Memories, Dreams, & Deflections by Valerie Gilbert

GilbertMemoriesDreams&DeflectionsWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author/narrator (thanks!)

Narrator: Valerie Gilbert

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 9 hours 6 minutes

Author’s Page

Here is another collection of the life adventures of Valerie Gilbert, mystic, cat lover, cheese aficionado, and native New Yorker. In this particular book, she takes us through the trials and tribulations of her first marriage, the on-line dating scene, chasing after tennis balls, and navigating our complex health care system.

I’m hard pressed to say if I liked this or Raving Violet best. Valerie Gilbert is definitely outspoken about so many things and her life is so very different from my own. I enjoy her talking about her life so plainly and bluntly. I don’t have to agree on every point; I just have to listen and enjoy the show.

Her adventures with on-line dating showed both the sad state of on-line match ups, but she told her encounters with humor. I especially liked the tale of the man who insists there never be cat butt in the bed. Of course such demands probably lost him out on an entirely different kind of kitty in the bed too. If Gilbert is this forward in her books, I can only imagine that she is also as upfront via on-line dating and I hope that New York offers up some like-minded gentlemen for her to meet.

The only dull spot for me was when she went on at length about her marriage, ending it, and then bumping into her ex some time later. It was a bit drawn out and I let my mind wander a bit in the middle. For the most part, she told this section with humor, even if she lingered a bit too long over the topic.

I do applaud her for talking so very frankly about the women’s health issue of fibroids. Ugh! But sooner or later, most women suffer from them. Coupled with this discussion was her wending her way through our government-provided healthcare system and the numerous doctors and examinations she had to go through. I have never had an IUD, but I have heard from other women how uncomfortable the insertion of one can be. Gilbert gives you the full color version and it is as educational as it is cringe-worthy. This is definitely a topic that more women should chat about, and I am glad that that Gilbert was so open on her own experiences.

All in all, it is another entertaining glimpse into another person’s life. Strange and far away, and yet there were touchstones that I resonated with.

Narration:  Valerie Gilbert narrated her own novel and she did an excellent job with this one. She had all the emotion and fire of her first book, but without the occasional distracting background sound (like a car horn). The audio production was top notch with this book.

What I Liked: Humorous stories; blunt discussion about a female health concern; humorous stories about the on-line dating scene; so very different from my life.

What I Disliked:  She lingered a little long on her marriage and divorce; the cover art is a not as cool as her two other books.

What Lies in Darkness by Jeff Seymour

SeymourWhatLiesInDarknessWhere I Got It: Author has placed it on Youtube – listen for free! (thanks!)

Narrator: Jeff Seymour

Publisher: Rough Path Press (2014)

Length: 1 hour

Author’s Page

This is Ellie Mailer’s story. She watches out for her little sister, Georgie, in a house that is coming apart at the seems. Her parents drink and fight. Her degenerate uncle recently moved in and she can hear every move he makes in his upstairs bedroom because it is right above her own room. Toss in some bad storms knocking out the electricity and a man with darkness for a face, and you get some pretty bad nightmares.

This is a horror story, no doubt about that that. It’s nitty gritty and Ellie is my kind of heroine. She doesn’t have all the answers, but she does have guts and a purpose: protect Georgie. She doesn’t kid herself, but she also doesn’t leave herself out of the equation. If the darkness is going to consume her, literally, then it will have to work hard to do so.

The darkness itself is wicked but also clever. It does have patience, and brutality. This combination makes it much more interesting than just some evil that slashes and breaks for fun without pausing for breath. Also, it means that Ellie has to out think this malevolence.

All in all, it was a pretty entertaining piece for a lunch break. Though I would definitely keep the volume down if you are at work. Ellie doesn’t mince her cuss words.

Narration: Jeff Seymour did a pretty good job narrating his own work. He has the range of emotion the story called for. However, he lacks female voices. He still imbues his voice with Ellie’s kick ass attitude.

What I Liked:  The cover art; Ellie and her goal of protecting her little sister; the evil is a thinking evil; the ending was very satisfying.

What I Disliked:  The narration could use a little polishing.

The Merchant Adventurer by Patrick E. McLean

McLeanTheMerchantAdventurerWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!)

Narrator: Patrick E. McLean

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 6 hours 17 minutes

Author’s Page

This book is part epic adventure fantasy and part tongue in cheek pointed humor at the often overdone fantasy tropes. Our main hero, Boltac the Merchant, is, indeed, a very reluctant hero. However, eventually, against his better nature, he is forced to join the adventure, outwit the bad guy, rescue his lady love, and bring prosperity to his home town. Or something along those lines. Really, Boltac is just focused on one thing: not letting his lady love know he actually has a soft spot for her.

One day a would be hero, Relan, strolls in to a shop wanting to purchase a sword so he can gallivant off to rescue his lady love. However, he doesn’t have the coin for it. So he asks to lease out a sword. Boltac rolls his eyes and eventually clouts Relan over the head and drags his unconscious body outside. But then the minions of an evil wizard (Dimsbury) and his side kick (Raddick). The owner of the local tavern, and secret sweetheart of Boltac, is stolen away. Now Boltac must make some tough choices.

The humor permeates this novel and is often of the skeptical variety. Boltac questions nearly everything, even if it is just in his head. He’s always weighing the choices, adding the coins, calculating what’s in his best interest. Relan is great sidekick for him, being so idealistic, so naive, so honorable. Boltac is constantly having to rein the young man in, and not always teaching him the ways of adventuring. The back and forth between these two is most amusing!

There are a few ladies in this book. I can think of two off the top of my head. There might have been a third. One is a supposed damsel in distress that is working with a group of folks running scams. The second is Boltac’s secret love, the tavern owner. She’s smart in her own right, taking charge of her actions and formulating a plan to escape from the first moment. However, we spend little time with her. The author shows he can write female characters, and yet he had so few in this book and gave them small, tiny roles. I hope his other books make better use of the female gender, as I fully intend to seek out more of his work.

Then we have the bad guys. They come in two flavors: ruthless and deserving of death and then we have the orc servants (like Samga the orc leader) who would probably have fairly quiet lives if left to their own devices. Raddick is vicious and enjoys killing for the sport. Dimsbury is the brains behind the evil duo and is quite ruthless in his own way. These potent villains make great adversaries for the shrewd Boltac and the idiotically heroic Relan.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It strongly reminded me of the days when my man played Dungeons & Dragons weekly and he come home in the early dawn hours, smelling of stale pizza, one too many energy drinks, and cigarette smoke, babbling about his exploits in a some dungeon or medieval forest. This book was like that, but far better since it was a coherent story and not just disconnected ramblings by a man who was obviously dead tired but too wired on caffeine to sleep.

Narration: Patrick McLean narrated his own book, and I always have a few worries when I see an author narrating his own work. But have no fears here! McLean does an awesome job of narrating this book. He has a perfectly shrewd and skeptical voice for Boltac, a wonderfully dense and optimistic voice for Relan, and a serpent’s treacherous sneer for Raddick. I also enjoyed his ‘I’m way too smart to deign to chat with you’ voice for Dimsbury. And don’t forget his toothy voice for the orc Samga. It was a most excellent performance.

What I Liked:  Plenty of humor; the characters play off each other well; excellent narration; reminiscent of D&D adventures; worthy villains.

What I Disliked:  The ladies’ roles are few and limited.

What Others Think:

Amie’s Book Review Blog

Now Very Bad

Dan Absalonson

Raving Violet by Valerie Gilbert

GilbertRavingVioletWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author/narrator (thanks!)

Narrator: Valerie Gilbert

Publisher: Self-published (2015)

Length: 7 hours 33 minutes

Author’s Page

For those of you who have followed Valerie Gilbert on her blog, Raving Violet, you won’t be a stranger to the various essays and stories, ramblings and musings, contained in this book. The collection varies from the humorous to the serious, the ranting to the spiritual, the mundane to the extraordinary. Set in New York over some months in 2011 and 2012, Valerie talks candidly about her life, her friends, her dead parents, and her love life (or sometimes the lack of one).

This book starts with a little forward that explains the author’s acknowledged growth as a writer through these essays and blogging. Initially, she was tempted to cut out some of the earlier works, but in the end, she left them in. As a listener, I could see in the space of this one book how her writing skill grew from start to finish.

There were parts of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed and other parts that didn’t do it for me. First, the good stuff. In general, Gilbert is putting a positive message out there centered around trusting oneself. She shares many stories about her own quest to find this center and learning to trust it. Most of the time, I found these stories amusing, and sometimes insightful. I enjoyed her tales of her pets, of good times with good friends, and of food.

Then there were chunks of the book that were kind of ho-hum for me. The author is very much into seances, mediums, channeling, readings, and various spiritual endeavors, teachings, and workshops. These things hold very little interest to me personally. When these tales were more about the story than the message, they held my interest and some I even found amusing and intriguing. However, there were periods where the narrative got hung up on giving a long, and sometimes rambling, spiritual message along with an explanation of the message. These sections were of little interest to me.

I found some of the spiritual endeavors interesting because human behavior is interesting. First, I was a bit surprised at how many people will pay money for some of these activities, teachings, and workshops. That statement is just me showing my ignorance. After all, people tithe churches, so why not pay for a weekend retreat to learn how to develop your psychic abilities? Then there is also the difference between channeling, being a medium, and simply having psychic abilities or being sensitive to another’s spirit. There are actual definitions and various, certified trainings one can take for each of these. The structure that went into classifying and defining these different abilities was a new thought to me.

Apparently there are many, many famous channelers and mediums and psychics out there. Gilbert walks you through some of her personal experiences with some of these famous folk, such as the hugging lady of India. There was also an Irish guru, who’s style and message weren’t to Gilbert’s liking. While Gilbert focused on the positive experiences throughout much of the book, I often found the not-so-positive more fascinating. The author doesn’t believe every self-proclaimed guru, medium, or psychic. Instead, she cautions that each person should listen to themselves first, and then carefully consider any spiritual messages received from without.

All in all, the book had a few gems that had me chuckling out loud or quirking an eyebrow.

Narration:  NOTE: I listened to an older version of this book. Since then, the author/narrator has re-recorded this book and I gave it a spot listen (you can download the new version from Audible if you have the old) and it is a quality audiobook with no background noises.What follows is my original review of the older version.

By now, I have listened to several audiobooks narrated by Valerie Gilbert. All have been top notch in sound quality….except this one. There were background sounds throughout the book, such as sirens and honking horns. This was a little distracting. Other than that, the production was good. Gilbert was enthusiastic about the book, imbuing it with emotion, humor, shock, awe, warmth, etc.

What I Liked: Humorous stories; the writing skill improves as the book continues; over all message is positive and is about trusting oneself; the cover art.

What I Disliked:  Much of the spiritual stories held little interest for me; sometimes the spiritual message went on at length and was a little rambly.

What Others Think:

Author Ingrid Hall

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Ravenz Reviews

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

GladstoneThreePartsDeadWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Claudia Alick

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2012)

Length: 13 hours 7 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Craft Sequence

Author’s Page

Tara barely graduated and was, in fact, kicked of of school upon gradation. Still, she managed to land a provisional job with a firm. Her first task is to use her Craft to find out how and why the fire god Kos died. The city of Alt Coloumb, once powered by the fires of Kos, is slowing down; soon, there may be riots, or worse.

This is a wonderfully complex tale, full of the imaginative (using star-light fired Craft to argue legalities), the unexpected (gargoyle protectors and vampire sailors), and the impertinent (Tara, our lead character). The world in which Alt Coulumb is set is big, but thankfully, the author has nearly all the scenes set in the city itself. There is a lot going on this world and this city is a great place to get some of the basics down. In a world of multiple deities, and some dead ones, we also have the once-human Deathless Kings, vampires, Stone Men, Wardens, and much more. There is plenty here to keep the reader entertained.

The magic system does take some getting use to. At first, we learn a few bits and bobs and then just have to believe it works. As the story unfolds, Tara, and her mentor Lady Elayne Kevarian, explain more of the mechanics to Abelard, a priest of Kos. Abelard doesn’t need to know how Kos’s power works; faith alone is enough for him. However, he can’t help but be curious as to what Tara is doing with her powers, and the body, in figuring out the mystery of who is responsible. So don’t worry too much about the mechanics of the Craft. Much will be revealed, a little won’t; but it’s all entertaining and worthy.

Tara herself is a joy to follow around. She has a sense of humor, a strong idea of write and wrong, and just enough crazy to jump in with eyes closed when that seems like the quickest route (or the only way). She was a wonderful character to explore this new world with. Her partner in justice, Abelard, was also fun, but in a different way. He approaches life quite a bit differently, through faith, and leather pants. Then there was Lady Kevarian – who may be good, may be evil, or simply might be on Tara’s side for now because it is convenient. I like having characters like this in the mix – they keep me (and the characters) guessing.

With more than one dead body to mess with, Tara has her hands full. Then toss in the Wardens, the Stone Men, and some other hazardous beings and you have a very good time (even if Tara doesn’t, running around constantly trying to keep herself alive).

The Narration: Claudia Alick was a good fit for Tara. She gave her the right mix of sincere quest for the truth and a shrug of the shoulders as you dive off the cliff.  She had a variety of male and female voices, plus really spooky voices for some of the not-quite-human beings we run into. 

What I Liked: The cover art; excellent narration; Tara was a very fun character; such a fascinating world!; gargoyles!; a very satisfying end.

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

What Others Think:

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The Vampire Dancer Saga: Part 3 by Shalimar Ali

AliTheVampireDancerSagaPart3Where I Got It: Won a copy from AudaVoxx (thanks!).

Narrators: Fatimah Halim, J. Lyle

Publisher: Belly Dance with Shalimar Ali (2014)

Length: 1 hour 7 minutes

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 3 in the series, it works OK as a stand alone.

Told in a series of short scenes, ancient queens and vampires compete and couple in the past, just as their dopplegangers do the same in our time. From Cleopatra to Dracula, belly dancing to the grind, ancient witch Queen Salome to modern day witch Grany Rosa Smith, this tale is anything but traditional.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. It does skip around quickly, so you have to pay close attention. There is also a large cast of characters, so you never have time to get attached to any one character. Instead, you simply have to sit back and enjoy the experience, like watching an hour of 80s music videos. Not every video has to make 100% sense, and they don’t have to necessarily relate to one another, and you certainly don’t get to know the individual band members from the one video they feature in within that hour.

The over all experience was definitely different. I wouldn’t have thought to pair vampires and belly dancing, both of which can be sexy things. I liked that we had more female roles than male roles (something that is still hard to find in today’s literature). However, I didn’t like that at least half of these ladies were in direct competition with each of for a man. Sigh. So cliche.

Still, it was an interesting experience and for an hour’s entertainment, you could do far worse.

The Narration: Fatimah Halim and J. Lyle were excellent narrators. For having to switch characters, locations, and times so often they did a very nice job. I really liked Halim’s rich, full voice that made me think of comfort food and curvy sexy women all at once. J. Lyle had to pull off some accents while sounding like he had pointy teeth, which he did very well.  

What I Liked: The cover art; the narration; so very different than anything else I have read lately; belly dancing!; plenty of female roles.

What I Disliked: Often the ladies were in competition with each for a man’s attention, which is simply boring.

Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbol

My book has a cat for a hat.

My book has a cat for a hat.

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

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: HighBridge (2015)

Length: 8 hours 53 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in the 1890s France, Madeleine Karno is at the center of this mystery. Her father, Dr. Albert Karno, is a forensic doctor who has been asked to do a brief examination of the body of a young lady found dead at the door of her family’s home. A mystery begins to unfold involving mites, hounds, a convent, and several more bodies.

I really enjoyed this book, though I did leave it having a few minor questions unanswered; I wished they had been wrapped up of a certainty in the epilogue. Nearly the entire story is told through Madeleine’s eyes, with a few letters and journal entries filling in the rest. Madeleine is a wonderful character to spend time with – she has her own motives, pushes against societal norms in order to get to the truth, and isn’t squeamish around blood. While France has started accepting women to universities, it is still highly unusual for a woman to be assisting in detective work or forensic examination.

The author does a very good job of mixing suspense, action, parasitology, 1890s medicine, and convent life in this mystery. I was never bored with this tale. There was family intrigue, convent intrigue, and then other bits and pieces that on the surface didn’t seem connected. Indeed, we had more than one suspect for the murderer and with each body, the connections became harder to see. I really liked that this book kept me guessing until nearly the end.

There is some sex. One scene is described after the fact by one of the participants. It was a pretty robust scene. Then there is one character that has an embarrassing medical condition in which he gets a involuntary erection whenever he has any strong emotion, like social anxiety. There is also one body that is found in a rather compromising position. So, this book is not a cozy mystery or a light read. Be prepared to dig in and enjoy!

As much as I enjoyed this book, the tale left some questions unanswered at the end. Some of these are just follow up to minor characters of the ‘what happened next?’ variety. For instance, I would like to know what happened with the father and brother of the first body. Other questions were related to solvig the mystery. Don’t worry! We find out who did the deeds in the end. But I wanted to know more about how they were done. There are questions I have about how certain marks on Body #2 and I was unclear about the mite species.

Anyway, over all a decent read if you can let these smaller questions go unanswered. I still really enjoyed this book and will be looking up more of Kaaberbol’s work.

The Narration: Nicola Barber is one of my favorite narrators and she does not disappoint in this book. As usual, she had an excellent voice for our lead character, Madeleine, along with a lovely array of male and female voices for the rest of the cast.  

What I Liked: Excellent narration; cool cover art; wonderful mix of mystery and science; I love the different reactions Madeleine gets as she performs detective work; multiple suspects for the murders; plenty of interesting characters.

What I Disliked: I had some unresolved questions at the end, but I ca let them go and seek out more work by this author.

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