The Sky People by S. M. Stirling

Narrator: Todd McLaren

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2007)

Length: 10 hours 38 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Lords of Creation

Author’s Page

In the 1960s, probes to Venus discovered something completely unexpected – life on Venus. Subsequent probes revealed plenty of animal life including dinosaur-like creatures and human-like people complete with civilizations. Now in the 1980s, the US and it’s allies have set up a small scientific outpost on Venus. The Soviet East Block has done the same thing. Venus comes with plenty of dangers but now it seems there might be a saboteur among the American & Allies crew.

Marc Vitrac, born in Louisiana and complete with Cajun accent, is the hero of this tale. He’s got the smarts and the muscles and the skills while also being friendly to Venusian canines and respectful of women. It’s rare to find such a man in science fiction (and even rarer to find one in real life). I really enjoyed this character partially because of all that stated above but because he’s also put in extraordinary circumstances in which he manages to keep his wits about him.

The setting was gripping. First, we know today that we are very unlikely to find Earth-like people and animals on Venus, but imagine if we had? Wouldn’t that raise all sorts of questions? That’s partially what these scientists are here to investigate. They also simply need to explore Venus, learning about it’s peoples and resources. I loved all the geeky science stuff about archaeology and paleontology.

There’s dinos! Yes! I loved seeing Terrans and Venusians interact with these beasties in all their variety. There’s also some intimidating predator mammals, like this large canine. In fact, Marc gets himself a puppy, Tyo, who becomes quite the novelty and Marc’s best wingman.

Meanwhile, the Venusians have several different cultures going on. There’s the ‘civilized’ Venusians of Kartahown city which is nearby the US outpost Jamestown. There are other cities as well. Then there’s the semi-nomadic and mostly peaceful human-like groups, such as the Cloud Mountain People lead by Teesa, a princess and shaman all rolled into one. Lastly, there’s the mostly nomadic and violent Beastmen, which are Neanderthal-like. Toss in tensions with the Soviet outpost, Cosmograd, then you’ve got some politicking as well (most of which happens behind the scenes).

The cast has a fair amount of diversity. Cynthia Whitlock is an African American geologist, and resistant to Marc’s charms. Christopher Blair is our British bloke with the RAF. Much later in the story we get a Russian woman who is doing her best to retrieve a downed Russian outpost exploration vehicle that had her husband, Captain Binkis, on it. Teesa has her moments, sometimes leading her people and sometimes playing the helpless princess.

Despite the well traveled tropes in this story, I got much enjoyment out of it. For me, the weakness is in the women. Sometimes these ladies are well drawn out with skills, brains, and opinions. Yet sometimes they fall into helpless damsels in distress that need rescuing (and I felt that was too easily done and just for drama). Still, I really enjoyed the story.

The Narration: Todd McLaren makes a really good Cajun Marc Vitrac. He kept all the characters distinct and had feminine voices for the ladies. There were some emotional moments in this book and McLaren was great at expressing those emotions through the characters. I liked his various accents (Cajun, standard American, British, Venusian, Russian, etc.).

What I Liked: Dinos and people!; Venus has much that needs exploring and much that is deadly; the variety of peoples on Venus; the political tensions between America & Allies and the Soviets; the deadly mammal predators; Tyo doggy; the very botched rescue mission; left me wanting more; great cover art.

What I Disliked: The ladies sometimes fall into helpless damsel mode.

What Others Think:

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Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Publisher:  Tantor Audio (2010)

Length:  21 hours 12 minutes

Series: Book 2 Naamah Trilogy

Author’s Page

Note: This is the second book in the third trilogy set in the Kushiel’s Legacy series. However, this last trilogy is set a few generations later and stands on it’s own. This book, as the second in this trilogy, works mostly well as a stand alone but is definitely enhanced by having read Naamah’s Kiss.

We return to Moirin’s adventures as she sets off to find Bao, her stubborn warrior love. She leaves the relatively comfortable Chi’in lands for the wilder and much colder territories ruled by the Tartar tribes. Once reunited, things don’t go as expected and some double crossing has them separated again. Moirin has to match wits with a Vralian religious zealot and later on face the Spider Queen!

It was good to be back in Moirin’s world. Her archery skills serve her well once again, as well as her small magics. For me, the beginning and then the last third of the book were more interesting than the middle part. She starts off on this solo quest to find Bao and that tests her determination and dedication to Bao. When they meet up, Bao is living with his father’s people. Sparks fly…. but then a complication becomes apparent to Moirin. The two simply can’t go off and have their own lives. The Tartars love their competitions which center mostly around horses and archery. Yep! Moirin has another opportunity to be the one that saves Bao.

The middle part sees them separated and Moirin is held captive by this man and his family as they attempt to convert her to their religion. There are a lot of good points in this section wrapped up in this story and these characters but I found that it lagged a bit. After all, I agree with Moirin 100% in this section so the arguments only reinforced my dislike for people who try to push their religious believes onto others.

The last third of the book sees us back in adventure land as Moirin befriends the Lady of Rats and has to face off against the Spider Queen and her husband, the Falconer. They have a band of assassins. Moirin is definitely in danger! Then there’s the caste system that has been strictly enforced for generations. Moirin had a real balancing act here between what she felt was right and also respecting local culture and religion. It was a tightrope walk.

Since Bao isn’t with Moirin for much of this book, he doesn’t play as big a role. He’s often in Moirin’s thoughts but she has herself to worry about as she travels from one strange land to another searching for him. One of the things I really like about them as a couple is that they aren’t a traditional couple. Throughout this book, they care greatly for each other, respect each other, but they each have other lovers along the way and they are OK with that.

Moirin often does the rescuing even though she’s not some tall, athletic warrior. She has certain skills (archery, summoning the twilight, etc.) and she uses them wisely and quite well. She often uses her compassion and patience to win people over. Also, she doesn’t shirk her fair share of the tougher chores be them tending to her horses or taking out enemy scouts.

While I enjoyed the first book in the series a bit more, this was a pretty good adventure tale. I look forward to seeing what Bao and Moirin get up to in the third and final book.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik keeps on impressing me. In this book she takes on even more accents as Moirin travels out of Chi’in (Chinese accent), into Tartar lands, then Vralia (Russian accent), and finally into Rasa (Indian accent). She manages to keep all the characters distinct even though this book has a sizable cast. Her male voices are believable. One of her greatest strengths is nailing the nuanced emotions of the main characters – truly impressive!

What I Liked: Moirin’s adventures; Moirin is often doing the rescuing; Bao and Moirin aren’t the traditional heroic couple; Tartar competitions; how the caste system was handled; the Spider Queen’s assassins; great narration.

What I Disliked: The middle part where Moirin is in Vralia lagged a little for me.

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Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey

Streak being calm & snuggly.
Streak being calm & snuggly.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2008)

Length: 24 hours 15 minutes

Series: Book 6 Kushiel’s Legacy

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 6 in Kushiel’s Legacy (also referred to as the Terre D’Ange Cycle) it is Book 3 in the second trilogy and focuses on Imriel de la Courcel, who we met in Book 3 of the first trilogy, Kushiel’s Avatar. Kushiel’s Mercy is best read as part of the second trilogy, if not as Book 6 in the larger series, since there are plenty of characters and situations referred to from the previous books.

Imriel de la Courcel, a Prince of the Blood, and Sidonie de la Courcel, Terre D’Ange’s princess and next in line to the throne, are in love. This doesn’t sit well with much of the realm because Imriel’s estranged birth mother, Melisande Shahrizai, betrayed the nation a generation ago. Imriel and Sidonie are faced with a difficult choice: Bring Melisande to justice or Sidonie will not inherit the throne. After beginning their search for Melisande in earnest, an unlikely city nation, Carthage, comes with luxurious gifts, promises of alliance, and an apparently heartfelt hope that Sidonie will consider their General Astegal for marriage. Things do not go as expected, for anyone.

This historical fantasy is another beautiful addition to the Terre D’Ange cycle. Through the adventures of Imriel and Sidonie, we learn more about this alternate world Carey has created. Carthage is a budding empire, rich in gold and gems but also dependent on slavery. General Astegal comes off as a very charming man, willing to bend to Terre D’Ange’s way of things when it comes to love; for instance, he wouldn’t be in a miff if Sidonie decided to have a harem of pretty young men. The other culture that really stood out for me was the Euskerri, which is akin to the Basque. Deeply proud and also demanding equality from their two neighboring countries – Terre D’Ange and Aragonia.

In the previous books, there has been some magic, though much of it is left up to the reader’s interpretation. In this novel, the magic is direct and has immediate consequences. Even though this is a reread for me, I always find myself surprised by how not subtle the magic component is in this story, as compared to the previous books. So how do you fight strong magic when you only have a passing experience with it? That is something that Imriel and Sidonie will have to figure out, though I do like all the hints that Elua, Terre D’Ange’s primary deity, may be giving them a hand. The magic does follow certain rules, which I liked, though it was quite the trial for Imriel to figure out what those rules were.

There’s plenty of adventure and sneaking about in this story. Imriel must make alliances with the most unlikely of people to even make a solid attempt to not only rescue Sidonie but the entire capitol of Terre D’Ange, the City of Elua. Indeed, spying, misdirection, and disguises make up a good part of the book. I think it was hardest on Imriel to deceive his beloved foster parents, Phedre and Joscelin. There’s some pretty intense scenes that had me holding my breath! Also, those scenes with Barquiel L’Enver, a man who has disliked Imriel since he was born, were quite worthy.

Sidonie really shines in this book. Even with everything told through Imriel’s eyes, Sidonie had some tough decisions to make and was at the center of some dangerous situations. Carey has this magical way of writing female characters behaving in feminine ways and still getting important stuff done. While Imriel is the character that carried me forward in this story, there’s a strong argument for Sidonie being that star of the story.

Each time we think our heroes have found the key to winning the day, there’s another twist or another spell or another hurdle or another bad guy that must be vanquished. One of the hardest things about this was that sometimes they had to find a way to sneak past, trick, or even fight friends and family that were ensnared in the magic. My poor nails! I was biting my nails too often with this story!

As with the series, there are incredible sex scenes that range from playful to desperate to healing to sad to joyful. Carey is just as detailed in her love scenes as she is with her use of cultures and linguistics. I always enjoy these scenes because they reveal something further about the characters.

The ending was well done. I was very satisfied that things were not easy to unravel and iron out. Not everyone gets everything they want. There’s plenty to be forgiven all around. Still, it was beautiful and satisfying.

The Narration: Simon Vance does this final book in Imriel’s trilogy justice. He had to take on further accents as our heroes experienced new cultures. There were also plenty of complicated emotions and intense scenes and Vance did a great job capturing the subtleties of those emotions in his voice work. Also, he did a fantastic job with the sex scenes.

What I Liked: Tangible magic with rules; Imriel has to make some unlikely alliances; Sidonie is at the heart of the matter and she shines through; exploration of further cultures in this alternate world; the love scenes; the intensity of Imriel interacting with his foster parents; Imriel and Sidonie really had to fight for their love; the ending was very satisfying.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this is an excellent way to end this trilogy.

What Others Think:

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The Bibliosanctum

Darkness Haunts by Susan Illene

IlleneDarknessHauntsNarrator: Cris Dukehart

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2014)

Length: 9 hours 2 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Sensor

Author’s Page

Melena Sanders, ex-military, is planning to attend college in the fall in California but right now she has to track down her missing friend, Aniya. A cryptic message left by her points Mel to Fairbanks, Alaska. There she discovers a war brewing that involves plenty of supernatural folks. Not all are human friendly. Luckily for Mel, she’s a little more than human. She’s a Sensor and that gives her just enough of an edge to be a true threat to these werewolves, vampires, and witches.

This is my new favorite urban fantasy series. This book is off to a good start, introducing our main character, Mel, and the paranormal world she deals with. Her dedication to her friends is a key component to the plot for this book. In her search for Aniya, she tries to keep Lizette out of it for her own safety. However, this goes a bit awry and I’m sure these two will have some words for each other later. She also makes some new friends in Alaska, some out of necessity and others out of choice. She needs all the assists she can get as she tries to find Philip Mercer, the last person Aniya was seen with.

There’s tons of alliances in this book and some of those alliances pull good folk into bad situations while other alliances pull questionable people into doing good deeds. Things, actions, and people are not always clearly evil or good and I really liked this aspect of the book. It kept me on my toes and engaged throughout the story.

There’s a powerful magic user, Variola, who holds several witches and werewolves in fealty. Mel has to make a deal with her and she wants an ancient vampire, Nikolas, found so she can destroy him in some ritual. However, the alpha werewolf, Derrick, isn’t too happy with how things are going down. Then there’s this Nephilim, Lucas, that follows Mel around. Half the time he’s keeping her from harm and the other half of the time he’s threatening to end her life. It’s a complex relationship that involved Lucas killing Mel’s protector, Wanda, several years ago with no explanation. Just because allegiances aren’t convoluted and strained enough, things get shook up once again when Nikolas comes out of his vampire sleep. Oh, yes! Whoever decides they want Nikolas dead is going to have their hands full!

One of the main draws for me was Mel’s character. She’s not without training and life experience. She has some years under belt and has had to make her way in the world for some years. She has been honed by both joys and tragedies. In short, she knows her own mind and walks into this story knowing exactly what her goal is (to get Aniya back) and can make her own decisions on how to go about it. She’s knowledgeable about guns and other weapons and not afraid of hurting or killing, if that is what’s needed. Yeah, I want to be Mel when I grow up.

On the other side of the coin, there’s a touch of flirtation here and there. Others have told me that there’s a full romance later on in the series, so for those of you who enjoy romance, you have that to look forward to. I found the flirtations of Nikolas amusing and they added a little bit of humor to a pretty tense book.

The ending did leave me with several questions concerning Lucas and Mel’s future. She has some hard choices to make, I think, in the next book. So I’m glad that the entire 6 book series is out, ready for me to tear through.

The Narration:  I enjoyed Cris Dukehart’s narration. She started off a little rough, making bullet statements, but within the first hour she smoothed out. I did like that she didn’t sound all girly, but rather as a grown woman who’s used to making her own decisions – which fits the main character perfectly. I also liked her various accents for some of the older characters. She made a very believable flirtatious 800 year old vampire. 

What I Liked: The main character – she has some life experience under her belt; the Alaskan setting; moose!; werewolves, vampires, witches & more; Mel has no hesitancy about using guns or other weapons; things aren’t black and white when it comes to good versus evil; her complex relationship with Lucas; the cover art.

What I Disliked: Nothing – I really enjoyed this book!

What Others Think:

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On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

AndrewsOnTheEdgeWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Renée Raudman

Publisher: Tantor Audio (201o)

Length: 12 hours 8 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Edge

Author’s Page

There’s the Broken (with big box stores, vehicles, and the IRS), there’s the Weird (with nobility, magic, and a strict hierarchy), and then there’s the Edge where those that are a bit of both reside. Rose Drayton and her young brothers live in the Edge: Rose works as a cleaner in the Broken while the boys go to school. Then Declan Carmine shows up from the Weird putting Rose to a challenge even while they deal with strange creatures turning up in the Edge. All sorts of sparks fly as Rose is pushed to her max magical abilities, Declan’s patience is tested half a dozen ways, and the Edge residents will either stand together or fall prey to these creatures.

This was a very fun book. I really liked the world building, even though it was pretty straight forward once laid out. The Edge is a place without a law presence, so family ties and alliances usually work as the backbone for solving grievances. I especially like how guns are treated as a necessity in the Edge and not toys nor for sport. Rose has trained her brothers to respect guns at all times which I really appreciated. Some few folks in the Broken know about Edgers and they know they can exploit them, such as Rose’s boss paying her under the table and demanding crazy work hours. We learn some little about the Weird through Declan later in the book and I hope the Weird is explored much more in later books in this series.

Much of the story is told through Rose’s eyes and she’s only experienced the Edge and the Broken. Her parents aren’t in the picture so she has had to work extra hard to keep the boys clothed, fed, happy, and in school. Her grandmother lives nearby but Rose has her pride and will only accept so much help. Her strong magic has made her a target in the Edge, where the only law is that which the residents apply through might. We learn in little snippets throughout the story why she is so distrusting of nearly everyone. Being hunted, kidnapped, tricked, and trapped for your magic tends to make one a little skittish.

Declan also has his secrets and traumas. He was interesting to begin with – from the Weird, of noble birth, and what brings him to the Edge is a bit of an unknown. At first, Rose is very concerned about her brothers’s safety around him, but once he saves them once or twice, she starts to wonder if it is possible for him to be of noble character as well as birth. Declan has quite the history, some of which comes into play in this story, but I did find that his Supper Commando background was a  little over kill and really wasn’t necessary to keep me interested in his story arc. Through him, we learn some interesting things about the Weird – such as how differently shape shifters are treated there versus the Edge. At times I felt that poor Declan as suffering from culture shock, which made him more human and endearing.

Jack and George, Rose’s two brothers, are my second favorite characters. OK, maybe they come before Declan. They were very well written as each has their own challenge in life, and at a young age! At first, we aren’t too sure what’s going on with either of them. Jack is always distracted by shiny or flittery things. Meanwhile, George seems to have such a big heart that any little deceased critter nearly makes him cry. As the story unfolds, we learn more about each and their challenges seem scary, cool, and a little sad all at the same time. Rose is doing the best with the knowledge she has, but luckily Declan has forced himself into their lives. He has some insights that might prove key to lightening the load for each of the boys. There’s several side characters that shine out as well: William, a stranger new to town that also has an interest in comic books; a neighbor’s daft granma and her teddy bear collection; the resident pretty boy/bully; Rose’s coworker in the Broken. All together, it’s a very interesting cast.

The plot was riveting. We have this intriguing world, these fascinating characters, and now the author gives them all a potentially devastating foe! Of course, our heroes Rose and Declan don’t know at first this is truly what they are up against. There’s some random monsters lurking about the forests of the Edge, and at first folks are able to deal with them on their own. But when the bodies start showing up, and Rose gets a direct threat from the person behind it, that’s when the Edgers start to consider coming together to defeat this intruder. The story builds and builds until we get a big fight at the end that takes more than just Rose or Declan to win. It was impressive!

Sadly, there is only one sex scene in this book. Now it is a hot sex scene, even if it is short lived. It was fueled by the possibility that their little part of the world would end, so it was firey and desperate.

All together, this was a fun urban fantasy romance and I look forward to enjoying more Ilona Andrews novels. I hear the Kate Daniels series is especially good.

Narration: I liked Renée Raudman’s performance for this book. She was great with Rose’s voice and I really liked her kid voices for Jack and Georgie, though I did sometimes get them confused. She had a hard edge of masculinity for Declan, especially when he was being a bit of a stuffed shirt.

What I Liked: The world building; Rose has taken on so much at a young age; Jack and George have to be adult about many things; Declan and his protective manner; the mystery behind the intruder; great side characters; the epic fight at the end.  

What I Disliked: Declan’s über warrior part is a little over done – it wasn’t necessary for me to be interested in his character.

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Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey

Chupacabra has spotted something!
Chupacabra has spotted something!

Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2009)

Length: 25 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 5 Kushiel’s Legacy

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 5 in Kushiel’s Legacy (also referred to as the Terre D’Ange Cycle) it is Book 2 in the second trilogy and focuses on Imriel de la Courcel, who we met in Book 3, Kushiel’s Avatar. Kushiel’s Justice can work as a stand alone, though there are plenty of characters and situations referred to from the previous book.

Imriel de la Courcel, a Prince of the Blood and adopted son to Phedre no Delaunay de Montreve, has returned to Terre D’Ange from his time in Caerdicca Unitas where he was attending university. He grew up quite a bit in the previous book and those around him think he may be ready for more responsibility. Unexpectedly, passion erupts between him and the heir to the Terre D’Ange throne, Sidonie de la Courcel. Not wanting to embroil the nation in the politics of their potential union, Imriel acquiesces to marrying a royal of the Alban family, Dorolei. Things go awry. Terribly, terribly awry and Imriel is propelled on a quest that takes him far afield of either nation.

Out of the first six books, I often found this book to be the slowest paced. It’s still a worthy read, yet I found it to have the fewest action scenes and long periods of travel and/or contemplation. However, this time around I read it with an on-line group and new little gems were revealed to me. It’s a time of change for Imriel and also of challenges that will define what kind of man he becomes going forward. It took him quite a bit of time and agonizing to figure out who he wanted and yet, now he has to make the hard choice of serving his country or alienating half the kingdom. Elua’s precept, love as thou wilt, was set aside.

Setting the gushy feelings aside for the moment, this installment to the series allows the reader to explore more of Alba and the Maghuin Dhon (the Bear Witches). Alais, Sidonie’s younger sister, travels with her father, the Cruarch of Alba, and Imriel, exploring the countryside as they make their slow progress to Dorolei’s home. The Alban nobles are not quick to adopt Imriel. They test him in several ways, including a cattle raid. But before long, tragedy strikes. My heart went out to Imri! I think he went a little insane with it for a short time, as to be expected.

From here, Imriel has a quest to undertake in order to fulfill an oath. But it’s more than that. There’s honor and duty in the quest for sure, but there’s also the need for vengeance. Something important was taken from Imriel, and from others, and he can’t let that abide. His quest takes him further east than he has ever traveled, into lands that barely exist on D’Angeline maps. Throughout this lengthy travel, Imriel meets many characters and several have views on vengeance versus justice. Indeed, this becomes one of the main themes of the second half of the book.

The sex scenes are just as compelling as the action scenes, and are more numerous. Carey doesn’t waste the reader’s time with flippant or empty romance scenes. While detailed, the sex scenes are beautifully written and always provide extra insight into the characters. After all, how we treat someone in private in intimate moments can be very revealing of our natures.

This series continues to render a rich and vibrant world filled with many cultures. Carey does an amazing job of fleshing out characters, even minor ones, giving them their own motives. I never feel like words are wasted when reading Carey. I love that I don’t always agree with a character’s choices, but I almost always see where they are coming from. Carey also includes different religions, food, and daily practices. The landscape and weather shape the backbone of the story. Indeed, I feel immersed when reading this series. The journey was worth the reread.

The Narration: Simon Vance’s skills are on great display with this book. His abilities with accents are surely put to the test with this tale! French, Gaelic, and Russian are just a few of the accents needed for the large cast of characters. There are also several moments of deep and complex emotions and Vance does a great job of showing these in his character voices.

What I Liked: The diversity captured in this book; Imriel has to make some hard choices;  the discussions of vengeance versus justice; exploring new lands; Imriel’s quest; Elua’s precept; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: I think the US market is ready for Imriel to be on the covers of this trilogy.

What Others Think:

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Alexei Cyren

The Second Super by Logan Rutherford

RutherfordTheSecondSuperClaudieWhere I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: Kirby Heyborne

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2015)

Length: 5 hours 34 mins

Series: Book 1 The First Superhero

Author’s Page

Set in the smallish town of Eben, Indiana, Kane Andrews and his friends volunteer at the local high school in assisting with the refugees – fetching supplies, preparing large cafeteria-style meals, etc. Many large East Coast cities have been evacuated because the world’s first superhuman, Richter, runs amok, tearing down buildings and throwing cars around. But things are about to change for Kane and the small town of Eben.

This book was a mixed bag for me. It held to a pretty basic good versus chaotic evil + coming of age storyline. Kane will become the second superhuman and the only one capable of fighting Richter and ending his rampages. However, we have to go through the process with him and that was rather humdrum. Kane wants to keep his identity as a superhuman hush hush, which is smart of him, and yet his first appearance in public is at the high school without a costume of any kind. Granted, it was an emergency situation and there was no time to plan, but the author carries on as if no one had an inkling that Kane was the young man who saved Macy. So, that was a little hard to believe.

The entire story is told through Kane’s eyes, and he’s a teen just coming into adulthood. He needs time to hang out with his friends and drink beer and maybe go on a date. I was OK with all that, as a starting point. But Kane stays pretty simplistic throughout the tale and after a while, that felt rather strained, especially towards the end.

Then we have the ladies. The story opens up with Leopold wishing to interview old lady Mrs. Andrews in the year 2078 (I think I have that right) about young Kane and how he became the second super. She’s neither here nor there. Then back in the main timeline, we have Kane’s mom who is supportive but also turns into useless tears when crap starts flying. Then there’s Macy who faints! Argh! OK. I know humans faint. But can we please balance out the fainting love interest with some realist female characters? Or maybe a man who faints or needs a good therapist? We do get a hard-nosed female FBI Agent, but she has perhaps 10 lines in the book. Then there’s Macy’s sister (who has maybe 3 lines) and a mystery female towards the end of the book that we know next to nothing about by the end of the tale. So, yeah, we could have used some gender balance since this is set in modern days.

The first fight scene was pretty decent and poor Kane loses. That made sense and also meant that Kane had to use his brains more than his fists. The rest of the fight scenes were only OK because they felt rather repetitive. In between these fight scenes, we learn a little bit about Richter and what probably drove him a little mad. That was a good tidbit to have tossed into the story. Kane eventually gets a costume and the media dub him the Tempest. I tend to associate the word ‘tempest’ with water-based storms like hurricanes. But I don’t recall Kane doing any flashy waterworks in his fights with Richter. So the name didn’t feel like a good fit to me.

As a side note, the story refers to past nuclear testing that was done in Arizona. I did a quick Google search and then dug up an expert in radiation safety and between the two, couldn’t find any past nuclear testing in AZ. However, fall out from above ground testing in nearby Nevada did affect AZ. It’s a small incorrect point in the story but one that stood out to me, being a lifelong resident of the desert Southwest.

The ending was OK. We have a big glorious fight scene and then clean up. The final ending takes us back to where we started with Leopold conducting his interview. The author has definitely set things up for a sequel. There’s plenty of questions left about Kane and the mystery woman at the end of his section of the story. All told, this book was a bit meh for me.

I won a copy of this book from the Lazy Day Library Facebook group (via The Audio Book Reviewer) with no strings attached.

Narration: Kirby Heyborne was a good fit for Kane. He sounds like a polite young man in his late teens. The narrator is able to be a bit more serious and sound a little gruff when needed for other characters. His female voices are believable.

What I Liked: Not all superhumans will start off as superheroes; Kane does volunteer work; the first fight scene was decent; some end-story questions set the reader up for a sequel.

What I Disliked: Why didn’t anyone recognize Kane from the high school event?; the love interest faints which is so cliched; the fight scenes became repetitive; Kane’s superhero name doesn’t quite fit.

What Others Think:

The Audio Book Reviewer

Too Many Posts

Timothy L. Cerepaka

Paranormal Sisters

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog

Heldig is one of these three - guess which one!
Heldig is one of these three – guess which one!

Where I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Mel Foster

Publisher: Tantor Media (2010)

Length: 11 hours 54 minutes

Author’s Page

 

So much food for thought on this one! The author leads us on an exploration of the animal-human relationship, pushing the reader to think about several choices they have made. There’s plenty of morality questions here where the author does a good job of letting the reader come to their own conclusions without forcing his opinions on them.

I’ll touch on a few of the subjects that really stood out for me. Captive dolphins for human entertainment or supposed health treatments: humane or not? It’s becoming more and more common to frown upon captive animals for entertainment, and yet more and more common to keep them around for health treatments. Who doesn’t want to go swimming with the dolphins? But at what cost?  I have read about a few places were the dolphins are not netted in but come freely for the fish and tourists are entertained in the process. Is that the reasonable middle ground?

Next was the discussion on mice bred for scientific and medical research. These mice never live wild, free lives and have been used for generations for scientific research. Once they have fulfilled their use, they are euthanized. How much is a mouse’s life worth? The author does a great job of getting into the numbers. If 100,000 mice could be the key to curing a specific type of cancer, would that be acceptable? Many of the same questions are raised for other species, such as apes and monkeys. Also, how does euthanizing so many animals weigh upon the researcher?

Some of the sections were a bit tougher as they touch a little closer to home. Food chickens versus cock fighting: the food chickens live in tightly enclosed spaces, sometimes never seeing the light of day. Meanwhile the fighting cocks get gourmet meals, have well-tended yards, and several hens for companionship. A lifetime of bad days versus a life of good days with one bad day at the end.

Vegetarianism – includes fish or not? This is an interesting question I find that my vegetarian/vegan friends answer a little differently from person to person. Other such questions come up for discussion. Some areas of the world, dogs are on the menu and they are kept in deplorable conditions prior to slaughter, much like American chicken slaughterhouses. The torturing of small animals as kids is perhaps more common than expected and may be a way for kids to learn to empathize with others. Why is feeding frozen baby mice to snakes acceptable but not euthanized kittens? As  you can see, tons of questions are brought up.

I found this book fascinating and a touch disturbing. It made me question several of my own established ideas of human-animal relationships. I had to do this book in several small chunks because I often set it down to think about it. Over all, it was a very worthy read.

Narration: Mel Foster did a good job, never stumbling over scientific phrases and yet was congenial, not like a computer voice. He was a great fit for this book that tackled some tough subjects.

What I Liked: The book cover art; good narration; very thought provoking; the author steers clear of judgement; hard numbers are put into some of the discussions, showing the real-world scenario.

What I Disliked: Nothing – it’s a keeper worthy of a reread in a few years.

What Others Think:

Animal Person Redux

Science News

Metapsychology

Serious Eats

The Green Wolf

Beezelbarb

Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey

Elderly Waffles has no idea whats going on.
Elderly Waffles has no idea whats going on.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2008)

Length: 27 hours 38 minutes

Series: Book 4 Kushiel’s Legacy

Author’s Page

 

Note: While this is Book 4 in Kushiel’s Legacy (also referred to as the Terre D’Ange Cycle) it is Book 1 in the second trilogy and focuses on Imriel de la Courcel, who we met in Book 3, Kushiel’s Avatar. Kushiel’s Scion can be read on it’s own.

Set in an alternate history mixed with a bit of fantasy, Imriel de la Courcel, who we met in the first trilogy, is growing up and he’s muddling his way through it. Certain things that come easy to his friends (like flirting) are difficult for him. It’s a long road full of blunders, missteps, and embarrassing moments. But there are also these gems of self-realization, beauty, and love. His teen years are full of various experiments, like him working alongside the Montreve folks to clear a new paddock, his early friendship with Eamonn mac Grainne, and his first visit to the Court of Night Blooming Flowers. This book is really the story of how Imriel becomes a man.

Eamonn goes off to Tiberium in Caerdicca Unitas to learn at the great universities and Imri follows soon enough. Both Phedre (Imri’s adopted mother) and Imri are curious if Phedre’s mentor Anafiel Delaunay learned the arts of covertcy in Tiberium when he was a young man. Imri makes it one of his goals to find out. He finds so much more than he expected, including himself. Living through Master Piero’s lessons, a riot, a siege, a wedding, the loss of a friend, Imri comes out of it wiser and more patient with himself and those around him.

Each of the first three books had distinct plots that arose early in the story. The second trilogy is a bit slower paced and I think of it as a plot that extends over all three books, taking longer to show itself. So, what was the main thread for this book? It was Imri learning how to be a man, but also what kind of man he wants to be. He spends much of his inner monologue worried over 1) whether he can be a good man and 2) whether he will choose to do so. He has this darker side, one that is prone to moodiness, anti-social behavior, brooding, and darker desires in the bedroom. Whereas the first trilogy has a distinct goal and hence plot for each book, this story is more subtle and takes more patience to pick out the main threads. Certain parts of the tale do tend to linger a bit overmuch (such as the teen angst that Imri goes through).

Then we all the good stuff. Melisande, Imri’s biological mother and a traitor to the kingdom of Terre D’Ange, still has a pinky in the mix. Imri becomes entangled in a torrid affair that brings him closer to the answer of who taught Anafiel such interesting skills. So much subtle intrigue! The siege is also interesting because it involves the ghosts of the city as well as the living. I won’t spoil this, but I found this to be the most interesting part of the book. Imri learns so much about love and friendship in it’s many shades in this tale.

As with the first trilogy, this book does have detailed sex scenes. They are hot and steamy, the author not flinching away from including both emotion and action in her descriptions. She’s a master at keeping them in context and using such scenes to either move the plot along or show you depths in her characters. Some of the scenes are a bit more robust than others, but most of them are sweet in nature.

I think I will always enjoy the first trilogy the most because it introduced me to this wonderful world. However, it was great to revisit Imriel’s tale once again, this time as part of a on-line group read. Nuances that I had missed reading on my own were brought up in the numerous discussions. This book definitely has stood up to scrutiny.

The Narration: Simon Vance gives a great performance as the voice of Imriel. He has that smooth cadence that is perfect for Imriel’s brooding thoughts or his well chosen words. I loved his accent for Eamonn and his Italian accents for the people of Caerdicca Unitas. All his characters were distinct and he had more than one female voice. He sounded very comfortable with the sex scenes.

What I Liked: A return and further exploration of this alternate fantasy world; Imriel himself; Phedre and Joscelin raising this kid to be a man; Master Piero and his pigeons; Gallus Tadeus during the siege; Imriel’s friendship with Lucius; the quest to find out where Anafiel learned his spy arts; the leavetakings and prepping for the next step in life.

What I Disliked: Very minor comment – there were times where Imriel’s adolescent moodiness became a bit much, but I guess that is true to form.

What Others Think:

Fantasy Book Review

Eyrie

The Obsessive Bookseller

Mervi’s Book Reviews

The Bookbag

Book Loons

 

Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey

Claudie snoozing with a very good  book.
Claudie snoozing with a very good book.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2009)

Length: 31 hours 25 minutes

Series: Book 3 Kushiel’s Legacy

Author’s Page

Note: It is possible to read this book as a stand alone as relevant events from Book 1 and Book 2 are reflected upon in enough detail for a reader of Book 3 to grasp the point. However, I highly recommend reading the earlier books so that you get the most out of this book.

Set 10 years after Book 2, Kushiel’s Chosen, Phedre and Joscelin have had all that time to settle into their relationship. Both have made compromises to their wants in order to make room for their love. Phedre only takes two assignations a year in Naamah’s service while Joscelin has learned to let his sense of humor show here and there. But through this well-earned and hard-found bliss, Phedre has never forgotten Hyacinthe and his sacrifice for Terre D’Ange and herself. He still lives an isolated life out on the Three Sisters, learning the powers of the Master of the Straights. Then she receives an unexpected missive from an old enemy and one-time patron, Melisande. Phedre’s adventuring days are not over yet.

This is a re-read for me. I have enjoyed this series over and over again and it was awesome to revisit this book as part of a read along with several blogger friends. They brought new insights to this much beloved book. I have always found this book to be the darkest of the first trilogy. The entire series deals with consent in its many myriad forms. However, in this installment of the series we see how those lines can get blurred and shattered apart. This epic fantasy is not for the faint of heart.

There’s two plot lines for Joscelin and Phedre to solve in this book and one has always been more interesting to me than the other. First, as we know from Book 2, Melisande had a son who she somehow spirited away. Now, it is up to Phedre and Joscelin to track down this long-lost Prince of the Blood, Imriel. Second, the Master of the Straights has passed his powers on to Hyacinthe after a long 10-year apprenticeship. Phedre still searches for the key to free him and will never give up.

The search for Imriel is the one that has always held my attention. It deals with child slavery and the broken trust of a child and how, if ever, to recover that trust. Meanwhile, I have never gotten caught up fully in Hyacinthe’s plight. He went into the agreement with full knowledge as an adult. I know the life on the Three Sisters is a complete 180 for him, being trapped on these three isles with only his servants and the Master of the Straights for company. And yet…. Well, I always felt that he was moping about it, for ten years. He wasn’t trying to make the most of the situation. He wasn’t making an effort to embrace the few, yet awesomely powerful, perks of his new station in life and I think that is what dampened my feelings towards him. Meanwhile, Phedre was all in an anguish over him every other chapter and felt this great survivor’s guilt for not having been the one trapped on that isle instead of Hyacinthe. It’s totally in keeping with Phedre’s personality, and yet I still found it a little tiring.

So, setting aside that one tiny quibble, this is an excellent book to wrap up the first trilogy. Phedre’s gods ask her to take on a dangerous and most difficult task. The asking is subtle and I feel there’s plenty there for each reader to interpret their own way. The magic of Terre D’Ange is not often direct. Phedre’s deities will be tested by the dark powers that have taken up residence in Darsanga, a land far to the east of Terre D’Ange. Phedre and Joscelin won’t be able to count on any help from friends and allies. My heart really went out to Joscelin on this one. In the past books, Phedre’s actions have often tested Joscelin’s vows, but this is a new level. I think both Phedre and Joscelin lost a little bit of themselves.

There’s plenty of travel for Phedre and Joscelin in this story. New lands and new cultures are explored. The Yeshuites continue to play a part in this tale. Indeed, they have quite a significant role in part of the adventure. It’s easy to see how both Phedre and Joscelin have grown throughout the series in this book. They take on meeting new peoples in stride and adapting their own manners to be more accommodating to their hosts. In Book 1 and Book 2, Phedre can sometimes come off as a little conceited. I think she’s really grown out of that here in Book 3. She still observes differences, but she’s not longer simply comparing those differences to the ways of Terre D’Ange.

As with the first two books, the author doesn’t shy away from detailed sex scenes. They are always used to move the plot forward or show some aspect of the characters. One of the reasons that I adore these books is that they don’t ignore the fact that sex is a main driver for human behavior and that how we treat someone both outside and inside the bedroom is important (and sometimes is mightily different). This book contains one of my favorite sex scenes of all time. It involves fishing. The scene was moving, beautiful, arousing, loving, sensual, and meaningful.

Enough gushing. You know by now that I adore this book even if I find it the darkest of the three. I also find that it holds the most food for thought. The myriad of characters show their strengths, and try to hide their weaknesses, in a variety of ways. It’s not just swords and muscles that will win your way through this adventure. The ending was quite satisfying. Not everyone got everything they were hoping for, but everyone got enough.

 

The Narration: Once again, Anne Flosnik gives a stellar performance. The list of accents needed for this trilogy grows yet again with this installment. I can’t imagine the amount of research she had to put into this before she could begin the narration. Her character voices are always distinct and she holds this accent or that accent steady for each character. I love her little kid voice for Imriel. Great narration!

What I Liked: More adventuring; deals with some weightier issues; plenty of food for thought; Joscelin has figured out what to do with his sense of humor; the sex scenes; Imriel; the solution to Hyacinthe’s problem; a beautiful ending to this trilogy.

What I Disliked: My tiny quibble is that I sometimes found Hyacinthe’s plight a little tiring.

What Others Think:

Strange Horizons

Eyrie

Kirkus Reviews

SFF Book Reviews

Fantasy Book Review