigue you so I was never bored with the book. Once we have everything in place, the pace picks up. Some of the characters already knew of the human-like monsters, while others have to be brought around to the idea. We even get to spend some time in the head of a former Chapelwood church member who feels the only way to hold off the tide of evil is to take out the designated Chapelwood sacrifices before Chapelwood can sacrifice them appropriately. Yeah. Totally chilling logic. It’s done very well and, as odd as it sounds, I saw why this character did what they did.

This story is a great mix of historical fiction and slow-burn horror. The historical basis made the story that much richer. You can tell the author put quite a bit of research into what was going on in early 1920s Alabama and into understanding how those events and politics and social norms came to be. The horror aspect is not all gore and violence. It’s about things so beyond our understanding that it can push the limits of one’s sanity. It’s not done in some big dramatic way. This isn’t a slasher flick. There’s sound logic and deep thoughts that go into why our characters do what they do, for ultimate good or evil. These characters are complicated and that makes me love or hate them all the more.

Plus the imagery of a 60 year old spinster taking up an axe to save the world is just too awesome!

 

The Narration: Both our narrators did a great job with regional accents. It required quite a bit of subtlety at times and it made the listening experience worthy. James Patrick Cronin even varied the speeds of his dialogue based on the regional dialect he was employing. Julie McKay’s performance of Ruth was excellent with that Southern sass going on.  

What I Liked: 60 year old Lisbeth is awesome; great historical base for the story; the big scope of these Cthulu-like monsters and their human worshipers; it’s a delicious slow burn filled with anticipation; all the characters are interesting because they are complicated; the ending was satisfying and worthy. 

What I Disliked: Nothing. This was truly an excellent book.

What Others Think:

Smart Bitches Trashy Books

Kim Heniadis

Pop Culture Uncovered

 

Kings or Pawns by J. J. Sherwood

SherwoodKingsOrPawnsWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Matthew Lloyd Davies

Publisher: Silver Helm (2015)

Length: 14 hours 18 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Kings

Author’s Page

Set in a Tolkienesque fantasy world of elves, humans, and centaurs, some strive to do what is right while others seek to take what they can with might. Young King Hairem, whose father was recently slain and much of the Old Blood fled from the city of Elvorium, starts off ruling with a gentle hand, trying his abilities to subtly manipulate the long corrupted politics back into some semblance of decency. Meanwhile, the warlord Saebellus threatens to take over Elvorium, the Council pushes for war with the Centaurs, and an assassin creeps through the city taking out politicians. Hairem definitely has his hands full.

I listened to the audiobook so please excuse any misspellings of names and places.

This book starts off rather slow, setting the political stage and letting the reader get to know the world and characters. At first, the book jumped pretty quickly from one character to another and this made it hard for me to get attached to the characters. But then things settled down with King Hairem and General Jikun as the main characters. They are opposites in most ways. One is young and untried and still idealistic; the other is a more worldly person, a bit jaded, and definitely not pious. I very much enjoyed how these two have to build mutual respect and trust.

The cast is littered with mostly male characters, being human, elven, and helven. Navon is Jikun’s right hand man, but he has a nasty little habit that is scorned by all and punishable by death even though it can save a life or two in the heat of battle. Sellemar comes into the story late but his presence really livens things up. Quite frankly, the story was pretty slow moving until Sellemar offered his assistance and knowledge of certain secrets. He’s a rather cranky bad ass. I like that I am still not sure of his motivations; he’s complicated.

Sadly, there are very few female characters in this book and mostly, they are underutilized. Ilsafel is the daughter of a powerful Elvorium politician and the love interest. Alvena is a mute lass that works in the castle and has a secret crush. Kivervy is a huntress from Jikun’s home town who we spend very little time with and who has to be saved while on a hunt. There’s probably a mother or sister tossed in here or there. All the plot decisions are made by male characters. While this holds true to traditional epic fantasy, it is the 21st century and I have come to adore a more gender balanced approach in fantasy literature.

The first half of the book was pretty slow going. The big baddies of the book were almost like ghostly boogiemen – talked about, feared, but rarely seen on stage. Eventually, we get to meet a few centaurs, but it’s brief. The feared mighty warlord Saebellus doesn’t make a presence until the last quarter of the book. I think this slim and trim approach to the adversaries made it hard for me to fear them and hence to fear for the safety of the characters.

On the plus side, the last sixth of the book has the ladies taking on larger roles, they have more lines, and take a few more actions. Sellemar has his role and that adds action and deeper questions. By the end, it’s clear there is much more to the plot and there have been deep-laid plans. Not everyone makes it out alive! If the first half of the book had been even half as good as the second half of the book, I would give this story a full five stars.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost via the book tour company iRead Books in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: Matthew Lloyd Davies did a good job. He had a variety of accents that helped keep the myriad of characters distinct.  I really liked the young teen girl voice he picked for the internal monologues of the mute Alvena. He did great as Jikun, especially when Jikun was rightly angry at something.

What I Liked: Politics in my fantasy; centaurs!; Sellemar and his constant complaining; young King Hairem and his idealism; Jikun’s jaded view of the world; Navon’s troubling secret; not everyone makes it out alive!

What I Disliked: Very few female characters; the ladies are underutilized; the first half of the book is pretty darn slow.

What Others Think:

Check out the iReads Book Tour for more reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

Hopebreaker by Dean F. Wilson

WilsonHopebreakerWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: T. Anthony Quinn

Publisher: Dioscuri Press (2015)

Length: 5 hours 39 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Great Iron War

Author’s Page

 

In the land of Altadas, the Regime rules with an iron fist. Through addictive drugs, might, fear tactics, and replacing the population with demons, they are nearly unchallenged. However, the Order still resists them. Jacob, a smuggler, will get caught up in their machinations and will also get to drive the magnificent coal-powered machine Hopebreaker.

This book is a steampunk novel set in a future dystopian world. Somehow, the Regime is preventing healthy conceptions and women can now only give birth to demons. The Order, and some few others, are able to create amulets that prevent conception. Jacob was caught smuggling these amulets in a Regime controlled city and summarily tossed in a dungeon. He grumbles and gripes and has this fatalistic sense of humor throughout the book, not just when he’s in prison. There he meets a young man, Whistler, who was born into the Order. Unfortunately, he’s a bit of an innocent and doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut. Luckily for him, he has friends.

Pretty soon, Taborah and crew are breaking Whistler out and they allow Jacob to tag along. Then he owes them a favor and then the Order owes him a favor and before you know it, they are so tangled up they couldn’t possibly separate. Jacob never gives over fully to the Order’s ideals, preferring to be paid in cold, hard coils (the currency of the area). Yet he keeps giving a little bit more because down deep, he really is a nice guy. He moans and complains much of the time, but you can tell he’s getting attached to at least a few of the members.

There’s plenty of tech in this story. Obviously, there is the big war machine called Hopebreaker. There’s smaller machines, such as transports, and then these kind walking war towers. There’s also a variety of cool goggles too. I definitely enjoyed the steampunk flair of the story.

I’m not sure I understood the amulets and the demon children so well. First, I can’t recall any examples of these demons; they were simply referred to. So I would have liked to have seen a demon or two to help cement this little touch of fantasy in this otherwise steampunk scifi novel. Coupled with that, is the use of the amulets – not much is given on how or why they work to prevent conception. Perhaps you don’t wear it around your neck the entire time, electing to wear it somewhere else during intimate moments?

The characters are fun, if pretty one dimensional. The bad guys are described as slimy, etc., so you can spot them early on in the story. While the good guys have a little more depth, like Jacob wrestling with some inner demons, they are still pretty predictable. This is basically just a fun story, like brain candy. It was enjoyable and I look forward to seeing what trouble Jacob gets into (and out of) in the next book.

Narration: T. Anthony Quinn has a lovely rich voice. He made a great Jacob, pulling off the humor and emotions quite nicely. His female voices were distinct and I especially liked his accent for Taborah.

What I Liked: Dystopian; steampunk; large coal-powered machines; classic good vs. evil fight; assorted goggles; the end sets us up for the next adventure.

What I Disliked: Not sure about the whole amulet demon conception thing; characters are rather predictable; the bad guys are practically labelled.

What Others Think:

The Mad Reviewer

On Writing

Andy Peloquin

The Bohemian Housewife

Book Stop Corner

Cranky Author’s Book Blog

The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton

Tofu kitty as a book stand.

Tofu kitty as a book stand.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Toby Longworth

Publisher: Macmillan UK (2008)

Length: 23 hours

Series: Book 1 Void Trilogy

Author’s Page

 

This is a big sweeping epic scifi! There’s a lot going on in this story. Set in the far, far future, there’s an intersolar commonwealth with all sorts of politics.  At the center of the galaxy, is the Void, which is supposedly this artificial universe created by a technologically advanced civilization eons ago. There’s lots of theories about it and no real answers. Some folks want to take a vast armada of settlers into the void and others believe that will cause it to swell and swallow the galaxy. Meanwhile, we have characters just living their lives like country boy Edeard.

Edeard features strongly in this book. He and his folks live a relatively quiet life but they have this third hand. It’s a type of psychic energy that allows them to move things about with the force of their minds. Some people have stronger third hands than others. Also, some of these folks can manipulate the minds, and perhaps genes, of animals. In fact, some of them have gotten so good at gene manipulation over the generations, that they now trade docile working animals with neighboring cities for other goods.

The story has so many different societies. There’s the ANA (Advanced Neural Activity) which rules the Central Worlds. It’s very high tech. Basically, people have opted to have their minds downloaded into a virtual reality, ANA, and this conglomeration of minds rules. Yet they retain their individuality and can be uploaded into a physical body, should they choose to do so.

Amarinta, an ex-waitress who comes into a small inheritance, decides to refurbish her apartment, and perhaps a whole group of apartments in the hopes of selling them off. She repeatedly comes into contact with the same man as she buys supplies. Sparks fly but she’s a little confused. And rightly so! This man has a shared consciousness among many, many bodies. This is yet another group, another way of living, that I found interesting. Amarinta is involved in some lovely, hot sex scenes throughout the book. Eventually, she becomes a pivotal character for the plot.

So we have this big sweeping back drop, all these interesting characters, various societies, religions, and politics, and the big looming mystery of the Void. All that is very well done and very entertaining. However, I do have this one criticism. The ladies. Yep. All of the ladies, with the exception of an elderly woman involved in the military who arrives at the end of the book, are described as bomb shells. They are all beautiful and that is the first (and sometimes the only) thing we learn about them. Sigh…. In fact, it takes quite some time before we get a plot-integral female character. Sometimes, the author tells us how awesome a female character is at her job, but then only shows her flirting and being sexy. That was such a disappointment.

Even with that criticism, it’s still a pretty darn good book. And I am invested now in many of the characters and I really want to know what is up with that Void. So, I will be continuing on with the series.

Narration: Toby Longworth was an excellent narrator for this book. It has such a large cast of characters and he did a really good job of keeping them distinct. His female voices were believable. I especially liked his voice for Edeard because he has so many emotions. 

What I Liked: Sweeping big galactic backdrop; so many different societies; the mystery of the Void; many of the individual characters caught my interest; great set up for Book 2. 

What I Disliked: The ladies are under utilized and nearly all are described as bomb shells and sometimes that is all they are.

What Others Think:

SF Reviews

SF Site

Strange Horizons

Fantasy Book Critic

SF Signal

The Wertzone

 

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

FranklinMistressOfTheArtOfDeathWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Rosalyn Landor

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2007)

Length: 13 hours 12 minutes

Series: Book 1 Mistress of the Art of Death

Author’s Page

 

Set in medieval Cambridge, children keep turning up dead. The local Catholics begin to blame the local Jewish community and then the local law must lock up the Jews for their own safety. However, this is not a tenable situation that can last for long. King Henry II wants to continue to receive his Jewish taxes, and for that to happen, his Jewish constituents must be free to work and trade. He contacts his cousin in Sicily and asks for an expert on the art of death to help clear matters up. What he gets is the highly trained and skilled Adelia.

This was a fascinating murder mystery and historical fiction.  First, I think like many folks, I once had this idea that the medieval ages were somewhat dark dreary, except for the tourneys. The ideas of medical degrees and college attending women are not what usually jumped to the forefront of my brain when I heard the word ‘medieval’. So right off I was caught up in what Adelia was doing in this story. Yes, she had to push to be allowed to go to university in Sicily and she had a fair amount of bullying from idiot men, but she persevered and got her medical degree. Now, she is a medical examiner of the dead.

Yet here in Cambridge, where very few people have any education at all, she has to cloak her skills in the role of assistant to the ‘real doctor’, her male travel companion. Cambridge is full of superstition and bad blood between rivals. There’s so many pitfalls for Adelia as she tries to go about her gruesome work. And gruesome it is indeed! Unfortunately, these children did not have an easy death and studying the remains is difficult work on several levels.

As she and her companions narrow in on the killer, things get more dangerous. Not everyone gets out unscathed and that was a definite sorrow. However, it added weight to the story and reminded Adelia that she and her group were not untouchable.

I loved all the medical stuff too. It’s very interesting to me what people can deduce and analyze when they have so little to go by. It’s not like Adelia has an 18th century lab to tinker around in. Nope. She’s got a cold stone slab in a chill room with a few candles, a handful of medical instruments, and her own wits. It was a pleasure to watch her work. Definitely looking forward to Book 2!

Narration: Rosalyn Landor was a great choice for this audiobook. Her voice for Adelia is both rich and compassionate. She brought the right amount of emotion to any situation in this book. Her accents were well done and all her characters were distinct.

What I Liked: A deep mystery; religious politics; Adelia’s degree; medical stuff; the Cambridge medieval setting; the story has weight; a satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing – a very good book.

What Others Think:

Women in World History

Rhapsody in Books

Dear Author

Euro Crime

Historical Novels

Alive on the Shelves

Ned Note

 

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

GladstoneTwoSerpentsRisingWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Chris Andrew Ciulla

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2013)

Length: 12 hours 26 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Craft Sequence

Author’s Page

 

Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it can be read as a stand alone.

This book is set in the same world as Three Parts Dead but in a different city with completely different characters. Caleb Altemoc is our hero in this tale. He’s been tasked by Red King Consolidated to cleanse the demon infested waters of the city of Dresediel Lex. While he investigates the source, and a possible way to do the cleansing, he runs into Mal, a cliff runner who has some answers and a hidden agenda.

This book was just a tad more fun than Three Parts Dead. Much of the city Dresediel Lex is based on ancient Mesoamerican cultures and I really reveled in that. The setting was so rich, from the food to the architecture to the slang. From this backdrop, we get the myths about the Two Serpents and what that means to various groups controlling the city. The current political group rose to power some decades ago, but supporters of the old ways, including human sacrifice, still abound.

And that is where Caleb’s dad comes in. He use to be a high priest among the ruling class and performed many human sacrifices. Obviously, Caleb has some strong feelings about his father. The dynamic between the two kept me on edge through the story. It was excellent! So much for the two of them to work out and perhaps some of it can’t ever be worked out.

The Red King is a spooky, spooky dude who happens to enjoy quality tequila. In Three Parts Dead, we were introduced to the idea of these very long-lived craft (i.e. magic) users and in this book we get an up close look at just such a specimen. I would be hard pressed to say that the Red King is still human, but there are times throughout the tale when he shows glimpses of his old humanity. There’s history there and I would love for there to be a story just about the Red King and how he came to be.

Next, there is Mal. She’s a cliff runner, which is like our modern-day parkour but a bit more dangerous as I doubt much of Dresediel Lex has the building safety codes like our modern cities do. She’s smart, athletic, and definitely attracted to Caleb. He’s not too sure what to do with her at first. As the two get to know each other, it becomes apparent they have some seriously divergent views on a few things. I really hoped the two would be able to work things out – there was such a spark between them!

The demons. I can’t leave this review without mentioning the demons. That seems to be a catch all phrase for these beings that inhabit the water supply. They have their own needs and won’t hesitate to snap up the unwary human, but they mostly come off as dangerous animals and not some conniving riddling beings that want souls. It was a different take on the word ‘demon’ and very fitting with the mythology on the Two Serpents.

It’s an excellent book full of mystery and rich in myth. I highly recommend it and I have fingers crossed that someone will turn the rest of the series into audiobooks.

The Narration: Chris Andrew Ciulla was a great fit for Caleb. He did all the accents right and had this gravity that suited Caleb well. His other character voices were distinct and his female voices were believable. I especially liked his super creepy voice for the Red King.  

What I Liked: The cover art; excellent setting; a deep mystery; human sacrifice; Mal’s cliff running; the Red King and his tequila; plenty of action; satisfying end.

What I Disliked: Nothing! This book was a real treat!

What Others Think:

 

Fantasy Book Critic

Open Letters Monthly

 

Best Fantasy Books

Patheos

Mental Megalodon

Fantasy Review Barn

Fantasy Faction

Anthony Vicino

 

One for the Baron by Catherine Cruzan

CruzanOneForTheBaronWhere I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: Andrea Emmes

Publisher: Catherine Cruzan (2015)

Length: 1 hour

Author’s Page

Lydia has an interior design degree and works in Los Angeles. She’s soon heading out on a job with her coworkers to New Orleans. Strange dreams start to plague her before she leaves and the strangeness continues once she gets to New Orleans and the French Quarter.

For such a short story, there’s a pretty large cast. There’s a lot going on here and I’m not sure I followed it all. There’s some interesting dynamics going on with Lydia, so I liked her as the central character.  Her mother, Margaret, is a judgy sort and enjoys climbing the social ladder. She remarried at some point and now Lydia has a much younger half sister named Margery. I missed exactly what her job is in New Orleans but I did catch the fact that she calls her beat up car Smitty.

Anyway, she and her coworkers David and Bethany fly to New Orleans and Lydia finds herself in the French Quarter. There she meets a shopkeeper, Maman Margo. Things get voodooish at this point as the bones are consulted. More questions arise about The Baron, the strange man Lydia keeps seeing in her dreams. Everything is pretty good up to this point.

Then the ending was open ended and I am not sure I got it. Lydia has to make a choice but she’s not happy about it. The scene then shifts back to Los Angeles and a minor character who we met early in the story is back in play. Then it just ends. The mysterious Baron isn’t really explained and the scene doesn’t shift back to New Orleans to wrap things up with Lydia and Maman Margo. I definitely felt there was more to this story that needed telling.

 

I won a copy of this book via the narrator from Audio Book Reviewer.

The Narration: Andrea Emmes was a great pick for this story. She had a steady voice for Lydia and a snooty voice for Margaret. Her little Margery voice was also good. Then she pulled off a French Quarter accent for Maman Margo.  

What I Liked: Starts off strong; Lydia is an interesting character with some history; the mystery of the Baron; voodoo French Quarter.

What I Disliked: The story peters out without wrapping things up; still not sure what the deal is with the Baron; story left open ended.