Alpha Trio: The Complete Collection by Ana Vela

VelaAlphaTrioWhere I Got It: Review copy via Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Publisher: Our Pack Press (2013)

Narrator: Meghan Kelly

Length: 4 hours 31 minutes

Author’s Page

Note: This book is composed of three separate, stand-alone short stories: Cats & Dogs, The New Girl, and A Special Taste.

In regards to the collection, each story follows one of three Lupei brothers and a woman. Emillian (Em) and Cat feature in the first book, Andrei (Drei) and Cassandra in the second, and Grigore (Grig) and Kall in the last. The three brothers are wolf shifters of the Alpha Pack and work in a kind of supernatural police force. Their mom is their boss. The boys like to blow off steam at the night club, 5tM, in the VIP section. They tend to run into vampires there and do what werewolves do when they meet a new vampire – attempt to kill it. But all that is just back drop for the sex, for this is, indeed, erotica. No doubt about that. Over all, all the parties involved are gorgeous and the sex is hot. Below is a short review of each individual story.

Cats & Dogs

For some reason, Emillian brought a rather silly and immature girl as his date to 5tM. He’s bored with her. Luckily, he notices a scuffle in the back alley and rescues Cat Dennis. His mere presence scared off the foe, so he can get right to the business of charming the slightly scuffed young lady. Vampires are soon on the scene however and Em must whisk her away to his apartment (where she will be perfectly safe…. in his shower) while his brothers fight the evil undead. Sparks build between these two and pretty soon Em is opening up to her a little, and then she spreads her legs and they have a very good time. There’s a mystery surrounding Cat and danger continues to be an issue, but for the moment, she can enjoy nuzzling her new-found shifter lover.

Em gets a background, a job, real thoughts, and real lines. Cat eventually gets a job (though we learn almost nothing about it) and no background. She also doesn’t get insightful lines or thoughts. So, I found her rather vapid. The sex between the two was hot, but since I wasn’t connected to Cat, I couldn’t get into it that much.

The New Girl

Andrei is the biggest, most heavily muscled of the three brothers. He’s also very tall. So it is very rare for anyone to ignore him, especially straight women. But there is this red-headed barkeep (Cassandra) at 5tM that is doing just that and it is extremely aggravating to Drei. I think this is good for him, pushing him to grow his interpersonal skills. So the boys and Cat end up in the back alley again, and once again silly vampires show up and attack. Grigore is injured and needs tending to pronto and, luckily, Cassandra knows just what to do. Of course this freaks the Lupei brothers out, since she is a mere Mundane human and shouldn’t know anything about shifters or vampires. Turns out Cassandra has a special gift and she is whisked away to Alpha Pack headquarters. There, the Big Boss (the Lupei brothers’ mom) decides she needs round the clock protection for a while. Drei offers to keep her entertained….with his manhood.

More bedroom gymnastics ensue and it is super hot! Cassandra has more personality and backstory than Cat, so I was intrigued by both Drei and Cassandra in this story. It made their mating more intimate.

A Special Taste

Grigore is starting to feel like the fifth wheel at the party – both his brothers have Mates and are into public displays of affection. Grig is wallowing in his single, unattached stud status one night, drinking way too much. He ends up in the alley behind 5tM and is ambushed by several vampires. Lucky for him, a dark-haired warrior swoops in and rescues him. They have to hide for a bit in a dark sewer where they over hear some nefarious plans by the vampires (and make out a little). Once safe, Kall introduces herself and lists her demands. She has an idea of why the vampires keep returning to 5tM and how to stop them for good. But she is also a highly capable warrior….and something more, and the more could be a threat to the Alpha Pack. She is whisked off to Alpha Pack headquarters where she tells her story and lays out what she knows. Plans are made. The warriors must rest before they act, so Kall and Grig end up sharing a room with bunk beds. However, instead of sleeping, earth-shattering sex occurs instead.

This was my favorite of the three and I think it is because Kall had the most back story of the three ladies. Oh, and she is a badass warrior too. She’s armed and wears practical boots for vampire stomping. Also, the sex scenes were more aggressive as Kall likes telling her man exactly what she wants.

Narration: Meghan Kelly did a great job with the voices. Each of the brothers had a distinct voice but all sounded related. She had distinct voices for all the ladies. She even had hissy vampires voices (when needed). Mostly, she pulled off all the sex scenes quite well with no hesitations. The parties involved all sounded like they were having a very good time.

What I Liked:  Awesome, detailed sex scenes; mysterious shifter police force; the warrior Kall; the mystery surrounding the three women.

What I Disliked: Cat comes off as vapid; the cover art doesn’t suggest vampires & werewolves so it doesn’t really encompass all the awesomeness within this book.

What Others Think:

Eargasms

Mr. Grimm by Drew Avera

AveraMr.GrimmWhere I Got It: A review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Al Kessel

Publisher: Drew Alexander Avera (2014)

Length: 1 hour 24 minutes

Series: The Twin Cities Series; Apparently, The Twin Cities Series has several contributing authors. You can catch all the latest info at The Twin Cities Series blog. And here is a listing of the series by all the different authors on Amazon.

Author’s Page

Mr. Alexander Grimm is in servitude. The Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul) is a special place, concealing a door into The Realms. This is not good for humans as The Realms contain things of myths and legends such as vampires and demons. Mr. Grimm serves The Raven, who rules over The Realms with an iron fist. But several factions with The Realms would like to see a change in leadership. Mr. Grimm may be the key to that change.

This was a dark urban fantasy that was treat to listen to. Avera has created a noir world, albeit much of it behind the scenes. It’s gritty and dangerous, with things waiting the shadows. I loved the mystery to the story, the hint of deeper secrets to be told in forthcoming installments. Mr. Grimm is a deeply conflicted character. He’s in servitude to a vampire (that he hates) and yet he is pretty darn good at carrying out his job – taking out anyone The Raven points his finger at. He has a daughter he must protect at all costs and as the years go by, that cost becomes steeper and steeper.

I only have one quibble. There was a leap in time in the storyline and it had me slightly confused for a bit. During the first part of the story, Mr. Grimm is a family man, but then we move forward a decade or so. Perhaps the first part of the story was flashback for Mr. Grimm? I’m still not sure. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The secret world that Mr. Grimm moves through was intriguing and I look forward to listening to future installments of this series.

Narration: Al Kessel did a great job. He was a good voice for Mr. Grimm. He also did a few accents competently and had distinct male and female voices. His French vampire is entirely creepy, in a sophisticated way.

What I Liked: Dark, noir feel to the story; plenty of mystery left to explore; intriguing characters all over the place; Mr. Grimm is left in an impossible position.

AveraMr.GrimmAudiobookWhat I Disliked: I didn’t like the cover for the audiobook (seen here are the right), so I used the ebook cover for this review; there is one time leap in the storyline that caused some little confusion.

Blood on the Mississippi by Colin Webster

WebsterBloodOnTheMississippiWhere I Got It: Review copy from via Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Narrator: Hubert Williams

Publisher: White Feather Press (2014)

Length: 5 hours 44 minutes

Series: Blood & Tequila, Book 2 (Audible also says it is Book 2 of Triple Trouble series)

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it stood well on it’s own.

Clay and Maria are newly weds and they are being constantly attacked as they travel up and down the Mississippi. Maria is a newly minted vampire and still getting use to her powers and how to control her thirst for human blood. Clay turned over a new leaf with his marriage, trying to earn an honest living (usually via gambling) instead of robbing trains. They have a pet vampire horse that was a pretty cool addition to the story. The Order hunts them with priests and guns; a stone angel wants Maria destroyed; and Clay has been invited to an exclusive (and shady) riverboat poker game.

This books starts off with action (a hunt through a moonlit graveyard) and only lets up well past the half-way mark when Clay and Maria are tricked into a deadly game of poker. Maria sleeps buried in the earth (snuggling her pet vampire horse) while Clay roams around buying new clothes, drinking whiskey, gambling, and usually trying to get himself killed. A rather spooky young priest leads the charge in hunting them down, flinging insults at them along with deadly knives. Just when it looks like the two newly weds will get in some quality marital bliss time, the stone angel Michael finds them and attempts to destroy Maria (and Clay along with her since he is deadly earnest in defending her). While each action scene was well written, I found myself in a battle fatigue well before we get to the poker game that takes up the last third of the book. It started to all blur together for me.

The poker game itself had an interesting twist to it that I enjoyed even while the game itself lacked the intensity of the previous obstacle course of gunfights, knife throwing contests, and stone angel evasion. I am not much of a card game player myself, so I think some of the nuances of the poker game were lost on me and that another reader who enjoys poker games would take more enjoyment from these scenes.

The story was full of western cliches and stock idioms. At first, this helped set the scenery and gave me the impression that Clay was not from the Mississippi area (and later we find out that he is from the desert Southwest). But after a while, with repetition of the cliches and idioms, I was a bit dulled by them. Maria herself is from Mexico. She does fight hand to hand several times in the book, but later has to ask what to do with a gun (which might have been in sarcasm but it was unclear), has to be protected and rescued more than once, and doesn’t know how to play poker. I felt that her character was underutilized; she definitely played second fiddle to Clay. In fact, we didn’t have a single other female character until the poker game at the end of the book. So I guess there are know knife-wielding, vampire-arse kicking nuns out there to help out The Order.

The book was mildly entertaining though I can see how the author has left the door open for both character and series growth. There is potential for it to get better as the series continues.

The Narration: Hubert Williams has a deep voice that I enjoyed listening to. However, his accents came and went and were often muddled. Sometimes he seemed to get into a reading rut himself and there was no emotion to the performance. Also, several times throughout the book there was an odd background sound and I think it was the sound of rustling papers as he read.

What I Liked: The setting was fun; plenty of action; the zombie horse was an excellent little addition; the stone angel was worriesome!

What I Disliked: The story was cliched to the point of being predictable and repetitive; I got battle fatigue from the gamut of fights; Maria’s character was underutilized.

The Midnight Diet Club by Mark Newhouse

NewhouseTheMidnightDietClubWhere I Got It: Review copy from via Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Narrator: Darren Marlar

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 4 hours 44 minutes

Series: From the way this book ended, I think there will be more to come.

Author’s Page

Esme and her mom are on the outs with each other. She wants Esme to be thin and popular. But the recent divorce of her parents has Esme in emotional turmoil and so she turns to food. Her mom puts her on one crazy diet after another and nothing seems to work. The kids at school, with the exception of 2 friends, bully her all the time. The story opens with one scene after another of bullying in various forms and the tactless, yet well-meaning, things adults say to teens. Finally, there is an incident during PE class that sends Esme over the top; the three chic thin and cruel girls take advantage of this incident, pushing Esme even further. Pretty soon, we have vampires and a Dr. Ghoulash clashing with Esme’s desire to be thin and popular.

This story starts off a bit slow with the bullying scenes, one after the other. But that also set up the scenery for the rest of the plot to walk in. Esme is pressured by everyone (except her two friends) to lose weight, and to do it quickly. At age 12, that is a lot of pressure. Throughout the beginning, we see Esme being pushed around, not making decisions on her own. But then a spark shows and she tails one of the thin, vampire girls (Pam) after dark one night, catching a glimpse of the secret the three guard. Using this secret as leverage, she forces her way into their circle and meets Dr. Ghoulash. Then she goes back to being pushed around and manipulated until the final scene of the book. Esme didn’t strike me as particularly intelligent or heroic, but more of a lucky protagonist that got out of this scrape intact.

There was a lot of focus on her weight and, while that was definitely integral to her motives, after a while it felt like I (and Esme) was being hit over the head with it. Was there anything else to her character? She loves chocolate, is fat, her parents are divorced, she’s overweight, she is good at geometry, needs to lose weight……While it was a bit repetitive for me to listen to, I can also see that it showed the listener just how desperate Esme was to fit in; and to do that she had to lose weight.

This is one of those stories with a moral. As Esme hangs around the vampires more and more, she leaves her friends behind, even pushing them away, and starting to think harshly of them. I am sure you can guess how this book ends (in rough outlines) and Esme learns that true friendship is more important. I was hoping that Esme’s mom would learn a lesson too, as she comes off as pretty shallow (but perhaps that will happen in a sequel).

The characters were pretty one dimensional with only Esme showing a little growth. The plot was predictable mostly because the characters were predictable. Also, and this is just my personal bit, the character name ‘Dr. Ghoulash’ made me think of a dish my mom made frequently when we were growing up. So I automatically connected the big bad villain with a tasty meal. I guess everyone has to eat. But for me personally, that made the big Baddie more comical than dangerous or scary. Still, with all that, it was a quick listen and brought me some entertainment.

The Narration: I am curious as to why the author picked a male reader for this book as like 70% of the characters are female. While Marlar was able to do accents and had different male character voices, several of his female character voices lacked femininity and also sounded alike. He did do a decent job of injecting humor and sadness at the appropriate places.

What I Liked: Esme struggles the entire book; the name ‘Dr. Ghoulash’; steadfast friends.

What I Disliked: Repetitive themes on weight loss; predictable characters & plot.

Interview: Scott McKenzie, Author of Drawing Dead

MckenzieDrawingDeadEveryone, please welcome Scott McKenzie. I enjoyed his gambling vampire book, Drawing Dead, and you can check out that review over HERE. We chat about Scott’s day job, some of his favorite books, his earliest fanfiction (He-Man!), and much more. Enjoy!

How does modern pop culture influence your work? Do modern cultural references date a piece or add touchstones for the reader?

I’m heading towards 40 so I’m now in the period of my life where all new music is just a load of noise and all the good movies have already been made! Pop culture does influence my work though – I drop references to my favourite books and films into my stories, but my editor Rebecca Burruss is good at telling me when they take the reader out of the story. I guess it’s all about context. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline would be nothing without all the pop culture references, but if the same references were used in any other story, they would come across as having been shoe-horned in unnecessarily.

Given the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs? Would you take a selfie with the beastie?

I’d have to say vampires – I’ve written a few vampire stories and I love the mythology.  I’d be sure to have a sharp stake at hand though! I’ve just finished reading book two of Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series, so I’m sure anyone who has read those books would want to avoid the monsters in there… As for a selfie, the answer is no. I don’t do selfies, with or without beasts.

McKenzieDeathByAutopenWhat has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

I work in IT – I’m an Operations Manager for an online gaming site. It is a busy, high-pressure job where things can change at the drop of a hat. In essence, my day-to-day activities are at the opposite end of the spectrum from someone who can sit down in front of a blank screen and tap away at a keyboard for a few hours. I’ve been lucky in my professional career up to this point by the fact that I’ve mostly worked with decent people, but every now and then you run into people or systems that get in the way of you when you’re just trying to do your job. I try to channel my frustrations into my writing – bad processes and bad management are common themes in my stories. My short story “Death by Autopen” is all about someone who finds himself on the President’s kill list due to an administrative error.

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

One of my favourite novels is The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. The central premise of the book – life is random so you may as well roll a pair of dice to decide your fate – would make for a great board game. However, some of the themes in the book may make it a board game for over-18s only!

McKenzieOneDayInGitmoNationIn this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

I enjoy running giveaways on Goodreads and giving books away for free using Kindle Select. Every now and again I’ll set one of my books or short stories to be free in the Kindle store for a day or two. Sometimes I’ll promote the freebie and sometimes I just sit back and watch what happens. It’s a good experiment in working out the difference active promotion makes. I like meeting new people on Goodreads – it’s the best place to make friends with people who want to read the crazy stuff I’ve written. What I find most challenging is getting out of my comfort zone to promote my work. I’m an only child who likes to lock himself away in a room making stuff up!

What were you like as a kid? Did your kid-self see you being a writer?

I wrote stories as a kid, which were usually heavily based on what I was into at the time. I can remember writing Star Wars, He-Man and Transformers stories that were probably total nonsense, but the love of filling a blank page with a story has never left me. I also loved the read-along book and cassette stories that always came out with major film releases. Anyone who was into them should check out www.readalongadventures.com

McKenzieRebirthIf I wasn’t reading, chances are I was watching films. I went to the cinema a lot when I was a kid, and I was over the moon to get Alex Hyde-White to do the narration for my first audiobook – Drawing Dead: A Tale of Poker and Vampires. He was the star of Biggles: Adventures in Time, a film I remember watching in the cinema, which I still go back to now and again.

The Desert Island Collection: what books make it into your trunk and why?

I guess it’d be a good idea to put some long books on the list in case I’m on the desert island for a long time! Here are five books I’d happily be stuck alone on a beach with:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – Classic adventure.
It by Stephen King – My favourite book by my favourite author.
Killing Floor by Lee Child – Gotta have some Jack Reacher on hand.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – The perfect feel-good story.
Twelve Grand by Jonathan Rendall – Very funny and interesting book about a journalist who was given £12,000 to gamble with and told to write a book about it.

McKenzieKrampusWhat do you do when you are not writing?

With work and family life, I get very little time to write so the answer to this one is – everything else! I have two children who I spend as much time with as possible, but they inspire my creativity. Without them, I wouldn’t have written Krampus: A Christmas Tale (http://scottamckenzie.com/Krampus.html) or hooked up with Phil Ives, who did the incredible artwork for the book. Phil and I have just started working together on another scary picture book for children. This one’s called Frankentickler

Places to Stalk Scott

Website

Goodreads

Twitter

Publishing Blog

Drawing Dead by Scott Mckenzie

MckenzieDrawingDeadWhy I Read It: Las Vegas and vampires – makes sense to me.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy watching or playing poker, then this would be a fun story for you.

Narrator: Alex Hyde-White

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 1 hour 47 minutes

Author’s Page

The story is told using a few flashbacks to bring the reader up to date on how Eddie Nelson got to this deplorable state. A Brit, he and his girlfriend came to Las Vegas for a vacation. He returned home to nurse his blossoming addiction for on-line poker. That on-line addiction grew to playing in live tournaments. Soon, he was playing professionally, and living by himself. Fast forward to present day and Eddie has been on a losing streak for weeks now. He’s out of money, considering who he can call to wrangle a plane ticket home when a sketchy stranger buys him a beer. Raphael wants to stake him in a high-stakes game. If Eddie wins, he gives half his winnings to Raphael. If he loses, then Eddie has to do Raphael a favor and play in a private poker tournament.

This tale started off a little slow for me and I think that is because I don’t play poker and some of the lingo was lost on me. There was a quick run down of game rules and terms at the beginning of the book, but such a list is hard to absorb in audio form. Anyway, the story does pick up with the flashbacks of Eddie spiraling into the poker addiction whirlpool. I really enjoyed watching Eddie go from a winning high to another high to another high and then the bum of a loss, and then another loss, and finally to the point where Raphael finds him.

And I guess I am free to talk about the Las Vegas vampire aspect since there is line about these poker vampires in the book’s description. The vampires don’t show up until about half way through the book. Mckenzie has created this whole underworld society in Vegas for these vampires. Even the taxi drivers know about them; or know enough to not ask questions. This part of the book was the true story, and the gem of the tale. It was for more interesting, suspenseful, and messy. Not everyone makes it out alive.

For much of the book, there are no females. Sure, Eddie had a girlfriend that had one or two lines at one point, but she didn’t play a real role in the story. There is an epilogue to the tale told from a woman’s stand point. It is done well, so one can see that the author is very capable of writing female characters. But it would have been nice to make some of the other players, a dealer, or even a few of the vampires female. We make up 50% of the population (even more as a generation ages because men just don’t last like us ladies) so why not have them make up 25% or more of the characters in a book? But that is my only complaint.

The Narration: The narration started off a bit rough, like I could hear background noises. This was when the basics of poker were being introduced. But once the story started proper, the narration became excellent. So I wonder if that part at the beginning was tacked on as an after thought? Anyway, Hyde-White did a great job with Eddie’s voice, the few accents, and keeping each character distinct. He even had to make a few creepy vampire noises which were done well.

What I Liked: Eddie’s fall into gambling addiction; his high from winning followed by his self-loathing in losing; Raphael and his deal; the second of half of the book and the vampire enforced tournament was great – lots of suspense; the ending.

What I Disliked: Few female characters; the first half had a few slow spots where lots of poker lingo was used to describe a game.

What Others Think:

Col’s Criminal Library

A Pack of Wolves II: Skyfall by Eric S. Brown

BrownPackOfWolvesSkyfallWhy I Read It: Werewolves versus aliens, why not?

Where I Got It: Review copy via Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy heavily armed sexy alien half breeds, check this series out.

Narrator: David Dietz

Publisher: Grand Mal Press (2013)

Length: 1 hour 58 minutes

Series: Book 2 A Pack Of Wolves

Author’s Page

Note: This is Book 2 and I have not listened to Book 1 as I thought it would stand alone. It almost does. The plot is easy to grab on to, but the characters are introduced so quickly and little background is given that I lost track of who was who. So I recommend giving Book 1 a read/listen before venturing into this book.

OK, so we got aliens in mech suits stomping around our fair cities, rounding up humans for unknown uses. Then we have the werewolf pack lead by Zed Farr. His family and their friends are the only ones who can save humanity. There was at least 1 vampire in the mix and a sorcerer (though he might have also been a werewolf who just happens to be trained in the wizardly arts). Plenty of action and weapons make up the plot of this book. Oh, and death. Yes, there is death. In fact, I am not sure there will be a Book 3 in this series.

If I recall correctly, we started with Brian, who seems to have gone off on his own, lone wolfing it. He is gathered back into the family fold to battle the aliens. Zed, who takes on a southern USA hick accent (even though he is far older and can probably mimic any number of world-wide hicks), is the family’s leader. Then we had other players like Jennifer, Brooke, Nathan. But honestly, they were introduced so quickly with little to no background that I didn’t really get a sense of them. Also there is some rivalry between the Blood (trueborn werewolves) and the Turned (or was it Changed? – those that were bit and turned werewolf). One of the short stories gives a little more info on this, but largely it was pretty sketchy.

The action is fun, though the plot is very, very basic – kill the aliens before they kill you and eat you. While an alien or two have 2-4 lines late in the story, we never get any background on them and why they have invaded Earth and what their endgame is. Still, it was a fun lunch break listen. Honestly, it made me think of one of my PC games where I can just run around as a good(ish) guy and smash evil guys.

At the end of this novella, there were 2 short stories. I think they might have been better at the front to give the listener some background to a few of the characters. They were a nice addition to the audio version.

The Narration: David Dietz did a good job with maintaining distinct furry characters, blood suckers turning into mist, aliens in mech suits, and feminine voices. He made this book fun with his action voices – panicked, angry, sad, vengeful, etc.

What I Liked: Reminded me of a PC game; lots of simple action; werewolves, aliens, & a vampire – a fun mix.

What I Disliked: The characters were introduced very fast with little to no background, making it nearly required that the listener/reader give Book 1 a read first.

What Others Think:

Doubleshot Book Reviews

 

The League of Doorways by Tim O'Rourke

O'RourkeLeagueOfDoorwaysWhy I Read It: The first book was fun, so I checked out the sequel.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the narrator (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy quest folks who like a touch of the dark.

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Ravenwoodgreys (2014)

Length: 5 hours 58 minutes

Series: Book 2 Doorways

Author’s Page

Zach Black and his motley crew pick up just where Book 1 ended. Much of their time is spent trying to cross a desiccated and abandoned war zone. William Weaver the werewolf and Neanna the vampire keep him company as they continue their quest to find the Heart of Endra. Meanwhile, Anna Black is still in the hands of the ghoulish pirates along with uncle Thandel. Throat and his evil sister, Delf, continue to make plans to take out Zach and his companions.

I enjoyed this book more than I did Doorways (book 1 of the series). We have a new character, Dr. Faraday, that Zach & crew meet in the desert. He’s a mechanical man and has plenty of talents along with mysteries about him and how he came to dropped in the middle of a desert, turned off. We also have Anna playing a more pivotal role, along with Willow Weaver (William’s mother) and Delf playing bigger roles (in Book 1 we were just introduced to them). In this book, we get to follow a few plotlines, instead of just one, as these secondary characters have tasks and challenges of their own.

And then there is this pretty cool thing: The mechanical men made a mistake some time back. Fascinated with the animal life of Earth, they brought several species through before they realized that Endra didn’t act as an exact mirror. They were changed when they came through, creating strange, wondrous, and often terrifying modified beasties, such as the semi-mechanical tiger motorcycles. I quite enjoyed this part of the tale because it was beautiful, sad, and creepy all at once.

Then we have the bad guys. Searching for eternal life and beauty, they have fallen into crustiness and flatulence. While Throat has become a shadow of the mage he once was, his sister Delf has open, maggot-riddled sores, horrid breath, and gas. They are both uniquely twisted and disgusting in obvious and subtle ways. Though I have to say that Delf does seem to care for her mount, a large dog, who she feeds maggots to.

While all this is going on, Willow went on a quest to find the League of Doorways and ask their assistance in saving Endra. She finds Wally, an old family friend. I don’t want to spoil how her quest turns out, but let me say that it wasn’t simple and the answer wasn’t what she expected.

Up front, we know there is a concern that a traitor exists in Zach’s little group. He’s vigilant, keeping his eyes on a possibility. The ending wasn’t what I expected and I look forward to having Book 3 on audio to continue the tale.

The Narration: I enjoyed Fred Wolinsky’s performance more in Book 2. I think his polish of his character voices increases with each book he does. Once again,  he had a variety of voices, both male and female, both human and nonhuman, and each was distinct. He did a great mechanical voice for Dr. Faraday and I really appreciate the extra effort that must have gone in to that.  Zach still sounded more like a 12 year old boy instead of one for a boy on the cusp of manhood but I don’t think this should deter folks from enjoying this series.

lavinia-portraitRIP9BannerWhat I Liked: High adventure; modified beasties; multiple plotlines to follow; Delf & throat make excellent villains; Willow’s quest to find the League of Doorways; unexpected ending.

What I Disliked:  Much of the time Zach’s voice sounded like a 12 year old instead of a 16 year old.

Tis the season for spooky suspense. I am participating in this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

What Others Think:

Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

Novels on the Run

 

Doorways: A Book of Vampires, Werewolves, & Black Magic by Tim O'Rourke

O'RourkeDoorwaysWhy I Read It: It was well suited to this spooky season.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the narrator (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Fantasy quest folks who like a touch of the dark.

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Ravenwoodgreys (2014)

Length: 7 hours 34 minutes

Series: Book 1 Doorways

Author’s Page

In a dreary isolated house somewhere in the UK, 16 year old Zach Black hates his uncle Thandel and wishes his sick sister, Anna, would recover swiftly. Zach and Anna recently lost their parents and were placed in the care of their bachelor uncle who is rather creepy. Zach stumbles upon a doorway into another world and is swept off to adventure by a very hairy man, the werewolf William Weaver. Once in Endra, a mirror of Earth, Zach is off and running for his life as zombies chase William and his companions, including the injured and unconscious vampire Neanna. Once they reach relative safety, they explain to Zach that their queen is dying and that Zach must help save her as she is the mirror twin of Zach’s own sister; if the Endra queen dies so does Anna.

Plenty of action follows Zach around as he tries to figure out the rules to Endra and search out a key and a box with a heart in it. Back home, Zach is merely a 16 year old kid but in Endra he is a Peacekeeper, complete with magically reloading crossbows. Lots of vile forces work against Zach and his friends, but the worst of them is Throat. He oversees the care of the dying queen and also directs Thandel’s ministrations of the weakening Anna. He also has spidepedes (spelling?) that are pretty creepy, even for this bug lover. Neanna, once she wakes up, and William are both forces to be reckoned with and are loyal friends to Zach. Their adventures take them back into Earth at one point (and it was quite fun to see their mere appearance terrorize the populace), through a haunted graveyard, and to a prison. William has a pretty detailed family background and he was the most in-depth character in the novel. I quite enjoyed learning about his motivations, past injuries, his shame, and his family.

I think this story is geared more for teens as some of the imagery was pretty simple. For example, referring to what would be a graveyard on Earth as a Gray Yard in Endra. However, while some things lacked imagination, there were plenty of beasties that did require the author’s imagination – such as the spidepedes. We get to know Zach through his actions and don’t get a whole lot on his back story. There are 3 female side characters and all 3 start off needing rescuing. Eventually, Neanna rallies and becomes a force in action and wit. For much of the book, Anna is a character to be pitied and hopefully rescued, though she does get to do a little independent action late in the book. The queen must still be rescued. There are 1 or 2 other minor female roles but they didn’t stand out. So most of the action is carried out by the males. I would have liked to see this more balanced. It’s a fantasy world, equality could happen. Still, I enjoyed it enough to check out Book 2 in the series.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a pretty good job with this book. He had a variety of voices, both male and female, both human and nonhuman, and each was distinct. I especially liked his voice for William, which had a werewolfish burr to it and the occasional howl. He also threw in some special effects, such as for the ghosts. They were well placed and weren’t overdone. He gave some of the ghosts a Scottish burr and some ghouls a Hispanic accent. While I personally felt the Hispanic accent was a little overdone (I hear Spanish weekly if not daily), it will probably work for most folks. I do have to say that most of the time the voice for Zach sounded more like a 12 year old boy instead of one for a boy on the cusp of manhood.

lavinia-portraitRIP9BannerWhat I Liked: Plenty of adventure; creepy beasties; William’s storyline and history; set up very well for a sequel.

What I Disliked: The women have limited roles; much of the time Zach’s voice sounded like a 12 year old instead of a 16 year old.

Tis the season for spooky suspense. I am participating in this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

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Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin

MartinDeadlyCuriositiesWhy I Read It: Urban fantasy and antiques, how could I say no?

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher via NetGalley (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Fans of ghosts, antiques, and items steeped in emotional resonance would enjoy this book.

Publisher: Solaris (2014)

Length: 454 pages

Series: Book 1 Deadly Curiosities

Author’s Page

Cassidy’s family has run Trifles & Folly, an antique shop in Charleston, South Carolina, since 1670. Cassidy’s business partner, Sorren (a Nordic vampire several centuries old), has worked with Cassidy’s family all that time, assisting them in tracking down and neutralizing dangerous magical and supernatural items. Cassidy’s employee, Teag (a man who has all but the PhD in history and some martial arts skills) has been brought into the know. Some mundane items start going spooky, and Cassidy and crew soon have their hands full with mysterious deaths, Shadow men, vicious supernatural hounds, and a scarred, withered man who may be behind it all.

This was a fast-paced urban fantasy with a twist: antiques. So, lots of history was tossed into the mix, and I loved it. Indeed, I had a hard time putting this book down. It was easy to get into, easy to connect with the characters, and plenty of fun to watch them battle supernatural beasties, a demon, and a determined mad man. I thoroughly enjoyed how the tale pulled in historical aspects of the local area and smoothly blended them with made up ‘facts’ for the sake of the plot. There’s an old Navy yard that becomes a focal point for the mystery of the story, complete with a history of shady business deals, slavery, and pirates.

Cassidy herself is well-rounded, having both strengths and weaknesses, concerns and confidence. She and the other main characters have to deal with getting injured, protecting each other’s backs, and eating regularly. There are few superhumans among this crew, and even Sorren (the vampire) has limitations. I enjoyed that Sorren was just another character – not some evil, icky bad guy, nor some romanticized love interest. Then we have Teag, and to some lesser extent, his partner Anthony. Teag was in the thick of things for most of the story, and Anthony put in a few appearances, trying hard to accept what Teag does for a living. I can definitely see these two being featured more heavily in future additions of the series. Lucinda, a local voudoun witch (or practitioner) calls upon the Loas for her brand of magic, offering the crew another layer of defense. And of course, her presence made it simple to pull in a few more bits of history.

As the story moves forward, a few more characters are brought in, so by the end you have a sizable list. But it was done very well, pacing the entrance of the characters throughout the book so I didn’t feel that I was ever overloaded with new characters, scrambling to keep them straight. My one little complaint is the final fight scene: I was pretty darn sure that some of the good guys had taken out one of the bad guys, only to have the bad guy rise two pages later to continue wreaking havoc. I reread the section 3 times and didn’t feel there was a clear transition. Perhaps the author wanted the reader to be surprised…..but the good guys didn’t seem surprised. Anyway, that is a very small criticism and it won’t keep me from reading further works by this author.

What I Liked:  Lots of historical tidbits; plenty of paranormal baddies that function within a set framework; the cover; Teag and Anthony; the vampire is not a love interest; Cassidy is a well-rounded character.

What I Disliked:  One minor thing about the final fight scene – but not a big deal.

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OnceUponATime8Tis the season for fantasy in all forms. Join the reading challenge Once Upon A Time, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. You can catch my intro post to this year’s challenge over HERE. Anyone can join this event, which runs from March 21 – June 20, 2014.