The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

Narrator: Dick Hill

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2008)

Length: 13 hours 49 minutes

Series: Book 1 Harry Bosch

Author’s Page

Set in Los Angeles in perhaps the early 1990s, Harry Bosch is on the case of a dead man found in a drainage pipe. In fact, he identifies the victim, having served with him in Vietnam. Internal strife in the LAPD and the involvement of the FBI make life hard for Harry.

While this book did have many cliched plot points, I still enjoyed it. In fact, I think the tried & tested cliches made it easy to slip into the book. Harry has a chip on his shoulder and not much going on outside of his job. He smokes, doesn’t eat healthy, and drinks beer. He seems to be in trouble all the time. Either his lieutenant is yelling at him or the Internal Affairs office is threatening him. Now that his old Vietnam buddy, Billy Meadows, has been found dead, his PTSD is stirred up.

This story is rather light on female characters and when we do get an interesting one, Elizabeth Wish with the FBI, she’s quickly turned into a romantic interest. Still, she has her secrets and this gave her a little depth. I hope the author can do more with her character in future books.

Despite the typical plot points for this genre, Harry stands out for a few things. His mother was a prostitute who was murdered. Harry doesn’t hate prostitutes and seems to have a protective streak in general for women. He’s got a lovely house because a movie company paid him handsomely to use his name in a movie that was loosely based on a case he was involved in. So I really liked that he’s this older cop (early 40s) whose got this interesting past and knows that he truly wants to be in law enforcement.

The mystery itself was interesting for the most part, though there were times I felt that Harry or another character did something out of character just to up the drama or move the plot forward. In general, it’s a decent start to a series and I will probably check out more books by this author.

The Narration: Dick Hill is a favorite go-to narrator for me. He did a good job here, keeping all the male characters distinct. His female characters could use more femininity. I especially liked his ability to portray Harry’s emotions.

What I Liked: It was easy to slip into the story; Harry is a fully formed character with a past; Elizabeth Wish has potential to become a major character; the mystery of dead Billy Meadows.

What I Disliked: Plenty of cliches made much of this book predictable; few female characters; does Elizabeth have to be a romantic interest so soon? Sigh…

What Others Think:

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Simon McDonald

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The Technology Geek

The Buried Book by D. M. Pulley

Narrator: Luke Daniels

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2016)

Length: 11 hours 55 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in and around Detroit in 1952, 9 year old Jasper has just been left at his uncle Leo’s farm. No one knows where his mother Althea has gotten off to and his dad visits when he can. Jasper has many questions and several of those can be answered by secrets kept on the farm. The rest he must hunt out, puzzling them together.

Part mystery, part literary fiction, part coming of age, this tale wasn’t what I was expecting but it sure was gripping. Most of the book is told through Jasper’s eyes, though there are flashbacks sprinkled throughout the book to show us Althea’s life as a girl long before she had Jasper. While some parts of the book were a bit slow, there was always something pulling me back into it.

Althea grew up in the Prohibition Era and as a teen she is faced with some interesting employment choices. She doesn’t want to be a farmer her whole life yet she doesn’t see many choices in front of her either. Jumping forward a generation, young Jasper is dumped on the farm’s doorstep. Eventually he starts exploring things a bit and finds the old farmhouse that was gutted by fire. The structure is still standing and he makes a very interesting discovery inside, one that gives him many clues as to his mom’s history. These clues lead him to seek out people his mom once knew and who might be able to help him locate her today.

I wasn’t expecting some of the twists and turns this book took, which I really liked about the story. Since he’s only 9, most of the adults in the tale don’t want to tell him what they know, usually in an attempt to protect him. Jasper is tired of being protected from the truth and indeed, the web of lies and evasions really start to weigh on the guy. Talk about emotional and mental strain!

The farm scenes were good but often intense. After all, it’s a working farm complete with livestock, tractors, and plenty of chores. Jasper has his older cousin to help him navigate the dos and dont’s of the farm. There are scenes of butchering but I didn’t feel they were gratuitously gory though we do get Jasper’s view on these scenes. Initially, he’s a bit horrified but as he spends more time on the farm, he starts to understand and except how things are done.

The ending wrapped up the big questions and I believe Jasper comes out the stronger for the experience. I did feel some minor mysteries were left hanging a bit. While such is often so with real life, I did want just a little more from this book. Still, it was a good listen and I did get attached to Jasper and his cousin.

I listened to this audiobook through Kindle Unlimited.

The Narration: Luke Daniels was great for this book. I am once again impressed with his vocal range. He was great as 9 year old Jasper including the myriad of emotions he experiences throughout this story. I especially loved his voice for uncle Leo who was often hard yet caring at the same time. Daniels’s female voices were good and his regional accents were well done.

What I Liked: More mystery than I expected; Jasper’s life on the farm; his cousin is always looking out for him; the flashbacks to Prohibition Era; great narration.

What I Disliked: There were some slow points in the story; I wanted just a bit more at the end to clearly wrap up some minor points.

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The Thief Taker by C. S. Quinn

Narrator: Napoleon Ryan

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2014)

Length: 11 hours 28 minutes

Series: Book 1 Charlie Tuesday

Author’s Page

Set in 17th century London, the plague is on! Death is every where. Charlie Tuesday is a thief taker – he’s hired to find those that steal from the dead. Now Marie has hired him to find out who killed her younger sister. Charlie is soon caught up in witchcraft and is a suspect himself.

This was a very interesting book. I was caught up in it right away. I have a morbid interests in plagues so the description for this book had me hooked before I even started it. Now I can’t speak to the validity of the historical details, but on the whole, it was an entertaining fiction.

Charlie Tuesday is a great character. He’s got this dodgy past that’s hinted at throughout the tale, though we learn more of it by the end. While he’s definitely interested in making enough to keep himself fed and housed, he’s also got a moral compass. When he sees what was done to Marie’s sister, he can’t walk away. There are certain details that lead him to believe that her death is not an isolated murder. Someone walks the streets of London dressed as a plague doctor killing people.

Enter the witchcraft aspect. Now I could have used a little more here, but it was still used well to build suspense and provide that sense of the forbidden. Charlie could end up in dire straights indeed if he is arrested for witchcraft!

Then we have Marie. I liked her well enough at the beginning. She had her own motivations and made some tough decisions. Then she gets wrapped up with Charlie and much of her time is spent being the comedic relief or the damsel in distress. I would have enjoyed her character more if she had kept on her initial character arc.

All told, it was a chilling tale of plague, murder, and witchcraft. I look forward to exploring the rest of the series.

I listened to this audiobook through Kindle Unlimited.

The Narration: Napoleon Ryan did a really good job as Charlie Tuesday. I’m not an expert on the various English accents, but I feel Ryan did a good job, keeping all the characters distinct. I also thought his female voices were well done.

What I Liked: Great setting; excellent cover art; chilling murder mystery; the plague!; witchcraft!; Charlie Tuesday is a very interesting character; great narration.

What I Disliked: Could have used more witchcraft; Marie’s character started off good but then became rather silly.

What Others Think:

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Crime Review

Cannonball Read

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

DickTheManInTheHighCastleNarrator: Jeff Cummings

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2015)

Length: 9 hours 58 minutes

Author’s Page

In this alternate history, the US and it’s allies lost WWII in the 1940s. The US in 1962 is divided up between Germany and Japan, with an unoccupied strip in the middle following the Rocky Mountain Range. A banned novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is read by many of the main characters, influencing their choices, but perhaps not as much as the popular I Ching.

It was very interesting visiting this SF classic after having watched the first season of the TV series. Juliana is one of the few ladies to have a full name and a role in the plot. She’s Frank Frink’s ex-wife and lives in Canon City in the neutral Mountain States teaching martial arts. Meanwhile, Frank is still in San Francisco working at a metalsmith’s shop. He’s one of a shrinking number of Jewish Americans living in the Japanese occupied states. For me, it was these two characters that I initially gravitated towards the most.

A Mountain States author wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy some years ago and it was initially banned in all Axis occupied lands. However, Japan lifted it’s ban and this has allowed the book to spread a bit. This book depicts a world in which the Allies won; the book’s WWII outcome doesn’t reflect our historical reality but provides yet another possible scenario which I found interesting. Most of the main characters have an interaction with this book and each character’s reaction is a bit different. Juliana becomes a bit obsessed with the book after she meets a truck driver, Joe Cinnadella, who let her borrow his copy.

I didn’t particularly like Juliana after she hooked up with Joe. Her character really had this shift that I didn’t find fully believable. I also noticed the same thing happen with Robert Childan, the man who runs a San Francisco antiques store. Both characters change direction and are then used by the plot. It felt like PKD wrote a quarter of this novel, set it aside, and when he came back to it he decided he wanted to take a different path but was too lazy to rewrite these characters to fit what came next. Instead, he just has this rather swift shift in character for each of them that feels unnatural the rest of the book.

While there is not much more than a peek into Nazi-occupied US, we do hear quite a bit about the Germans. They have a huge advantage in technology, so much so that they are sending Germans to Mars and Venus to colonize them. Japan is increasingly falling behind in their tech and tensions continue to mount between these two world powers. I did get a giggle out of the apparent jump in tech and science (colonizing Mars) and yet the Germans and Japanese continue to use tape recorders. I just had to keep in mind that this book was originally published in 1962 and many authors, even the SF greats, rarely saw any tech beyond physical recordings on some sort of plastic strip.

The story winds up the reader, tightening the tension with each chapter. Some characters are just trying to get by. Others are actively assisting the German government in maintaining their current world dominance. Some few are interested in finding a way out of this Germany/Japanese controlled world for everyone. Yet even as the story reaches what I was expecting to be the final crescendo, nothing truly big happens at the end. Most of our characters are still, for the most part, stuck in their various situations trying to find a way out. Nothing is truly resolved. Since I wasn’t fully invested in the characters, I was OK with that. This novel was pretty mediocre for me.

I received a free copy of this book from eStories in exchange for a review of their audiobook services. Their service is set up much the same as other audiobook platforms. When you sign up, you get 1 audiobook for free and you have this free audiobooks trial period as well. There’s also the free audiobooks download app for iPhone or Android. Keep in mind, my experience is for this single book. Nowhere on their website does it say that you can download to a PC or laptop, so I had to clarify that with a representative before I agreed to give their services a try since 90% of my audiobook listening happens on a laptop. Once I signed up, I picked out my book, I went to my eStories library, and there is a DOWNLOAD button, which I clicked. I was expecting options to pop up – various formats, perhaps a eStories specific player for computers (or links to Windows Media Player or iTunes), etc. However, instead it just started downloading a zip file full of the MP3s for my book. Now, for me, this was fine. Once fully downloaded in my Download Folder, I wanted to move my audiobook to another folder but the move failed completely and I had to redownload. (I don’t know if the failed download was due to corrupted files or not, but considering the small difficulty with the Android player, that might well be the case.) Later on, since we were headed out on a road trip, we downloaded the same book from eStories to my man’s Android cellphone. The download went swiftly, however there was some minor corruption of each MP3 file. Each file ended with a random sentence fragment taken from that file. At first, we thought the eStories player was cutting off the last word or two of the chapter but a spot check of my laptop audiobook revealed what was happening (though not the why of it). I informed my contact of this and the info was passed on to the tech team, so hopefully that is already fixed if you go to use the Android player. Browsing their selection is pretty good – genre, length, abridged or unabridged, etc. They don’t have as big a selection as Audible.com but they do have some small publishers and indie authors/narrators as well as the big publishing houses. You can create a Wish List as well. One cool thing is that you can upload any audiobook from your computer to your eStories library and from there listen to it on your Android or iPhone. I haven’t tried this yet but I like the idea for Librivox audiobooks for my husband’s Android. Each book has a detailed description – author, narrator, publisher, length, series, etc. However, unlike other platforms, I can’t click on the series and have all the books in the series pop up. Overall, eStories has potential.

The Narration:  Jeff Cummings was OK. He did fine with regional American accents but his foreign accents were pretty rough, especially his Italian accent. He did do a good job imbuing the characters with emotions at the right times. 

What I Liked: It was an interesting look into a world where WWII had a different outcome; Frank Frink is an interesting character; Having the US divided up into 3 sections gives a view into 3 different sets of human standards; use of the I Ching; the alternate WWII ending in the fictitious book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.

What I Disliked: Juliana is one of the few female characters; a few characters have sudden shifts in their outlooks and then their motives feel forced the rest of the book; no real look into German-occupied US; the story winds us up and then just leaves us; narration was a little rough with foreign accents.

VintageScifiBadgeVintage SciFi Month! This book was originally published in 1962, and being of the alternate history SF genre, it easily qualifies for my Vintage SF challenge. Hooray! Anyone is welcome to join the yearly Vintage SF Month!

What Others Think:

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Deadlock by Sara Paretsky

ParetskyDeadlockTofuNarrator: Susan Ericksen

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2012)

Length: 10 hours 28 mins

Series: Book 2 V. I. Warshawski

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.

Set in the 1990s in Chicago, Vick Warshawski is a private detective. The story opens with a funeral for her cousin Boom-Boom Warshawski, an ex-hockey player. He was working for a Great Lakes shipping company and apparently slipped on an icy pier and died in the water. Vick is Boom-Boom’s executor of his will; dealing with his estate and papers leads her to wonder if his death was an accident after all. As she digs into Boom-Boom’s death, her own life is threatened.

I like that Vick likes sports and pays attention to the local games and teams. I don’t care for sports at all, but I like having a main female character that does have a passing interest in professional sports. Vick has a practical kind of toughness that I find irresistible. She’s not tough because she’ll argue back or because she insists on doing things on her own terms. She’s simply a strong personality and would be no matter what gender she was born into. Her practical nature (letting trusted friends know where she’s off too – sometimes, carrying a weapon that she’s proficient in, wearing sensible clothing and shoes, etc.) is what keeps the character grounded for me.

The main subject of this book, the Great Lakes shipping industry, involves the great locks of the lakes. I find locks fascinating and I was pretty excited to see Vick traveling through a major lock or two in this novel. Vick spends a chunk of the book trying to understand the shipping manifests for the company Boom-Boom was working for. As such, she enlists someone in the business to explain the finer details. Here is where my one little quibble with the story lies. In Book 1, Indemnity Only, Vick becomes romantically involved with a man who works at the insurance company that Vick is kinda sorta looking into. Now, here, in this book she becomes romantically interested in a man who is hired by the shipping company she’s looking into. I felt this plot mechanism was a little overused in the series.

Now, back to the good stuff. Paige is a beautiful dancer that was having a secret romance with Boom-Boom. Vick meets her at Boom-Boom’s funeral and Paige asks a small favor – she would like access to Boom-Boom’s apartment so that she could collect her things. While they hadn’t reached the point of exchanging keys yet, she did have a few bits of clothing and makeup at his place. The plot deepens when Vick finds her there going through Boom-Boom’s papers. Paige fesses up to looking for some personal letters the two exchanged while she was on tour. I, like Vick, think she’s hiding something. I really wasn’t sure what until the last bit of the book. Vick figured it out before I did.

Finally, there’s this major accident in the book that I totally didn’t see coming. It slid right in there under my radar and it was well written. Vick got to experience it all first hand and I was worried she would be injured enough for a hospital! I was a little surprised at the body count for this book, but that just keeps me on my toes. I do enjoy a mystery series that can keep me guessing and surprised.

Narration: Once again, Susan Ericksen makes a really good VI Warshawski. She does the Chicago accent quite well. Her male voices are believable. With Book 1, I noted that sometimes I had to turn down the volume during the shouting scenes. That was not an issue with this book. The characters sounded like they were shouting but I didn’t have to adjust my volume control.

What I Liked: The Great Lakes locks; Vick’s interest in local sports; Boom-Boom’s an ex-hockey player; the mystery of Paige and her relationship to Boom-Boom; a big accident leaves Vick roughed up.

What I Disliked: As with Book 1, Vick uses a romantic interest to gain info on a case she is working.

What Others Think:

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Prezi

Kirkus Reviews

Mystery File

That’s What She Read

Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky

ParetskyIndemnityOnlyChupaNarrator: Susan Ericksen

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2011)

Length: 8 hours 43 mins

Series: Book 1 V. I. Warshawski

Author’s Page

Vick Warshawski is a Chicago cop’s daughter and an independent private detective. A man calling himself John Thayer hires her to find his son’s missing girlfriend, Anita Hill. Vick starts with the basics, such as checking the boyfriend Peter’s apartment for clues. What she finds is Peter’s body. The mystery deepens when she goes to Peter Thayer’s dad to ask him some questions and finds the real John Thayer. Vick is soon drawn into a case of insurance fraud, big unions, and the missing Anita Hill.

When I was a kid, the VI Warshawski movie came out and parts of that movie have stuck with me. So recently I got my hands on the first 5 Warshawski stories as audiobooks and Book 1 does not disappoint! This is way better than the movie I remember. First, I really like Vick. She’s independent and practical. She knows herself and what she’s willing to do or not do. For instance, she doesn’t hesitate to break into Peter’s apartment – and no guilty conscience there nor any second guessing herself. She also holds her own with stubborn cops and overbearing business men. The story occasionally brings up gender inequalities, but not so much so that I felt I was being asked to go to a Woman’s Pride parade.

The plot was pretty good as well. I was guessing for most of the book as to who was the culprit. While it was apparent pretty early on that there was some connection between the insurance company that John and Peter both worked for and the big union Anita’s dad worked for, I couldn’t guess the specifics until near the end.

The story is set before the time of cell phones and widespread internet. Vick actually has to track down physical information. While this dates the book a bit, I quite enjoyed it. I’m just old enough to recall the days before modern computing and the world wide web of information. So I have an appreciation for how hard it was for Vick to track down all the info that lead her to the bad guy.

There’s two side characters in this story that I really liked. There’s Vick’s best friend, the Viennese Lottie, who is a doctor. It never hurts to have a doctor as a personal friend especially when you get banged up as often as Vick. Then there’s Peter’s young sister Jill Thayer. Vick takes her under her wing a time or two in this book.

All around, this book exceeded my expectations. I half expected the story to be a cozy detective novel with a body or two. That was not the case. Vick is serious about her business and the men who want her off the case are serious too. Vick’s life is seriously in danger more than once in this book and if I didn’t know there were several more in the series, I would have been worried about her or those closest to her. As a final note, I loved that Vick took some hits and kept mouthing off. I also loved that those closest to her were concerned for her but didn’t coddle and coo over her as if she was some poor defenseless woman. Vick is awesome!

Narration: The narration is pretty good. Susan Ericksen makes a really good VI Warshawski. She also does the regional Chicago accent for most of the characters, which I also appreciated. Her male voices were believable. I also liked the light Austrian accent for Lottie. My one little criticism is that Vick and her cop connections often do a lot of yelling and so I had to sometimes turn down the volume because the narrator was yelling right along with them.

What I Liked: Vick – she’s just great; Lottie and her doting yet professional ways; Jill’s persistence in helping find out who killed her brother; the murder mystery; set before the internet age, Vick has to track down physical information.

What I Disliked: Sometimes the audio volume was a bit loud during the scenes that involved shouting.

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Kirkus Reviews

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

McGuireIndexingNarrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2014)

Length: 12 hours 5 minutes

Series: Book 1 Indexing

Author’s Page

In this urban fantasy, fairy tales can kill. A person can get caught up in their story and then the narrative will carry that person to the forgone conclusion. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Sleeping Beauty, a Wicked Stepsister, or a Pied Piper, eventually the story will be too strong for you to ignore and then you will no longer have a choice.

Henrietta (Henry) Marchen runs an indexing team for the ATI Management Bureau. They are tasked with tracking down these narratives that just went active, indexing them (which is figuring out what class of fairy tale and how strong they are), and diffusing them before the story creates a body count. Sometimes the only way to diffuse a narrative is to take out the human at the center of the story, because they are no longer in control of their actions. Henry has to make some tough calls during this tale. Her little team is like family; they all have their hangups and they all care about each other.

In truth, I did find some aspects of this book difficult to keep track of. Once I figured out what was going on with the narrative, it got a little easier. Sometimes the long wordy explanations (which might have been a spoof on actual government procedure documents) was cumbersome and didn’t really help explain anything. Plus, they were a bit boring. Rather, the conversations between characters did the best to explain how a fairy tale can take over a small piece of reality and what, if anything, the ATI folks could do about it.

Other than that, there was some great stuff going on in this book. I liked thinking of modern Sleeping Beautys or Snow Whites trying to make their way working in an office or a daycare center. It often gave me a chuckle. My favorite side character was Sloan Winters. She was awesome! She got to say all sorts of cranky things I wish I could say at the office, and her team understood because that’s how her fairy tale built her. McGuire also pays a nod to the transgender community with a character and I thought that was well done.

There’s also this murder mystery going on. At first, it looks like random narrative attacks and there’s a few bodies piling up. However, the indexing team does love to analyze stuff so pretty soon it looks like there’s some sort of pattern and perhaps someone or something is controlling the narrative outbreaks. The murder mystery part took some time to get going, but once it did, it really added to the story.

Over all, I did enjoy this book, though I find McGuire’s other urban fantasy series, the Toby Daye series, much easier to get into. That series teaches you the rules as you go along, whereas this series tends to have big chunks of convoluted rules dumped on you, sometimes repeatedly. Still, I think it’s worth the time and effort.

I had access to a free copy of this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

The Narration: Mary Robinette Kowal did a good job, as usual. I really liked her voice for Sloan, who is always snappish. She did a great job shifting from a character’s every day voice to their ‘possessed’ fairy tale voice. 

What I Liked: Fairy tales are trying to take over my life!; Henry is a good choice for team lead; Sloan and her work attitude! So funny! So snappish!; the murder mystery; the team pulling together for the ending; great narration.

What I Disliked: There are some convoluted rules that are given in big info dumps; these info dumps are repeated.

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SFF Audio

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

PotzschTheHangmansDaughterTranslator: Lee Chadeayne

Narrator: Grover Gardner

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2011)

Length: 12 hours 57 minutes

Series: Book 1 Hangman’s Daughter

Author’s Page

Set in 1659, in the small town of Schongau in Bavaria, Germany, more than one child has been murdered and they bear an unusual mark on their shoulders. The town’s hangman, Jakob Kuisl, is ordered to torture a confession out of the town midwife, Marta, who is suspected of witchcraft. Jakob doesn’t believe it and starts to dig into the mystery, finding far more devilish behavior than he expected.

I really enjoyed this novel. The mix of murder mystery, historical fiction, and the suspicion of witchcraft really grabbed a hold of me. I had never thought too much of who, in general, was in charge of executions, torturing, and other punishments (like cutting off a hand) and this book really opened my eyes to how Bavaria handled that. It was a family trait, the hangmen in general considered to be lowly men. It was near impossible to marry out of the trade and so hangmen families kept in touch throughout the area, often arranging marriages among their children. This aspect of the book really fascinated me and Kuisl (which rhymes with ‘weasel’ so it’s just fun to say) was a great character through which to get to know more about hangmen in Bavaria in the 1650s.

Jakob’s daughter, Magdelena, is close to marrying age. She’s clever and rather independent, her father’s station, lowly but untouchable, gives her some protection for going about unattended. Now my one little quibble with this book is the title, The Hangman’s Daughter. Really, this book is about Jakob and not about Magdelena. Indeed, she has a rather minor role. While the women are interesting in this book, they don’t get the spotlight and almost never call the shots. Yes, the title did pull me in, but it is also a bit misleading.

Other than that tiny criticism, I found it difficult to put this book down. Simon is the other main character. He’s the son of the town physician, but unlike his father, he attended a medical university. He’s fascinated by Jakob’s book collection, which contains books that traditional physicians reject. Simon doesn’t believe that bleeding a patient does any good, unlike his father. This dichotomy of what was considered true medical knowledge was on good display with Simon and his father.

Of course, then we have the midwife, Marta, who’s been accused of witchcraft. Early on, we know that one of the prominent town politicians doesn’t believe she is a witch but he feels Marta must be sacrificed to avoid a break out of hysteria, such as there was 70 years prior that resulted in so many being tortured and burned at the stake. Jakob, as the town’s hangman, is in a very difficult position. If he doesn’t carry out his sworn duty to the town (to torture the midwife), he could be dismissed, which would result in he and his family being turned out of the town. I really felt for Jakob! He had plenty of hard decisions to make, but once he set on a course he carried it out to the best of his ability. Nearly from the beginning, there was plenty of tension in the story because Jakob had only so much time to find the real culprit.

There was more than one piece to this mystery. Jakob and Simon have their hands full trying to get information out of townsfolk and orphan children even as they hunt down the supposed devil. Magdelena adds a few bits of knowledge here and there but is mostly a love interest. The scenes with Marta were the most touching and also chilling. Jakob does his best to minimize the damage, but he can’t be seen assisting her or even holding back. Towards the end, I was biting my nails as Jakob and Simon raced against a clock to save not only Marta but some of the remaining orphan children. The ending was quite satisfying and I was very pleased to learn there are several more books in this series. The translation was quite good. There was only one or two instances where I wondered if such a modern word was the right translation, but these few instances did not detract from the story at all.

I accessed a free copy of this audiobook through the Kindle Unlimited program.

The Narration:  Grover Gardner made a great Jakob Kuisl. There were plenty of German words and names in this book and he did a splendid job in pronouncing them. His female voices were pretty good as well. His ability to imbue a character with emotions was put on display with Jakob’s scenes with Marta. 

What I Liked: The setting; plenty of info on what it meant to be the town’s hangman; the suspicion of witchcraft; more than 1 piece to the puzzle; Simon’s knowledge of medicine versus his father’s antiquated ways; Magdelena’s moments of brilliance; great translation; great narration.

What I Disliked: The title is a little misleading as Magdelena plays a rather minor role in the story.

What Others Think:

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Claudie having a good scritch
Claudie having a good scritch

Narrators: Full Cast directed by Michael Page: Dan Price, Lorna Johnson, Don Stroup, Terry Bozeman, Richard Lavin, Amy Sunshine, Larry Brandenburg, Rose Nadolsky, Peter Syvertsen, Jane Brody, Bob O’Donnell, Joe Van Slyke, Marie Chambers, Si Osborne, Chuck Winter, Charles Fuller, and Malcolm Rothman.

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2008)

Length: 14 hours 39 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Godfather

Author’s Page

Set in the 1940s and 1950s in mostly New York, the Corleone family is at the heart of a well organized crime ring. Vito Corleone, the Don of the family, keeps his fingers in all the local businesses, legal or otherwise. He’s always a gentleman, holding manners and respect in high regard. However, not everyone else holds to his old Sicilian ways. When war breaks out between the Corleone family and another crime lord, known as the Turk, manners are left in dirt.

Even though I haven heard quite a bit about The Godfather (book and movie) over the years, I had never experienced either. It was a bit of a whim that I picked this book up and I’m glad I did! This story was so much richer than I expected. I’d heard people talk about all the violence in the movies (and indeed there is violence a plenty in this book), but I had not come across anyone who talked about the depth of this novel. I really enjoyed how much Puzo put into the main characters. Vito Corleone, who plays such a vital role in this book, is a vibrant man who comes from a culture of strict rules concerning respect. His children, Sonny, Fredo, Mike, and Connie, are all Americanized and don’t share all of their father’s cultural norms. Of course this clash of cultures becomes a key piece of drama for the book.

I was quite taken with Tom Hagen, the family’s in-house lawyer. He was informally adopted as a kid when he followed one of the Corleone kids home. He didn’t have a real place to stay, so Vito’s wife made him feel right at home. Tom is always so patient and elegant. He knows that he’s not of the family, not being Sicilian or even Italian, and yet he knows the Don best. He was often the glue that kept the family together. His informal adoption into the family is just one example of how giving the Don can be.

While the women of the story are wives, sisters, mothers, and sex objects, Puzo does give them a little more depth than I expected. I found myself taken with Lucy Mancini, though not at first. Initially, she really is a sex object, however, in the later half of the book she meets up with Dr. Jules Sagal in Nevada. Now I was quite surprised that the book went into so much detail about Lucy’s unusually large vagina, what causes that, and how to fix it but I also applaud the author for doing so. This is something that is interesting but may also serve to enlighten people about a little talked about medical issue.

There is plenty of violence throughout the story, but not nearly as much as in today’s action flicks. Also, I felt that the author did a good job of portraying realistic outcomes of each violent episode. I did feel a bit for the horse but I also understood that the Don was making a statement without the loss of human life. Then later on, the wife of one of the sons is accidentally murdered and that was a little bit of a tear jerker. Each violent episode brought some emotion out of me.

Finally, let’s talk a little about Johnny Fontane, the Hollywood star and godson to Vito Corleone. He has this life that’s been strongly influenced by the Don and yet he lives this very different and separate life out in California. I found his life a bit sad and a little dramatic. He’s surrounded by other stars who all have egos as big as his. Yet he finds his most satisfaction in visiting his ex-wife and their two children. They have an unusual and yet very practical arrangement. As side characters, I found them pretty interesting.

All in all, this novel (which was first published in 1969) was more than I expected. I’m sure several bits of this book were considered taboos in 1969 (Lucy’s large vagina, Johnny’s irregular relationship with his ex-wife, etc.) and perhaps are still considered a bit rude to talk about in public these days. The character depth for the main male characters was unexpected but definitely appreciated. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Vito’s back story. Puzo definitely caught my eye with this classic novel and I will be reading more of his works soon.

The Narration:  As you can see, there’s a huge list of narrators; full Cast directed by Michael Page: Dan Price, Lorna Johnson, Don Stroup, Terry Bozeman, Richard Lavin, Amy Sunshine, Larry Brandenburg, Rose Nadolsky, Peter Syvertsen, Jane Brody, Bob O’Donnell, Joe Van Slyke, Marie Chambers, Si Osborne, Chuck Winter, Charles Fuller, and Malcolm Rothman. Sometimes I liked that there were so many voices since this book has a sizable list of characters. However, sometimes it was clear that some parts conversations were recorded with the narrators at different times. I sometimes found that while one character was dramatically narrated, the other character in the same conversation would sound much more down to Earth. So the performance as a whole teeters on that edge between radio drama and a decently narrated novel. Quite frankly, I think I would have preferred a version narrated by 1 or perhaps 2 people. 

What I Liked: Character depth for the main characters; several taboos of the time included in this story; Vito’s back story; the culture clash; the violence is used to spur on the plot; the various settings.

What I Disliked: The female characters are secondary and mostly forgettable; I think I would have enjoyed 1-2 narrators instead of this large cast.

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Hellbent by Cherie Priest

Chupacabra is sacked out.
Chupacabra is sacked out.

Narrator: Natalie Ross

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2011)

Length: 10 hours 35 minutes

Series: Book 2 Cheshire Red Reports

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.

Raylene is an expert thief and a wayward vampire. Her fixer Horace has an unusual job for her. He needs these rare yet odd relics stolen and he offers her a big financial incentive to take on the job. However, someone else is also after the relics – Elizabeth Creed. She’s a warlock and one who isn’t all there. Tossing in some trouble on the homefront, Ian (a blind vampire) has been summoned home by his House. It’s a death sentence to go and a death sentence to not go. Ray may not be able to help Ian with this one.

First, there was lots of humor and banter in this book, and plenty of it is a bit dark. The odd relics that Ray is hunting for are actually baculum, which are penis bones. Yep. Many placental mammals have penis bones. Alas, humans do not. Anyway, these particular baculum are from things like werewolves and such, making them perfect for magical spells. I’m sure you can see how this particular job was rife with humor.

The quest takes Ray out of Seattle and to Houston and Atlanta. She’s also trying to give her support to Ian as he tries to reconnect with this son Brandon. So we get to see a chunk of the country in this book. Adrian, an ex-military drag queen, is also along for the ride. Hooray! I really enjoyed his character in Book 1, Bloodshot. When he’s in drag, she’s Sister Rose. In the previous book, he was searching for his younger sister Isabel. That search comes up again in this novel and I was glad to see that Adrian had not given up his hunt.

There’s a touch of romance in this novel. There’s a low simmering heat between Ray and Ian, but since they live in the same big house, they have been keeping things casual. They also share space with two orphaned kids, Domino and his little sister Pepper. Domino is going through his angry teen years and I really was worried he was going to get dead in this book! Pepper is the brains of the two even if she’s only 7 or so.

There’s plenty of action as Ray tries again and again to doge the crazy warlock, the military group that once held Ian captive, and also Ian’s House. There are so many ways that things could go very, very wrong for Ray! Eeeeep! This was a real page, or, rather, disc, turner for me. I didn’t want to put this book down. Between the humor and the high-stakes action, I was hooked and enjoyed the entire book.

Narration: Natalie Ross did another great job with this book. I continue to be amazed at her performance with Adrian/Sister Rose. I also enjoy her various accents as needed here and there. Her rough, kind of seedy voice for Horace was perfect – just like how I picture him.

What I Liked: Raylene continues to be a very approachable hero; there’s even a kitten to rescue; Sister Rose/Adrian kicks ass and looks good doing it; Horace is mostly good but also self-centered; the baculum – hahahahahahahahaha!

What I Disliked: Nothing – too much fun!

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