Hot Air by Denise Kahn

Narrator: Denise Kahn

Publisher: 4Agapi (2017)

Length: 8 hours 22 minutes

Author’s Page

Sean’s roots start in Ireland with a girl on the cusp of womanhood. She eventually flees to the USA to get a fresh start where she meets the man who will become her husband. Together, they raise Sean who becomes a pararescueman and goes on to battle terrorists in Afghanistan and at home in Albuquerque, New Mexico during the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

I really wanted to like this story but it needs quite a bit of polishing. We start off with young Sean and we have several chapters of him being a kid. This part of the story is suited for kids. The sentences are shorter and the vocabulary easier than what we have later in the book. The story shifts when we get a long story about Fiona, Sean’s mother. We spend several chapters with her and then a few with her and Tibi, the Navajo man who becomes her husband and Sean’s father. Yet then we get another shift once Sean joins the military. There’s lots of cussing and some practical joking along with military stuff. Altogether, it felt like I had read 3-4 short stories, all with their own flavor, that had been smashed together in this book. It felt disjointed.

The description of this book makes me think this a thriller full of action and suspense. However, the terrorists and action really don’t come into the story until sometime in the second half. There is a little glimpse into this with the prologue but then we have half the book or more before we return to it.

The lengthy section about young Sean stands well on it’s own. He’s fascinated with the hot air balloons that are common in and around Albuquerque a good chunk of the year. There’s this mystical quality to his dreams as he travels back in time to witness the first European attempts at hot air ballooning. This section is decently written even if I find that it doesn’t really fit the description of the book.

In Sean’s late teens, we get a very lengthy flashback of Fiona’s history. Again, I liked this section on it’s own. There are parts of it that did seem over simplified, but for a short story explaining a character’s motivations for leaving Ireland and making her own way in a foreign land, it was OK. This section includes Fiona meeting Tibi, a native New Mexican and full-blood Navajo. Their romance is sweet, if simplistic.

Once Sean joins the military, things do pick up. There’s plenty more characters to enjoy, like Niko (Sean’s best friend) and later a little more romance as the men find love. I did find the terrorists to be simply drawn, not having much depth. The action follows Sean home and he has to do some heroics at the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

As a New Mexican, I just wanted to point out that there is a difference between salsa and sauce and typically when ordering a New Mexican dish with ‘Christmas’ on it, you are getting both red chile sauce and green chile sauce, not salsa (as the book has it in one chapter). These little inaccuracies just added to the over all feel that this story needed yet one more edit before going to print.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Denise Kahn could do with some polishing on both her narrating skills and her audio production skills. This recording had a tinny quality for most of it and the volume ranged throughout it. Also she took several chapters to settle into 1 pronunciation for Tibi; since she is also the author, I felt this was sloppy. She does make a solid effort to give each character an appropriate accent and for the most part, she is consistent (though I can’t speak to the accuracy of some of her foreign accents). The book does have some nice little bits of music in between each chapter.

What I Liked: The cover art; the over all concept; Sean’s love of being up in the air; the action scenes.

What I Disliked: The book feels like multiple short stories were smashed together and they don’t flow from one to another well; the narration and audio production were tough on this book.

Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones

Chupa being used as a bookstand.
Chupa being used as a bookstand.

Where I Got It: Won a copy.

Narrator: Lorelei King

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (2011)

Length: 9 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 2 Charley Davidson

Author’s Page

Charley Davidson is Albuquerque’s private eye extraordinaire and local Grim Reaper. In this installment, her best friend Cookie hits her up to help find her friend Mimi. Pretty soon the two ladies are pulled into a murder mystery, one that may be tied back to an event from Mimi’s past. On top of all that, Reyes Alexander Farrow, Charley’s lover and also the son of Satan, has yet another mystery for Charley. While his hidden body is tormented by demons, his spirit haunts Charley, tempting her with promises of hot, pleasurable nights.

I wasn’t particularly taken with Book 1 (First Grave on the Right) in this series, but then I heard the author talk at the local convention (Bubonicon) a few times and she came off as funny and smart. So when I won a copy of this book (from Audio Gals blog), I jumped right into. I was happily surprised that this book entertained me far more than Book 1.

There’s really three mysteries in this book; the two biggies already mentioned and then a smaller one that even Charley is not aware of until she stumbles right into it. I really liked how these three intertwined, each masking the other or revealing insights into the next. It made it much harder to predict the plot and I was pleasantly surprised several times when the next little twist wasn’t what I was expecting.

Charley herself has plenty of self effacing humor. Sometimes it made me chuckle and, unfortunately, some of it felt canned. This was probably the single point that by turns charmed me and turned me off. When the wit was flying and clever, I was a very happy listener. When the humor lacked wit and was the same joke I have heard a thousand times on TV, I was likely to let my focus wander off the book.  I have to admit the sometimes unsurprising dialogue was one of the drawbacks to Book 1 and Book 2 doesn’t quite escape from this rather predictable sitcom type humor.

Then we have the hot, flirty romance between Charley and Reyes. In Book 1, it didn’t quite work for me, but in this book, it is much smoother. The two have a little history together now, some trust, something more to go on than just lusting hormones. I really enjoyed that Charley isn’t always willing to sit back and let Reyes be the alpha in their relationship. The other side of the coin is that she sometimes truly does need his help and she has to admit that and essentially ask for it. Reyes, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to ask for help in a very, very long time, given the nature of his being. So he’s still got some growing to do.

The various side characters provide humor and angst as needed. Of course, Cookie is front and center with this story. She’s sometimes near hysterics, worrying for her missing friend Mimi but then you can see her pull it together. Uncle Bob and Charley’s dad are both cops, so there’s some family politics that come in to play in this book that added some nice depth to Charley’s character. Then there are all the dead people that Charley can see and the conversations with those individuals runs the gamut of emotions: hilarious, poignant; creepy; etc.

Yep, I definitely enjoyed this book more than Book 1 and I will be continuing the series.

Narration: Lorelei King gave us another great performance. She’s got the perfect sassy voice for Charley. I also liked her voice for Cookie, making her sound voluptuous and bold at the same time. Both her male and female voices were distinct and her little kid voices were excellent. She also pulled off the Hispanic accent nicely.

What I Liked: Love the Albuquerque setting; when the wit was snappy and original, it was great; the side characters really add to the tale; 3 mysteries make the plot a joy to untangle; the romance has more to it than in Book 1.

What I Disliked: Sometimes the humor was very predictable and not terribly funny.

What Others Think:

Love Vampires

Respiring Thoughts

Dark Faerie Tales

New York Journal of Books

Never Judge a Book By Its Cover

The Paper Dragon

Love, Literature, Art, & Reason

Effortlessly Reading

Candace’s Book Blog

Smexy Books

Guest Post: Bubonicon 47 – Tea Time! by David Lee Summers

David Lee Summers with his daughter Verity at the their publishers table.
David Lee Summers with his daughter Verity at the their publishers table.

Folks, it is my great pleasure to have author and publisher David Lee Summers back on the blog. I was unable to attend New Mexico’s once-a-year scifi convention this year and asked (perhaps ‘begged’ is a better term) David to let me life vicariously through him. He was kind enough to offer up this guest post about Bubonicon 47.

Tea Time!

Who Can It Be Now: Characters With Flaws panel. From left to right: Ben Bova, David Lee Summers, S.M. Stirling (scratching his head at whatever Davids saying), Walter Jon Williams, and Caroline Spector.
Who Can It Be Now: Characters With Flaws panel. From left to right: Ben Bova, David Lee Summers, S.M. Stirling (scratching his head at whatever David’s saying), Walter Jon Williams, and Caroline Spector.

I enjoy attending science fiction conventions because they are a wonderful opportunity to connect with fellow readers and writers.  One of my longtime favorite conventions is Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  There are an amazing group of writers who live in or near Albuquerque and regularly attend Bubonicon including Walter Jon Williams, Jane Lindskold, S.M. Stirling, P.G. Nagle, and George R.R. Martin.  These writers, working with an outstanding convention committee, present a great set of panels and readings along with a diverse dealer’s room, art show, and gaming room.  What’s more, the convention has a great name, given when Egypt placed travel restrictions on New Mexico because Bubonic Plague had been reported in the mountains east of Albuquerque.  For most of the last two decades, Bubonicon has also been the convention closest to my home in Southern New Mexico.  That honor was only recently supplanted by Las Cruces Comic Con.

Red or Green panel.  From left to right: Dr. Catherine S. Plesko, Dr. Larry Crumpler, Christine MacKenzie, David Lee Summers, Loretta Hall, and Zachary Gallegos.
Red or Green panel. From left to right: Dr. Catherine S. Plesko, Dr. Larry Crumpler, Christine MacKenzie, David Lee Summers, Loretta Hall, and Zachary Gallegos.

The theme of Bubonicon 47 was “Women of Wonder” and featured an all-woman lineup of special guests.  The guests of honor were Tamora Pierce and Catherynne M. Valente.  The guest artist was Ruth Sanderson.  The toastmaster was Mary Robinette Kowal (in her own words, she’s a toastmaster because she’s nobody’s mistress!).  I was especially pleased to meet Ms. Kowal who, like me, had a story in the anthology of near-future stories 2020 Visions edited by Rick Novy.  Another special thing about that anthology is that it also features Bubonicon’s 2016 Guest of Honor, David Gerrold.  The convention schedule included such theme-related panels as “The Inescapable Romance Subplot: Passing the Bechdel Test?”, “Curse of the Strong Female: Pitfalls and Cliches”, and “Writing Different Genders: Your Point of View.”

Mary Robinette Kowal, right foreground. Photo credit James L. Moore and Jane Lindskold.
Mary Robinette Kowal, right foreground. Photo credit James L. Moore and Jane Lindskold.

Panels weren’t limited to the theme.  I participated in such panels as “Whither Ghost? Dancing With the Definitely Dead?” where we discussed ghost stories and stories with ghosts.  Of particular interest we talked about how ghost stories can take a science fiction twist when you imagine humans uploading their consciousness into a computer, becoming a “ghost in the machine.”  I also participated in a science panel called “Red or Green: NM as Mars Analog” in which we looked at how sites in New Mexico can be quite similar to sites on Mars, to the extent that they can be used to test Martian rovers or be used as test beds for humans traveling to Mars.  I moderated the panel, “It’s Alive: Scientists in Science Fiction” in which writers and scientists discussed how science and fiction have influenced each other.  Our conclusion was that although there is a societal perception of a “mad scientist” trope and a certain distrust of science in the media, science fiction writers generally respect scientists and the work they do.

David Lee Summers  Hillary Estell serving tea. Photo credit James L. Moore and Jane Lindskold.
David Lee Summers Hillary Estell serving tea. Photo credit James L. Moore and Jane Lindskold.

One of the highlights of Bubonicon for me is the Sunday Afternoon Author’s Tea.  The tea, which is unique as far as I know to Bubonicon, was conceived as a way for the authors to say thank you to the fans who attend the convention.  Seating is limited, simply due to limited space.  Because of that, there are sign-up sheets for the three sessions, but there is no charge.  Although there is no requirement to dress up for the tea, authors donate prizes and those who are judged to wear the best hat and glove combinations get to pick from the donated prizes.  Those fans who attend have the opportunity to sample four teas donated by the St. James Tea Room in Albuquerque.  This year’s choices included Lady Londonberry, a traditional black tea with a hint of strawberry flavoring, Black Pearl, a black tea scented with vanilla, Hesperides Golden Delight, a green tea scented with golden apples, and Daybreak in Martinique, a Rooibos scented with lemon myrtle and French lavender.  The authors also provide a range of sweet and savory snacks that range from smoked salmon and sausage balls to blueberry scones and lemon muffins.

SummersOwlDanceWhen not speaking on panels, giving a reading, or pouring tea for fans, I hung out at the table for my company, Hadrosaur Productions, in the dealer’s room.  This year, the dealer’s room was full of vendors selling books, comics, toys, and jewelry.  I found a snazzy steampunkish pocket watch to replace one I broke earlier this year along with several wonderful books.  The danger of hanging out in the dealer’s room is that my cash and I have a tendency to part company much too fast.  That said, I do like spending time there because it gives me a chance to interact with readers and writers, which of course, is the whole reason I’m there.

Places to Find David Lee Summers

Hadrosaur Productions

Tales of the Talisman

David Lee Summers: Wrong Turn on the Information Superhighway

David Lee Summers’ Web Journal

Goodreads

Amazon

Facebook

Twitter

You can also delve into David’s mine by reading his past interviews here on Dab of Darkness: 

David as an Author

David as a Publisher

SummersOwlDanceBook Blurb for Owl Dance:

Owl Dance is a Weird Western steampunk novel. The year is 1876. Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro, New Mexico, meets a beguiling woman named Fatemeh Karimi, who is looking to make a new start after escaping the oppression of her homeland. When an ancient life form called Legion comes to Earth, they are pulled into a series of events that will change the history of the world as we know it. In their journeys, Ramon and Fatemeh encounter mad inventors, dangerous outlaws and pirates. Their resources are Ramon’s fast draw and Fatemeh’s uncanny ability to communicate with owls. The question is, will that be enough to save them when airships from Czarist Russia invade the United States?

SummersLightningWolvesBook Blurb for Lightning Wolves:

It’s 1877 and Russians forces occupy the Pacific Northwest. They are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable. The one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

HowellSummersKeplersDozenBook Blurb for A Kepler’s Dozen: 13 Stories About Distant Worlds That Really Exist

A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. Edited by and contributing stories are David Lee Summers, editor of Tales of the Talisman Magazine, and Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, these exoplanet stories will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

SummersSpaceHorrorsBook Blurb for Space Horrors:

Space Horrors is the fourth anthology of the Full-Throttle Space Tales series. Edited by David Lee Summers, Space Horrors contains blood-chilling tales of vampires and ghouls in space, by established and rising-star authors. Terrifying tales contained in this volume: “Poetic Justice” by Alastair Mayer: Space hibernation does strange things to a man. “Listening” by Anna Paradox: It’s Halloween on the run to Mars. What could go wrong? “The Walking Man” by Glynn Barrass: A giant robot on Mars is in the hands of mutineers. “Natural Selection” by Simon Bleaken: The Zoological Institute warned Rebecca not to go study the bugs. “Oh Why Can’t I” by C.J. Henderson: The Earth Alliance Ship Roosevelt is pitted against a world swallowing creature. “Last Man Standing” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail: Mining can be hard work, depending on who – or what – is doing the mining. “Anemia” by David Lee Summers: Vampires prefer the eternal night of space, it seems. “Chosen One” by Dana Bell: A particularly unnerving game of cat and…something. “Sleepers” by Selina Rosen: Sometimes the nightmare you wake from is not as bad as the one you wake up to. “Divining Everest” by Patrick Thomas: When the vampires call for help, you know it’s bad. “Into the Abyss” by Dayton Ward: Ghosts haunting the depths of space. “Salvage” by David B. Riley: Insurance investigator Sarah Meadows is on a ghost ship and in trouble. “The Golem” by Judith Herman: A friend in need is a deadly reckoning. “In the Absence of Light” by Sarah A. Hoyt: Have you heard of the drifters? “A Touch of Frost” by Gene Mederos: Space is a hostile environment – except for zombies, of course. “Wake of the White Death” by Lee Clark Zumpe: Who will rescue the rescuers? “Plan 9 in Outer Space” by Ernest and Emily Hogan: Making bad space horror more horrible ain’t easy.

SummersDragon'sFallBook Blurb for Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order:

Three vampyrs. Three lives. Three intertwining stories.

Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books, after becoming a vampyr, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampyr sets her free, but then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampyrs, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampyrs—and their ultimate nemesis, Vlad the Impaler.

A Sunset Finish by Melinda Moore

MooreSunsetFinishWhy I Read It: Set in NM, a violin or two, with Native American culture – how could I say no?

Where I Got It: A review copy from the author (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Fans of the paranormal, such as body snatching ghosts, would enjoy this.

Publisher: Jupiter Gardens Press (2013)

Length: 65 pages

Author’s Page

Stephanie Minagawa has struggled with depression since her teen years. She has also struggled with the expectations of her parents as she wants to be a musician and her parents want her to be an engineer. So she tells her parents she’s off to far away New Mexico to work at Sandia National Labs but really she packs her violin and has hopes of joining the orchestra. Too bad the dry air of the desert splits her violin within hours of her landing there. But her stand partner recommends a violin repair shop on one of the local pueblos. And there she sees and hears the Sunset People. Their magical music calls to her and she can’t let it go. She returns again and again, demanding to know, even after she is loaned a violin while hers is being repaired.

The main character struggles with her depression and inclination towards suicide throughout the book. While I like how the author delved into this aspect (including self-mutilation and the altar of deceased relatives), I was a little unsatisfied that a reason, or series of reasons, for the depression was not revealed. Perhaps there was none in the fictional life of Stephanie……but for a novella, it nagged at me a bit. Whatever the reasons, or not, for her attraction to suicide, it was an integral part of the plot. The Sunset People’s music is for those who are ready to let go of life and move into the next realm of being. Stephani hears the music and is strongly drawn to it. Meanwhile, a lady she becomes friends with is struggling with a serious illness and can’t hear the music or see the Sunset People; she is not ready to let go. I liked the juxtaposition of these two.

Then we have the romance of the story. Granted, it’s a little like a whirlwind. He works at the violin repair shop and lends her his own violin. The two have a near-instant bond in their love for music. However, he still misses his deceased wife, Theresa. Poor man, I don’t recall his name. The ladies in this story were more interesting. Though he did get a few great lines about wanting to live, etc. Stephanie reacts angrily to these lines and he has to apologize later, which I thought was a bit unfair. She was dancing with death, toying with it, not fully living her life, but not quite able to give it up either. That aspect had me thinking a lot about life and not living it half-assed, no matter if you are suicidal or not.

Anyway, we get a paranormal aspect a bit later in the story as Theresa returns as a ghost and tries to take over Stephanie permanently. This creates another quandary for our main character. She could let go of her life, easily, with no pain, no fuss. Her parents wouldn’t even know she was gone. There would be no guilt over her leaving people behind. What do you think she picked? I won’t spoil it for you. I will say the ending was very satisfying.

What I Liked: Setting in NM; main character comes with long-term conflict (suicide inclination); the ending was quite satisfying.

What I Disliked: There wasn’t any reason(s) given for Stephanie’s depression.

What Others Think:

Obviously Opinionated

Ruth Hull Chatlien

Prepping for Bubonicon 2013

This is Chupacabra & Waffles nesting in my books.
This is Chupacabra & Waffles nesting in my books.

That’s right. New Mexico has it’s own SFF convention and it’s coming up next weekend in Albuquerque. Bubonicon is the only con I will be able to jaunt off to this year, so I am making the most of it. I’ve already booked my hotel room and purchased my con ticket. My man has offered to watch the farm for the weekend (as I will be watching the farm while he is off at the Fire & EMS Symposium – you can see pics over HERE from last year). the con is a 2 hour trip one way from where we live, so my man may or may not make it down for part of Saturday.

Of course I stacked these books just so, just so for the cats.
Of course I stacked these books just so, just so for the cats.

As you can see from the pile of books (and cats) I have plenty to get signed and keep me entertained. Brent Weeks and Tim Powers are the guests of honor this year. I have read the Night Angel trilogy (how fast did I read those books?) by Weeks and picked up a book by Tim Powers to give a try (I’ve heard great things about his works). You can check out the full list of participants on the site. Several state and regional locals will be attending. Who am I excited to see, listen to, politely stalk, end up having to do some emergency elevator evacuation drill with? Well, DoD favorite David Lee Summers will be there (you can kind of see a pile of his book sunder Waffles kitty), Connie Willis (loved her book Blackout), George R. R. Martin (yes, I finally read the first 2 books in the series A Song of Ice & Fire), Diana Gabaldon (recently reread her book Outlander, and it was every bit as good as the first time almost 2 decades ago). I just finished The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham two nights ago and am very excited to know he will be at the con. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck wrote Leviathan Wakes under the pen name James S. A. Corey. I am just about halfway through Leviathan Wakes and loving that too. One of my man’s favorite writers, Walter Jon Williams, will be attending along with S. M. Stirling. Let’s see, who else…. Ian Tregillis, Sam Sykes, John Maddox Roberts and many more.

Cats. I will not be taking the cats.
Cats. I will not be taking the cats.

I attended one day last year (instead of the entire weekend) and saw a few costumes walking around. Since I have a room at the hotel hosting the con, I will be able to stay for the costume contest this year, hooray! There’s also tons of great panels and single author sessions scheduled. I plan to take my camera and my kindle – people like to sign kindles. I will probably take my knitting just in case there is a false fire alarm and we are all stuck in the parking lot. Speaking of the parking lot – right across it is Buca di Beppo, one of my favorite Italian restaurants. Yes, I will be eating good that weekend.