Lucifer’s Star by C. T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

Narrator: Eric Burns

Publisher: Crossroad Press (2017)

Length: 10 hours 20 minutes

Series: Book 1 Lucifer’s Star

Phipps’s Page ~ Suttkus’s Page

Set in a galaxy far, far away, Cassius Mass, supreme star pilot, has lost his faith in his side of the war. All his life he believed he was fighting for the right side, the Crius Archduchy. Alas, the Archduchy fell to the Commonwealth and people rejoiced (much to Cassius’s surprise). Now he spends his days drunk navigating a freight hauler, the Melampus, going by the name Marcus Grav. That is, until he’s swept up into intrigue and revolution.

I know I have said this before about a new-to-me Phipps series: This is my favorite of Phipps’s works! Well, I say it again. This gripping scifi story is a little darker than some of his other works and yet still has moments of humor and all of it has this space opera feel going for it. I was rooting for Cassius throughout the story since I felt he would do his best to get the least number of average people killed.

Then I started rooting for Ida Claire, a spy master and captain of the Melampus who may or may not be on Cassius’s side, because she was so damn interesting! I kept picturing her with a bit of knitting as she read over the latest spy logs, quietly drinking rum-spiked tea and casually checking off boxes on the log that would determine who lived and who died. I know. She never had any knitting in the book and yet I always picture her with knitting. Maybe the knitting needle tips are poison dipped.

Let’s talk about Cassius’s tangled family tree. So he’s technically a clone of his father, yet he was raised as a sibling with his father’s biological offspring…. so that makes them his, well, we’ll go with siblings for now. Someone learned from that and decided to make a clone of Cassius to raise an Archduchy rebellion against the Commonwealth. Now Ida wants to stop that uprising and hunt down this clone and whoever is controlling him. Obviously, things are going to get messy for Cassius who was raised to have strong familial ties.

I loved the bioroids! Originally crafted to serve as a slave work force, sometimes a bioroid breaks free and spends the rest of their days working on some rundown freight hauler. Take Isla Hernandez, a medical officer, who is glad for her freedom but still harbors plenty of anger. The bioroids plight put me in mind of the human-like AI robots of Bladerunner and Battlestar Galactica.

There’s also aliens! Yes! Humanity knows they exist but has very little to do with them, per the aliens’ choice. We’re not evolved enough to be of interest. Then there’s the nearly alien Chel, a race of once-humans that are so far removed from humanity in purpose, biology, and technology that they are considered alien by most. Clarice has had contact with them and it wasn’t pretty. She’s got her own scars to keep tucked away.

Cassius is in a relationship with Isla, who used to be in a relationship with William… so there’s some personal tension between the two men. There’s also the young Hiro who is everyone’s little brother and he does Cassius a good turn, earning his trust. It’s a ragtag crew that often put me in mind of Firefly.

My one little quibble is that I found Cassius a bit too trusting beyond reason. He has plenty of hints that a member of the Melampus is working for a different team but is then surprised when that betrayal comes to pass. Same thing when he meets up with his siblings once again. Since we’re experiencing the entire tale through Cassius’s eyes, if we see it, then Cassius sees it as well. So I felt it was just a touch clunky trying to portray these hints of forthcoming betrayal and yet still keep Cassius’s blinders on.

All around, I really enjoyed this tale. There’s plenty of skirmishes, spy networks, and individuals making plays for personal gain. Most of our would-be heroes have deep scars that affect their choices, which in turn, put them or others in great peril. I also loved the witty humor that kept popping up, providing breaks from the grimdark feel of the overall story. Plus, there were a few references to iconic movies such as The Godfather and Airplane. I’m so looking forward to Book 2!

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Eric Burns was an excellent narrator for this story. I loved his voice for Ida, which could range from sweet grandmotherly to brutally honest. He also made a really good Cassius, holding onto that sense of honor throughout the story. He did a great job with the humor as well as the grim moments, expressing the right mix of emotions for any given scene.

What I Liked: Cassius being a fallen hero hiding in booze and mediocrity; Ida Claire’s spy abilities; the bioroids in general and Isla in particular; the Chel are scary!; plenty of double crossing; Cassius’s convoluted family ties; great narration. 

What I Disliked: In a few instances, Cassius was a little too oblivious to obvious signs of forthcoming betrayal.

What Others Think:

Beavis the Book Head

The Bloggin’ Hobgoblin

Beauty in Ruins

The Audiobook Reviewer

Brian’s Book Blog

The Bookwyrm Speaks

The Tower of Zhaal by C. T. Phipps

Narrator: Jeffrey Kafer

Publisher: Crossroad Press (2017)

Length: 9 hours

Series: Book 2 Cthulhu Armageddon

Author’s Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I received a free copy of this book.

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

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

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

What Others Think:

Shoggoth.net

Beauty in Ruins

The Audio Book Reviewer

Brian’s Book Blog

Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps

PhippsCthulhuArmageddonNarrator: Jeffrey Kafer

Publisher: Crossroad Press (2016)

Length: 8 hours 30 minutes

Author’s Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

I received a free copy of this book.

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

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

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

What Others Think:

Grimdark Magazine

Audio Book Reviewer

Beauty in Ruins

Fantasy Book Critic

On A Dark Stormy Review

The Blog Goblin

Thrust by Tom Piccirilli

PiccirilliThrustWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Jeff Hays

Publisher: Crossroad Press (2015)

Length: 4 hours 3 minutes

Author’s Page

This is probably one of the oddest books I have listened to lately – and I liked it! Chase has a history of mental illness, self medicating, jail time, and psychiatric institutions. He’s currently out and trying to make a life on his own. He has a job and an apartment, but his mind might be unraveling and we are along for the ride.

We open with some performance spoken word poetry. It’s intense and a little bit sexual. The audience is either thoroughly caught up in it or offended. Grayson Chase and his poetry friends seem to be appreciated as much for the poems as for their mental breakdowns on stage. Chase sees a woman he knows to be dead as he gives his nightly performance and it nearly undoes him.

Several colorful characters come and go in this story and, honestly, I am not wholly sure how many of them are real, memory ghosts that only Chase can interact with, or simply other aspects of Chase himself. This is one of those books where you definitely have an unreliable narrator (Chase).

Yet all those unknowns added to the spice of the book. Chase has been through some traumas, both outside the psychiatric ward and inside. Sometimes he sees or hears something that triggers one of these traumatic memories and he has no choice but to sit down and relive the memory in full. Sometimes he will get so lost inside his own head that hours pass. Of course, this looks rather odd to all of his friends and associates, except for the one or two who where in the psych ward with him. Or were they? Are they just different aspects of himself?  At any rate, it is very cleverly written.

My one little quibble with the story is that all the women are sex objects (with the exception of two, one of which happens to be a little girl) – lovers, girlfriends, potential bed buddies for the evening, etc. They all have names, but they don’t really add to the plot. They are just pretty scenery.

Despite my quibble, I still really enjoyed this book. This is a book you can dig into and experience again a few months later and walk away with something new. It is my first Piccirilli book but it will not be my last.

I received a copy of this book at no charge from the narrator (via the Audiobook Addicts Facebook group) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration:  Jeff Hays is an amazingly talented voice artist! His female voices are incredibly believable. I had to double check the credits to see who the ‘other’ female narrator was. Nope, it is all him. He had a nice even voice for Chase. I especially liked Hays’s voice for Chase’s older black friend who gave a very sexy poetic performance. There is this one character that had to yell through an apartment floor to the one below and Hays did an excellent job making the voice sound muffled yet keeping the dialogue clear enough to easily understand. All around, an excellent narration.

What I Liked:  A thought-provoking piece; Chase is definitely an unreliable narrator; past traumas keep popping up; Chase’s very interesting friends; the ending left room for reader interpretation.

What I Disliked:  Nearly all the ladies are sex objects and don’t particularly add anything to the plot.

What Others Think:

Writer-Critic-Geek

The Black Stiletto: Black & White by Raymond Benson

BensenBlackStilettoBlackAndWhiteWhy I Read It: the first in the series, The Black Stiletto, kicked ass.

Where I Got It: Own it – from Audible.com.

Who I Recommend This To: Craving a superhero story done right? Check this series out.

Narrators: Arielle DeLisle, Chris Patton, Michael Ray Davis

Publisher: Crossroad Press (2012)

Length: 9 hours 44 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Black Stiletto

This book is primarily told through Judy Cooper’s eyes, both when she is disguised as the Black Stiletto and when she is just plain Judy of the late 1950s. We also see a few smidgets through John Richardson, the FBI special agent assigned to locate and capture the Black Stiletto.The third voice is Martin Talbot’s, who is the conflicted son of Judy. He has realized who is mom is and is suffering some financial set backs. He knows he could make some money with revealing her long hidden and nearly forgotten identity. The story easily switches back and forth between Judy Cooper of the 1950s and Martin Talbot with an aged mother of modern day California.

Judy continues to grow in character and skill in this awesome addition to the Black Stiletto series. I absolutely loved the first book. Book 2 was just as good if not better. Raymond Benson skillfully draws in more complications to the plot, giving the reader the extra anxiety of FBI interest in the Black Stiletto. Special Agent John Richardson makes for an intriguing hunter and potential love interest. Add to that a heroin drug lord named Purdy who catches the interest of the Black Stiletto when the daughter of her martial arts instructor, Shakitawa, is taken. In her attempt to do a friend some good, a film maker ends up with an 8mm film of her unmasked in a dressing room, and he is threatening to unmask her publicly. Indeed, it is quite a tangled web for Judy Cooper to walk through.

Meanwhile, Martin Talbot in modern times struggles with his looming financial crisis while his daughter goes off to college in NY against his wishes. The poor man is then beleaguered by his mother’s doctor, who has noted some unusual old injuries for a lady of her age. She walks the line of all but accusing Martin of physically abusing his mother. Haha! He is pressured from all fronts to reveal his mother’s true identity.

This book was filled with great action, character growth, a wonderfully tangled plot artfully untangled by the author by the end of the tale. I hope, really, really hope, Raymond Bensen writes several books on the Black Stiletto. She has become my favorite super hero because she is simply so very human. She can be hurt, and does get hurt. Her personality, strong sense of justice, and hard-won skills are what carries her forward. Oh, and there is that wicked yet PG-rated sense of humor she has.

Narration: It was excellent. Crossroad Press picked a great triplet to give the various voices of the story. Arielle DeLisle is the perfect voice for Judy, with her mild Texas accent dropped into NY.

What I Liked: Judy kicks ass; all the characters have to face hurdles and they grow from them; I really like how the story jumps back and forth between 20-something Judy of 1959 and modern day son Martin; the Black Stiletto has to contemplate crossing some lines she hasn’t before; the whole trust issue of a super secret identity was great tension.

What I Disliked: Special Agent Richardson made a mistake and I felt for him (good writing) but I really, really hope we see more of him. So, more of a concern than a dislike.

RIP8What Others Think:

Popcorn Reads

BC blogcritics

Blog of Jeffrey Allen Davis

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Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a suspenseful, spooky, mysterious reading event through October 31, 2013. Join us all for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril for other dark readings.