Ever Near by Melissa MacVicar

MacVicarEverNearWhere I Got It: Won a copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Narrator: Melissa Redmond

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing (2014)

Length: 5 hours 1 minute

Series: Book 1 Secret Affinity

Author’s Page

Jade Irving is your typical highschool student – parties, boys, ghosts having tantrums…..Set on Nantucket Island, a place rife with ghostly activity, Jade has to come to terms with her new fund abilities. With the help of her grandmother and a strange ghost hunter, she tackles the mystery surrounding Lacey’s ghost. Her new boyfriend also provides support, but most of the battle is up to her.

I went back and forth on this one. First, I really liked that Jade’s family isn’t all of one ethnicity and it was especially refreshing to have a main protagonist that wasn’t Caucasian. The author lightly touches on the odd looks her blended family sometimes gets, but doesn’t dwell on it. On the other hand, Jade has a serious crush on her soon-to-be stepbrother, Charlie. In fact, they are living in the same house, bedrooms across the hall from each other. I guess there aren’t that many teen boys on Nantucket Island? Anyway, it gave me a little bit of an ‘ick’ factor to the story. I know, they are not blood related at all. But…..well, there’s just something ultra-convenient about having your beau be your step-brother and living in the same house. On the plus side, Jade is smart to be aware of and on birth control.

Next, I found it fun that there was this whole paranormal world going on and a lot of it was tied to history. So our heroine had to spend some time researching the history of her little tiny plot of Earth to figure out the motivations of the ghosts she dealt with. On the other hand, Jade spends much of her time screaming and crying and not getting much of anything done while she has her hysterics. In fact, it felt more like luck than anything else that she survived this tale. While I understand that it would be normal to be a bit freaked out when you find out you can interact with ghosts, I tend to like my characters to move through that hysterical phase really quickly so that we can get down to the figuring-stuff-out-phase. We didn’t get much of the latter in this book.

The characters were OK. Once established, they were pretty static. In fact, the most interesting character was the slightly creepy ghost hunter. He obviously has a tale or two to tell. The minor characters, for the most part, were interchangeable. Jade was fun when she wasn’t curled up in a little ball crying her eyes out (which was much of the story). Over all, it s was meh, ho hum tale for me.

Narration: Melissa Redmond did do a pretty awesome job narrating this tale. While it wasn’t really the story for me, she still pulled off the voices quite well.Her voice for Jade was excellent. She had distinct voices for both males and females.

What I Liked: Not your standard White heroine; interesting paranormal world; a bit of history; intriguing side character (the ghost hunter).

What I Disliked: The step-brother is the only potential boyfriend material in the book; the heroine spend much of the story crying and freaking out.

What Others Think:

Buried in Books

It’s a Book Life

Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews

Long and Short Reviews

The Story Goes…..

Pretty Little Memoirs

Jasmine Jade Reviews

The Nameless One by Kathryn Meyer Griffith

GriffithTheNamelessOneWhere I Got It: Won a copy on Eargasms (copy provided by the narrator) (thanks!)

Narrator: Susan Eichhorn Young

Publisher: Self-published (2013)

Length: 1 hour 2 minutes

Author’s Page

The Bennets are Egyptologists and they are on the hunt for the tomb of a lesser known wife to a well known Pharaoh. She was a sensual magic user who was entombed and nearly erased from history for her wicked deeds. However, the Bennets are dedicated to finding her tomb and opening it.

Julian and Laura are persistent, I will give them that. Of course, in our modern day lives, where magic is all but dead, I too would not expect to false into an evil trap merely by opening an ancient tomb. This book felt like the opening chapters to a much longer story. We get just the barest hints of Egypt in the setting and there isn’t really time for sex. I say that because this book is billed as an erotica. (Please note the comments below by the author as she did not write this to be an erotic story. However, I double checked my Audible edition and the book starts with ‘the Nameless One by Kathryn Meyer Griffith, an erotic short story’. Hence my expectations for the level of detailed sex.) What little sex there is, is hinted at in memory or in erotic hieroglyphs on the walls of the tomb. In order for a book to be erotica by my standard, I need at least one steamy, detailed, active sex scene. This book flirts with erotic elements, never fully takes the plunge. Which is another reason I felt this was a good lead in to a more expansive story.

This book definitely has a hint of mystery to it as well. The wicked lesser wife was chiseled out of history for evil deeds, deeds that are hinted at but not defined. So I definitely want to know more about her. Plus Julian and Laura have this lovely committed relationship, both as Egyptologists and as lovers. So I want to know more about their lives and past adventures.

If you read the blurb on this book, then you know that not all make it out of the book alive. Those left alive must hunt the now freed wicked sorceress. This is another reason I hope there are further books in this series. I couldn’t find a series on Goodreads or Audible, though there appears to be at least one other book set in modern day Egypt (different characters).

While this book left me wanting more, it also left far too many questions open for me to be satisfied with it.

Narration:  Susan Eichhorn Young did a great job as the narrator. The story is told through Laura Bennet’s voice and Susan was a perfect match for her. She had no hesitation during the scenes that contained erotic elements. She had distinct voices for all characters.

What I Liked:  Plenty of mystery; left me wanting more; the cover art.

What I Disliked:  Way too many open questions at the end; this felt more like the opening chapters to a larger book than a self-contained story.

What Others Think: 

Hell Notes

Emeraldfire’s Bookmark

The Blind Eye by Marcia Fine

FineTheBlindEyeWhere I Got It: Review copy via the producer (thanks!)

Narrator: Christina Cox

Publisher: L’Image Press, LLC (2014)

Length: 7 hours 34 minutes

Author’s Page

This story entwines two tales: one in the late 1990s an the other starts in 1492. Alegra Cardoza is a Native Floridian, descended from Cubans, who is looking for a new job, and perhaps a new life. She applies for a position as secretary to a history professor (Harold Guzman). In keeping his life organized, she learns that he is researching a writing a historical fiction about the Jewish expulsion of Spain in the late 15th century. The narration drops in and out of the fictional book the professor is writing, so we get to know the characters (mostly the Guzman family) in his book pretty well.

Wow! Just, simply, wow! I really enjoyed this book. Was I ignoring noisy chores, like vacuuming, just so I could listen to this book a little longer? Hell yes! Did I carry my laptop around with me so I could sneak in a few minutes of listening pleasure here and there, yes, I did. Perhaps I even ignored my man a little (I’ve made it up to him and now he has a great book recommendation for his next listen).

Normally, when two stories are intertwined like this, I tend to strongly enjoy one over the other and kind of wish that the focus was just on the one I enjoyed. In this case, I enjoyed both equally well even though they were each quite different. They were intertwined quite well, showing the differences and similarities between the two times (especially for women).

Alegra is a modern woman in America. She has a full time job, has a boyfriend, lives her life the way she wants to. She also sucks at dating and lets her sisters bully her into make-overs all too often. Her life is at a cross roads when she applies for and gets a job with Professor Guzman. Pretty soon, the two are headed to Spain for his further research. There, she learns of his manuscript. As the two become friends, he starts asking her for her opinion on certain scenes. This causes Alegra to question her own ancestry even to the point of wondering if some of her ancestors were New Christian Conversos who hid their Jewish faith in secrecy, which was eventually all but forgotten over time.

Meanwhile, back in the late 15th century Spain, the Guzman family are being expelled from Spain. The head of the family, Hermando, makes all the decisions for his wife (Estrella) and daughters and he has decided they will leave for Portugal. Unfortunately, Hanna has had a child outside of wedlock and her father refuses to take her with them. However, Estrella won;t give up easily and baby Belina ends up being raised by her grandparents and auntie Grazia. The Guzmans face many hardships throughout their years, mostly due to anti-Semitic views and politics. Even once they become New Christians (at least in public), they can’t seem to shake the prejudice and fears of others. This story line held some of the most moving scenes both of kindness and of horror.

Since the story bounced back and forth between the two tales, the professor and Alegra could talk honestly about the fate of most women in 15th century Europe. The professor would argue for authenticity in his writing; Alegra would argue that certain scenes were sexist or that women wouldn’t want to read that (rape scenes or women essentially being sold into marriage). I tend to side with the professor on this point – something can still be historically accurate and be considered sexist by today’s standards. The latter doesn’t mean that things didn’t go down that way. Still, there are no rape scenes in this book (which is fine with me) but the author was able to acknowledge the likelihood of such occurrences via this plot device.

The New Christians and the hidden Jewish faith was very intriguing. In my ignorance, I had assumed that many European Jews had to hide (or at least curtail) their faith during the Inquisition until either they moved out of harm’s way or until the Inquisition passed (years? decades?). I did not think that generations would keep their Jewish faith a secret. The Inquisition was not officially abolished until 1834! So, plenty to learn here in a fascinating historical fiction. This book was both entertaining and educational – a keeper on my shelf!

Is it too much to hope for another Alegra/Professor Harold historical adventure? I hope not!

Narration: Christina Cox was an excellent pick for this audiobook. There are plenty of Spanish words and Spanish-speaking characters. Her Spanish accent was excellent with the rapid fire Spanish that I am use to and none of the over enunciated silliness that comes with non-Spanish speakers. She also did a great job with the Guzman women – they each had distinct voices and yet sounded similar enough to be related. She also had a variety of voices for the male characters. I especially liked her voice for a fired up Alegra.

What I Liked: Educational and entertaining!; Great skill in twining the two story lines together; Alegra questioning her own ancestry; the cover art; very satisfying end.

What I Disliked: This is a tiny thing that did not diminish my enjoyment of the book – Alegra comes to suspect that some of the traditions that her older relatives kept were actually Jewish religious observances. However, she never really follows up on this, querying other family, etc. I would have liked to see that little string tied off.

What Others Think:

Jewish Book Council

Barbara Watkins

The Cast Iron Cookbook by Sarah Sophia

SophiaTheCastIronCookbookWhere I Got It: Won a copy on Eargasms (copy provided by the narrator) (thanks!)

Narrator: Tiffany Williams

Publisher: Good Living Publishing (2014)

Length: 1 hour 1 minute

Series: Book 3 The Essential Kitchen Series

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 3 in the series, it stands alone quite well.

This book is about cooking with cast iron pots and pans. It includes some tips about maintaining your cast iron cookwear plus the 30 recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a few desserts. At the end, the author gives a weblink for free dessert recipes using cast iron cookwear.

First, let me explain that I know almost nothing about cast iron cooking. If I had an older relative who habitually cooked with cast iron, I don’t recall it. No, I know of cast iron cooking from my man. He LOVES his cast iron for camping trips and he has occasionally gotten out the big fry pan at home. I will tell you that he almost always waits a week to clean it after use, which drives me a little nuts. I am not allowed to ‘clean’ it in the sink or in the dishwasher. That is his chore, one he puts off. It is a heavy thing to wield and I have to use both hands to easily move it around. I live on a farm. I lift 50 pond hay bales. So that gives you an idea of how heavy this pan is for it to cause an ache to my wrists whenever I try to manipulate it.

The author starts off with providing basic knowledge on the reasons for using cast iron (even heating, non-stick surface) to the proper maintaining of it (no dishsoap, no metal scrubbie, etc.). She doesn’t beat it into you with repetitious sentences, so the book doesn’t get bogged down in these basics. Then it is off to the recipes!

This is the audioversion of the book, so you might think that listening to recipes read out loud would be silly. However, the vast majority of these recipes were so simple that listening to the book was quite enjoyable. Besides, I am one of those people that finds a recipe to be more of a recommendation than a dictation. So while I can’t repeat any one of the recipes back to you, I can pop into the kitchen and start making some tasty food based on the recipes I heard. Also, if you pick up the written version of the book, this could be a good companion to it. My favorite part of cast iron cooking (should I give it a serious go) would be the ability to start something on the range (like frying sliced potatoes) and then popping the whole thing (food and pot/pan) into the oven for finishing. The strawberry pie recipe is a huge temptation for giving cast iron cooking a go!

Narration:  Tiffany Williams did a great job. During the chatty parts of the book, she sounded like your friendly neighbor who popped over for tea and a cookie swap. She read off the recipes in a clear voice, never rushing or sounding bored. She never ‘droned’ on as one might if they were forced to read a phonebook out loud.

What I Liked:  Simple instructions for maintaining your cast iron (I expect this would also be good advice for any armor one might have lying about); many of the recipes are quite simple; the ability to use cast iron on the range as well as the oven; strawberry pie!

What I Disliked:  Nothing – this was a great cookbook!

Jack Templar, Monster Hunter by Jeff Gunhus

GunhusJackTemplarMonsterHunterWhere I Got It: Review copy provided by Ebooks For Review (thanks!)

Publisher: Seven Guns Press (2012)

Length: 197 pages

Series: Book 1 The Templar Chronicles

Author’s Page

Jack Smith, who will be 14 tomorrow, is headed off to school for another boring, mundane day. Or perhaps not. He’s feeling stronger, faster, more agile than ever before. And strange things keep happening – like the creepy dude of pale skin on the way to school who wished him an early happy birthday. Then there was challenging the school bully while protecting his friend, and winning. But things got really weird with the principle, who seems to be more monster than school matron. Pretty soon, Jack is caught up in battling monsters left and right, his aunt is more than she seems, and the Monster Hunters (a secret society) need Jack because he may be the ‘One’.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read filled with plenty of action and monsters out of myths and legends. While it has a definite Young Adult genre feel to it, we also had some darker issues in the background which gave it a touch of seriousness that pulled it all together for me. Jack is a fun kid who has a secret identity that even he isn’t aware of at the start of the story. He has a crush on a girl at school, but is too shy to do anything about it. He has 2 friends in the school who are both outcasts (each for different reasons). And his parents died when he was kid, leaving him to be raised by his Aunt Sophie (who has secrets of her own).

Then in steps Eva and she is an awesome one-handed (the other being whatever weapon she needs at the time that can screw on to her stump cover) Monster Hunter. She shows up and starts explaining the rules of the whole Creach society (the monsters – creatures) and what the Black Guard (Monster Hunters) are all about. However, she keeps getting interrupted by this flow of monsters who want Jack either dead or captured. This creates a great pacing of the story, where we get these little tidbits of background in between action scenes. No big info dumps here!

But if you are concerned that this is just one big monster slayer fest, don’t worry! Some of these ‘monsters’ have more going on for them. Of course, this leads to grief and consternation for some of the Monster Hunters. That was quite OK with me, as it added another layer to the story and left plenty for the author to explore in future installments of the series.

The book does break the fourth wall and speak directly to the reader several times through out the tale. Mostly, this is Jack telling us (the readers) to beware! Horrid monsters will hunt us if we read this book! While I didn’t exactly dislike these sections, I felt that they were so much younger than the tale itself and the break in narration always took me out of the story. I think I would have preferred to just let the story speak for itself.

What I Liked:  The cover art; Jack is easy to get attached to; monsters galore!; not all the characters (including the monsters) are what they seem at first glance; loyalty of friends; Jack’s secret past.

What I Disliked:  The narration breaks at several points so that Jack can speak directly to the readers, and this kept taking out of the story when I just wanted to stay in the story.

 

What Others Think:

Mother, Daughter, & Son Book Reviews

The Solitary Bookworm

Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice

Eric Buffington

My Love for Reading Keeps Growing

Bound 4 Escape

The Book of Beasts by E. Nesbit

NesbitTheBookOfBeastsWhere I Got It: Won a copy on Eargasms (copy provided by the narrator) (thanks!)

Narrator: Karen Krause

Publisher: Audiobooks by Mike Vendetti (2014)

Length: 30 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Book of Dragons

Author’s Page

A child king (Lionel) finds a book once owned by one of his distant grandsires. Like all good kids, he plays with it and sets a giant butterfly free. He’s warned not to do so again, but he releases yet another fantastical critter (a bird of paradise), and then another (the dragon!), which threatens his kingdom and he must make it right again. A hippogriff and manticore come into play too!

This was a great story for kids and fun for adults too. The very young Lionel knows he is king, but also knows he must answer to his nurse for any bad behavior. He will be sent to bed without supper if he misbehaves. This was a great point about the story because, while the king supposedly had great control over his kingdom and people, he also had to face the consequences of poor choices.

The story starts off with some harmful ‘beasts’ that are really quite pretty to look at and enjoy. So at first, the consequences of messing around with this magical Book of Beasts is not readily apparent. But as the story continues, we find our young hero king in a world of trouble! I think this is great fun for both kids and adults and would be fine entertainment for a car ride.

Narration:  Karen Krause did a great job having the perfect little boy voice for the child king. She also had a stern, yet amusing, voice for the king’s nurse.

What I Liked:  The cover art; giant butterfly!; there’s a dragon involved; subtle point about consequences to actions/choices but not preachy at all.

What I Disliked:  Nothing – this is a great short story!

VintageScifiBadgeI’m taking part in Vintage SciFi Month over at The Little Red Reviewer. Fantasy is allowed too! This book was originally published in 1900 as part of a collection called The Book of Dragons. Anyone can join, so feel free to check it out!

What Others Think:

Weekend Notes

Mr. Grimm by Drew Avera

AveraMr.GrimmWhere I Got It: A review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Al Kessel

Publisher: Drew Alexander Avera (2014)

Length: 1 hour 24 minutes

Series: The Twin Cities Series; Apparently, The Twin Cities Series has several contributing authors. You can catch all the latest info at The Twin Cities Series blog. And here is a listing of the series by all the different authors on Amazon.

Author’s Page

Mr. Alexander Grimm is in servitude. The Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul) is a special place, concealing a door into The Realms. This is not good for humans as The Realms contain things of myths and legends such as vampires and demons. Mr. Grimm serves The Raven, who rules over The Realms with an iron fist. But several factions with The Realms would like to see a change in leadership. Mr. Grimm may be the key to that change.

This was a dark urban fantasy that was treat to listen to. Avera has created a noir world, albeit much of it behind the scenes. It’s gritty and dangerous, with things waiting the shadows. I loved the mystery to the story, the hint of deeper secrets to be told in forthcoming installments. Mr. Grimm is a deeply conflicted character. He’s in servitude to a vampire (that he hates) and yet he is pretty darn good at carrying out his job – taking out anyone The Raven points his finger at. He has a daughter he must protect at all costs and as the years go by, that cost becomes steeper and steeper.

I only have one quibble. There was a leap in time in the storyline and it had me slightly confused for a bit. During the first part of the story, Mr. Grimm is a family man, but then we move forward a decade or so. Perhaps the first part of the story was flashback for Mr. Grimm? I’m still not sure. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The secret world that Mr. Grimm moves through was intriguing and I look forward to listening to future installments of this series.

Narration: Al Kessel did a great job. He was a good voice for Mr. Grimm. He also did a few accents competently and had distinct male and female voices. His French vampire is entirely creepy, in a sophisticated way.

What I Liked: Dark, noir feel to the story; plenty of mystery left to explore; intriguing characters all over the place; Mr. Grimm is left in an impossible position.

AveraMr.GrimmAudiobookWhat I Disliked: I didn’t like the cover for the audiobook (seen here are the right), so I used the ebook cover for this review; there is one time leap in the storyline that caused some little confusion.