Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

ButcherGravePerilWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia Publishing (2009)

Length: 11 hours 59 minutes

Series: Book 3 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 3 in the series, it works fine as a stand alone.

Harry Dresden, Chicago-dwelling PI and wizard, is about to go head to head with a very powerful foe. But first he has to subdue the ghost in the baby ward of Cook County General hospital. Luckily, he has brought along his pious friend, Michael Carpenter. Something has been stirring up the ghosts in Chicago and the two have been quite busy of late putting these angry shades back to bed.

This is the book where the series starts to get serious. Significant things happen in this book that ripple throughout the rest of the series. There’s a fairy godmother, the Red Court vampires, these irritated ghosts, not to mention things getting a bit more serious between Harry and Arcane news reporter Susan Rodriguez. Then there’s Michael with his solid faith and Lt. Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD. Meaningful things happen to all these characters and not all of them are good things.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure I would like Michael because I wasn’t sure how preachy (or not) he would be. It turns out that Michael isn’t preachy so much as he is sure that his path is one of virtue. His mild reminders to Harry of the so called right path are given from a place of love, respect, and friendship. Quite frankly, it’s part of his personality and he wouldn’t be Michael if he didn’t periodically remind his good friends of the Christian way. With that said, he’s a badass in a fight. Harry is lucky to have him around.

I found Harry’s fairy godmother, the Leanansidhe, to be a very intriguing character. There is definitely history between these two. I have never seen Harry so scared of any one person! Bianca of the Red Court vampires makes another appearance and she’s still holding a grudge over what happened in Book 1 (Storm Front). If these two ladies aren’t enough, there’s another bad guy or two waiting in the shadows, secretly causing Harry grief.

The mystery behind what is stirring up the ghosts was pretty chilling. It had ties to more than one bad guy so this made it harder for Harry to nail down and solve. Unfortunately, some of Harry’s friends get hit by the bad guys and there are lasting ramifications from this. I really felt for those affected, and for Harry who feels he should have been able to protect them, but I also applaud the author for having such consequences – it makes the story that much more interesting and intense.

Susan is ever on the hunt for a good story. While Harry is her boyfriend, she’s not above hanging out with him to get a great interview or a few awesome pics of something supernatural. She keeps pushing the envelope, thinking she is safe from these supernatural critters, and it blows back on her. She’s not an idiot but she can be one when it comes to running down a story. She’s too blithe about what can hurt her and that doesn’t work out for her. While I wasn’t particularly glad that happened, it was almost inevitable and I am glad the author kept the cause and effect logic going for her storyline.

We also have our first appearance of Thomas Raith and his lover Justine, which introduces the White Court of vampires, which are essentially succubi. Thomas is glamorous and likes to play the fool. His manner towards Harry is almost playful and it’s definitely hard to tell what side, if any, Thomas is on.

All around, this is another great addition to the series. I really liked that the take-me-seriously bad guy level was raised. It made the whole story much more intense and, hence, more enjoyable.

 

The Narration: James Marsters continues on as the voice of Harry Dresden, and still does a spiffy job of it. His playboy voice for Thomas Raith is also great. Marsters also got to show off his spooky voices with this one – from the lullaby-singing ghost in the opening scenes to Mavra (a seriously creepy vampire) to the thing that is behind the riled up ghosts – all were done very well.  

What I Liked: Idiot moves have real consequence; this is the book that makes the series serious; the bad guys behind the ghosts; Harry’s fairy godmother; a rather poignant end; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – a great story!

What Others Think:

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Fangs for the Fantasy

 

She Who Writes Monsters

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

ButcherFoolMoonWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia Publishing (2009)

Length: 10 hours 6 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

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

 

Werewolves! Chicago has enough problems without werewolves and PI wizard Harry Dresden has enough problems without the FBI being involved. Harry put some serious strain on his friendship with Lt. Karin Murphy in Book 1 (Storm Front) and he’s been suffering because of it, and not just because a solid chunk of his monthly income comes from Murphy’s Special Investigations unit at Chicago PD where Harry used to do a fair amount of consultant work. Reluctantly, Karin Murphy asks for his professional opinion on a death and Harry isn’t too pleased at what he finds.

This is my second time reading this book, but I last read it years ago and had forgotten many of the details. Right up front we know the story is dealing with werewolves, but as Bob the skull points out, there are several types of werewolves. Harry has to figure out what type he’s dealing with before he can work out how to stop the killings. Also, there’s this tricky thing called motivation that he also has to figure out. But in this fast-paced urban fantasy, there is no time for Harry to simply sit and contemplate.

The end of the previous book left with things strained between Karin and Harry. They each have trust issues and hence they have trust issues within their friendship and working relationship. Luckily, they do have a few brief moments where they can clear the air. However, there’s still a big, big mistake in trust that costs the police force dearly. At the end of the book, there is this intense scene that does an excellent job of illustrating how far, or not, their mutual trust has come.

Susan Rodriguez, a reporter for The Arcane, is also a part of this tale. She, of course, wants to get some footage of some real werewolves but she’s not really listening to Harry when he tells her how dangerous they are. I’m still luke warm on Susan’s character. She can be fun and even a bit sassy, and she definitely has chemistry with Harry, but she also strikes me as a but of an idiot at times. Put on some body armor and get some weapons training if you’re going to go werewolf hunting, even if it’s just with a camera! With that said, I do become a fan of Susan later in the series.

Then there is Tara West. She’s the fiance of this multi-millionaire/environmental activist who is missing. Tara has some of the best lines for the entire book. She’s not like anyone Harry has dealt with before and it takes him a long time to figure her out. The first time I read this book, I didn’t get Tara either until the very end.

Since we are dealing with werewolves, there’s a fair amount of nudity as they shapeshift. However, it is practical nudity. So, don’t let the naked body count for this book turn you off. Not that it would turn me off anyway.

The FBI crew was a pain in the arse in more ways than one. Of course, they start off as a hindrance and it takes Harry some time to figure out how to either get them out of the way or get them on his side. Crime lord John Marcone also returns to cause Harry some grief. However, the man does have some interesting knife skills that a person has to respect. Yep, I do believe I enjoyed this book just a smidge more than Book 1.

The Narration: James Marsters continues to make an excellent Harry Dresden. He does a really great job of getting Harry’s emotions (an his occasional nausea) across to the listeners. His gravelly, tense voices (both male and female) for the werewolves were great. I love Bob’s proper accent and Gentleman John Marcone’s stiff replies to Harry’s snark. 

What I Liked: Harry tries hard to repair his friendship with Murphy; the mistake that costs the Chicago PD dearly; different types of werewolves, and their various motivations; the FBI crew; Tara West and her practicality; intense ending.

What I Disliked: Susan Rodriguez is a little bit of a ditz.

What Others Think:

SF Reviews

Fantasy Book Review

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SF Site

 

Best Fantasy Books

Sarah’s Reviews

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

ButcherStormFrontWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia Publishing (2009)

Length: 8 hours 1 minute

Series: Book 1 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

 

I’ve reviewed this book before but I was writing for a different blog at the time. Also, it has stood the test of time quite well and I feel it deserves another review.

Harry Dresden, the only openly practicing wizard in the country, is about to have a very rough weekend. Set in the city of Chicago, Harry must help the local Special Investigations unit figure out who is behind the grisly deaths of two people. While Harry would like to steer clear of this one and just focus on the mundane case of a missing husband, rent’s due and the Chicago PD is willing to pay for his services.

Harry is a very interesting lead character. He’s got this past that he doesn’t really want to talk about. Then he has this whole life that seems to be built around walking on the edges. The wizarding community doesn’t like that he so openly practices his abilities (let alone listing his services in the yellow pages). Meanwhile, the bulk of normal society scoffs at him and asks him to perform at kids’ birthday parties. He’s also a flawed character. He has trouble trusting people and he’s sometimes arrogant and bullheaded. Yet he is also a gentlemen to the ladies without being a chauvinist and is always willing to fight for what is right.

The plot moves quickly but there’s also these luscious moments of introspection tossed in throughout the story. I got to know Harry but was never bored with the ‘getting to know you’ parts. Harry’s wrapped up in two cases and his efforts on one or the other wrap around each other, always keeping me guessing as to where things will end up.

Then we have a plethora of interesting side characters. The infamous Lt. Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD is both a support and pain in the arse to Harry. These two don’t fully trust each other and that leads to difficulties in coordinating efforts. Bob, Harry’s wizened friend, has some of the best lines of the book. Mister is a 30 pound cat that deigns to call Harry’s small apartment home. Susan Rodriguez is a reporter of supernatural events and doesn’t mind doing a little flirting to pick up a lead. Meanwhile, we have John Marcone, one of the main crime bosses of the city.

This is the book that got me hooked on urban fantasy. Now, years later, after having read many, many urban fantasy books, I have returned to it. This book has stood the test of time and is still one of my favorites of the genre. I do believe I enjoyed this book even more on the second reading. There’s plenty of small details I had forgotten. I’ve read up through Book 14, Cold Days, and I really enjoyed coming back to beginning.

The Narration: James Marsters makes a great Harry Dresden. He’s got the beaten down PI voice, with a little gravel in it. I also love his uppity voice for Bob. His female character voices are believable and each one is distinct from the next. 

What I Liked: Harry Dresden – a PI and a wizard!; more than 1 mystery to solve; Harry has a complicated past; not all his allies trust him; some of his enemies want him to sit this one out; Mister the cat; Bob; the Blue Beetle.

What I Disliked: Nothing! I really enjoyed this one!

What Others Think:

SF Reviews

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The Ranting Dragon

Castalia House

Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas

JonasDragonGateWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2016)

Length: 7 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 3 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 3 in the series, it works mostly well on it’s own. Of course, the first two books were really good, so I highly recommend giving them a read.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series and that set the bar pretty high for this book. Jonathan and his crew (Kelly Chan, her boyfriend Brand, and the ghost Esther) are hired by Dragon Gate Industries to protect the Nobles from the revenge-seeking Marshall clan. It’s not the normal case Jonathan takes on, but he owes the guys at DGI a favor. However both the Nobles and the Marshalls come from a culture that demands the Nobles willingly give up their lives to maintain family honor.

There were several things I liked about this book but then there were also some things that didn’t work for me. The set up is interesting and not something I have come across too often in urban fantasy. The Nobles are unwilling to defend themselves and some will willingly kneel for the sword. This makes it very difficult (and a bit infuriating) for Jonathan & his team to protect the Nobles. However, the reasons driving the Marshall clan to wipe out the Nobles, including the next generation that wasn’t part of the crime that lies between the two families, never fully gelled for me. For instance, the Marshalls take heavy damage and several deaths (which can only be expected when you go up against Kelly Chan). I don’t think it was worth the cost to the Marshalls but we never get inside their heads, so we never know why they keep coming.

On the plus side, we get plenty of Kelly time, which is awesome. My love affair with this character continues. Through the form of journal entries (yep, Kelly’s got a diary!), we get her opinion on everything from the use of high heels as weapons to worrying over Jonathan’s recent personality change. And that leads me to Jonathan and how he is suppose to be rather removed from his friends, harder, and not his normal joking self. Jonathan’s friends comment often on his new harsher self,  but when we ride around in his head he doesn’t sound any different from the first two books. He’s worried about his friends, takes pride in his work, etc. After what he suffered at the end of Book 2, I was really expecting more of a change in him and that change wasn’t fully crystallized in this book.

But then we have more awesomesauce. Esther’s character continues to grow. Through the typewriter keys that she haunts, she has a wider circle of friends and all the places they visit as well. Brand, a second generation sekutar (a magically manufactured warrior of sorts), also continues to evolve. His relationship with Kelly has forced him to develop his sense of empathy. I was convinced he wouldn’t live past Book 1, but I am glad the author kept him around to play the humorous, usually oblivious jock.

Jonathan & crew are left protecting Rayna and her brother Graham, who aren’t too enthusiastic about the body guards. The Nobles have special abilities that get revealed little by little. I really liked how reticent they were to show off their paranormal or magical abilities. For the bulk of the book, Rayna and Graham need to be protected, having no evident fighting skills. However, at the very end of the book, the author suddenly tosses in some warrior skills for the Nobles and I felt this was too convenient and didn’t match up with the character and what little we learned about the culture of the land the Nobles and Marshalls are from.

So while this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me, I plan to continue the series. Books 1 & 2 were so entertaining that I trust the author to get this series back up to that same level.

I received a copy at no cost from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Joe Hempel continues to be an excellent narrator for this series. I love his voice for Esther, especially when she says, ‘It’s all berries.’ Once again, he nails the voice for Kelly Chan with her light Asian accent.    

What I Liked: Jonathan & crew are outside of their comfort zone; lots of Kelly time; Brand and Esther continue to grow as support characters; there’s some magical beasties; the conundrum of the feud between the Marshalls and the Nobles.

What I Disliked: Some of the basics never fully crystallized for me, leaving me with lots of questions at the end of the story concerning the Marshalls and the Nobles; We’re told often that Jonathan has become harder, more aloof, removed from his friends but when riding around in his head, that isn’t apparent; A new character gets one too many previously unknown abilities at the end of the book at a most convenient time.

Acheron Highway by Gary Jonas

JonasAcheronHighwayWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2015)

Length: 5 hours 56 minutes

Series: Book 2 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it stands pretty well on it’s own. Of course, Book 1 was pretty freaking awesome, so I recommend checking it out. This book does contain plot spoilers for Book 1, just in case that would bother you if you read them out of order.

PI Jonathan Shade is still hanging out in Denver. He’s approached by Miranda, who literally has no heart. She wants him to find it. Turns out there is a necromancer wreaking havoc in the area and Shade needs to put him down. Yet he is also in hiding from a powerful goddess who demands he helps her find her old lover. The bodies pile up, and then walk around, only to be laid out flat again by Jonathan and his crew. Never a dull moment in this book!

I really enjoyed Book 1, Modern Sorcery, quite a bit and it made my Top 2015 List. So I was quite happy to return to this urban fantasy world again. Acheron Highway does not disappoint! I listened to it in one day. This book has the right combo of mystery, action, character development, and the supernatural. I was never bored and the book doesn’t fall into the trap of battle fatigue either.

Jonathan Shade continues to be an interesting character. He’s got this past that we learn more about and he also has these special abilities that he has to get creative with. In fact, towards the end he does this big trick that I wasn’t expecting. Normally, the plot device used at the end of the book would really turn me off. I like actions and choices to have consequences, and ones that our characters have to live with. But this author pulled it off really, really well. And there are still consequences, and I hope to learn how severe they are in the next book.

Kelly Chan is still my favorite female character. She’s a warrior sekutar, built by wizards to be the ultimate bodyguard. However, she went rogue some time ago and opened a martial arts studio. She’s also a loyal friend to Jonathan. In this book, she takes a pretty hard hit at the studio (riveting scene!) and it’s a game changer.

Meanwhile, Sharon, the librarian from Book 1, is in hiding after the antics she pulled. She’s walking the line of trying to keep her friends safe but also hoping it will all blow over if she just lays low. Things keeps getting bloodier and bloodier and at least part of the responsibility for that lies on Sharon’s shoulders. The friendship between Jonathan and Sharon is forever altered by what goes down in this book. Heavy duty!

This is a great addition to the urban fantasy genre!

I received a copy at no cost from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Joe Hempel did more fine work on this series with this book. Once again, his own enjoyment of the characters and plot comes through in his voice acting. All his characters are distinct and his female voices are believable. I love his drawl for Esther, a ghost from the 1920s, and his Asian accent for Kelly Chan.   

What I Liked: Jonathan has more than 1 worthy opponent this time around; the quagmire Sharon creates by staying in hiding; Kelly’s awesome combat skills; Denver setting;  more great narration; heavy ending with plenty to ponder for Book 3.

What I Disliked: Nothing! I really enjoyed this one!

 

Modern Sorcery by Gary Jonas

JonasModernSorceryWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2015)

Length: 6 hours 13 minutes

Series: Book 1 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

 

Set in modern day Denver, private investigator Jonathan Shade is hired by his ex-girlfriend Naomi Miller to look into the murder of her mother Cathy by her own husband David. Plenty of witnesses and the store camera all say there’s no doubt as to how it went down. However, Naomi won’t rest until someone looks into the paranormal side of things. Jonathan doesn’t think there was any magic involved, but he hopes the case will give him a chance at getting back with Naomi. As he digs into it, more and more mysteries pop up, along with enemies willing to kill him and his friends.

This was a very entertaining urban fantasy. I listened to it in two large chunks (had to sleep in between) and am already queuing up Book 2. First, I really enjoyed that all the major characters jump on scene with back histories. That definitely added depth to the story. Jonathan has this old history with Naomi that can’t be ignored due to present circumstances. Kelly Chan, Jonathan’s business partner, also has a a most interesting past, being a kind of supernatural guardian warrior called a sekutar. Then there is Esther, a ghost from the 1920s that is tied to an old typewriter. Later, the librarian Sharon comes into play, but she doesn’t work at a normal library. Each character brings a little something to the table as soon as they walk on the stage.

The book has a really good balance of action, character development, and time for contemplation and problem solving. I was never bored and I never got battle fatigue. As the story moves away from the initial murder, we learn about a long-dead powerful wizard that may some how be involved. Of course, figuring all this out means digging into the secrets of the wizard community, and they are a prickly bunch. Jonathan heads over to Dragon Gate Industries (DGI) to chat with Al, who was at the murder scene. I liked that it was hard to tell where Al stood on all this. I was kept guessing throughout the story if he was a friend or foe. And he wasn’t the only character that had me guessing! Others, such as Anselma (head of DGI) and Cantrell (who has a Western drawl) seemed they could go either way.

Then there is Kelly Chan. Wow! She runs this martial arts dojo and also acts as Jonathan’s personal body guard. Her sekutar powers allow her to take injuries that would completely disable mortals. She has opinions. She’s not afraid to share those opinions. Sometimes her method of sharing means shoving you up against a wall and putting a weapon in your face. No worries. She’s just making sure you’re listening. I really enjoyed her character. She brought a lot of blunt humor and blunt force trauma to the tale.

We have great characters and a great plot. This is where some authors stop. It’s not a bad place to stop, but I definitely appreciate that this author took it to the next level. He gave us a worthy bad guy. This bad guy isn’t easily tricked or trapped or defeated. Nope! Our heroes have to put their heads together and set aside some grudges with part-time enemies in order to stand a chance against this guy. Also, not everyone gets out unscathed. I truly appreciate that last bit because it makes the story poignant. That added weight makes me care for the characters that much more.

Go check out this series. If you’re looking for a new urban fantasy to satisfy your craving, then you won’t be disappointed in this one.

I received a copy at no cost from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Joe Hempel did some fine work on this one. I have listened to several of his books by now and I think this is his best work yet. It’s obvious that he enjoyed narrating this novel as much as I enjoyed listening to it. His character voices are all distinct and his female voices are believable. He had to do some accents as well and they were done well. Kelly Chan has a light Asian accent and the ghost Esther has a 1920s vocabulary of sayings and a distinctive accent. Hempel also did a great job of imbuing certain scenes with the right amount of emotion. 

What I Liked: Denver setting; great plot; great characters; love Kelly Chan!; worthy opponent; people are injured and die and that makes it real for the characters; excellent narration; touching ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing! I really enjoyed this one!

What Others Think:

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Mystery Paranormal Mystery

Magic Scorned by C. L. Matthynssens

MatthynssensMagicScornedWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Carlie Quinn

Publisher: Self published (2015)

Length: 6 hours 5 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Sorceress Chronicles

Author’s Page

Cassie (Cassandra) and Mary Beth are good friends, the kind with benefits. But when Mary Beth asks Cassie to come along to meet her new boyfriend Terry and watch him do a little magic, Cassie scoffs. She doesn’t believe in magic. At least, not until it smacks her upside the face. Pretty soon she is caught up in another world, taken captive, and told what her future holds: nothing but trouble. Jaxon is a Stregori, trained to protect his assigned magic user. He will have his hands full keeping Cassie alive.

I’m on the fence about this book because I didn’t connect with the characters in this book. Cassie spends much of her time pouting and being a burden, lacking all self-sufficiency until near the end of the book. She squeaks in terror or surprise a lot. We start off with a cast of characters, but then it gets pared down to just Cassie and her captor/protector/trainer Jaxon. He’s the main love interest in the story and suppose to be one of the heroes. However, he’s not above a bit of sexual assault, so I had a hard time cheering for him.

This book does contain erotic scenes so lets talk about that as those are at the root of why I am on the fence about this book. I like my erotica spicy and descriptive, so no blushing here. We start off with some lovely scenes between Mary Beth and Cassie and those were a nice, sweet touch. But then we get whisked off to this other, somewhat barbaric land and the sex scenes get rougher and some of them are not consensual. Full consent is sexy, especially for dominating/submissive sex.

There are some scenes between Cassie and Jaxon in which Cassie has not given her consent at all. Later in the story, Cassie comes to enjoy and even seek out their time together and while Jaxon remains a very dominant male in most of those scenes, they are sexy and enjoyable because Cassie is fully engaged and consenting. Still, because of the earlier scenes I never liked Jaxon. He used the threat of rape more than once to encourage Cassie to do as she was told. This is not an honorable man and I wouldn’t have been sad to see him come to an end defending Cassie (or mauled to death while hunting).

We get a little world building and it was enough to intrigue me. Jaxon’s country has been plagued by a curse for some time, one that has greatly limited the number of females born. A prophecy speaks of a White Witch that will save them all. Folks run around with swords and have to watch out for male magic users and marauders. There are also vast wild lands in between cities, so beasts are an issue too. All magic users are suppose to go to some school or training facility and each sorceress, once she learns enough magic, will be claimed by a soul beast. So, plenty here to entice the reader and plenty of room for the story to grow in future installments.

The Narration: Carlie Quinn was a good fit for this tale as much of it was told from Cassie’s point of view. She also had a strong voice for Jaxon and she did a very good job with the love scenes. She went out of her way to come up with a modified voice for a beast that appears later in the story. She did have a few repeated sentences throughout the book that sometimes caught at my ear. 

What I Liked: Intriguing world; some of the sex scenes; the cover art.

What I Disliked: The non-consensual sex scenes; Cassie pouts far too much; didn’t connect to the characters.

BannerOnceUponATimeIXTis the season for fantasy reading. I am participating in this year’s Once Upon A Time IX reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

Chosen by Mark E. Cooper

CooperChosenWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Publisher: Impulse Books UK (2014)

Narrator: Mikael Naramore

Length: 9 hours 6 minutes

Series: Book 2 Rune Gate Cycle

Author’s Page

Book 1, Rune Gate, left us with a bit of a cliff hanger, wondering who was forced through (or chose to go through) the rune gate, a gate between our Earth and the world of Othala. Our heroine, Alex Yorke, is one of those who was forced through the gate. Douglas, who is from Othala, manages to get through, along with some of the folks from the Silver Mist coven. We also have a few bad guys who make it through too. Now, the Earthlings have to learn the rules of Othala, as well as the language. There’s plenty of hidden trouble for them to get into.

I really, really enjoyed Book 1. It had this great mix of the paranormal and detective work. In Book 2, we totally lose the detective work. At first, I was a bit sad to see this gone, as Alex is trained in police work, so we no longer have that aspect to her character. My second issue with this book was that women were second class citizens. This made me sad. All the ladies who came through the gate aren’t taken seriously in Othala, by the Othala men nor by the Earth men who came through the gate. They get to cook, constantly need protecting, are given little belt daggers that are for show. Douglas (and later other men) give the Earth men lessons in sword fighting. Yet no lessons in any kind of self defense are given to the ladies. And they are all OK with that – the Othala men, the ladies, and the Earth men! Ugh!

This bothered me for two reasons: 1) It’s inherently ridiculous for women, who generally make up half the population, to not be armed and trained. This is fiction, so the rules of gender equality can be bent any way the author sees fit. 2) The Earthlings are fighters, even the ladies. So it really seemed to be against their personalities to accept this change in status without a roll of the eyes or a huff over crossed arms on breasts. 3) And why wouldn’t the Earth men speak up and insist the ladies get some training in? Again, another break in character.

As the story unfolds, there are more instances of gender inequality. Men can fight and do magic, but women are stuck with laundry and magic. Squared off, one on one, a male magic user will always be stronger than a female magic user. Sigh…..You get the picture.

So, how was the rest of the book? It was OK. There’s some politics going on that Douglas was entwined in before he left, and he gets re-entwined in upon his return. I found these interesting. Douglas also has to figure out how he feels about Alex and what he will do about her. Meanwhile, Thomas the sheriff from back home and Alex’s past lover is trying to find his niche in this new world. He is use to being in charge. Now he isn’t and he’s a novice with the sword. I really enjoyed his character arc.

And there’s betrayal and redemption (hopefully)! This was the most engaging plot line for me. It was unexpected to have one of Alex’s party commit betrayal. But this individual quickly decides an error was made and works towards redemption. This character’s growth was excellent to watch.

Alex herself does some growing as a character. First, in Othala there are folks who can teach her about her powers. Second, her powers are strong here. In this world, magic users are sometimes gifted by the Goddess with a companion that helps to keep them grounded, their Chosen. By the cover art, I am sure you can guess what form Alex’s Chosen takes. I really enjoyed the dynamic between these two and the surly remarks often made by the Chosen.

So, over all the plot and individual characters were entertaining and engaging. However, the Earth characters’ lack of comment or action concerning the gender inequality on Othala felt like a huge break in character for most of them. I really wanted them to comment or, for the more opinionated characters (Alex, Thomas), to rail against the social norms of Othala. Yet they didn’t and this seemed to go against their characters. Also, do we need yet one more fantasy novel that places women in ‘traditional’ roles? It made some of the plot and some of the choices faced by our heroes predictable. On the other hand, the ending was very well done and satisfying.

Narration: Mikael Naramore gave another good performance. Some of his bad guy voices were a little over done. Other than that, he had a lovely voice for Alex, and a wonderful accent for Douglas. I liked his big surly cat voice too.

What I Liked:  Some characters have very engaging story arcs; betrayal!; the cover art; a satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: None of the Earhers blink an eye at the Othala social norms (gender inequality); there was no detective work.

The Balborite Curse by Kristian Alva

AlvaTheBalboriteCurseWhere I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Narrator: Adam Chase

Publisher: Defiant Press (2013)

Length: 6 hours 9 minutes

Series: Book 4 Dragon Stone Saga

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 4 in the series, it works as a stand alone. It is like a first book in a second trilogy following characters we met in the first 3 books, but set years later.

This was another excellent installment in the Dragon Stone Saga. In this book, the main character is Tallin, the half-dwarf dragon rider and teacher to Elias from the first three books. He was a fascinating character in previous books and I was quite pleased to see him take center stage. The Balborite Curse takes place about 5 years after Book 3, Vosper’s Revenge. Peace has lasted, though it is threadbare and falling apart in places (such as the dwarf kingdoms). There are still few dragons and few riders. Sela is still head of the dragon riders but is soon called back from her vacation to help Tallin deal with yet one more merchant attempting to smuggle a deadly poison into the desert city. I sense these two may be headed for romance in future installments, but for this book there was just the merest hint of something more than friendship.

The interrogation of the merchant leads to more questions and sends Tallin on a small quest to ensure the safety of the merchant’s family, if they still live. Along the way, he visits Chua and Starclaw. Starclaw gives Duskeye (dragon companion to Tallin) some much needed advice on finding receptive dragon females, if any still live. Dragon reproduction is a taboo subject for humans and dragons to chat about, therefore there is much mystery as to why the dragons have not started reproducing again.

Peppered throughout Tallin’s narrative, we get to hang out with the Balborite assassin Skarekina (spelling?), who we have met in previous books. We get some flashbacks to how she became a deadly, accomplished assassin. She has a grudge against Tallin and it comes to blows! Skarekina is a wonderful villain because she is so competent!

We also learn a little about the Orcs and their civilization. It seems that everyone discounts and looks down on the Orcs, even some of our heroes. However, I get the feeling that the author has something more planned for us when it comes to the Orcs. I look forward to surprises later in the series. Towards the end, another dwarf magic user is introduced. She is elderly and practical and was a joy to see in action. I expect we will be seeing more of her in Book 5. I am already somewhat attached to her, so I really hope she doesn’t get killed any time soon.

I know I keep saying it about this series, but I feel each book is just a touch better than the last. I couldn’t be more satisfied with a fantasy series. The characters are interesting, the plot has more than one story line and is not horribly predictable, and the bad guys are complicated and often competent. Plus we then have these side issues going on (fighting dwarf kingdoms, the Orcs, dragon reproduction, etc.) that keep the reader wondering what will happen in the next installment. With this book in particular, we have what could be a very significant question to be answered in the next book and I am very much looking forward to giving it a listen.

Narration:  Adam Chase continues to do a great job with this series. I love his blunt voice for Tallin. He voice for Starclaw (an older female dragon) was also great as I could just imagine her wrecked body and mild anger during her chat with Duskeye. Chase has the most wicked female laugh which he employs quite well while performing the assassin.

What I Liked:  Tallin is a great character and totally deserves his own few books; the evil assassin is competent and wicked scary; more info on the dragons; possible new threat in the Orcs; a new awesome dwarf magic user is introduced.

What I Disliked:  Nothing, this was a great book!

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Mary’s Cup of Tea

Vosper's Revenge by Kristian Alva

 

AlvaVosper'sRevengeWhere I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Narrator: Adam Chase

Publisher: Defiant Press (2013)

Length: 8 hours 6 minutes

Series: Book 3 Dragon Stone Saga

Author’s Page

I am going to go all gushy on this book. I have already given Books 1 & 2 high ratings, but this book is even better. This is just one of those series that each book surpasses the previous one in writing skill, character depth, and plot intrigue.

First, the basics. Book 3 picks up where Book 2 left off. Vosper and his evil minions are poised to take the continent by storm as the forces of good (or at least the forces of the reasonable) are scattered and/or arguing with one another. Elias is still learning about his powers and his parentage. His bond with Nydiered (his dragon) grows each day. Without tossing out spoilers, there is death, there is intrigue, there is hope. This is one of those series that a young reader can grow with.

For many of the characters, we have had 2 previous books to get attached to them, or to learn to despise them. In Book 2 we had a traitor, and part of Book 3 shows us what our heroes have to do with that traitor – the tough choices they have to make (as they don’t inherently enjoy killing people and yet, how to trust this person ever again?). These interactions were some of the most moving, most intense in the book.

Then we have Elias and his father (Chua, who he learned about in Book 2). These were also touching moments, but more than that, they were sometimes downright hair raising. Elias’s dad has a wealth of knowledge, and not just from his time as a warrior, but also from his new hard won ability as a seer. He provides some background to Elias, and not just about Vosper but also about his mother, Ionela.

Tallin was probably my favorite character. Being taciturn by nature, he is a tough nut to crack. He is also a half-breed, not truly accepted by either race, and yet he has to deal with them all. We get to learn plenty more about him and just why he is a bit of a grump, and pretty distrustful of most folks.

I have one little quibble about a severely injured character. This character is then transported and it takes days. Yet no real treatment is given to this injured character during that time and this character survives the transport. So, I felt a few lines could have fixed this minor slip up in weaving reality into the fiction.

Now for Vosper. He does wreak havoc among our heroes. Also, his power continues to grow as he makes plans to go through with a final transformation that will leave him more powerful than he could ever be as a mere man. Of course our heroes hear of this plan and it both scares them and spurs them on to desperate heroic acts. It all comes to a head at the end and while I found one tiny element a little rushed (can’t say as it would be a spoiler to the ending of the trilogy), the ending was quite satisfying to me.

I did not want to say goodbye to these characters and this world. Luckily for me, there is a wholenother series in this same world with some of the same characters. You can expect me to be bringing you reviews on that series in 2015.

Narration:  Adam Chase did a great job once again but I will say that I feel his narrating abilities have grown with this series. He had some powerful scenes to bring to life in this book and he did an amazing job. He also had some truly freaky, hair-raising voices to create with the numerous necromancers walking and and out of this book. I pictured him having to contort in order to make some of these characters come to life. His performance in this book puts him on my list of favorite narrators.

What I Liked:  Elias has lots of hard decisions; death & traitors; generations-old secrets coming to the light; Elias’s visit with Chua; Tallin’s character; the ending.

What I Disliked:  I have 2 very tiny negatives that did not detract from my immense enjoyment of this book: 1) a severely injured character receives no treatment and yet lasts for days; and 2) one element of the ending felt a bit rushed.

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