Doorways: A Book of Vampires, Werewolves, & Black Magic by Tim O’Rourke

O'RourkeDoorwaysWhy I Read It: It was well suited to this spooky season.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the narrator (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy quest folks who like a touch of the dark.

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Ravenwoodgreys (2014)

Length: 7 hours 34 minutes

Series: Book 1 Doorways

Author’s Page

In a dreary isolated house somewhere in the UK, 16 year old Zach Black hates his uncle Thandel and wishes his sick sister, Anna, would recover swiftly. Zach and Anna recently lost their parents and were placed in the care of their bachelor uncle who is rather creepy. Zach stumbles upon a doorway into another world and is swept off to adventure by a very hairy man, the werewolf William Weaver. Once in Endra, a mirror of Earth, Zach is off and running for his life as zombies chase William and his companions, including the injured and unconscious vampire Neanna. Once they reach relative safety, they explain to Zach that their queen is dying and that Zach must help save her as she is the mirror twin of Zach’s own sister; if the Endra queen dies so does Anna.

Plenty of action follows Zach around as he tries to figure out the rules to Endra and search out a key and a box with a heart in it. Back home, Zach is merely a 16 year old kid but in Endra he is a Peacekeeper, complete with magically reloading crossbows. Lots of vile forces work against Zach and his friends, but the worst of them is Throat. He oversees the care of the dying queen and also directs Thandel’s ministrations of the weakening Anna. He also has spidepedes (spelling?) that are pretty creepy, even for this bug lover. Neanna, once she wakes up, and William are both forces to be reckoned with and are loyal friends to Zach. Their adventures take them back into Earth at one point (and it was quite fun to see their mere appearance terrorize the populace), through a haunted graveyard, and to a prison. William has a pretty detailed family background and he was the most in-depth character in the novel. I quite enjoyed learning about his motivations, past injuries, his shame, and his family.

I think this story is geared more for teens as some of the imagery was pretty simple. For example, referring to what would be a graveyard on Earth as a Gray Yard in Endra. However, while some things lacked imagination, there were plenty of beasties that did require the author’s imagination – such as the spidepedes. We get to know Zach through his actions and don’t get a whole lot on his back story. There are 3 female side characters and all 3 start off needing rescuing. Eventually, Neanna rallies and becomes a force in action and wit. For much of the book, Anna is a character to be pitied and hopefully rescued, though she does get to do a little independent action late in the book. The queen must still be rescued. There are 1 or 2 other minor female roles but they didn’t stand out. So most of the action is carried out by the males. I would have liked to see this more balanced. It’s a fantasy world, equality could happen. Still, I enjoyed it enough to check out Book 2 in the series.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a pretty good job with this book. He had a variety of voices, both male and female, both human and nonhuman, and each was distinct. I especially liked his voice for William, which had a werewolfish burr to it and the occasional howl. He also threw in some special effects, such as for the ghosts. They were well placed and weren’t overdone. He gave some of the ghosts a Scottish burr and some ghouls a Hispanic accent. While I personally felt the Hispanic accent was a little overdone (I hear Spanish weekly if not daily), it will probably work for most folks. I do have to say that most of the time the voice for Zach sounded more like a 12 year old boy instead of one for a boy on the cusp of manhood.

lavinia-portraitRIP9BannerWhat I Liked: Plenty of adventure; creepy beasties; William’s storyline and history; set up very well for a sequel.

What I Disliked: The women have limited roles; much of the time Zach’s voice sounded like a 12 year old instead of a 16 year old.

Tis the season for spooky suspense. I am participating in this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

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The Stargazey by Martha Grimes

GrimesStargazeyWhy I Read It: Have enjoyed her other works.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Cozy mystery fans.

Narrator: Steve West

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 13 hours 9 minutes

Series: Book 15 Richard Jury

Author’s Page

Note: Although this is Book 15 in the series, it works fine as a stand alone.

The book opens on a cold night with an assassin in waiting. She has a been of a clean up to do as someone saw something they weren’t suppose to while she was on a job. From this brief prologue, we jump into Richard Jury’s life, superintendent with Scotland Yard. It’s a boring Saturday, at least for Jury. He has few friends, and most of them are police such as he. So he finds himself riding a bus just to be out of the apartment and around people. But of course, he can’t turn off his brain. He notices a woman in a fur coat get on the bus. She stands out because why would someone that dressed up be on the bus? She then gets off and walks a few blocks before boarding the same bus, which had been slowed by traffic, again. But when she leaves the second time, Jury follows out of curiosity. She enters the public grounds of some palace and Jury hangs back under a street light wishing for a cigarette for a time before heading home. When he reads in the paper the next day that a body of a woman was found in the grounds, he wants to smack his head against his desk.

This is my favorite Richard Jury mystery so far. It was a bit more complex than others I have read, and while I could guess certain elements of the various hidden agendas, I didn’t see how it all fit together until the very end. Richard Jury let us in a bit more than usual with this mystery, showing the reader his lonely, empty life and his attempts to fill it. His sidekick Wiggins, who suffers from some never ending cold, was at his side making small talk with those under suspicion. We also got plenty of time with Melrose, formerly lord of this and that, having given up his titles some years back.

The plot twists together art appreciation, foreign travel, astrology, pet sitting, and Jury’s chance encounter on the bus with the woman in fur. Jury taps Melrose to help him with the art appreciation facet since Melrose has some passing interest in it, and the funds to pull off the interest. He in turn goes to his lady friend painter to obtain her assistance. She rents a room from the Crypts family. This family is terribly interesting, being full of small children, a harried but caring mother, and a father who skirts the law or outright breaks it. The descriptions of the various members had me chucking out loud.

One thing that I appreciate about Grimes’s writing is that pets and kids are not simply stand in blanks used to fill out the scenery. Nor does she go overboard in describing them, making them scene hogs. Instead she gives them enough personality ticks to have them add to the scene/plot without being unbelievable. From the dog named Stone to the child witness who poses as the dead woman, these small scenes had me chuckling once again. While I do wish we had at least one main female character, the female side characters, for the most part, bring something to the table.

The Narration: West did a good job once again, giving the male and female, old and young voices distinction. And I always enjoy his congested Wiggins. I do tend to confuse the voices for Jury and Melrose if I am not paying attention. Sure, Melrose has a talking voice laced with ennui, but when it is simply Melrose’s thoughts, the voice is rather similar to Richard Jury’s.

lavinia-portraitRIP9BannerWhat I Liked: Jury’s lonely life; untangling the mystery of the paintings; commentary on gentlmens clubs; the tie in to the opening assassin scene was clear to me until near the end.

What I Disliked: Could use at least 1 main female character.

Tis the season for spooky suspense. I am participating in this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

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Return of the Dragon Riders by Kristian Alva

AlvaRetunOfTheDragonRidersWhy I Read It: Book 1 was good and I wanted to see how the story continued.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy adventures fans who like a note of seriousness in their fiction.

Narrator: Adam Chase

Publisher: Passkey Publications DBA Defiant Press (2013)

Length: 7 hours 44 minutes

Series: Book 2 Dragon Stone Saga

Author’s Page

Book 2 picks up right where Book 1 left off. Elias is pulled up into a new world. one where great things are expected of him because of this prophesy. Pf course, this makes him a major target for the evil Vosper and his allies. The few remaining dragon riders have one last refuge, the city of Parthos. Elias and his new friends face many foes in this book and sometimes Elias isn’t too sure who his friends are.

While we have yet to meet the evil Vosper, we do get to see plenty of his badguy handy work, from the past, and in Elias’s present. More info about Elias’s parentage is revealed to the readers. Thorin, Elias’s halfling friend from Book 1, is still around providing advice, support, and the occasional comedic relief. The dragon riders themselves area mixed bag, some being extremely serious all the time. Others have a little fun. Some new magic users are recruited and some young dragons are looking to make a match with human riders.

There’s plenty of action in this novel and it is well-paced with comedic moments and serious moments. I like that the point of view shifts around and we get to spend time in different heads. Elias is a well-meaning teen who wants to think the best of nearly everyone. Many of the other characters are not so trusting. In fact, there is a hidden traitor among them, which added suspense to the story.

Overall, this was a very good follow up to Book 1. I am very much looking forward to Book 3.

Narration:  Chase did a great job once again. He has distinct male and female voices and does accents. He also had several opportunities to portray strong emotions in this book, which he did very well.

What I Liked:  Elias is growing up; plenty of action; Thorin is a true friend; the suspense of the hidden traitor; their task is not done and we are set up perfectly for the next book.

What I Disliked:  I wasn’t so keen about the cover to the paperbook, but I LOVE the cover to the audiobook.

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Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole

ColeDreamsOfDarkWarriorWhy I Read It: Valkyries, Berserkers, & vampires – how could I turn that down?

Where I Got It: Review copy via the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy the possessive streak in your lover, you might be OK with this.

Narrator: Robert Petkoff

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 14 hours 53 minutes

Series: Book 11 Immortals After Dark

Author’s Page

Note: This book works fine as a stand alone even though it is Book 11 in the series.

The book started with a young Valkyrie, Regin the Radiant, beating up some viking Berserkers.  That was pretty amusing and I was enjoying the give and take (both verbal and with blades). The lead Berserker, Aidan, recognizes she is an Immortal, but a rather young one who is still frail and can be injured. He take her under his wing and then proclaims that she will be his wife once she is full grown. In the meantime, she is to wait out her days at his mom’s house while he fights 200 battles in Odin’s name to earn the right to immortality himself. Regin, while young, isn’t really down with that.

So, 9 years later, they meet up again. She’s full immortal, totally able to take care of herself, and busy kicking vampire ass in the Dark Ages of northern Europe. Aidan hasn’t been victorious in 200 battles yet, but he is racking up the points. Regin has to admit that she is plenty curious about coupling in general and in specific, coupling with Aidan. Aidan is all good with this since he claimed Regin for his bride 9 years ago and hasn’t changed his mind on that one bit. In fact, his possessiveness towards Regin came on really strong.

Too strong.

And I had to start this book twice because the main masculine love interest was creeping me out in a rapey sort of way. His possessiveness leaves no room for Regin’s say in the matter and she’s a big part of the equation. This possessive streak is a main theme throughout the book, even with Aidan reincarnated into the modern covert ops soldier we come to know as Declan Chase. I want to believe that the author was setting us up early with a character flaw that Aidan/Declan has to overcome in order to be triumphant, but it didn’t work for me.

First, let me tell you about the characters, the plot, the action, the sex. Then I will come back to this creepy possessive trait. Regin is a lot of fun, always ready with the quip, and a blade if necessary. She starts off strong with plenty of punches, claw marks, and tossing of men twice her size. While she keeps a lot of her spunk throughout the book, she diminishes in her ability to fight and I think this was done to show how strong Aidan/Declan the Berserker is. Declan himself is a troubled man. Unknown to him, his violent dreams are memories of his past lives and past fights and past deaths. He gets lost in it all as a teen and takes up drugs. But then one night a horrible fate falls upon his family and himself, from which he barely survives. And that is where he takes up with this super secret underground military-like organization that hunts down, captures, interrogates, experiments on, and kills any and all immortals. I really enjoyed Declan’s backstory and got into his character, mostly.

The book is fast-paced with plenty of interesting side characters. My favorite was Nix, a Valkyrie gifted with foresight. But that gift also makes her a little crazy. She has a pet bat named Bertie. Then there are several characters we meet in the immortal prison such as the good farm boy Thad, a wicked ancient vampire, a London faerie, and more. They were all enjoyable. Several of the sex scenes were very hot and involved full consent. The partners were into each other and giving and taking equally.

But then we have the love story between Declan and Regin. Declan has a violent streak. At first, he just sees Regin as another immortal, like all the other immortals he has hunted, captured, tortured, and killed. So his initial violence towards Regin didn’t bother me. It was part of the story. And Regin is faced with this horrible decision to either awaken his memories of his past and trigger the curse that has killed each of his reincarnations upon full memory retrieval, or ride it out, try to escape, and hopefully never run into Declan again.

This is my biggest issue with the book. Aidan/Declan has a big possessive streak that goes way beyond being tolerable. It’s not sexy. There are multiple times in this book where Regin flat out refuses sexual contact and Aidan/Declan presses on anyway, once with full penetration. Now Regin does get around to enjoying herself and whatever sexual act is forced upon her, but there is this whole initial lack of consent. Folks, full consent is sexy. Aidan/Declan can declare all he wants how wonderful Regin is, how he will always protect her and cherish her, but the forced sex really negates all that sexy male protectiveness.

So, for me, while this book had a lot going for it, but the overly possessive nature of the main male love interest killed this book for me.

The Narration: Robert Petkoff did an excellent job. He had a variety of accents to pull off as well as male and female voices. He didn’t hesitate with the sex scenes either. In fact, he may very well have orgasmed once or twice while narrating the steamiest scenes. His male and female voices were distinct. Oh, and there was this one character, La Dorada, for which he had to pull off this awful creepy witch sound – he raised the hairs on the back of my neck!

What I Liked: Plenty of action; lots of fight scenes; Regin is full of flippant remarks; Nix and Bertie the bat; some of the sex scenes were quite good; lots of supernatural beings shoved into close contact and forced to play nice.

What I Disliked: Some of the sex scenes initially start out with forced sexual contact; Aidan/Declan’s super possessive nature really wore on me; I never fully grasped the title for the book and how it relates to the story.

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Revenge of the Simians by Thomas Weston

WestonRevengeOfSimiansWhy I Read It: I enjoy stories about animals evolving to the point where they can collectively compete with humanity for supremacy.

Where I Got It: Review copy via Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you have been searching for a grittier version of Planet of the Apes or The Rats of NIMH, check this out.

Narrator: David Dietz

Publisher: Thomas Weston (2014)

Length: 5 hours 55 minutes

Author’s Page

Francine and Wayne work at a medical research facility. Their jobs pay the bills, keep them fed, and suck their souls away. They are the ones to work closely with the experimental & experimented on animals – feeding them, cleaning up after them, and strapping them down for further tests and injections. Meanwhile, the upper crust of the research facility loan out their militarized experiments to the military, who in turn, run covert ops that bring about political chaos in chosen cities and countries. If that alone were not enough to keep the readers entertained, Thomas Weston takes the story a step farther when the simians start thinking for themselves, organizing, and challenging the authority of humans.

This story started off strong, with Fran and Wayne sympathetic to the apes they worked with but also feeling they were trapped in their current jobs due to financial burdens. Plus we had little snippets of the various military uses the apes were being put to. Then there are also the apes themselves, sporting names like Ishtar, Marduk, and Emond. They have character, desires, motivations. We also have some immediate bad guys that are great to hate on, such as some of the lead research scientists who are sadists when it comes to their simian experiments.

Even though the story is speckled throughout with various conspiracy theories and political commentaries, I was able to set those aside for the story. Many of the characters stayed true to their motivations throughout the story, except for Francine and Wayne. They went from sympathetic to highly selfish to chaotic evil and the transitions weren’t particularly clear. While there are a fair number of female characters in this story, by and large, they are being led around by the males, instead of making independent decisions and actions. There is a notable exception late in the story with Francine, but the whole scenario stretched the creditability of the story (if I go into detail, I give way part of the ending, so I won’t).

While I really like the plot idea of apes taking over the world, I felt that the main research facility sported too few of the simians to get the job done. Perhaps if the author had expanded the numbers in some plausible way, this would have made the final outcome of the novel plausible. Also, the apes use a kind of biowarfare towards the end and the idea that the humans wouldn’t catch on in time to control or even outright stop such an outbreak was not believable.

Overall, it is short enough to be a fun, gritty read for those who enjoy this niche science fiction. However, if you are looking for a great piece of literature to hold up and say, ‘Hey, it really could happen!’, this is not it. If you are easily insulted, then do note that the main characters sooner or later hit on nearly every major group that you can insult – woman, homosexual, democrat, republican, etc. I think this was done to reflect the small-minded nature of many of the characters and are not necessarily a reflection of the author’s views on the world. I don’t know if you will be cheering for anyone by the end of the book, but it was the same for me with Brave New World, one of my all time favorite classics.

The Narration: David Dietz did a good job of narrating this tale. He had to come up with a variety of ape voices, in both male and female, while keeping them all distinct. I am sure the ape voices put a lasting bur into Dietz’s voice.

What I Liked: Basic plot; book cover for Kindle edition; good set up for story; decent ending in general.

What I Disliked: Some of the characters changed too quickly without enough of a reason given; the women were definitely secondary to the male characters; the plot made some big stretches towards the end so that the story was unbelievable in certain places; the audiobook cover (very dull).

Knot in Time by Alan Tucker

Book, beer, cat - I'm good to go.

Book, beer, cat – I’m good to go.

Why I Read It: A fun time-travel romp, why not?

Where I Got It: Won a copy from the author (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Like your time travel to have cool tech, aliens, alternate endings, and maniacal spiders? Then check this out!

Publisher: Mad Design Inc. (2012)

Length: 302 pages

Series: Book 1 Tales of Uncertainty

Author’s Page

Dare (short for Darius) is a 19 year old high school drop out working as a janitor when he is first approached by the Keepers, who are there to keep time running smoothly. First contact doesn’t go so well, and even second and third contact don’t go so well. But eventually, Dare is swept up into a space ship with time traveling capability. M’sang, a rather enormous hamster alien, takes on training Dare, along with the ship’s artificial intelligence, Kim. After some hard knocks in the training ring, Dare is sent on his first mission with some cool gadgetry. And then he runs up against Hope, who is working for another team of time travelers, and she doesn’t hold back.

As the adventure continues, we end up on a future moon that has a small but tenacious population in a sprawling base. For a while, Dare isn’t sure who to trust – Have M’sang and Kim been using him, misleading him? Is Hope right in her efforts to preserve a thread of time she considers to be the right one? To add to his confusion, Lauri, a bio-engineered young lady, enters the mix, along with her substitute father figure, Dr. Lansing. The moon base takes on a deadly personality when a genetic experiment (Hans, a rather large and very intelligent, nearly indestructible spider) is let out to play. Plus there’s all those hamster aliens wanting to invade the base. Yep, Dare has plenty of knots to untangle.

I had a lot of fun with this book. Dare often tosses out quips and references to 80s and90s movies, making little cultural touchstones for the readers. He’s a likeable kid, even if he does come off as too much of a good guy at times. But this feeds into his naivete as he always falls for the damsel in distress. The book pings back and forth from humor to action to mystery to occasional violence. It’s a good balance insuring the reader is never bored or feels the need to hurry through a section to get back to the good parts.

The time travel element is well done, being mostly used as a mechanism to tell the story and not getting hung up on the physics behind such a possibility. The characters were easy to connect with. The bad guys had enough variation that some I wanted dead in horrid ways while others I sympathized with a bit. I especially liked M’sang, his gruffness, his ability to toss Dare around the martial arts room. The mental image of Dare being thrown down by a large, irate hamster gave me the giggles more than once.

There’s only a few females in this novel (Kim, Hope, Lauri, any others?) and two of the three are very attractive. In fact, was one a sex worker early in her career. My one criticism is that I would have liked to see a greater variation in the female characters, as we do with the male characters. Over all, a very entertaining read and I definitely look forward to reading more works by this author.

What I Liked: The big hamster has got some serious moves; Dare was a fun POV for the story; maniacal Hans!; good balance of action, humor, and serious moments; the cover is stunning.

What I Disliked: There are few female characters and they are first introduced as hot, sexy things and later get to be a little more.

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Dark Taste of Rapture by Gena Showalter

ShowalterDarkTasteOfRaptureWhy I Read It: I have enjoyed other Alien Huntress books.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy heavily armed sexy alien half breeds, check this series out.

Narrator: Sebastian York

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 11 hours 39 minutes

Series: Book 6 Alien Huntress

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 6, it works fine as a stand alone.

Our two heroes of the story, Noelle Tremain & Hector Dean, each have deep, dark secrets and these secrets keep them separated for much of the book. They first meet at AIR (an acronym for the organization that hunts down misbehaving aliens on Earth) boot camp – Noelle is a trainee not expected to graduate and Dean is a bald, badass instructor who gives her no quarter. While we get a little time at boot camp, the story then jumps ahead several months to where Noelle is graduated, badged, and on the streets kicking ass. A prominent businessman dies in a nasty fashion and Noelle and Hector are paired up to fight evil, the kind of evil trafficking in slaves.

This was another fun romp in the Alien Huntress series. The bad guys deserved a messy end, the good guys were sassy and dedicated, the tech was fun, and the sex scenes were sizzling. For much of the book, Noelle and her gal pal Eva provide plenty of snarky comedic relief. Everyone needs a friend like Eva who will tell you when you’re an idiot and threaten to smash the face in of anyone else who says it. Plus, she’s rather petite and travels well in a duffel bag. ;)

Hector Dean has plenty of hang ups. His childhood was pretty gritty and he carries the guilt of having killed other children when he lashed out in pain, anger, and despair as a kid himself. Oh, and he has very sensitive arms. Yes, he has this wee little issue of setting things ablaze and turning people to ash whenever he feels a strong emotion, such as anger, fear, arousal. So he hasn’t really made time with the fairer sex. For years now I have believed that male virginity was a highly under rated quality in our society and I very much enjoyed how Showalter employed this aspect of Dean’s character.

Noelle comes from a rich family, and one that has dismissed her as frivolous and useless (except as a trophy daughter) for years. Her decision to become an AIR agent and work for a living, of course, deeply embarrasses much of her family. She too has her secrets and one of them concerns her ability to withstand painful torture with a smile and snarky remark.

The plot was fun, with Dean & Tremain closing in on the slavers, and then losing them again, only to come close yet again. In fact, it somewhat mirrored their own burgeoning relationship. As one moves forward, the other pulls away, and so forth. The draw between the two is palpable, creating plenty of tension for the reader. My one little criticism concerns Hector and his supposed lack of creativity when it comes to having sex without using his hands or arms. Let’s say Hector started thinking about girls when he was 15 and let’s say he is in his mid-20s for this book. Well, he’s had 10+ years to consider how to pleasure a woman and/or himself. Yet, he is rather daunted by how to go about this in the book, at first at least. He’s a planner, always considering possibilities, so I would think that he would have imagined how to get to business. And if he couldn’t imagine it, well there are plenty of videos out there.

But once we finally get Noelle and Hector locked in a room together, sparks do fly. Don’t worry readers, Showalter doesn’t leave you feeling unsatisfied with this book.

The Narration: Sebastian York did a very good job. He had several characters, some with accents, to pull off and they all came across as distinct.

What I Liked: Cool fancy tech; aliens and their powers; the sexual tension between the main characters; Eva’s stalwart friendship; the sex scenes.

What I Disliked: It was a little unbelievable that Hector had not figured out how to do the deed without using his hands and arms; the image on the cover seems to have odd proportions to me, especially in the upper arm to lower arm ratio.

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