The Hidden Masters of Marandur by Jack Campbell

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

Publisher: Audible Studios (2015)

Narrator: MacLeod Andrews

Length: 12 hours 54 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Pillars of Reality

Author’s Page

Book 1 in the series left us with Mage Alain and Master Mechanic Mari going separate paths. Both strive to fit in and make strides in their respective guilds. Mari takes on every task required of her, until one day she is told she must travel to a war-torn area, on her own. Mage Alain is in a similar situation, having been assigned to protect a group of people, only to be targeted by other mages who are tossing around lightning. Mari & Alain unite forces once more and strive to come up with a solution to turning aside the storm they both sense is about to hit their world. They turn their eyes towards the long buried and forgotten archives of the long dead city Marandur.

I absolutely loved Book 1 in this series and Book 2 did not disappoint, though I would be hard-pressed to say which one I enjoyed more. Mari and Alain have great chemistry and I love watching them try to figure out their relationship, as well as survive the numerous enemies they have gained. Alain is delving into long suppressed memories of family in order to regain his emotional side. He is also developing social skills, which adds some much appreciated humor even in the bleakest moments. Mari struggles a bit with an age-old prophecy concerning the possible ending to the world as they know it. If I have any complaint about this book, it is that sometimes Mari is a little too emotional. Also, she has a streak of jealousy that is a little ridiculous and isn’t fully resolved by the end of this book. I wasn’t a particular fan of this trait in her and felt it could have been less emphasized.

That little complaint aside, the plot is rich with further developments. Both guilds have secrets, but they also have folks who want those secrets out. Plus there are the Dark Mechanics who we briefly glimpsed at the end of Book 1. So many folks want these two dead! So with great reluctance, the duo finally head off to Marandur only after they feel other possibilities have been exhausted.

Now Marandur was not as expected. It was more complicated and what they found there could be a huge asset….if only they can get out alive. I really don’t want to spoil any of this for you, as all the Marandur scenes happen late in the book. Let me just say it was a bitch to get into and, even then, they were not safe.

This book does a masterful job of weaving steampunky science fiction with philosophical fantasy. It’s an excellent combination and sets the bar high for the small, but growing, subgenre of science fantasy.

Narration: MacLeod Andrews once again did a great job of Mari and Alain. He can totally cut all emotion from his voice when doing a Mage, and yet imbue Mari’s voice with so much emotion when she is frightened or angry. I especially like his voice for Mari as it is a bit throaty and it makes it so easy to picture her as a serious mechanic.

What I Liked:  Mari & Alain are a great hero duo; the cover art is gorgeous; so many enemies!; the prophecy of their world ending is becoming clearer; Marandur; very satisfying ending. 

What I Disliked: Occasionally, Mari is a little too emotional or jealous, but that won’t stop me from enjoying the book!

What Others Think:

Not Yet Read

All Things Urban Fantasy

Ravaged by Jason Brant

BrantRavagedWhere I Got It: Review copy via the narrator & Audiobook Monthly (thanks!)

Narrator: Wayne June

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 7 hours 3 minutes

Series: Book 3 The Hunger

Author’s Page

Book 3 picks up roughly 1 month after Book 2 ends. Our heroes are still at the compound they wrested away from the maniacal Ralph. Other survivors continue to join them and the camp’s resources are starting to strain. Add to that, the infected monsters seem to be getting smarter and are targeting the camp. Even with the arrival of a new ally, they might not survive.

Our main foursome continue to face the odds. Each one of them has a demon or three to face in this installment of The Hunger series. Lance York, the man who started the apocalypse in nothing but a hospital gown, has gone from being a sad couch potato to a man of action. He’s at that point where he can look at himself and see the changes – both physically and psychologically. The world has gone to crap and he has risen from it, becoming a man he can respect. I have really enjoyed his story arc because he is just such a normal guy. Perhaps we would all benefit from an apocalypse.

Cass continues to grow as a character too. She was use to fending for herself before the infected covered the Earth. However, her time spent with Lance has shown her the benefits to being a little soft around a few select humans. She’s still a bad ass with a war axe and has her own dress code, but now she has opened a bit to Lance and even Emmett and Meghan.

Speaking of Emmett and Meghan, they play more central roles in this book as well. The group as a whole face some difficult decisions, but both Meghan and Emmett, who have trained and served in their own ways to protect and preserve life, must face the decision to take life. They were fine sidekicks in Book 2; in this book, they are integral and I would miss them if they weren’t there.

The plot line keeps us moving along. There’s still plenty of action and savagery from the infected, but those are punctuated with moments of reflection or humor. One of the things I really like about this series is that the dangers change with each book. We have the human dangers – humans like to be jerks to each other and that probably won’t change. Also, the infected – those savage monsters – have started to show more than bestial reactions to stimuli. They are already incredibly deadly, but now imagine them able to reason and problem solve! It makes for a very exciting plot!

With new foes and dangers, I was concerned for more than one of our foursome throughout the book. The ending was very satisfying and I can only hope that the author continues on with these characters. I am not ready to let them go.

Narration:  Wayne June once again was THE voice for Lance York. I like his average guy in a crappy situation voice. It really suits Lance’s humor. As usual, Wayne had a good array of male and female voices for all the other characters. He even pulled off a Pittsburgh-specific accent for one side character that I thought was very well done.

What I Liked:  The cover art; Cass’s attitude; I was worried about some of characters making it out alive!; the monsters aren’t as stupid as we all thought; trust issues; the ending was satisfying.

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

What Others Think:

Michael Loring

Fun With Books

Indie Addict

Consumed by Jason Brant

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

Narrator: Wayne June

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 6 hours 55 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Hunger

Author’s Page

Book 2 picks up about 1 week after Book 1 ended. Our heroes, Lance York and Cass of the War Axe, are on a boat in the Allegheny River outside of Pittsburgh. Dr. Emmett Brown and soldier Meghan Iverson are still with the duo, providing cover fire and medical treatment as needed. The world continues to devolve in to mutated monsters that roam night and day and militant, power-hungry humans. Yet, the river seems the safest….at least until they lose their boat.

If you read my review of Devoured, Book 1, then you know I really enjoyed the start to this series. Book 2 does not disappoint in continuing the tale. In fact, I will say it is even better because Lance worked through a lot of his issues with his e-wife in Book 1 and we don’t have that slowing down the story line of Book 2. Our main characters are a unit, swiftly reacting to each other. Our plot is moving forward at a good clip. The scenery continues to devolve, creating more traps for our heroes. All the elements are present for a great zombie story, which this is. I enjoyed this book all in one day, coming up with additional chores to keep me in the kitchen or folding laundry, just so I would have a bit more listening time.

Cass continues to be my hero. I want to grow up to be her and do shots with her. She’s very practical in how she tackles this new world, taking axe to monsters and human threats as needed. Plus, I like the way she dresses, even if many of the side characters think it strange. I expect as the world continues to circle the toilet, we’ll see more and more folks dressing as they like instead of according to supposed societal norms.

As Lance spends more time with her, he comes to realize that he isn’t nearly as adept at dispatching foes as Cass is, and this bothers him a little bit. I loved that he was aware of his feelings of inadequacy, and how silly that was with the world as we know it ending and all, and yet he struggled with it. It created some humor and made Lance very human.

Brown and Iverson become more prominent in the story and we get some back story to each of them. Of course, the Back to the Future jokes continue with Dr. Brown’s name, but they are sprinkled throughout the tale and don’t become annoying. Also, we learn the source of the Xavier Virus name – which I won’t spoil here. It is a little joke for geeks and nerds. It made me chuckle.

All in all, this was an excellent continuation of the The Hunger series. Book 2 closed off a few smaller story arcs while opening a larger one. I am very much looking forward to Book 3!

Narration:  Wayne June is a great voice for Lance, who is a pretty average guy. Wayne brings Lance to life with his emotions and his humor. I can’t imagine another narrator portraying Lance. Wayne also has a variety of voices for the ladies and other men. He does a great gruff old geezer and a crazy radio codger.

What I Liked:  The cover art; Cass’s war axe; Lance and his struggle with playing second fiddle to Cass in the zombie killing department; very satisfying ending.

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

What Others Think:

Michael Loring

Fun With Books

Interview: Theresa Snyder, Author of Shifting in the Realms

SnyderShiftingInTheRealmsEveryone, please welcome Theresa Snyder, author of The Star Traveler series, The Farloft Chronicles, and contributor to the Twin Cities series. I first met Theresa through the Twin Cities series Facebook page which is doing a month long event this February with author specials and free books. Check it out!

Today we chat about Minotaurs, myths, gardening, shape shifters, and so much more! Enjoy!

1) Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs? Would you take a selfie with the beastie?

In The Realms there are all manner of fantastical beings from shape-shifters to vampires and Minotaur to fire demons. I would really lover to meet my character, Cody, the wolf shape-shifter. I would avoid Raven the head vampire at any cost. Selfies? I would love one with Azur, the fire demon, but I know she would outshine me.

2) With the modern popularity to ebooks, a book is no longer limited to a specific genre shelf. It is now quite easy to label place an ebook in multiple genres (i.e. YA, Fantasy, Horror). How do you see this affecting readers? Have you been inadvertently lured outside your reading comfort zone?

I think the Twin Cities Series, in particularly the ‘Shifting’ books could fall into multiple genres. They are paranormal due to setting, but some of the characters are fantasy and there is definitely a bit of romance running through them. I think this type of writing might make it difficult for a reader to find a specific genre book, but I also think it stretches a reader’s focus. They might find they like romance if it is tempered in a fantasy setting. Or they might enjoy paranormal if there is not a lot of violence like some straight paranormal might present to them. I like a mixture of several genres. I find that in Sherilyn Kenyon’s books. I was lured into them thinking they were paranormal and they have a good dose of sexual content which I did not expect, but found it added to the story significantly.

3) In writing your bad guys, do you want the reader to enjoy hating on him/her, or do you want the reader to be waiting for that magical moment when they redeem themselves?

I have been told that I write very gray characters, meaning my bad guys are not ALL bad. I try very hard to put myself in all my character’s shoes and see things from their point of view. None of us are truly horrible all the time. Even a serial killer can be charming. Sometimes my villains redeem themselves, sometimes they do not.

SnyderJames&TheDragon4) In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

I love social media, in particularly Twitter. I enjoy meeting people and making friends. I have had personal encounters with folks I have met on Twitter and they are just as nice in person as on the web. Once again, I wish I had more hours in the day. I hate time zones. I am asleep most of the time that the folks in England are awake. It makes for some challenges to hook up and chat.

5) As a published author, what non-writing/reading activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?

I love gardening. I can daydream my way through a tough spot in a story while I am trimming or nuking weeds. A nice garden also gives you a lovely place to sit and write or read when the mood strikes you.

6) If you could go enjoy a meal in a fictional world, where would that be, and what would you eat?

I would go to The Realms and have a burger from Cody’s food truck. They are supposed to be the best in The Realms, and just think about all the people/paranormal watching you could do while you ate it.

7) Writing in the fantasy genre, how do you take the standard tropes and turn them sideways? Or even upside down?

I like taking the old tales of mythology and tweaking them. If you had a clan of Minotaur what would they be like? In the myth they are violent and eat men, but they are also bullheaded, literally, so what if you educated one? Would he be stubbornly fixated on his work? Since he is large, would he be a body builder? Could the introduction of a lady calm him? Would his interest or skills in other activities help him curve his violent tendencies?

8) What does your Writer’s Den look like? Neat and tidy or creative mess? Can you write anywhere or do you need to be holed up in your author cave?

I have a screened in/glassed in porch on the back of the house done in a Moroccan motif. It is my reading/writing cave. Only soft instrumental music is allowed, no TV. It looks out on the garden and I am inspired by nature around me. It is always neat. I can’t work if something is nagging me to clean it or pick it up.

SnyderTheHelaviteWar9) What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

I was the only girl in a house full of boys. I didn’t go to school until I was almost eight years old due to illnesses, so I spent a lot of my younger life telling myself stories and acting them out in my bedroom a night before bedtime. I have written since I can remember, letters with many pen-pals back in the old days of snail-mail and then journaling and short stories. I wrote my first novel during recesses in middle school. I never thought I would BE a writer. I thought I WAS a writer.

10) If you could sit down and have tea (or a beer) with 5 fictional characters, who would you invite to the table?

Aside from my own stable of character, who I do sit down with on occasion, I would like to meet Smaug from The Hobbit. I am sure there is a side to his story we should know and there is no place better than over a cup of tea to find out a person or creature’s inner feelings. The Velveteen Rabbit, because he has always had a special place in my heart. Frankenstein, because I think he was terribly misunderstood and I could help straighten his life out for him. Stephanie Plum so I could get her tricks and secrets for attracting men when she eats donuts and pizza for almost every meal. And Akron from the Dark Hunters books because he just sounds so yummy.

11) If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

1984 by George Orwell

The Stand by Stephen King

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

12) Do you have any strange writer ticks? Little oddities that come out when you’re working on a difficult passage?

If I ever encounter a passage where I cannot determine how to write it or which way it should go I always ‘sleep on it.’ I take a nap or let my mind work on it overnight. The answer is always there when I awake.

13) Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

I am currently working on the third ‘Shifting’ book in the Twin Cities Series. It will be a bit different and I hope my readers will enjoy the change. I didn’t want to fall into writing a formula series where the hero always saves the heroine, so I have borrowed one of the other author’s in the series character and it will be through his eyes. He will even witness events we have already seen from Cody’s point of view. I am finding it fun to write. I hope my readers find it as much fun to read.

Places to Find Theresa Snyder

Rewinder by Brett Battles

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

Publisher: Audible Studios (2014)

Narrator: Vikas Adam

Length: 7 hours 48 minutes

Author’s Page

Denny Younger was born into one of the lowest classes of society of the English Empire. His hopes for job placement following the end of school tests were a short list of very boring, menial jobs. That is, until the mysterious Upjohn Institute takes an interest in him. There, he trains and tests to be a Rewinder, someone who verifies the personal history of patrons to the Institute….in person. He travels through time to verify some aspect about the heritage of the interested party is correct. At first, he is excited about this job – who wouldn’t be? But then small things start to tug at his conscience and lead him to ask questions. These questions make others uncomfortable. Pretty soon, Denny is faced with a terribly hard choice.

I read the description of this book and figured it would be interesting and an OK time travel story. I was wrong.

It was an amazingly fun ride!

Brett Battles created an alternate timeline complete with a history going back over 200 years. The English Empire didn’t cease to grow and expand in the late 1700s, but rather continued on to engulf much of our known world, including North America. The caste system that was in place in early colonial England continued to refine throughout the years. Denny and his family come from Class 8, just barely above the bottom rung. His other Rewinders in training are not pleased to have such a lowly peasant among them.

Denny had studied history for fun in his teens, and possibly as an escape from the drudgery of his life, the death of loved ones over the years, the strained relationship with his father. Therefore, this hopping back in time to physically observe history is a dream job. But things start to unravel as he notices small things that are awry. Pretty soon it becomes apparent that the Institute, or at least certain members of the Institute, are using time travel to benefit themselves and perpetuate the caste system and the British Empire.

And then something happens during one of Denny’s trips that sets history on a different course. In returning to his own time, he finds things very different. Once the panic has receded, he has time to figure out his mistake, and to get to know this new world that he inadvertently brought into being. Will he set things ‘right’? Or will he leave this new time line in place? Such a terribly tough choice!

I loved the way Battles built the tension in this book. You’re right there beside Denny the entire time, seeing his trapped despair at what he believes will be a life of drudgery until the Institute steps in, his elation at traveling through time, his dedication to job and Empire, how his mind doesn’t want to question the good of the Empire but can’t let these little questions go, and his anguish over having created an alternate time line. Being inside Denny’s head is an awesome ride!

The time travel aspect doesn’t get technical. Time travel is a tool, pure and simple, used by the Institute. There are a few discussions about possible paradoxes and other nuances of time travel. Basically, you never get bogged down in the science of time travel, which allows us to simply enjoy the story. I thought it was an interesting point that the travelers often were paired to a Companion who stayed in the home time and suffered the physical discomforts of time travel – head aches, vomiting, etc. This would leave the traveler free of these symptoms upon arrival at their destination so they could quickly get started on their job.

While this is definitely Denny’s story, there are plenty of women who play critical roles in the plot. Denny’s trainer, Marie, definitely gives him a nudge in the right direction. Then there is Lydia, an upper class brat who is assigned to the Institute at the same time as Denny. She is less than pleased to have the same job description as a lowly 8. Finally, there is Iffy, a woman Denny meets in the alternate time line. All these ladies have their own stories and motivations.

This is one of the better time travel stories I have read in recent years. I am thoroughly glad I gave it a chance.

Narration: Vikas Adam was the perfect voice for Denny. He brought the mysriad of emotions Denny experiences in this book. He also had believable and varied voices for all the ladies. I especially liked his upper class, snotty British accent used for some of the minor characters.

What I Liked:  Denny is an enjoyable character, easy to connect with; time travel without all the science and questions; alternate timeline quandary; the ladies are pivotal to the plot; very satisfying ending. 

What I Disliked: The cover art doesn’t say ‘time travel’ or ‘alternate history’ to me so it is not a book I would have picked up on my own.

What Others Think:

Alternate History Weekly Update

The Guilded Earlobe

I Feel the Need, the Need to Read

Following the Nerd

Wizard’s Blog

Gadget Girl Reviews

Now Very Bad…

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The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick

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

Publisher: Audible Studios (2014)

Narrator: Christian Rummel

Length: 7 hours 32 minutes

Series: Book 1 Dead Enders

Author’s Page

Nathan Pretorius recently finished a mission that left him missing body parts, which have recently been vat-grown and replaced. While he is still in the hospital, his old friend asks him to take on a near-impossible mission. He agrees, provided he gets to pick his own team. Pretorious and his team must replace an alien Traanskei ruler, Michkag, with a clone. This clone Michkag will help steer the Traanskei Coalition towards peace with the Democracy. The chances of survival and success are both quite small.

This was a quick read containing much of the tropes military scifi is known for. It was fast paced and had interesting characters, who were a bit predictable, but never the less easy to connect with. The author doesn’t spend much time developing alien cultures or delving into the history of his heroes. The mission is laid out, the characters set in place, so just sit back and enjoy the ride!

I really liked that Pretorious’s team included not just 1 female, but 3. And there was none of that silly BS about justifying a female specialist or 3 on the mission. Pretorious didn’t blink at the gender of any of his team mates because he was focused on their skills. Tis refreshing in military scifi and receives 2 thumbs up from me.

Felix Ortega is basically the team’s strong man, having been mostly replaced over the years as one mission after another removed this body part or that. In essence, he is a cyborg. Pandora is super good with computers and can tap into nearly any information line or bypass most every security system. Meanwhile, Cersei uses her empathic abilities to weed out the liars. Snake is a contortionist, and tiny. She can fit into places you wouldn’t think of tucking a pet turtle into. Together, their nearly impossible mission is safely and secretly take the cloned Michkag and his teacher to a Traanskei stronghold, a fortress in Orion, and make the swap. Along the way, the pick up Proto, a strange alien with a nebulous past who can project images into another sentient being’s mind.

The set up for this story is really good and I was hooked right away. But as the story moves forward, not a lot happens. There isn’t much conflict. The few hiccups the team comes across, they deal with quickly and quietly. There was so much hype at the beginning of the book about how dangerous this mission was and then so little happens to the team. Quite frankly, I got a little bored with everything going so well.

On the other hand, Resnick has set this story in a big galaxy with plenty of room to grow. While he didn’t delve deep in the Traanskei Coalition (he did have several alien words scattered throughout the book), he set the first building blocks to do so in future installments to the series.

There was one little plot point that niggled at me through out the story. Pretorious is this seasoned secret deadly mission character. It’s not his first time to the rodeo. However, he makes a could of first-time-commanding-a-deadly-secret-mission mistakes. I felt like these were thrown in to move the story forward, but it also made it hard to believe that Pretorious was as seasoned and capable as we were told he was

It’s a fun quick listen (or read) without the need to engage your higher brain. The characters are memorable, if a bit static. The mission was fun. I look forward to seeing what else Resnick can do with this world he has created and this team he has assembled.

Narration: Christian Rummel was a good pick for this audio. Much of the narration is from Pretorious’s point of view and Rummel had an excellent, authoritative voice for him. He also performed female characters quite well. He excelled at the alien voices and the wicked, cruelly unpronounceable names some of them had. That is where his talent really shown.

What I Liked:  Mix gender team; fun mission to sit back and enjoy; memorable characters; great narration; cool cover art. 

What I Disliked: Pretorious, our seasoned veteran of secret missions, kept making rookie mistakes; after all the hype about how deadly dangerous this mission was, not much happened.

What Others Think:

Only the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy

SF Crowsnest

SF Revu

The Big Book of Genre Stories by Dale T. Phillips

PhillipsTheBigBookOfGenreStoriesWhere I Got It: Review copy via the author (thanks!)

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Dale T. Phillips (2014)

Length: 10 hours 52 minutes

Author’s Page

This is a big book of stories, no question about that. Here, Dale T. Phillips has put together 30 tales ranging from horror to fantasy, from scifi to mystery. I quite enjoyed this collection (as you will see by the summaries below). Most of the tales had a little surprise or three for me, which was a delight. With a collection this big, all by 1 author, I always worry that the stories will become predictable. That was not the case with this collection.

My one criticism lies in the lack of female characters. The female characters come in a few flavors: simply referenced but no appearance (dead wives is a common theme) – 3; physical appearance but they have no speaking lines – 2; the ladies (or just one lady) do have a few lines, but they aren’t particularly important to the plot – 12; the ladies (or just 1 lady) make a difference and are integral to the plot – 7 speaking roles, 2 nonspeaking roles. 4 tales lacked women of any sort (unless you count a female moose, which would still leave 3 tales lacking women). It is obvious that the author knows how to write female character (basically, just write them like real people) and I wonder why he doesn’t do so more often.

Over all, an excellent collection of entertainment. Yes, I can totally love a book even if it lacks equality – kind of like real life and The Hobbit. Briefly, I want to gush a little about my favorite stories in this collection. Two of them are fantasy tales – Our New Queen and Froggy Went a Courting. I loved both of these because of the darker natures to the tales. And each is told from a single narrator explaining the situation, so it was very easy to follow. Oddly, each lacked proper names for the characters, which worked just perfectly for short stories. The Tree of Sorrows was also a favorite. It dealt with a heavy topic – suicide. In the end, the choice is still left up to the main character, but he is given knowledge that allows him to weigh his choice wisely. This tale, more than the others, shows the author’s insight into human nature.

I highly recommend this collection if you are into short story collections. The range of genres promises to keep you entertained and the collection as a whole is far from boring!

The Easiest Man to Kill – The narrator was in in WWI, Korean war, and then worked for the government. His daughter died and that starts the downhill decline for our narrator. He blames one man for the losses in his life and his experience in chemical labs lets him take his vengeance. I was surprised who he decided to blame! 4/5 stars

Bootleggers – Prohibition Era – Billy the Bootlegger is recruiting more muscle. He chooses Davie Donaldson, who knows how to work a boat. His first job is moving whiskey for a rich guy, Cane. But things get complicated when one of the rum runners starts an affair with cane’s wife. I found the ending a bit predictable and the dialogue was like something out of an old black and white gangster movie. 3/5 stars

Rooms For Tourists – Private Investigator Parker found body in parking lot by his car. Unfortunately, he had an altercation with the man earlier in the day (Sox fan versus Yankies fan). Parker looks like the main suspect, so he takes it upon himself to solve this mystery. I really enjoyed this character Parker and I have a secret hope that the author will write more stories starring him.  5/5 stars

Nighthawks - The story opens with a painting, Nighthawks, which features a diner with a  few people including the narrator. The narrator then takes us back in time and explains how those folks came to be in the diner. What follows is a tale of gangs and city government and a love affair.  4/5 stars.

The Mousetrap – Rory has been doing jobs for many years. He’s never been caught. In this tale, he picks the narrator (a safe cracker) for the latest job. Laurie gets them in to the place and then she tortures the house owner. This story had a lot of potential but the ending felt rushed and the dialogue was, once again, taken from a black and white gangster flick.  3/5 stars

Our New Queen – Told in a letter pleading for assistance, this tale is a Snow White fractured fairy tale. The twist to this tale was great and I liked the mix of fairy tale setting with a touch of the gruesome. This was one of my favorite stories in the collection! 6/5 stars

Blades and Butchery –  In the Land of Krankmor,  at the Pigsnout Inn, the portly giant Fat Bird and his skinny buddy Legay Louser are needing work. They are offered a job – recover the princess kidnapped by Count Lindberger. Princess had Jewish NY accent & fainted a lot. There was plenty of humor mixed in. 4/5 stars

Froggy Went a Courting – Told by the narrator (a mute sister). Her older sister is to be wed to the High Count ( nicknamed Froggie because of his appearance), but she is not happy and desires a third son from a family beneath their own. Little sis does her best to spoil the courting. This tale had a twisted ending that some might call happy and others tragic.  6/5 stars

The Little Guy – This is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story. Our narrator is ‘the little guy’ who was born to a witch. He came out short and with a handful of magical abilities. The King locks a talented spinner in a tower full of straw and orders her to spin it into gold. She can’t do it, but the Little Guy can. If you are familiar with the story, then you can guess where the story goes from here. This is a more adult version (which I liked) but I kept wondering how the tale would be told from the woman’ point of view.   3/5 stars

Jakob and the Witch – Jacob went to market to sell a hen. On way the home, dark & cold, he finds a woman in the stocks. He shows her kindness. They chat about magic versus metal, and nature versus iron. I wanted to see more of Jakob’s adventures, which would hopefully involve the unnamed witch. 4/5 stars

Yesterday and Today – In a future where human life span has been extended, Corbin wanders a ruined city. Nearly everyone suffers from Prescen – a condition where Alzheimers afflicts a person no matter how young the body (as bodies can be replenished and rejuvenated). In his muddleness, he hopes to find his wife, Linda, once again. He helps others as he can. This story made me think a little of The Road by Cormac McCarthy because of its bleakness. 4/5 stars

God Save the Queen – Told in a series of news broadcasts, the reader learns that the world is slowly coming to an end via giant lobsters who are forced out of their normal waters by pollution. Fred Wolinsky, the narrator, did a ton of accents for this one. It was a fun and horrifying story. Made me think of the original radio broadcast concerning Martian invaders. 5/5 stars

Ruination Beach – Wanda, Kissy, Smiley, Burk, Randall, and the dog Fetch (plus the narrator) are all living on Ruination Beach in The After. They have caches of alcohol and pills that someone has to fetch daily. The world has ended and they spend each day trying to forget all the good things that are now gone. Narrator comes across a woman who doesn’t speak while fetching the daily party drugs & alcohol. This was another well made short story that got the idea of ‘bleakness’ across well. 4/5

Night of the Annoying Dead – Zombies happen, but they aren’t interested in eating brains. No, they just want to return to their normal lives Humorous piece about zombies being the slowest on the golf course and not much use at the office (with fingers falling off, etc.). 3/5 stars

Killer Angel – Avery Waxman is a detective and is called in to chat with a lady picked up in the rough part of town. She has no ID and claims to have come from the sky Her name is Pariah and and she tells Waxman that if she is harmed, then she carries something that will wipe out all of humanity. It is her job to test humanity. 5/5 stars

Roadside Attraction – Guy is driving through the desert, fleeing from some past tragedy, and comes across Mr. Kay’s diner and Jerome’s monster snake attraction He has a meal at the diner. Everything is ultra-perfect. Plus there are odd pictures in the hall. The 2 twin girls with white frilly dresses and black hair seem odd as well. Will Guy stop running? Will he decide to go on with his life? 4/5 stars

The Great Snipe Hunt – Great kid’s tale. Kids playing in summer – races, swimming, tea parties. Peach Pie, Angel Eye, Harold, Rabbit, Willard the Wisp (their make believe friend) decide a snipe hunt will be grand.There is some rhyming in the narration which was well suited to the tale. 5/5 stars

The Tree of Sorrows – Mallory, who is in a funk, is walking along the Golden Gate Bridge. He wants to jump as he is missing his dead wife fiercely. A little man comes along and talks him out of jumping right away.  He offers to let him trade his sorrow for another’s. Mallory goes along, only half believing. He believes that his pain can not be matched or out done by another’s. At the Tree of Sorrows he learns the truth, one way or another. This was such a beautiful and haunting story, one of my favorites in the collection. 6/5 stars

The Cats of Athens – Jim Bloom travels to Greece, which he has long admired, but finds it incomprehensible. He doesn’t like the wines or uzo, finds the military dress laughable, is constantly confused by the signs. Then one day, he saves a cat from being injured or killed by a group of kids. Later that day, he fall asleep in in a public forum (tourist attraction) and wakes well into the night to chanting. Then he sees cats turning into naked humans. The cat from before turns into a beautiful woman and tells him who they really are and what they have been up to. A charming story that could be a good opening to something bigger. 4/5 stars

The Watch of the Yellow Eyes – Talbout is in a funk, wrestling with his memories of Linnie, his dead wife. He’s contemplating suicide. Goes out to the woods with a camera and a shotgun. He sees a wolf and stairs deep into its eyes. Talbout has to face The Question and decide his answer. After The Tree of Sorrows, this tale seemed pale in comparison.  3/5 stars

Kamikaze Hipsters – The Artist (and our narrator) has a jaded view about the public. He has a show of his work at the Watkins Gallery in the run down section of town. There he meets her and she (who never gets a name) sees through all his crap. His masterpieces portray violence and blood. She offers to model. Very interesting, if twisted, tale. 5/5 stars

Rummy – 5 businessmen (perhaps one of them is a lady, but this is never made clear) go to lunch. Hayward is the boss and he is ticked he didn’t get his favorite table. He thinks the waitress is a bimbo and he doesn’t like the elderly busboy who has the shakes. He assumes the man is an alcoholic. Hayward calls over the manager and gets him to fire the busboy. Mike, and underling to Hayward, feels awful about the busboy getting fired. However, his comments land him unemployed as well. He starts drinking and his coworkers start dying.  The ending is left up to the reader’s interpretation – a fun piece! 4/5 stars

The Pit – Coal miners, night shift. They take on a new member, Kovik. Go to work, there’s a cave in. Many members lost. Narrator has legs crushed. Kovik, Bitters, others remaining. One by one the miners die mysteriously. Food and water running out. There’s a creepy paranormal twist to this tale. Wolinksy did a good job with the accents on this one. 4/5 stars

Carnival of Pain – Billy wants to the go to the Carnival of Pan (and the artistic flyer makes it look like Carnival of Pain). He doesn’t have a job (too young) and his mom works full time, doesn’t have the money or the time to take him. He digs under the fence and thinks he will have a great time. But right away he notices people aren’t smiling and laughing. They have these brown lumps attached to their necks. He sees a show or two, but they are cruel and not fun. He finds Electro Girl (Audra Lee) in a cage, who fills him in on what is going on. This was a creepy kid’s adventure tale! 5/5 stars

Locust Time – Jenny and narrator are in their last year of high school. He is in love with her. She is just having a good time, figuring things out. She tells him about locusts (cicadas) and how they wait underground for 17 years and this is the year of the cicada. He freaks and starts hearing buzzing everywhere all the time. He takes to catching insects and drowning them in gasoline and then having little controlled fires with their little bodies. Things escalate from there. Before you know it, he has a secret buried in the back yard, one that will awaken come the next locust year. I loved the ending on this one! 5/5 stars

The Last Battle – Duvall and French soldiers in Vietnam fighting to maintain the French colony. Duvall  is the only one among them to speak Vietnamese. As they march through the jungle, he starts experiencing visions and physical senses of other times – ringmail armor, swords, crossbows One other soldier confides he is seeing the same. As they continue heading towards a village, Duvall gets sinking feeling. Duvall just wants it all to end, for there to be one last battle. The ending was swift and muddled on this one. I liked the overall idea, but found it needed something more to get a clear idea across. 3/5 stars

Moose Tracks – 4 guys going out hunting. Lou the leader (and biggest lout), Chuck, and Harold are old friends. Bud is the new guy. Telling tales of hunting as they drive into the Allagash, drinking Pabst and littering. They are the dominant species and moose are terribly easy to hunt, or so they tell themselves. Haha! I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of the battle moose in The Hobbit movies.  5/5

Body English – Terri & Henry are married (he’s old and she is young) and Terri flirts and drinks too much. She ends up sleeping with Tom after he has a fight with his wife (whose name I think is Sharon). He’s a ashamed of it and when she returns days later for more attention, he tosses her out. She had been drinking and she dies in a car accident. Henry’s grief takes a cunning and malicious turn. I think this tale give a woman (Terri) the most lines out of all these short stories and she is not a very interesting character. Ending was a bit predictable. 3/5 stars

The Silver Web by Dale T. Phillips and Tom Channel – This kid Barry is out bicycling when a rain storm comes along. He finds an odd silvery bracelet out by the reservoir. He goes shivery and unconscious. His mom, Theresa, calls the sheriff’s office worried about her missing son in this storm. Sheriff Tom goes out looking, finds him, and gets him to the hospital. Doctors aren’t sure what his problem is. Barry starts talking in some glottal tongue while unconscious. The bracelet, with its odd symbols, and a voice recording are sent to language expert who has to call in other experts. A Dr. Harold calls in a frenzy and they race to the reservoir where they attempt to save the world….with a soldiering kit. I really liked the nod to the H. P. Lovecraft in this story.  4/5

King and Country – Set shortly after WWI & the Great Influenza. Lord Barclay is hanging out at a hospital for his mental instability. He served in the war and suffers from shell shock. While he is convalescing, he meets another inmate – Lewis. He draws these messed up pictures of people with heads of beasts, giant beetles, and other horrors. The two start talking. Lewis was hunting for Egyptian artifacts to impress Lord Cordovan when he heard stories about women, children, & men going missing. With a group of armed men, he went down into the tunnels and found horrible monsters doing horrible things to their human captives. Lewis eventually escaped, but he had aged by 40 years and no one believed him. He was sent to hospital. Lord Barclay is the first to believe him. Together, they make a pact to go destroy these monsters. Nitty-gritty and gruesome. I really liked the reality in this one, making the fantastical horrors all more terrifying! 5/5 stars

Narration: Fred Wolinsky really outdid himself with this collection. I have listened to several books he has narrated now and I believe this is his best work yet. He had to put forth a huge range of characters to make this book work. His accents were great and his male vs. female voices were distinct. He also had to do a range of ages from little kids to the elderly. Also, several of the stories were full of emotion and Fred’s performance really imbued the written word with those emotions. An excellence performance!

What I Liked: Quite a range of subjects/genres covered; always entertaining; they varied in seriousness and humor; great narration.

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

What Others Think:

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