Freedom Club by Saul Garnell

GarnellFreedomClubWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Saul Garnell (2014)

Length: 13 hours 6 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in 2085, the world is technology dependent. More and more, humans have come to rely on their Sentients to run things, everything from large financial structures to household schedules. Sumeet, who was top of his class, and excellent in his chosen field, eventually finds himself not satisfied. Shinzou offers up his advice and a possible job, both of which give Sumeet pause. The Freedom Club pushes for simpler, less tech-infused lives, but how does one explain that to a Sentient?

This book offered up a lot of food for thought. The plot was intricate and the cast interesting. Also, if one wanted to do some inferring, there was a deeper message about dependence on technology. The story starts off with a little historical flashback to 1600s Japan and the last remaining Christians. This flashback is explained later in the book. In fact, these little historical flashbacks happen regularly throughout the book, showing various members of the Freedom Club throughout history.

The tale then launches into a mystery crime story with a virus taking down payment systems. Phoenix is the first city hit and Hugo is the cop assigned to look into it. He suspects an anti-tech group might be behind it, but he will have a hard time proving it. He hesitantly teams up with Shinzou for info swapping. This opening is what hooked me on the story – I like a good SF crime story. Little did I know things would get so intricate.

So there’s a bunch of corporate maneuvering with international companies (such as Takahana Biovores and Chando company), which wasn’t nearly as interesting as what Hugo the Cop was doing, but it set a stage for me to get to know several other characters, including a few Sentients. The Sentients, like Henry who is Shinzou’s friend, are a type of AI. They interact with the physical world via avatars that allow them to walk and talk. In fact, if someone isn’t paying close attention, they can appear quite human in their mannerisms. Shiro is another Sentient who plays a pivotal role in the story. His personality is quite different from Henry’s. Rather late in the tale, we learn how the AIs are made and let me just say, wow! I wasn’t expecting that!

There’s other cool tech on display in this thinking SF story as well. I was pretty interested in the biovores, which are like minuscule biologically active machines that can be used for good purposes, like curing blood born diseases in humans. There are also several virtual reality scenes where we get to see what the ‘homes’ of the Sentients are like for when they are not in avatar mode interacting with humans. AI has also freed humans from many domestic chores, like cooking. Now, it is an oddity to go to a restaurant and have humans cook, and some even consider it unsanitary.

Wrapped up in this very excellent SF story, is a message about technology, becoming too dependent on it, and how living simpler lives can provide greater freedom. The story is written so that I, as the reader, didn’t feel any judgement from the author one way or another. Indeed, there are both good and bad characters on either side of that line in this book. Some members of the Freedom Club have taken it too far (both in the past and in the story’s present) and have essentially become terrorists against technology. I found it all very interesting to have this deep question (does tech set us free or chain us?) spirally through the main plot.

My one criticism of the book is a biggie. There are several female characters, all with minor roles, throughout the book. However, there are no major female characters that are plot central and there are no female Freedom Club members. Yep. That’s right. The Freedom Club is one big sausage fest. No ladies what so ever. I really hope this is some horrible oversight by the author. Accidental misogyny is easier to swallow than intended misogyny.

The book is diverse in other ways. The plot takes us around the world to Japan, India, and the American Southwest. There’s some Europeans represented at one of the corporate companies. Various ages are also represented in our major characters.

The ending takes us to the brink of another ‘terrorist’ attack. I really didn’t know how things would fall out. I was surprised with the ending and by choices made by a few of the Sentients. I found the ending both realistic and satisfying. It will be interesting to see if the author does a sequel.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a very nice job with this book. There were a ton of accents needed (Japanese, Hindi, American, German, French, etc.). Hi Japanese accent started off a little rough but quickly got smoother. He had distinct voices for all characters, even when 2 or more were of the same country. For the few female characters, he had believable voices. I especially liked his elderly voice for Shinzou and his skeptical cop voice for Hugo. 

What I Liked: Intricate plot; lots of cool tech; AIs; the underlying question of whether tech chains us or gives us more freedom; Hugo’s investigation; various world settings and cultures; the climax; great narration.

What I Disliked: There are no major female characters at all; there are no female Freedom Club members.

What Others Think:

Eclectic Breakfast


Bury Me by Tara Sivec

SivecBuryMeWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Stephanie Willis

Publisher: ListenUp Audiobooks (2015)

Length: 6 hours 36 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in 1965,  Ravenna Duskin, who recently completed high school, doesn’t feel quite like herself. Two days ago, she had an accident that left her with scratches, bruises, and a head wound. Her parents dote over her as she recovers, but her memories are not returning as quickly as she would like. Violent dreams haunt her sleep. She just doesn’t fell like herself at all.

My, oh my! This is one of the best Suspense genre books I have listened to in some time. I was hooked from the beginning and engaged the entire book. Ravenna and her parents (Tanner and Claudia) all live in a prison (Gallows Hill) that was turned into a museum/tourist attraction some years ago. Ravenna grew up in this prison, her father having worked there since before she was born, back when it actually held prisoners. As you can see, we have an interesting setting for this nail biting story to play out in.

We enter the story two days after Ravenna’s head wound accident. However, everyone is being rather vague about events of that day and it’s pissing Ravenna off. She wants answers. Her mother is trying hard to soothe her worries by making her pretty pink bed, braiding her hair, and preparing snacks on demand. Yet all that does is raise angry feelings within Ravenna and she doesn’t know why.

Indeed, Ravenna has a lot of emotions in this book and they swing back and forth. At first, we don’t know why and neither does Ravenna. But there is a mystery here, one that Ravenna can’t ignore. As the story moves forward, bits and pieces of her memory break through, and at first, they don’t make sense. Or at least, they don’t match what she has been told. More emotions boil within her, and sometimes they are violent ones.

Now, if you are concerned this book is full of teen angsty behavior and emotions, that’s not the case at all. I think most characters in her position would have most of the emotions she lives through in this tale. Something traumatic happened and no one wants to be honest with her about it.

The cast is small in this story, yet still interesting. Ravenna’s parents have their own ideas of perfection, secrets, and regrets. Nolan,the groundskeeper, is also not telling all he knows, though, admittedly, he’s a bit confused over Ravenna’s changing personality. There’s a mild romantic interest between the two. Trudy, who was once Ravenna’s best friend, is now somewhat too perky and goal-oriented for Ravenna’s taste. Then there’s the rude and somewhat creepy Ike, who is also a groundskeeper. Toss in the shadowy character of Dr. Thomas, and you have an interesting cast, all with there own little dramas.

The ending was very well thought out. For a while, I thought the story would go one way, and it didn’t, then I thought it would end this other way, and that wasn’t it either. I was happily surprised that I couldn’t guess the ending. I was on pins and needles for the climax. Then we have an epilogue that explains things further and gives more insight into the main character’s motives. It was excellent. I haven’t been this satisfied by a Suspense story in some time.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: Stephanie Willis did a great job with Ravenna. She really brought forth all these emotions the main character is feeling without over doing it. I could really feel Ravenna’s confusion and resultant anger over the situation. Willis also had believable male voices and distinct character voices for the entire cast.

What I Liked: The tension and suspense; rather unusual setting; the mystery that no one wants to talk about; Ravenna’s missing memories; the climax as nail biting!; the epilogue explained further and was interesting in and of itself; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this was a thrilling book to listen to.

What Others Think:

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Wicked Women Book Blog

The Blood of Brothers by Domino Finn

FinnTheBloodOfBrothersWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Jason Jewett

Publisher: Blood & Treasure (2015)

Length: 12 hours 4 minutes

Series: Book 2 Sycamore Moon

Author’s Page

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

Maxim Dwyer, the lead detective assigned to Sycamore, has his hands full. The Seventh Sons, the local motorcycle club, is made up mostly of werewolves. He and they have an understanding, but things are about to happen that will challenge that agreement.

This book was excellent. I really enjoyed Book 1 (The Seventh Sons) but I have to say this book is even better. Perhaps that is because it is much longer and the characters and plot have that much more time to engage with me. Maxim and his friend Diege de la Torre are at the center of this plot. It’s part mystery, part shifter tale, part thriller, and all satisfyingly good. I really had a hard time setting this book aside as sleep was over taking me.

Diego, a former CDC assassin, joined up with the Seventh Sons for the camaraderie and the freedom of the road. While the other members obviously know he is not a werewolf, and is immune to the virus that causes lycanthropy, they don’t know he use to hunt and kill errant wolves for the CDC. He has so far resisted engaging in any illegal activity, such as drug or gun running, but that is beginning to rub some of the MC members the wrong way. Diego is sitting on a fence and sooner or later he’s going to be pushed one way or another. And West Wind, an Apache member of the MC, may be the one to push him.

Kaeda Burnett has recently returned home to her Yavapai family from college. She’s never felt truly welcomed there, except by her grandfather, because she is not fully Yavapai. But she felt obligated to visit before she heads out into the world again with her degree. Her two older half-brothers, the Dokas, play pivotal roles in the plot. The Yavapai have historically had a few mercenary werewolves out for hire. This isn’t a secret to Kaeda, but she has never engaged with any of that business. However, with her brothers in a mess, she may have to.

Meanwhile, the FBI have sent in Marshal Boyd to manage the latest case – a person was found skinned on Yavapai land and there are some concerns it was a hate crime. Boyd and Dwyer butt heads from the beginning. Now toss in Los Pistoles, a MC from California, that wants part of the Seventh Sons territory for gun and drug running, and you have several forces in play. When a member of the Seventh Sons ends up dead, there are several people to point the finger at.

My only quibble with this book is that there are only three female characters and really on Kaeda gets to spend time front and center. The other two are Melody (who we met in Book 1) and the female lawyer for the Seventh Sons. These two ladies have perhaps 10 lines between the two of them. Kaeda on the other hand is an excellent character and is central the plot. She’s book smart and patient with herself. She can quickly assess what she is capable of or not, though she usually figures out a work around. Her grandfather gives her good advice, but it is hard for Kaeda to follow through on. It’s obvious the author knows how to write quality characters or either gender, but I do wish we had more ladies in this book.

Despite that, I just loved this book. The plot was intricate with so many motives in play. I absolutely love the Southwest setting because this author does it right showing the great diversity present in this part of the world. While I guessed one or two things concerning the deaths, chunks of the ending were a surprise and this made the wrap up rewarding. I greatly look forward to the next installment.

I received this book free of charge from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Jason Jewett did another fine job. His Spanish accent for Diego de la Torre is spot on. His female voices are believable. All his characters are distinct. I love his somewhat gravelly voice for Maxim. 

What I Liked: The ethnic diversity in characters; Kaeda’s character; Maxim and his conflict with Boyd; Diego and his hard choice concerning the Seventh Sons; multiple mysteries with multiple motives; werewolves; the Southwest setting; the cover art; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Could have used a few more female characters.

What Others Think:

Phillip Tomasso

Audio Book Reviewer

Corridors of the Night by Anne Perry

Heldig was not disturbed by the taking of this photo.

Heldig was not disturbed by the taking of this photo.

Where I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: David Collacci

Publisher: Recorded Books (2015)

Length: 10 hours 42 minutes

Series: Book 21 William Monk

Author’s Page

Note: While this is the 21st book in this series, it worked pretty well as a stand lone. My only comment is that several of the side characters are fully formed and it takes several hints to figure out what they do. I expect they were introduced far earlier in the series and the author expected the reader to already be acquainted with them.

Set in the latter half of the 1800s not too long after the Crimean War, nurse Hester Monk is working at London’s Royal Naval Hospital annex when she comes across three young siblings who are not doing so well. As she investigates, a case of questionable medical experimentation comes to light even as Hester does her best to save Bryson Radnor, an elderly man dying of the white blood disease. Hamilton Rand, a chemist, is dead set on discovering why blood transfusions from the three siblings work where most donated blood fails.

Hester Monk served as a nurse in the Crimean War and her husband, William Monk, is commander of the Thames River Police. Together, they make a formidable force. However, this is primarily Hester’s story. We do get one little interlude of police work on the river as William and his crew deal with some gun runners (though that section stood out as a little odd because it was completely unrelated to the plot). Hester’s wits, patience, knowledge, and compassion are on display in this tale.

Asked to stand in for an ill friend, Hester has a temporary nursing gig at the Naval annex working the night shift. During one of these nights, the young girl Maggie finds her and begs her to come have a look at her brother Charlie. When Hester lays eyes upon the young boy, she quickly sees that he is in need of medical care. She sits with them (and the youngest sibling Mike) throughout the night, providing water to Charlie. In the morning, she asks Dr. Magnus Rand about them and he says he will see to them.

Hester is then assigned to assist Dr. Rand’s brother, Hamilton Rand, a chemist, with his patient, Bryson Radnor, who is ill with the white blood disease (which might be the early term for chronic lymphocytic leukemia). Anyway, he’s a cranky old man who is being treated by a brusque, goal-oriented sexist. As you can see, Hester has her work cut out for her. Hester soon learns that Hamilton is taking blood from the three young siblings and transfusing it into Bryson, and it works. He wants to know why it works but first he has to keep his patient alive long enough to prove that this is a ‘cure’. I found all the medical stuff pretty interesting. I am sure the author had to do some detailed research on what was known at the time about blood transfusions and white blood disease. That research comes through in the writing as the characters never enter a time warp and use modern terms or have some unprecedented medical epiphany on blood types.

Of course, Hester objects. The kids have no parents or other relatives about approving the procedure and Charlie is obviously suffering from the blood letting. Hamilton feels he is left with no choice but to knock Hester unconscious and kidnap her away with his patient to some secluded country manor where treatment may continue. There, Hester has more time to get to know the kids, Bryson, and Bryson’s grown daughter Adrienne.

Meanwhile, William Monk is going a little nuts over his missing wife. He just got back from this gun runner business and it is very unlike Hester to not leave word as to where she is. At this point, the story pulls in several side characters that were most likely introduced earlier in the series. They assist in tracking Hester down, as well as finding the parents of the three kids. I got some of these side characters mixed up as not many descriptors were used with them (though I think if you have read previous books in this series, you wouldn’t have any trouble).

Then that whole bit is resolved and we still have about a third of the book to go. I was surprised at the quick wrap up to Hester’s abduction. The last third of the book is mostly courtroom drama, though there is some sleuthing both Hester and William undertake. I found this section of the book less entertaining than the first two-thirds. And, again, more side characters that are obviously old time favorites are drawn in, such as the lawyer Oliver Rathbone.

Overall, I found the book interesting and it was a look into Victorian England that I haven’t explored before. I quite enjoyed all the medical stuff. Hester’s character was fun too. She’s got a sharp tongue that sometimes gets away from her. After all, she spent quality time around military men who were in serious pain. Most of the side characters, while obviously on good terms with Hester and William, left me feeling like I was missing something. Admittedly, this is my first Anne Perry book. So, I think if folks have read previous books in this series, they probably wouldn’t have this feeling. I really liked that there was no cut and dry bad guy. Hamilton Rand had distinct reasons for doing as he did and while dismissive of the female gender in general, he didn’t outright mistreat women. Bryson Radnor wanted to live, and live a full life. Adrienne Radnor wanted her father healthy, probably so she could go on to live her own life instead of nursing him. This aspect of the story was well done and made the plot all the more interesting.

I won a copy of this book from the publisher via GoodReads.

Narration: David Collacci did a good job with this book. He had a variety of regional accents for the characters. His female voices were believable. He also did a great job with the voices for the little kids. I especially liked his voice for Bryson as it was a kind of gravelly old man’s voice, but an old man who could also be a little obscene or clever as the mood took him.

What I Liked: Complex characters; Hester’s got a sharp tongue; all the medical stuff; the Victorian England setting; the three kids; the sleuthing in the last third of the book.

What I Disliked: I felt like I was missing something with the numerous side characters; the gun runner scene felt out of place; the abrupt end to the kidnapping and then we still have a third of the book to go.

What Others Think:

Book Him Danno

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Valerie Penny’s Book Reviews

Hard-Luck Harry by Michelle Rabe

RabeHardLuckHarryWhere I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: Chase Johnson

Publisher: Michelle Rabe (2015)

Length: 45 minutes

Author’s Page

Harry recently got out of prison and he has returned to his old haunts on the Las Vegas strip. He’s always been one to look for easy cash and now he’s looking for a larger card game with some whales he can play against. He won’t get what he came to Vegas for, but he might just get something better.

Harry took a knock to the head about three months back and since then there has been this voice. He has learned to listen to the voice, but not his innate common sense. He proceeds with his plan to cheat at cards and win big. He ends up at the elite Coffin Club with a wad of cash to buy in. There, we meet a few more characters. Mr. Cristoff Marchon runs the place. Mandy is his right hand-woman who manages the manager. David is a floor manager and his main job is to keep an eye out for cheats.

Harry is an enigmatic character. We don’t know why he was in prison. The only ‘bad’ thing we witness him doing is cheating at cards. He seems to have at least one friend, Mickey the bartender who we meet at the beginning of the story. Harry is out for the simple, fast solution and isn’t looking to find long term work or turn socially respectable. So, honestly, I’m not sure I liked this main character, but I did find him interesting.

All the other characters are pretty fleeting and by necessity are one dimensional. There’s only 1 female character, Mandy, and most of the time spent with her is discussing her looks and her sashaying hips. With a short story and a small cast, having only 1 female character is not unusual but I would have liked to have the time spent with her on her other attributes, such as her special talents.

The supernatural part of the story comes in really, really late. I had an impression going into this tale that this aspect would permeate it instead of being the final crescendo. Needless to say, the side characters with these special talents soon become interested in Harry because he appears to have his own special talent.

The ending was pretty abrupt, even as I felt it was fitting. My biggest criticism is that this story is too short. The characters needed a little more time to develop, the plot point of these supernatural talents needed more time on the page, and the ending needed more time to be dramatic and satisfying. This story has potential and I hope the author chooses to build upon what she started here.

I won a copy of this book from the author.

Narration: Chase Johnson did a decent job. He had a good voice for Harry that was full of skepticism and a disregard for authority. He made Harry believable. Later in the story, he does a passable French accent for one of the characters, and the same for the one female character.

What I Liked: Harry’s an interesting character; the seedy, desperate feel to the story; the supernatural quality that comes into play near the end.

What I Disliked: The story needed more time overall to develop – as it is, things feel rather rushed about it; most of the time spent on the lone female character is concerning her looks.

Failure by John Everson

EversonFailureWhere I Got It: Won a copy from Audio Book Reviewer

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Dark Arts Books (2015)

Length: 1 hour 24 minutes

Author’s Page

Aaron has a plan to attain greatness, but it will cost. He seeks out gullible failures to be part of a ritual that will bring back a now-dead witch, whose power he can then claim for his own. It’s going to be a hot bloody mess.

Aaron, our wannabe wizard, convinces Sal to gather other discontented teens. Sal himself is a sad sort, desperately wanting a girl to notice him. Aaron sweetens the deal by offering up some quality pot to those who come join in the ritual. Sal manages to recruit Raymond, Cindy (who goes by Cind part of the time), and Emily.

Raymond is in love with the idea of suicide but he never manages to follow through. At first I was a little confused as it sounded like he actually completed the act only to blink and find himself still alive. I was unclear throughout the story as to whether or not something supernatural was going on with Raymond.In any case, he keeps testing the boundaries. Cindy is testing a different set of boundaries, trading sex for drugs long before Sal comes to her with his proposition. Emily was a very brief character and I can’t recall what her failure was, if any.

So these teens get together at Aaron’s house and get high and then naked. Then as part of this ritual (which they know almost nothing about), the three of them have sex. There’s blood and other body fluids but they’re pretty high and remember it as some of the best sex ever. So initially, it looks like Cindy didn’t realize this ritual’s purpose was to bring back this dead witch, as she contemplates who knocked her up. But then later on it sounds like she knew from the beginning that Aaron needed her as a vessel to bring about this witch. Anyway, things get really messy when the birth is imminent.

Taken all together, it was an OK story. There’s a constant stream of action, so you’re never bored. However, there are a few points that are confusing, as already discussed. All the characters are one dimensional, but this is a short story, so that is mostly OK. The ladies are all sex objects (except the now-dead witch who never has a single line). There’s plenty of blood to satisfy the gory horror junkie, if that’s your thing. I did like that everyone in the tale lives up to the title of the book – they all fail in some way. In fact, only one gets out alive.

I won a copy of this audiobook from Audio Book Reviewer.

Narration: Joe Hempel did a pretty good job with this book. His characters voices were each distinct and his female voices were believable. I especially liked his voice for Aaron, which had a kind of gravelly old man quality to it.

What I Liked: Fast-paced; all the characters area failures of one kind or another; I like the idea of a wannabe wizard using pot to lure in participants; the ending – not everyone gets out alive.

What I Disliked: The ladies are sex objects and not particularly interesting; does Raymond have some supernatural ability or not? This was never made clear; did Cindy know up front what was expected, or not?

Michael Patrick Hicks

Horror After Dark

J. Barron Owens

Through A Glass Darkly by Miss Mae

MaeThroughAGlassDarklyWhere I Got It: Review Copy

Narrator: Owen McCuen

Publisher: Miss Mae (2015)

Length: 1 hour 7 minutes

Author’s Page

Vexen Rheinhart and Remard are aboard a medical transport ship that is about to suffer some major mishaps. Computer viruses are a thing of the past and one has just wreaked chaos on Vexen’s ship. Unfortunately, there is also a homicidal alien that stowed away, lying in wait for the perfect moment. Several other things will go wrong before anything goes right.

There was plenty of action, a little humor, a touch of romance in this fast-paced space opera. Vexen, our main character, is quick-witted, dedicated, and not afraid to follow through on a good punch if it means saving her friends, ship, or herself. Remard, a blue fingered alien, makes a worthy sidekick. When the computer virus strikes Della, the ship’s computer, the ship drifts off course. This makes it impossible for Vexen’s husband Leland to transport over. So he sends a hologram instead. This hologram, unfortunately, has an identify crisis. This leads to both humor and tragedy.

I liked all the various tech involved in the tale. There’s a handful of weapons, especially once an alien ship demands to board the medical supply ship. Then there’s all the references to the computer virus. Next, at least one person will need doctoring before the tale is through. I definitely felt like we were in some far flung future aboard a snazzy medical space ship.

The stow-away alien was both scary and fascinating. It was a kind of blobby spider and it was unclear if it was sentient or not. Other than acting on it’s homicidal urges, there was no direct communication with it. Remard, who is also an alien, is obviously of a more rational and congenial sort. It’s obvious from the beginning that he and Vexen have a true friendship and have been in tough places together before. Then there is the evil alien commander Delphan, a reptilian race, that demands to board the drifting medical supply ship. I really liked that we had more than one alien variety.

The ending leaves a little up to the reader to decide and I was OK with that. Usually, I like it when the author has chosen a definite ending but in this case, it was well done. Over all, there was plenty here for scifi fans to enjoy. I am hoping the author revisits this little universe she has created, granting us more Vexen stories.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the narrator (via Theater of the Mind FB group) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Owen McCuen was a good fit for this tale. At first, I was a little concerned because our main character is female, so why not a female narrator? But then I heard his voice for Vexen, which is very well done, and my concerns were laid to rest. He had a most excellent voice for Remard which consisted of this odd alien accent – very well done! Later on, he comes up with another, distinct, well done alien accent for the reptilian Delphan. There’s a handful of sound effects thrown in, mostly connected with Della the ship computer. The first loud beep startled me and the cats, but then the rest were well integrated into the narration. 

What I Liked: Interesting main character Vexen; so much going wrong in such a short amount of time; Remard is a great side kick; variety of aliens; the ending was sound; great narration.

What I Disliked: Honestly, the only thing I didn’t like about this book was the cover, and that is such a minor thing.

What Others Think:

Tattle Tale