Owl Dance by David Lee Summers

Narrator: Edward Mittelstedt

Publisher: Sky Warrior Publishing LLC (2017)

Length: 9 hours 10 minutes

Series: Book 1 Clockwork Legion

Author’s Page

Set in the 1870s, this Wild West steampunk adventure is full of surprises. Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi make a great pair of heroes as they travel from New Mexico to California. Gun fights, dirigibles, steam-powered mechanical wolves, a Russian plot to take a chunk of the US, plus an unexpected alien influence called Legion provide a dangerous playground for our main characters – and plenty of entertainment for us.

I read this book back in 2011 and it was great to see it come to audio! I enjoyed it more in this medium as the narrator did it justice. If you love your Wild West and you like it weird, then this is a great series to get into. The story includes several different ethnicities and I love that about this book. The frontier West was a very diverse place and having that reflected in this work is worthy.

Our Persian healer, Fatemeh, has traveled far from home and she’s a bit vague about why. I love that we have this little mystery about her. Also, she talks to owls… or does she? She claims that she only understands their nature but to others it looks like she is actually communicating with them. While I felt the romance between her and Ramon sparked a little too easily, I also feel they make a great couple. Fatemeh is of the Baha’i faith while Ramon is Catholic and this sets up a dynamic to explore not just culture clash but also these different religions.

Meanwhile Ramon has recently had a big shift in his life. He was a sheriff in Socorro, NM and then things went south.. and so did he while he fled with Fatemeh (who was about to be executed for witch craft). Their search for work takes them all the way out to California. Along the way they meet the eccentric inventor, Professor Maravilla. He’s got a thing for steam-powered mechanical beasties. I loved his owls!

Then there’s the bounty hunter Larissa who I look forward to hearing more about later in the series. She’s got plenty of gumption and loves her independent life but she’s drawn into this bigger plot as Russia starts making moves to invade the West coast.

Now lets talk about that alien influence Legion. We come across it early on but it’s not clear right away if it’s something supernatural, man-made, or from outer space. Whatever it is (and yes, we do get that cleared up in this book), it has a hive mind and can communicate directly with humans as well as influence them. So we got the Wild West (yay!), steampunk (awesome!), and now this unknown big picture influencer. The author does a great job of pulling this all together.

My one real quibble with the story is that sometimes it’s a little too easy for Ramon and Fatemeh to convince a ‘villain’ to assist them. It seems like everyone is really a good guy at heart and was just simply misunderstood or was acting under some false or incomplete data. I think the story would have benefited from a real villain or two.

The Narration: Edward Mittelstedt did a really good job. His Spanish accent was consistent throughout the story. Now, his Spanish pronunciations were sometimes different from what I expected. Living in New Mexico, I expected a certain accent (like for Chavez or Maravilla). Mittelstedt’s pronunciation isn’t wrong but it’s not the local dialect either. I believe it’s the difference between high proper Spanish and the Southwest Hispanic accent. Besides that, he was great with keeping all the characters distinct and also with the various emotions throughout the story. He also gave Fatemeh a consistent Persian accent. His female voices were believable.

What I Liked: Gorgeous cover art; Wild Weird West!; Steampunk!; the mix of ethnicities; the owls; the hive-mind influence; Fatemeh and Ramon make a great duo; the ending leaves us ready for further adventures.

What I Disliked: There was no true villain; the romance between Ramon and Fatemeh sparked up rather easily.

What Others Think: 

RJ Blain

Steampunk Journal

Steampunk Junkies

The Tower of Zhaal by C. T. Phipps

Narrator: Jeffrey Kafer

Publisher: Crossroad Press (2017)

Length: 9 hours

Series: Book 2 Cthulhu Armageddon

Author’s Page

Note: This is Book 2 and works OK as a stand alone. It would definitely be enhanced by having previously read Book 1.

Set in and around a post-apocalyptic Massachusetts, John Henry Booth and Mercury Halsey now work as security for merchant caravans. The world was reformed some decades back when the Old Ones and aliens took up residence on Earth, nearly wiping out humans. Unfortunately, most of these new arrivals found humans useful in some way or another, such as interbreeding or as a food source. John is undergoing a transformation into an unknown something he fears and perhaps the University can cure him. However, their assistance comes at a price. They must hunt down and kill a powerful sorcerer (wizard? magician?) Marcus Whatley, who is determined to released the last of the Old Ones, potentially dooming both humanity and Earth.

Yeah. John and Mercury have their work cut out for them.

The end of Book 1, Cthulhu Armageddon, saw the death of much of the cast. Here, we get several fresh faces and, yes, many of them perish in interesting ways before the end of the book. In fact, several folks from the merchant train John & Mercury are guarding die right away when the cultists of Yith show up unexpectedly. Professor Harvey Armitage of the Miskatonic University wanted a word with John & Mercury and this was his douchey way to getting their attention. Right off the bat, I didn’t care for Armitage and I hoped that John & Mercury found an interesting way to kill him off. And yet…. yet Armitage does has a wealth of knowledge and some healing powers. Perhaps this messed up world needs him… for now.

Mercury used to be a professional torturer and she’s an expert on EBEs, these extra biological entities. So she’s a pretty interesting character that has had an intense career path. In this book, she continues to grow with some training in the magical arts. She’s done all she can for John as a doctor (of sorts) short of killing him (if that’s possible). Perhaps the magical arts are the only way to assist John in controlling or containing his mutation.

I’m interested in seeing how things turn out for the side character Jackie Howard. She’s the teen-aged adopted daughter of John and Mercury and she’s half ghoul. Yes, ghoul. Like Richard Jameson from Book 1, she likes human flesh. But she’s cool. Don’t worry. Donated meat only. There’s this great scene between her and John where John is explaining why they are leaving her behind instead of taking her on this insanely dangerous mission. Lots of great lines in that scene where Jackie acknowledges that John & Mercury care while also calling them on their BS.

Jessica O’Reilly, John’s previous girlfriend, shows up later in the book, as well as his ex-wife. As if that doesn’t make his life complicated enough, his ex-wife is a psychic and she can tell that John is hiding his true nature from all but his closest companions. John also has a bit of a crisis of conscious when he and his team end up in a kind of paradise that relies on slave labor. John was a slave for about a year previously, so he has some strong feelings on the subject. Yet this labor pool is made up of these squid faced entities that could happily slaughter all humans planet wide if they were inclined to… and weren’t being held in slavery. So he’s got 99 problems along with his love life.

The ending was complete with great imagery and phrases like, ‘We must summon Cthulhu!’. There’s plenty of drama and yet things work out. I hope we get another book in this series because there’s plenty more for John to explore even as he goes through his own evolution.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Jeffrey Kafer really shows off his skills with this book. This story is full of lots of nearly unpronounceable names such as Nyarlathotep and Shak’ta’hadron and Kafer has to pronounce them all with consistency and accuracy throughout the book. There’s also plenty of crazy cult ramblings in a nearly unpronounceable language, which Kafer makes the characters sound fluent in. I was impressed by the dexterity of this tongue multiple times throughout this book. He’s great at keeping the characters distinct and also imbuing the text with emotion as needed.

What I Liked: Great cover art; great narration; I just love this wild weird west thing happening in Massachusetts; Mercury’s a great character; Jackie could become a very interesting character; John’s internal battle with whatever is taking over; the answer to the slavery issue John faces.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this is a great sequel to Book 1!

What Others Think:

Shoggoth.net

Beauty in Ruins

The Audio Book Reviewer

Brian’s Book Blog

Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps

PhippsCthulhuArmageddonNarrator: Jeffrey Kafer

Publisher: Crossroad Press (2016)

Length: 8 hours 30 minutes

Author’s Page

The Old ones rose more than 100 years ago and humanity dwindled and fractured in their struggle to survive. John Henry is a highly trained ranger for one of the last ‘civilized’ cities. However, he lost his friends and his sanity (temporarily) while battling a one-time friend who had gone over to worshiping the Old Ones. Now he seeks vengeance for his dead friends and his own lost future.

This was a wonderful mix of wild weird west, post-apocalyptic, and creature feature. John Booth is an intense man and it was great to live this story through his character. Also, just a side note, it’s refreshing to have the main hero be non-Caucasian. Hooray for diversity in SFF! OK, so back to John. The story starts off with him and his small group of rangers heading out to find several children who had been kidnapped by Cthulhu-monster worshipers. Things go very, very wrong. John wakes up while being interrogated with his memory all fuzzy. Yeah, that sucks.

John goes on a quest of sorts to find out if all his ranger buddies are dead and to regain his lost memories. Specifically, he’s hunting for Jessica who was the last ranger standing with him before everything went blank. He needs the help of a skilled torturer, Mercury, if he’s going to be successful. John gets a few brief moments with his estranged wife Martha throughout the story. Then there is also an ex-lover of sorts that he and Mercury come upon later in the story. I really enjoyed the main female characters – they were so diverse and written so well. However, nearly all the ladies in this story had some sort of sexual/romantic interest or tie to John. I felt that was a little silly, but it was a very minor part of the story so I won’t let it detract from my enjoyment of the tale.

The Old Ones were gooey and deadly and scary and awe-inspiring. Phipps did a great job with these creatures from the beyond. There’s your typical squidhead Cthulhu-looking monsters, horrible bat-winged flyers, and things that defy description but the characters have to describe anyway. I want to see these things but not feel their wrath, so it’s a good thing I have John’s story to enjoy.

There’s plenty of action scenes but they are spaced out well with scenes that touch on dark humor or on deeper things. It’s not just humans versus the Old Ones but also human versus human all too often. There’s slavery and bigotry and government assigned marriages. Phipps has the start of a whole world to explore here. I especially liked Richard the ghoul. He brought in humor but also fed on corpses. No one’s perfect.

The story kept me guessing right up to the end. I really didn’t know if John would persevere. After all, the title does have the word ‘armageddon’ in it. I was definitely attached to John and several of the other characters so I really did care how things turned out. I was very satisfied with the ending and I am hoping Phipps gives us another story set in this world.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Jeffrey Kafer did a great job with this book, as I expected he would. He’s got the right voice for the main character, John. I also like his female voices, especially for Mercury in this book. She doesn’t have an ounce of tact and asks such personal questions so straightforwardly. He’s great at imbuing the characters with emotion as well. 

What I Liked: Great cover art; the world setting; Cthulhu monsters!; non-Caucasian hero; the female characters are plentiful and interesting; plenty of action; the hint of deeper waters in this story; had me guessing right up to the end; great narration.

What I Disliked: One tiny little thing – nearly all the ladies have a thing for John. 

What Others Think:

Grimdark Magazine

Audio Book Reviewer

Beauty in Ruins

Fantasy Book Critic

On A Dark Stormy Review

The Blog Goblin

Sunset Specters by Gary Jonas

JonasSunsetSpectersNarrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Denton & White (2016)

Length: 4 hours 48 minutes

Series: Book 5 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: This is Book 5 in the series and I recommend reading the previous books as there are major things that happened in previous stories that affect characters’s decisions in this book.

Book 4, Anubis Nights, left us with quite the cliff hanger, so I was very glad I didn’t have to wait too long for this book to come out on audio. Jonathan Shade and his crew are still hunting Henry Winslow through time. Jonathan, Kelly Chan, and Ankhesenamun were yanked from ancient Egypt into 1877 at the end of the previous book. At the beginning of this book, Jonathan & Kelly are reunited with Brand and Esther, and they all have the opportunity to bring the confused Ankhesenamun up to speed.

And that’s the perfect set up for things to go very, very wrong. First, they finish traveling to San Francisco, hoping to catch up to the sorcerous Henry Winslow before he expects it and well before he can complete the next stage of his immortality ritual. Meanwhile, Douglas Freeman, a former slave, has suffered a great loss. He’s made a list of men who must die. Vengeful, angry ghosts accompany him as he tracks his quarry to San Francisco.

San Francisco is a mixing pot of cultures but it’s far from any kind of equality in 1877. Might still makes right and being any skin tone other than white leaves you with plenty of extra hurdles. Very few establishments outside of China town will serve Kelly Chan and nearly everyone assumes she is Jonathan’s slave. This provides plenty of opportunities for Kelly to set people right, much to my amusement. I’m really glad that the author didn’t ignore these facets of historical San Francisco as it made the story very interesting; Jonathan and crew can’t help but apply their 21st century standards to whatever time period they happen to be in.

The bad guy is very bad indeed! Henry Winslow is a very formidable foe as we saw in Book 4. That continues on in this book, though his powers have grown a bit. Still, Jonathan and crew think they can take him if they can just get the right combo of might, luck, and surprise going. At the very least, they can mess up this stage of his immortality ritual. For the most part, Winslow ignores them (or tosses them over houses) until they become a true nuisance. Then, there is hell to pay. There is this one scene that was a little bit of a tear jerker. Jonathan, in the first trilogy, managed to undo a few deaths with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. However, I don’t know if that will be possible this time around. This book’s description doesn’t lie about not everyone getting out alive.

In the previous book, I felt it was a bit silly that all 3 main female characters were in love with Jonathan. That theme was carried forth in this book, but now things are more complicated. Kelly and Jonathan had this romantic relationship in ancient Egypt and they continue that in 1877, but now they have Brand (Kelly’s ex-boyfriend) and Esther (a ghost who’s had a crush on Jonathan for years) to pay witness to it. This makes for some uncomfortable moments for these friends. However, I am better with the idea of Jonathan being the center of so much female attention now that I’ve read this book, especially in light of how this one ends.

OK, leaving all this mushy romance stuff to the side, Jonathan has more than one bad guy to deal with in this book. He and Douglas Freeman eventually cross paths and a deal is struck to assist each other, as they have one bad guy in common. This eventually brings plenty of pain and a few broken bones to Jonathan as he fights a man who is near indestructible. I quite enjoyed how he resolved that issue.

In the end, this is one of my favorite books of the series. There’s a lot going on in San Francisco in 1877 and a lot going on with Jonathan and his crew. The books ends on a bittersweet note with a bit of suspense for what will come next. So looking forward to Book 6!

I received a free copy of this audiobook.

The Narration: Yet again, Joe Hempel continues to be the perfect Jonathan Shade. As per his usual performance, he does an excellent light Chinese accent for Kelly Chan and a Southern drawl for Esther. I liked the little bit of high-and-mighty he put into Ankhesenamun’s voice. There were some pretty emotional scenes in this book and Hempel did a great job getting those emotions across to the listener. Indeed, I believe he must be attached to these characters by now and that really shows in his narration.  

What I Liked: 1877 San Francisco was a very interesting place; Kelly has plenty of opportunities to kick ass; Henry Winslow is such a powerful foe that I do wonder if Jonathan will be able to defeat him; not everyone gets out of this book alive (sniffle); Jonathan’s convoluted love life makes more sense now; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this is a solidly good story.

Ebook Giveaway & Interview: Arthur Slade, author of The Hunchback Assignments

SladeDustEveryone, please give a warm welcome to author Arthur Slade. I’ve enjoyed Slade’s works – check out my reviews of Dust and Ember’s End. We chat about book villains, which fictional characters to invite over for tea, tough jobs, and plenty more! Also, don’t miss the international GIVEAWAY at the end of this post – ebook of Dust.

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

The Six Million Dollar Man. Battling sasquatches! Running at amazing speed! A bionic eye! When I was a kid this was the only science fiction type show on tv and I watched it religiously. In fact, I think we only had one channel on our TV (I grew up in the outback). So I’d love to experience that amazing, overwhelming joy that I felt whenever the show came on TV. In second place would be Star Trek and Space: 1999 (tied for 2nd, of course).

SladeEmber'sEndWhat has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

I was a night auditor for a hotel. It wasn’t horribly difficult, except that I was the only employee in the hotel from 1 to 7AM and that meant I was the plumber, the security guard, and the guy behind the desk. Often there were hours of boredom peppered by the occasional crazy party that I’d have to break up. Writing is certainly safer and, oddly enough, pays better. I was able to get a bit of writing done between 2 to 4 AM because the hotel was usually quite then.

SladeTheHunchbackAssignmentsMore and more we see fiction being multimedia – a book, a TV show, a PC game, a graphic novel, etc. Any plans to take your works in the multimedia realm? Will there be more Arthur Slade audiobooks?

I do have plans to create more audiobooks. My latest novel, Flickers is in the hands of a studio right now that is putting the book together. I’ve been lucky, also, to delve into graphic novels via Kickstarter. And my steampunk series, The Hunchback Assignments, has been optioned for a movie. So there are several irons in the fire, so to speak. One of the joys of this modern digital age is that so many of these types of publications are easier to access. Well, except making movies. Those still cost a mountain of money.

SladeTheDarkDeepsWho are some of your favorite book villains? Who are your favorite hero duos from the pages?

As far as villains, I’m partial to Captain Hook. That villainous pirate who always hears ticking in the background. I’m also a huge Lord of the Rings fan, but in all honesty Sauron is a boring villain. He’s just so powerful and so far in the background. Instead betrayers like Saruman are much more interesting. Any of the hobbit duos were great fun in those books, too.

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

Hamlet, but he probably wouldn’t be able to make up his mind whether he wanted tea or a beer. Darth Vader, to see if he would use the force in a ping pong game. Katniss, to tell her to hurry up and make up her mind about one of those men. Sherlock Holmes, because he could probably find the socks that I’ve lost. And Julius Caesar (who appears as a fictional character in many works) to ask him whether he was represented properly.

SladeIslandOfDoomCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

The restraining order from Stephen King doesn’t allow me to repeat the story. Kidding, of course. I did go to his house once because I was in Bangor, Maine. I just wanted to see it. Didn’t knock on the gates or anything. I did ask his neighbour what it was like to live next to Stephen King and he said, “It’s fine, but I get tired of the tourist buses pulling up and people getting out to stare.” Not sure I’d want to be that famous.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Netflix. Oh, and reading. Far too much Netflix, though.

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. Still one of my favourites! I blame it for turning me into a fantastical type writer.

ArthurSladeAuthorPlaces to Find Arthur Slade

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon

Author Bio: Arthur Slade was raised on a cattle ranch in the Cypress Hills of southwest Saskatchewan and he caught the writing bug at an early age. He is the author of eighteen bestselling books, including “Dust”, “Jolted,” and “The Hunchback Assignments.” He currently lives in Saskatoon, Canada.

SladeDustBook Blurb for Dust: SEVEN-YEAR-OLD MATTHEW DISAPPEARS one day on a walk into Horshoe, a dust bowl farm town in Depression-era Saskatchewan. Other children go missing just as a strange man named Abram Harsich appears in town. He dazzles the townspeople with the promises of a rainmaking machine. Only Matthew’s older brother Robert seems to be able to resist Abram’s spell, and to discover what happened to Matthew and the others.

GIVEAWAY!

Arthur Slade is offering up an ebook copy of Dust. Giveaway is open internationally! You can enter the Rafflecopter below or you can answer these questions in the comments: 1) What country do you live in? 2) Who are some of your favorite heroes from books? 3) Please leave a way to contact you if you win. Giveaways end October 7, 2016, midnight.

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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