Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

FrostHalwayToTheGraveWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Tavia Gilbert

Publisher: Blackstone Audio,  Inc. (2010)

Length: 11 hours 17 minutes

Series: Book 1 Night Huntress

Author’s Page

Cat Crawfield is half human and half vampire, her mother having been raped by a vampire, which left her pregnant. Cat has hated her vampire side her whole life and started hunting them in her teens, with her mom’s blessing. Now in her early 20s, she’s come across Bones, a vampire bounty hunter. Seems like a great person to team up with, right? Alas, Bones is also a vampire and Cat is torn between her single-minded approach to vampires (stake them and bury them) and her desire to learn more about vampires in order to hunt down her father.

This was a mostly fun paranormal romance. There’s a lot of witty banter, though by the end it was getting predictable. The characters started off interesting but then melodrama set in and I was wobbling about finishing it towards the end. While the romance was a bit silly, the sex scenes were pretty good – steamy and sweet.

Cat has a lot of hang ups which aren’t a big deal at the beginning of the book. Her unusual heritage and her mom’s hatred of vampires drive Cat to excel at her evening past time – going to clubs, luring vampires to secluded spots with the promise of sex, and staking them. She then buries them in the family orchard – vampnure! She had to learn much of what she knows on her own and there’s been no one to train her. So, that’s pretty impressive.

Alas, she has this whiny side. We all have one, and I don’t mind a character sharing a bit of it in a story, but she whined about something the entire book. First, she has no friends because she’s this outcast in a small town since her mother had her out of wedlock. Well, aren’t there other outcasts that you can at least sit around and commiserate with? There’s always other outcasts. So the idea of her never having a single other friend by her early 20s just seemed a bit over done. As the story progresses, she has hangups about her developing friendship and romantic interest in Bones. He’s a vampire and she’s also a bit afraid of sex, having only one other short lived experience. Near the end, it’s all gotten a bit too melodramatic for my tastes and Bones adds his own melodrama over their relationship as well. This was my biggest turn off for the book. I wanted more bad guy butt kicking and burying, more character development, and less angsty weeping heart-on-the-sleeve stuff.

The plot was decent. Bones has been in the bounty hunter business for some time and he’s made some friends and some enemies. Cat has an obvious goal – hunt down her father. Initially, it’s just Cat and Bones doing some training and then some work together. Then Bones introduces her to some of his friends and some frenemies. There’s plenty of action and injuries.

I really liked that we learned some of Bones’s earliest background later in the story and I especially liked that it forced Cat to rethink some of her assumptions about Bones. I think that Bones could be a rather interesting character if he wasn’t all hung up on Cat and her drama.

The ending was OK. The melodrama was a big part of it. But I did like that Cat had to make some hard decisions in order to keep some control over her own life. One of my favorite parts of the book was Bones calling Cat out on her hypocrisy. Since Cat hasn’t had a real friend before this both hurt and was truthful so it was big stepping stone for Cat to see the truth in it and decide what to do with it. I know several people really enjoy this series and I’m on the fence about continuing it. It’s fun in a brainless, just tune out the world sort of way, but the melodrama coupled with the narrator’s voice for Bones… not so hot.

Narration: Tavia Gilbert did a great job with voice of Cat. She sounded like a 22 year old female vampire hunter with a chip on her shoulder. However, I didn’t really like her voice for Bones. He’s suppose to have this English-Australian accent that’s been softened by 200+ years of living wherever he likes. However, her voice for him is over done and not sexy at all, which normally wouldn’t be too important except he is the main love interest in a romance novel. Gilbert did do a great job of imbuing the voices with emotion and I liked her voice for the alcoholic ghost, Winston.

What I Liked: Strong start to the book; Cat has had to teach herself all  of what she knows; Cat has some hangups; Bones is a bounty hunter; Bones’s back story; the butt-kicking and burying of the bad guys; Cat has to make some hard choices.

What I Disliked: So much drama; Cat has a LOT of hangups; Bones joins in the melodrama; the narrator’s voice for Bones.

What Others Think:

Dear Author

Love Vampires

Star-Crossed Book Blog

SF Site

The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein

HeinleinTheStarBeastWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Paul Michael Garcia

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2015)

Length: 8 hours 50 minutes

Series: Book 8 Heinlein’s Juveniles

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 8 in the series, it works perfectly fine as a stand alone novel.

John Thomas Stuart has a very large pet, Lummox. He’s a gentle beast with eight legs, a very thick hide, and a taste for roses and steel. Lummox has been in the Stuart family for generations but has recently outgrown their small town. No pen can hold Lummox and while John can reason with him to some extent, there is no physical means by which to make Lummox obey. Town authorities are ready to go to extremes, but no one is ready for the extremes that both John and Lummox will go to in order to remain together.

This was a fun coming of age book. Some parts of it might be considered quaint nowadays while others are still somewhat progressive for mainstream SF literature. I was sucked into the story once Lummox was described – the multiple legs and a sentry eyestalk for while he slept. Plus, Lummox talks! Yep. He sounds much like a little 5 year old girl and he’s not just parroting human speech back at you. Lummox can answer questions and make promises and tell you what he needs or wants. On the other hand, things have definitely changed a bit since the 1950s when this was first published. I was a little surprised at how often someone threatened to beat Lummox. Some of the threats were quite specific and graphic. So don’t look to this book as a good example of how to discipline a family pet. Or livestock.

Early on, John and Lummox end up in court because of the damage to city and personal property Lummox did. John’s friend Betty Sorenson acts as his attorney in a bit of courtroom drama. While I found this bit a little boring, being a bit overdone, I did find it very interesting that Betty was able to act so independently even though she was a minor. Later in the book, the theme of teens divorcing their parents came up. Considering the over all 1950s wholesome nature of this book, I applauded breaking of the mold in this matter as it made things more interesting.

Besides Betty, John’s mom, a female secretary, and perhaps Lummox (whose species really has 6 genders so I should probably ask Lummox what gender pronoun he prefers), there were no other female characters in a decent sized cast of male characters. Still, for a 1950s SF novel, Betty had a pretty important role in the book and she wasn’t your stereotypical teen female love interest. Indeed, John seems to be maturing a little slower and often calls her companionable names like ‘Slugger’ and ‘Smarty’. John’s mom also helps shape the plot, though I would say her role is more stereotypical – she’s a bit overbearing and loud about it.

Lummox is the real star of this story. He, who later in the story is referred to as a she, comes from an advanced race called the Hroshii. They are long lived and consider humans to be barely in their infancy as a species. However, they want their long-lost baby back as there is an arranged marriage among their kind to see to. The Hroshii could easily withstand any weapon the planet Earth could throw at them and just as easily wipe out the entire planet. So in steps our other hero, Mr. Kiku.

Mr. Kiku has a pretty high status in the Earth’s government, but not so high that he has to bow to popular whims. Indeed, he handles things very smoothly, always 3 or 4 moves ahead in his thinking than most of those around him. Also, he’s black. Now SF literature in general has come a ways, but sadly most heroes in SF are still white. So, another round of applause for Heinlein for shaking things up again.

This book started off rather humdrum, cookie cutter SF adventure story and turned into a surprise-riddled coming of age tale that had me chuckling, gasping, chewing on a knuckle, and nodding my head in agreement. The story had a happy ending that took all of Mr. Kiku’s wits to negotiate. I’m very glad that I gave this book a chance and I expect I will be reading more Heinlein in the future.

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

The Narration: Paul Michael Garcia did a really good job with this book. He had the perfect voice for young John, who is on the cusp of manhood. I also loved his little girl voice for Lummox. Once I learned Lummox’s true intelligence, it gave me a giggle. I also loved his steady Mr. Kiku, the raging Mrs. Stuart, and the ambitious Betty. All around, a great performance. 

What I Liked: Lummox is full of surprises; Betty doesn’t give up; John has to make some hard decisions; some pointed discussions of when a child is no longer under a parent’s sway; Mr. Kiku and his intellect; great narration.

What I Disliked: Started off a bit slow, a bit hum drum.

What Others Think:

The Green Man Review

SFF World

Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

BujoldBeguilementWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Bernadette Dunne

Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2007)

Length: 11 hours 59 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Sharing knife

Author’s Page

Fawn Bluefield spent the night in a barn and she’s a bit road weary for it. She had to leave her family’s farm and now she’s on her way to Glassforge, one of the larger cities, to find work. However, she’s soon swept up in an adventure she didn’t anticipate, one that takes much from her but holds the possibility of giving her much in return.

I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. Fawn is in her late teens or early twenties and she has made this tough choice to head out on her own. We learn really early on that she’s pregnant and she doesn’t want to burden her family with the consequences, but she also doesn’t want to face their ridicule. As we learn about Fawn and her troubles, we also learn about this magical world around her. Plus, Fawn is short for her age and folks tend to underestimate her, or talk over her head and she has to correct them on that.

The Lakewalkers are little known to Fawn, other than she thinks it’s best to leave them alone. They patrol the area, often hunting malices and their mudmen. As a malice grows in size, it starts kidnapping more and more humans to do it’s bidding. The Lakewalkers do their best to put down these malices but with the constant suspicion from the settled folks, it can be a bit tough. Dag is an older Lakewalker with plenty of scars and losses to bear. Yet when Fawn needs his help, he doesn’t hesitate. The Lakewalker patrols are made up of both men and women and seem a but more open about several things, things that Fawn asks about later on, much to my amusement as it makes Dag blush!

I was definitely fascinated by the sharing knives and the groundsense the Lakewalkers have. This mystical element really drew me in and I found myself pondering all the ways one could make use of groundsense. I’m sure the Lakewalkers have some intricate social niceties when it comes to groundsense, just trying to be polite and not intrude on one another’s private thoughts and feelings. The sharing knives were intriguing but I found the rules for their making and use to be confusing. Perhaps that is better explained further along in the series.

The malices made me think of alien spores that were left here to terraform the planet to the aliens’s liking but were then abandoned because we have Lakewalkers who have sharing knives. Anyway, the malice in this story isn’t a straight up evil. It’s not something that Fawn can easily relate to or understand. But thankfully Dag has the experience and knows what to do! I think these malices are an interesting and worthy foe for the story.

Then we get to the second half of the book, which is just all romance. Now, I was already invested in Fawn and Dag, so I finished the book out. But I am not a romance genre person so I found the second half of the book slow and uneventful. There were some little nuggets here and there, such as meeting Fawn’s grandmother and learning about the bindings Lakewalkers use in their relationships, but the bulk of it was a snooze for me.

I really liked that the author put in common things that many women have to deal with that we typically don’t see in other fantasy fiction. There’s accidental pregnancy, miscarriage, talk of menstruation, and rape. Just an FYI – the rape is left incomplete because the bad guy is no longer able to continue on. I think authors shouldn’t be afraid to include such things in fiction because many of these things happen to many women and women make up a sizable part of the reading community. Kudos to the author for doing so!

I’m intrigued enough to want to continue the series but I probably won’t be dashing off to do so. Half a book of romance will last me quite some time.

The Narration: Bernadette Dunne was great for this book. She had a practical, if sometimes young, Fawn down to a tee. I also liked her gruff voice for Dag. She had a great older female voice for the practical Mari, Dag’s patrol captain.

What I Liked: Lakewalker patrols consist of both men and women; Fawn is definitely making decisions for herself and doing her best to take responsibility; intrigued by the sharing knives;  groundsense seems a very useful skill; Fawn’s grandmother.

What I Disliked: I was left a bit befuddled on the rules of the sharing knives; the second half of the book is just romance and that was boring for me.

What Others Think:

Curled Up

SF Reviews

SF Site

Strange Horizons

Smart Bitches Trashy Books

Dear Author

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

FleishmanSeedfolksHeldigWhere I Got It: Won a copy

Narrators: Sunni Hit, Hue Edwards, Barbara RosenblatMichael RafkinStephanie DiazEarl Alexander, Sandra Squire, Nicholas Luksic, Norian Ahrash, Robert Hit, Russ Lamore, Michelle Blackman NOTE: I couldn’t find a written list of the narrators anywhere, so I had to listen to the list at the end of the book. My apologies for any name misspellings.

Publisher: Blackstone Audio Inc. (2003)

Length: 1 hour 26 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in Cleveland, Ohio, a vacant, trashed lot is slowly transformed into a community garden. It starts with one young girl, Kim, planting lima beans to remember her dead father. Then an old Romanian lady, Ana, snooping from her apartment window with binoculars, discovers her little secret and decides to add to it. One by one, 13 people are drawn in to the garden and a sense of community is formed for the neighborhood.

This is a great little gem of a book and not very long, which makes it great for folks to pick up and enjoy in an afternoon. I really liked that the story showed how people, one by one, were drawn into the garden and their various reasons for sticking with it. Some truly enjoy gardening. Some want to grow produce to sell. Others are trying to impress some folks. It was very interesting to see how so many people from different walks of life were drawn into this community garden.

The book shows quite a bit of diversity and doesn’t shy away from having various characters comment on it. Sometimes the characters even have the ethnicity of another character wrong, and that shows how ignorance can keep a community divided up. Yet as the garden grows, these barriers start to break down and people get to know one another better.

The garden doesn’t just affect those people gardening. Other folks join in by strolling by and chatting with the gardeners, or simply enjoying the view of the garden through a window. There’s a social services nurse that comes by a few times a week and takes her charge down to the garden for his enjoyment. Another lady gets the city to come by and remove the piled up trash that used to be part of the derelict lot. The garden brings the community together in many ways. Indeed, this is a little feel-good book.

I won a copy of this book from Blackstone Audio with no obligation for a review.

The Narration:  The audio production for this book was great. There was a full cast of narrators to carry out this book. Of course, I loved Barbara Rosenblat’s performance of the grumpy, suspicious Romanian Ana. Hue Edwards did a great job as young Kim with the lima beans, who kicked off the entire community garden thing. Stephanie Diaz was great as a sassy, snotty pregnant teen. Earl Alexander made a great young stud trying to impress the love of his life by growing tomatoes. Michelle Blackman made a very practical Leona. I really liked Nicholas Luksic’s performance as young Gonzalo who learned so much from his grandfather about plants. 

Characters and their narrators (please note I couldn’t find a list anywhere and so I listened to the end of the second disc – I apologize for any name misspellings): Sae Young (performed by Sunni Hit), Kim (performed by Hue Edwards), Ana (performed by Barbara Rosenblat), Sam (performed by Michael Rafkin), Maricela (performed by Stephanie Diaz), Curtis (performed by Earl Alexander), Nora (performed by Sandra Squire), Gonzalo (performed by Nicholas Luksic), Amir (performed by Norian Ahrash), Wendell (performed by Robert Hit), Virgil (performed by Russ Lamore), Florence (performed by Michelle Blackman), and Leona (performed by Michelle Blackman).

What I Liked: Ethnic diversity in characters; garden starts by a kid planting beans and others joining her; the garden brings more than gardeners together; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – sweet little gem of a book

What Others Think:

Books: A True Story

The Book Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

GladstoneTwoSerpentsRisingWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Chris Andrew Ciulla

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2013)

Length: 12 hours 26 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Craft Sequence

Author’s Page

 

Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it can be read as a stand alone.

This book is set in the same world as Three Parts Dead but in a different city with completely different characters. Caleb Altemoc is our hero in this tale. He’s been tasked by Red King Consolidated to cleanse the demon infested waters of the city of Dresediel Lex. While he investigates the source, and a possible way to do the cleansing, he runs into Mal, a cliff runner who has some answers and a hidden agenda.

This book was just a tad more fun than Three Parts Dead. Much of the city Dresediel Lex is based on ancient Mesoamerican cultures and I really reveled in that. The setting was so rich, from the food to the architecture to the slang. From this backdrop, we get the myths about the Two Serpents and what that means to various groups controlling the city. The current political group rose to power some decades ago, but supporters of the old ways, including human sacrifice, still abound.

And that is where Caleb’s dad comes in. He use to be a high priest among the ruling class and performed many human sacrifices. Obviously, Caleb has some strong feelings about his father. The dynamic between the two kept me on edge through the story. It was excellent! So much for the two of them to work out and perhaps some of it can’t ever be worked out.

The Red King is a spooky, spooky dude who happens to enjoy quality tequila. In Three Parts Dead, we were introduced to the idea of these very long-lived craft (i.e. magic) users and in this book we get an up close look at just such a specimen. I would be hard pressed to say that the Red King is still human, but there are times throughout the tale when he shows glimpses of his old humanity. There’s history there and I would love for there to be a story just about the Red King and how he came to be.

Next, there is Mal. She’s a cliff runner, which is like our modern-day parkour but a bit more dangerous as I doubt much of Dresediel Lex has the building safety codes like our modern cities do. She’s smart, athletic, and definitely attracted to Caleb. He’s not too sure what to do with her at first. As the two get to know each other, it becomes apparent they have some seriously divergent views on a few things. I really hoped the two would be able to work things out – there was such a spark between them!

The demons. I can’t leave this review without mentioning the demons. That seems to be a catch all phrase for these beings that inhabit the water supply. They have their own needs and won’t hesitate to snap up the unwary human, but they mostly come off as dangerous animals and not some conniving riddling beings that want souls. It was a different take on the word ‘demon’ and very fitting with the mythology on the Two Serpents.

It’s an excellent book full of mystery and rich in myth. I highly recommend it and I have fingers crossed that someone will turn the rest of the series into audiobooks.

The Narration: Chris Andrew Ciulla was a great fit for Caleb. He did all the accents right and had this gravity that suited Caleb well. His other character voices were distinct and his female voices were believable. I especially liked his super creepy voice for the Red King.  

What I Liked: The cover art; excellent setting; a deep mystery; human sacrifice; Mal’s cliff running; the Red King and his tequila; plenty of action; satisfying end.

What I Disliked: Nothing! This book was a real treat!

What Others Think:

 

Fantasy Book Critic

Open Letters Monthly

 

Best Fantasy Books

Patheos

Mental Megalodon

Fantasy Review Barn

Fantasy Faction

Anthony Vicino

 

The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok translated by Ben Waggoner

WaggonerTheSagasOfRagnarLodbrokWhere I Got It: Review Copy

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2015)

Narrator: Ray Chase

Length: 2 hours 46 minutes

Translator’s Page

This book contains the ancient tales inspired by the historical figures of Ragnar Lodbrok, his sons, wives, and enemies. Presented here are new and original translations of the three major Old Norse texts: The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok, The Tale of Ragnar’s Sons, and The Sögubrot. Ragnar’s death song, the “Krákumál,” completes the volume.

If you like your poetry old and epic, then look no further! If you have a fascination with old Viking lore, then this will probably be of interest. I really enjoyed this visit to the source material for so many stories based on Ragnar Lodbrok’s life.

Ragnar’s wives played a larger role in the sagas than I expected. Of course, each one brought some mythic element to the story in her own right. His first wife was a shieldmaiden – a Viking warrior. His second was of a great warrior lineage but had been lost as a child and raised as a servant. She did have her own witchy powers though. His third was also of noble birth and sometimes saw things clearer than Ragnar himself.

The sagas take us through Ragnar’s entire life, including his sad death. Or, at least, I thought it was a sad way for a Viking warrior to go. Then we continue the adventure through his sons, who had conquests of note. Indeed, it was very interesting to see what the Vikings found terrifying and honorable hen fighting among themselves. Battle cow, anyone? Yes, indeed, there is a battle cow!

The description of this book says that extensive notes and commentary are provided. Honestly, I did not notice much notes and commentary at all. There were a few places where the author made note of missing text. The book simply launches into the sagas without giving a foreword, or an afterword for that matter, placing these works in historical perspective. Indeed, I would have enjoyed having some commentary or historical notes.

I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox in exchange for an honest review (thanks!).

Narration: Ray Chase was a good pick for this book. He has a steady voice and made it sound like we were enjoying a fireside telling of the old tales. There are several Viking names and he didn’t stumble over a single one.

What I Liked:  Gorgeous cover art; epic tellings!; Ragnar’s life to the end; the wives play a bigger role than expected; his sons had deeds worth telling. 

What I Disliked: I would have liked some commentary or foreword/afterword putting these tales in a historical perspective.

What Others Think:

The Slayer Rune