Audiobook Giveaway & Interview: Ashley Franz Holzmann, Author of The Laws of Nature

HolzmannTheLawsOfNatureDear Dabbers, please welcome author Ashley Franz Holzmann to the blog today. We chat about classics, running obstacle courses, warning labels, and plenty more! If you’re interested in the giveaway, then check out the awesome audiobook giveaway at the bottom of the post.

What now-dead author would you like to interview? What are some of the things you would chat about?

I don’t think I would enjoy interviewing any author, but I would love to get a beer with Edgar Allen Poe. Poe went to West Point for a few months and when I attended the academy we heard a few stories about a rowdy Poe who didn’t like following the establishment. He led such a rough life. I bet he had just as many stories that he didn’t tell as he did stories that he left us to read.

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

Cowboy Bebop. Hands down. Talk about a genre defining experience. I had watched a couple of animes growing up, but Bebop showed me that any art form has as much potential as the next. Bebop is what I show friends who tell me they hate anime. It has everything and the storytelling is so tight. The action has reason and the characters are all flawed with human traits we all can empathize with. That’s how you write a TV show. To me, Bebop is the definition of cool.

How does modern culture influence your work? Do modern cultural references date a piece or add touchstones for the reader?

I soaked up entertainment as a kid. I watched tons of TV and played tons of games in the 90s. I was unstoppable until I went to college. I read a lot more these days. I think my writing is a combination of all of my experiences in life and all of the things I’ve allowed myself to be exposed to. Bob Dylan wrote in his biography about how he would read anything he could when he was younger. He read On War and poetry and all sorts of stuff that eventually influenced his song writing. Maybe not directly, but at least indirectly. I believe in getting inspiration from everywhere. So, I would say that I have been influenced by modern culture. I insert themes about gender in my writing, and I indirectly and directly talk about parts of my life growing up. I do attempt to shy away from direct cultural references, because I enjoy the timelessness of storytelling and references to ebaumsworld.com aren’t going to hold up for the younger crowds. I like the idea of writing stories intentionally in different decades (I can be a history nerd at times), but that’s looking back in time and picking and choosing what you know the audience will understand as cultural references.

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

I actually really enjoy inserting reality as often as I can. My current book is horror, so there’s moments that could absolutely not happen. But there’s so much we don’t talk about in our societies that I think are fine to talk about within the pages of a book. That’s one of the best parts of writing stories. Books are read alone and digested in a more intimate fashion than a movie in a movie theater gets to accomplish. I majored in sociology in college, and one of the things we studied was how societies always have the double standards of what is socially acceptable on paper (what we like to think is our reality) and what is truly socially acceptable. The concept of taboos fascinate me, and I enjoy trying to be honest in my writing when I can be.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

So I’m an officer in the army. I’ve met quite a few people who don’t realize just how much the jobs within the military vary. Army officers change jobs about every year, and we move to a new post every three years or so. So we’re constantly learning and adapting to new environments. All that aside, I was selected to be an Aide-de-Camp to a Brigadier General back when I was a young Lieutenant. That was my most difficult job. Some work days were 20 hours long. It’s like being the right hand of a fortune 300 company CEO. I saw a world I would not have otherwise known of. It’s a long story, but to keep it short and answer the question: it taught me how to really watch my words. Every word matters, and concisely conveying intent is very important. I enjoy reading Mark Twain and Hemingway and Vonnegut and Palahniuk, but it was the General who taught me to use my words precisely. He was hard on me because he was developing me professionally and personally. It’s easy to see now, but that was a long 14 months.

More and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel. How do you see the publishing industry evolving to handle this trend? Any plans to take your works in the multimedia realm?

I grew up on all those formats. I’m still a comic nerd at times (I can’t say I’m super hardcore, as I have to admit that I’m the guy who buys trades and graphic novels), and I love that the film industry has finally realized the potential of the comics that all of us comic book nerds have known for years. Man, if they can figure out how to make Kingdom Come… that will be awesome.

I don’t see the publishing industry going farther than where it currently is. Amazon still sells paperback novels. I think that will keep being a thing. When I read to my sons, they like books. They want to hold them in their hands and help me turn the pages. There’s something about that experience. You have to teach a child to enjoy an eReader. They understand the book that they can hold way sooner than they understand the screen with the pictures on it. I don’t think we’ll ever move away from physical books. Not completely. I still buy books. I can’t use Kindles or iPads. I’ve tried. Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing and I’m wrong and 100 years from now we’ll all be doing the eBook thing. I suppose we’ll have to see. I do like how audiobooks have made the transition to the modern formats. They’re so accessible and it totally breathes life into a project. I know I had a great experience with Mr. Creepy Pasta, my audiobook reader. He has a YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/MrCreepyPasta) that’s rather popular and he’s a cool guy. You should check him out.

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

I’ve read the Iliad but I still have to read the Odyssey. Which I know I need to get around to. Everyone tells me the Odyssey is the better book. I have a whole list of books that I need to catch up on. Mostly literature. The older I get (I’m only a year away from 30) the more I realize there’s so little time. I really like reading to my sons. So I figure I’ll just instill a love of books with them and read a lot of books to them while they grow up. If a few of those books happen to be literature that I still want to read off my list, then I get to educate my kids while also continuing to read the things I wish to read before I die.

Do you have any superstitions? How about phobias?

I have fears, but no superstitions or phobias. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff and give ourselves reasons to be walk on eggshells. Maybe that’s the army talking and I’ve been in the system too long, but I really enjoy soaking in as much life as I can whenever I get the opportunity. I believe in traveling and learning and trying to understand all I can about the world and the variety of people that live on it.

My fears are mostly realistic. I don’t like the idea of being in deep water, but I try to be rational about it. My fears haven’t stopped me from snorkeling in some really awesome places like Australia or the Red Sea. I do admit that I can be paranoid at times, but I try to rationalize that as me being careful. I’ve seen parts of the world that a lot of Americans will never see, so I’ve seen aspects of human nature that I try to be aware of.

If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?

Caution: this may get confusing.

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?

I’ve had to run my fare share of obstacles. I would take one of my army battle buddies with me, because I’m not going to finish that thing last and a good battle buddy gets you through events like that. We’d finish together and kick everyone’s ass. Beer would be involved afterwards. Always celebrate your accomplishments. You earned them.

HolzmannTheLawsOfNatureBook Blurb for The Laws of Nature:

There is a dark side to human nature that can be neither wished away nor completely mitigated. Ashley Franz Holzmann details just several of these laws in his introduction to The Laws of Nature: A Collection of Short Stories of Horror, Anxiety, Tragedy and Loss before taking his readers on a journey through the bizarre, the terrifying, and, ultimately, the disturbingly real truths that underlie much of modern American life. Ashley makes his debut into the horror genre with “The Stump”, a story about an afternoon trot through the woods that quickly becomes a bloodbath, and, much as it does for that story’s monster, the scent of fear will only lure veteran horror readers further through the forest. A teenager’s vanity will likely cause his town to be consumed by a roaming swarm of insects that burst forth from his acne-riddled skin in “White Heads”; entire populations vanish into the void of the Alaskan tundra in “Glass Houses”; and superiority takes the form of a murdering, sadistic woman in “Lady Macbeth”. But Ashley’s best retellings focus less on gore and adrenaline and instead take human psychology as their medium, as demonstrated in “Plastic Glasses”, where readers are brought into a world of disturbing personality and mental disorders. Ashley’s work abounds with stories in this vein, stories that grab a hold of a common failing, such as marital friction in “Hush” or American male frustration in “Orpheus’s Lot”, and take it to an extreme that is nevertheless not inconceivable for most people. Coming from the mind of a man who has experienced more than his fair share of humanity, The Laws of Nature is, at its finest, a description of universal emotions of loss, nostalgia, anxiety, and soul-penetrating terror. Ashley’s stories elicit empathy from his readers and draw them into worlds where they both acknowledge and cuddle with their fears and that leave them, ultimately, more human.

Places to Stalk Ashley Franz Holzmann

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GIVEAWAY!!!

For the giveaway, Ashley is generously offering up 5 Audible.com downloads of his book The Laws of Nature. To enter, do the Rafflecopter thing below or answer the following in the comments: 1) Do you have an Audible.com account? 2) Please leave contact info 3) If you came with a warning label, what would it say? Giveaway ends September 30th, 2015, midnight.

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Dead of Night by M. R. Forbes

ForbesDeadOfNightWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Jeff Hays

Publisher: Quirky Algorithms (2014)

Length: 9 hours 53 minutes

Series: Book 1 Ghosts & Magic

Author’s Page

 

Conor Night is a necromancer, a hitman, and cancer patient. The illegal treatments keeping him alive are risky and expensive. Hence, the need to do odd jobs like thievery and the occasional murder. Lucky for him, he had a great instructor, Dani, who is still around to keep him organized; and he has his corpses, some of which are more useful than others.

A few weeks ago, I listened to the prequel, Dead Lucky, and really enjoyed it. This book follows that up with even more awesomeness. Set roughly 3 years after Conor was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he’s gone to great lengths to keep himself alive. He’s not proud of all that he has done but he is dead set on providing for the family he walked away from. He was lucky to have Dani find him back then, drunk and beaten. She was already a Ghost, having the special skills and training to pull off the difficult jobs no one wants to talk about but so many have a need for. Now Conor too is a Ghost. He’s a complicated character who usually chooses the right thing to do even if it is a difficult path. Yet he is always tormented by the few bad deeds he has done.

Conor isn’t your typical hero. He’s unhealthy. He’s not some hunky hero with a good haircut and abs to die for. Nope. He’s got determination, weapon skills, a reasonable IQ, and his rough humor to carry him forward. I was fascinated by his relationship with Dani in Dead Lucky and that fascination carries over to this book as well. Toss in another potential romantic interest and we see flashes of the tender side to Conor.

The author tosses you into the action, but then provides this rich background for the characters in conversations or small flashbacks as a character mulls over a situation. The job Conor signed on for morphs into something much bigger. There’s mystery and some double dealing. Toss in a few mysterious magic users, a pack of werewolves, a touch of romance, some cyberpunkian info gathering and you have quite the ride!

These fascinating characters, several of which are multifaceted, are set in this future world populated by magical creatures – ogres, werewolves, vampires, etc. The solid plot line makes room for all of that while keeping the story moving forward. There was a very unexpected twist near the end that had me talking back to the book (mostly saying NO! and such). It was well done and it made total sense for the plot. This is an excellent addition to the urban fantasy genre.

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

Narration:  Jeff Hays was once again excellent to listen to. His somewhat gravelly voice for Connor was perfect, again. He had some coughing fits (in line with the character) that he tossed in here and there, making Conor’s illness that much realer. Late in the story there is a ghostly element that speaks with a chorus of voices and Hays did some masterful sound magic there! I swear, the hairs on the back of my neck went up when I heard that chorus! Hays also has an amazing range of female character voices. I especially like his voice for Dani, being sharp and precise and yet somewhat loving all at the same time.

What I Liked:  Necromancy!; there’s well placed swearing; the cover art; excellent narration; magical urban fantasy setting; the relationship between Dani and Conor; Conor’s past; good use of werewolves.

What I Disliked:  Nothing – it’s a great listen!

What Others Think:

Bubblews

Lynch: A Gothic Western by Nancy A. Collins

CollinsLynchWhere I Got It: Review Copy

Narrator: Lucas D. Smith

Publisher: Nancy A. Collins (2012)

Length: 3 hours 15 minutes

Author’s Page

This is one of those wild weird west stories – and I really enjoyed every minute of it. So we got this guy, Johnny Pearl, wandering the Wyoming area post-Civil War. He’s killed a lot of people, has a reputation, and has to kill more people because idiots keep on challenging him to gun duels and won’t take ‘No’ for an answer. But then he finds his personal angel, Katie Small Dove. Too bad that doesn’t last long. The main antagonist, known as Cpt. Antioch Drake, strolls in and sets things ablaze, killing and hanging. But shortly after Drake and his soldiers clear out, a wonky medicine wagon rolls in, driven by Dr. Mirablis who has a special use for a hung corpse such as Johnny Pearl.

Even though this is novella length, we have a nice solid set up to give us an idea of who Johnny Pearl was before he met Katie, and who he was with Katie, to compare with what he becomes after Doc Mirablis hooks him up to a power source and forces him back to life. I really like that the author took the time to show that. Johnny starts off as a damaged warrior who isn’t sure he wants to warrior anymore but doesn’t see a good alternative (not until Katie enters his life). He goes from this typical damaged hero to this reluctant vengeful hero – a path I enjoyed reading.

Meanwhile, Doc Mirablis has a chip on his shoulder, something to prove. His once-friend and associate, Dr. Viktor Von Frankenstein, managed something incredible, and Mirablis plans to out do him! Cue evil scientist laughter. He’s already made a few attempts – such as the horse in the stable back at the hidden evil laboratory, and his two reluctant henchmen – Sasquatch and Pompeii. Sasquatch was made up of a collection of body parts from a slain Indian village, and as such, he has a rather unique take on his second life (or lives?). Meanwhile, Pompeii was Mirablis’s man servant for years before he died and Mirablis brought him back to life. There’s true loyalty there. But there’s a few costs to living for these once dead men (and horse). If Johnny doesn’t plan ahead, he could end up returning to the dead or becoming a true monster. Both costs make sense, but one is a wee bit bone chilling!

As you might have guessed, once Johnny gets his feet back under him, he is obsessed with revenge. Antioch Drake must die! But he’s not allowed to leave the hidden evil laboratory and the exit is well guarded. Too bad Johnny is rather single-minded, eh? The last quarter of the book is the most exciting. It was indeed nail biting. Given all the crap that has already happened to Johnny, and not knowing if there is a sequel out there (I don’t think there is), I was deeply concerned for our hero. I did not know if he would make it out of this story alive or not. When all was said and done, I was quite satisfied with how things ended, even with that little disturbing twist at the end.

My one little quibble is that we only 1 female character and she has such a small role, even if she has a big impact on Johnny Pearl.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the narrator (via Audiobook Blast) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration:  Lucas Smith was the perfect voice for Johnny Pearl. He had this gravelly, touch-of-sadness voice that really worked for the character. He had great accents for the other characters as well – like the German accent for Dr. Mirablis. The one female character had very few lines but Smith made them sound like a believable female. Later in the story, he has to make some interesting sounds for these walking dead men. An excellent performance all around.

What I Liked:  A wild weird west story!; love the cover art; really enjoyed Johnny Pearl’s character arc; the various twists were well placed and made this story stick with me; couple different ethnicities tossed in; very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked:  There’s only 1 female character and her role is rather tiny and she could really be almost any woman for the purposes of this story.

What Others Think:

Amie’s Book Review Blog

CNC Listening @ BDREGGE

ZDate: A Zombie Romance by Charley Allen

AllenZDateWhere I Got It: Review Copy

Narrators: Angel Clark, Melissa Chatwood, Ray Greenley, David Dietz, Andrew Wehrlen

Publisher: Charley Allen (2015)

Length: 39 minutes

Author’s Page

 

Gary is a programmer and has been hired by zombies to create a zombie dating website for them. Gary is not too enthused at first, but then begins to see the monetary advantages to such a website. Meanwhile, Greg and Amy have met through the website and are trying to meet in real zombie life.

This was a fun audiobook with a fun cast. There are basically only 5 characters – Gary (evil programmer), Amy (hottie zombie), Greg (another hottie zombie), Stef (Amy’s BFF who would like to be more), and Zed (Greg’s wingman). Being zombiefied is just a new way of life that the young generation has gotten use to. Zombies hold jobs, go to college, and date. Hence, the need for a zombies-only dating site.

The story is told in a humorous fashion, often breaking that fourth wall and talking directly to the listener. Occasionally, the humor was a little overdone, a little over accentuated. But for the most part I was found it amusing and engaging.

My favorite character was Stef (with Gary being a close second). Stef chose to go zombie in order to stay friends with Amy. And I do believe Stef wouldn’t mind if things became more than friendly. Alas, I think she is in for heartache in the future as Amy seems completely oblivious.

Gary was fun partly because he is still human and partly because he is an ass. He really doesn’t like zombies and thinks of them as subhuman. Yet he will take their money to go start a website. He continues to be a jerk throughout the story, but his jerkscapades grow proportionately throughout this short tale. I loved the anticipation of watching him fall!

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from one of the narrators (via the GoodReads Audiobooks group) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration:  The narration was tip top on this book. The full cast, not something you usually see for such a short story, really made this book work. Obviously, each character had their own distinct voice and each narrator did a great job of giving them attitude and emotions (even the zombie characters).

What I Liked:  Fun, humorous zombie tale; zombie dating!; interesting evil character; my favorite character was Stef; fun ending.

What I Disliked:  Occasionally the humor was a little overdone.

Electric Blues by Shaun O. McCoy

McCoyElectricBluesWhere I Got It: Review Copy

Narrator: Gabrielle Olexa

Publisher: Sisyphean Publications (2013)

Length: 1 hour 13 minutes

Author’s Page

 

Arty is an obsolete model of personal assistant droid, specifically model PA3025. Employment has become increasingly difficult to come by as newer and faster models become available. So, he’s on the government unemployment which means he has a case worker, Knickers. And Knickers has a subtle plan to get depressed Arty back into the swing of things.

I stepped into this story not expecting too much. I figured it would be a light-hearted lunch listen. What I got instead is so much more. Most of the story is told through the droid’s eyes and it was very interesting to watch Arty go from an initial wish to switch off (or terminate) to a place where he felt useful and needed.

Knickers uses a parable to get some points across to Arty. Extra points to the author for mentioning the old computer game Galaga, by the way. In fact, the entire story, Electric Blues, is a parable for modern human life and anyone who feels obsolete. This is done in a very clever way. I was sucked into the story and the characters long before I saw what the author was doing.

Another crucial character is the aging Madeline. Arty takes up volunteer work, per Knickers direction, while he continues to search for a job. Madeline is his first stop and in her daft way she takes him on as a personal assistant. She doesn’t have much interest in modern tech and being able to interface with such tech through the very accessible and people-friendly Arty makes her life much easier. Through this relationship, Arty grows as a character.

Now toss in snippets of a court case that attempts to define sentient life and you have plenty to think about. These little snippets were well placed throughout the story providing little breaks between scenes and raising some pretty interesting questions about what constitutes legal, rights-holding life.

All in all, I was very impressed with this story. I hope that McCoy makes more of his work available in audiobook format!

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

Narration:  At first I wasn’t sure why the author picked a female narrator for this book as nearly all of it is told through Arty’s voice. But then I realized that Arty is an it, not a he or she, so it didn’t particularly matter. Gabrielle Olexa did a fine job sounding like a stiff PA3025. She managed to keep a monotone voice for PA Arty throughout the tale. She had a variety of voices for the other characters and imbued them with emotion when needed. My favorite voice was old lady Madeline.

What I Liked:  Raises some interesting questions about the definition of life; I was sucked into the story before I realized it was a parable; extra points for bring up Galaga; great to seen Arty work through his believes on being obsolete and come to realize that he is still useful; very satisfying end.

What I Disliked:  Nothing – I really enjoyed this story.

The Berserker and the Pedant: Season One by Josh Powell

PowellTheBerserker&ThePedantSeason1Where I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Robert Ashker Kraft

Publisher: Josh Powell (2015)

Length: 3 hours 51 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Berserker & the Pedant

Author’s Page

Gurken Stonebiter is a berserker dwarf, not a specialized cucumber. He’s on a mission and not much will stand in his way other than his rash temper. Along the way, he picks up a grammatically-oriented magician, Arthur, and a pre-pubescent lass, Pellonia, who has snark to share. There’s plenty of death, and thankfully resurrection, and even more mayhem.

When Arthur died the first time, I was a little sad. After all, we had spent some quality time getting to know his love for proper punctuation. But I was happy to find out that there was a way or two to bring even a dismembered person back to life. Arthur blamed the very large ants, and rightly so! Arthur would not be their last victim. Later in the story, Arthur has to be resurrected again but there is a bit of a mix up and Arthur has to make do with what he gets. Ha!

Gurken is my hero throughout the story playing the uncomplicated straight man to all the humor and the occasional pun. Over time, he becomes attached to both Pellonia and Arthur. With his rough edges and big heart, he stole the show. When he’s made a decision, he follows through with everything. Towards the end, he has a tough choice, and once made, he has to shove it down the authorities’ collective throats. He did it with style.

Pellonia started off as the kid side kick. She was cuter than a button and as obnoxious (in a funny snarky way) as a broken zipper. Later in the story, we meet one of her siblings and then plenty is revealed about her to her new friends. Her secret family ties explained her knowledge on certain subjects and her adult attitude. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the surprise was a nice little twist and let the story take a larger, unexpected turn later on.

The answer to one quest leads to another. The action for these three never ceases. This story has a really good balance between humor and action. I was never bored with the tale. In fact, there were moments where I snort-laughed out loud. This book definitely starts off a solid fantasy humor story. However, there is a bit of a curve into science fiction by the end. It was nicely done and totally made sense with the characters and plot. Sometimes I don’t enjoy stories that try to meld scifi and fantasy as it feels forced. However, in this case, it was smoothly done and never made frown. There is a bit of cliffhanger at the end. Definitely looking forward to season 2!

I received this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Robert Ashker Kraft was an excellent fit for this story. He had a very nice brogue for Gurken that totally suited the character. He had this nasally ‘I always know best’ voice for Arthur, especially when he was going on about grammar. His female voices were quite good, especially for Pellonia.

What I Liked: The cover art; awesome characters I was instantly attached to; great balance of action and humor; a touch of the punny but not too much; a nice blend from fantasy into scifi; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

What Others Think:

The Fish Place

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

KristoffStormdancerWhere I Got It: Review copy

Publisher: Audible Studios (2013)

Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda

Length: 14 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Lotus War

Author’s Page

The world is polluted and it is only getting worse. The Shogun Yoritomo rules with an iron fist, taking whatever pleases him. The Lotus Guild holds sway via their knowledge of mechanics and running the empire’s many machines. The black lotus pollutes land and people alike, choking out the wild places, tainting air and water, and providing a temporary, poisoned escape from reality to those who smoke it. Yukiko, a 16 year old young woman, is of the Fox clan and has a special gift, one that she must keep secret. Her father was once a mighty hunter and the Shogun has not forgotten his past feats. He is sent on a hunt to bring the Shogun a live thunder tiger. However, one hasn’t been seen in so long some now believe they were only ever myths.

Honestly, it took me about 4 hours to get into this book. I’m really not sure why. This book has so many things that I love about fantasy in general and steampunk/dieselpunk in particular. It did take me a while to get attached to Yukiko, our main character. Nevertheless, once I became caught up in the story, I did not want to put it down. In fact, there were some moments towards the end where a few tears (just a few!) might have been jerked out of me. If you’ve been waffling about whether or not to give this book a try, then I definitely recommend it. Just be prepared to let the story gain momentum.

First, this world is not quite like anything else I have come across. I know the description says it is steampunk but the Lotus Guild’s tech relies much more on petroleum products than on steam power. But many of the literary elements of a good steampunk are there – we have an airship (highly flammable!), a guild that is pretty darn secretive about their tech, and goggles. Can’t have a good steampunk-like tale without goggles. On top of the tech, we have a feudal Japan-like setting. There’s plenty of Japanese vocabulary and cultural references throughout the book. There’s a series of islands too, though this book focuses on Shima. No matter what sub-genre you stick this fantastical world in, make sure to also label it ‘Awesome!’.

We don’t meet the thunder tiger, Buruu, until perhaps 3 hours in. He and Yukiko do not start off as friends. Indeed, far from it. In fact, their meeting and subsequent need to survive together is rather harrowing. Yukiko has a secret power that only her father knows about which is the ability to Ken with animals – basically mindspeak with them. The point where Yukiko and Buruu start working together was when the story really started for me and I became fully engaged. I really enjoyed the sometimes banter between the two. Also, Buruu has a rather distinct personality and pretty much only 1 way to solve problems – kill it! He’s not one for thinking about consequences. Yukiko has to be the one to do that for the both of them and that forces her to grow as a character.

Yukiko started off as a pretty self-sufficient yet angry teenager. Her father is often drunk on lotus smoke and Yukiko has to fend for herself most of the time. This is a pretty standard character set up and perhaps that is one of the reasons I was slow to come to enjoy this book. Once she and Buruu end up lost together in the last remaining Shima wilderness, things change. Yukiko is no longer raging (internally or externally) at her neglectful father. She now has a purpose, albeit a small one of mere survival. That blossoms into a larger purpose once she meets some unexpected folks. One revelation after another leaves Yukiko hardened into a focused individual who has one goal in mind. The Shogun should be worried.

Yukiko also has another unexpected ally – Shin. He’s a young guildsman who was badly injured. Through his eyes we learn some awful secrets about the Guild and their purposes. Shin, like so many others, didn’t have a choice about whether or not to be in the Lotus Guild. However, once fully indoctrinated, it is nearly impossible to leave. The Guild is responsible for much of the environmental pollution, the slavery and continued attempt to conquer new lands, and the lotus smoke that both intoxicates and poisons the users. In short, they have much to answer for.

Once the story picked up for me, I quite enjoyed the plot. There’s plenty of well-written fight scenes that had me holding my breath. Also, there is deception, intrigue, and a touch of romance. Yukiko’s and Buruu’s friendship continues to grow. In fact, there was this intense scene where we learn just how fond Buruu has become of his young mistress. Ah! I was worried for our main characters at that moment. The plot has a few twists, most of which revolve around revelations of the past. As Yukiko learns more about the Shogun’s past ill deeds, the more she focuses on him as the evil-doer and the easier it is to forgive her father.

I’m very glad that I stuck with this book. I came to love the main characters and to care about the land and what will become of its people. While the ending (which was most excellent) closed the story arc for this book, it also left us nicely set up for book 2. I’m definitely looking forward to more tales of Yukiko and Buruu!

I received this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: Jennifer Ikeda was most excellent in her performance of this book! She had a great voice for Yukiko and her fluid Japanese accent for many of the Japanese words and names really added to the flavor of the book. I totally loved her voice for Buruu. She really managed to capture the tone of an angry thunder tiger! There were plenty of emotions in this book and Ikeda did a great job of imparting those to the character voices.

What I Liked:  Yukiko grows throughout the book; Buruu also does a little bit of growing but I loved his character early on; the setting is quite engaging; the many, many mysteries of the Guild; revelations from the past; the ending was quite satisfying.

What I Disliked: This book started off slow for me, taking about 4 hours for me to get into it.

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