Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword by Keira Gillett

GillettZariaFierceAndTheEnchantedDrakelandSwordWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Michele Carpenter

Publisher: Keira Gillett (2015)

Length: 5 hours 14 minutes

Series: Book 2 Zaria Fierce

Author’s Page

Note: This is a series best read in order. So start with the most entertaining Book 1, Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest.

Continuing Zaria’s adventures in Norway, she and the boys have the chance to set sail to visit the giants! Who could say no to that? Yet even on the initial leg of their journey, Zaria feels that something is following her, perhaps even haunting her. No one else sees it or feels it in anyway so Zaria begins to doubt herself. And this is not an adventure for the faint of heart! Giants and elves and dwarfs! And don’t forget that shadow of the dragon Koll that seems to loom over everything.

In Book 1, Christoffer had to sit out most of the book since he was being held captive by the river troll Olaf. Now he’s free and he happily joins his friends in this latest adventure. Aleks, the changeling, once again uses his Stargazer to freeze time so they can leave without stirring a fuss with their parents. Geirr and Filip are definitely up for another adventure! Hector has asked them to come along in his quest to obtain a mighty sword that will aid him in freeing his son Hart, who was taken captive at the end of Book 1. Zaria feels quite a bit of responsibility for how things went wrong and she wants to make up for it by helping Hector anyway she can.

Once they board the ship, the kids learn the captain is a troll and they are a little leery. After all, their only experiences with trolls have been a bit negative. But they soon learn that Captain Bjarke is a good person and a friend to Hector. The land of the giants was quite fun. Pet woolly mammoth! Such great imagery. The first giant they meet, Ingdor, is working the harbor and the kids quickly have to become accustomed to either them or whatever they are standing on (like the ship Ursula) being picked up and moved about. Hector is hoping to barter for safe passage to the Dwarven lands but Oskar the Elevated and his wife Siela, her Altitudiness, are not willing.

The action amps up as they try a trickier way into the Dwarven halls. Unfortunately, they come across a group of tricksy elves. Zaria uses her wits to maneuver them into agreeing to three challenges. Things could go wrong in so many ways! Without spoiling anything, let me just say Zaria and crew eventually do get to chat with the Dwarves but it’s not as warm a welcome as Hector had been hoping for.

Both Aleks and Zaria are adopted and both have to deal with their fae heritage. Aleks has been told all his life to avoid it and that makes this trip extra hard for him. Zaria only found out about her fae heritage towards the end of Book 1 and it’s still a big, big mystery to her. But they aren’t the only ones dealing with fears. One of the lads has a great fear of being underground. Zaria is haunted by this apparition that only she can see from time to time. Indeed, the kids are growing up and part of that is facing these fears.

The ending was clever, dramatic, and I definitely felt for Zaria. Ugh! This girl will need therapy. She already carries some weight for the capture and imprisonment of Hart in Book 1. Now, she has to face the unexpected consequences of her well-intentioned actions. I look forward to seeing how Zaria saves the day or compounds the problem in Book 3.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Once again, Michele Carpenter did a great job. She has the perfect voice for Zaria and I love how she gives light Norwegian accents to the all the boys. There’s even one song that is actually sung (though I believe another voice actress came in and performed it). Still, it was nice to have that little addition to the book and it was well edited in – the volume was the same, etc.

What I Liked: There’s giants and one of them has a pet woolly mammoth!; Zaria and the boys learn that not all trolls are beastly brutes; the elves are tricky and condescending; the dwarves aren’t very cooperative; Zaria has this fear that she is being haunted;  both Aleks and Zaria have to start dealing with their fae heritage; a complicated ending but perfect set up for a hero to ride into Book 3 and save the day; excellent narration; great cover art.

What I Disliked: Nothing – great book!

What Others Think:

The Booklandia

Emily Reads Everything

Book Lover’s Life

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

ButcherGhostStoryWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2015)

Length: 17 hours 36 minutes

Series: Book 13 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: I feel that Death Masks, Book 5, is where reading this series out of order starts to do you an injustice. This book does work as a stand alone to some extent, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the previous books before you jump into this one.

In the previous book, Changes, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s finest (and only) wizard, lost everything in the gambit to save his daughter.  He lost his office, his apartment, his car, and broke his back. So he had to make a deal with the lesser of three evils. His ability to walk restored, he soldiered on and while he saved his daughter from the Red Court vampires he also lost his life at the end of Changes. So this story opens with ghost Harry in a train station. There he meets a familiar face, Karrin Murphy’s old partner who died in one of the earliest books. He gives Harry some info but mostly evades questions as he ushers Harry over to Captain Murphy’s office –  Karrin’s long deceased father. There Harry is given a choice – he can continue on his ghostly journey (and, no, they don’t know what waits outside of their ghostly city) or he can go back as a ghost to prevent harm from coming to three of his friends.

Of course, we all know what Harry decides. So he’s dropped off outside Mortimer’s because he’s the only guy Harry knows that has the ability to reliably communicate with ghosts. There we meet one of Mortimer’s protectors, Sir Steward. Sir Steward explains more about who the ghost world works and Harry has to be rather careful to not think too loudly less he attract ghosts who want to devour his essence. I really liked Sir Steward. He had a dry sense of humor and a strong sense of honor and a very solid idea of who and what he is, which has allowed his ghost to live on as long as it has.

Harry had an uphill battle the entire time in this book. It was crazy. He’s been dead for 6 months and while no one retrieved his body, there was far too much blood left at the scene. So lots of folks have trouble believing that either Harry is dead (Karrin) or that he is a ghost zipping around trying to rescue folks (nearly everyone). Even Mortimer, who accepts that Harry’s dead, doesn’t want anything to do with his ghost. But Harry saves his life and Mortimer gives him a small amount of his time, initially. Harry has to keep on hacking away (pleading, bargaining, threatening) at Mortimer to get more of his time.

Things have gone to rubble while Harry was away. Molly has become unpredictable and homeless. Karrin lost her job. The streets are dangerous now in nearly every neighborhood. Things that had stayed away from Chicago because Harry protected it have come creeping in. But not all is doom and gloom. Mister, Harry’s cat, made it out of the fire in the last book and found a decent home. Mouse, his dog, is happily guarding his daughter who also landed in a loving home. There’s plenty more along those lines, some of which jerked some emotions out of me. Harry, in classic ghost story form, gets a good look at what his presence meant to those that cared for him.

OK, so besides all the feels in this book, there’s plenty of action too. Harry has been tasked with finding his own killer, which is no easy feat. Then this bully and low-level magic user makes his presence known by ordering a drive-by shooting. Through him, Harry learns that one of his old enemies is in town, but this enemy has a new and powerful sidekick. So Harry is floating  around (or sometimes zipping around) Chicago learning to use his ghostly skills and fighting crime. Yay! He’s also learned to make use of that grave that the Black Court vampire lady bought for him several books back. A ghost has to rest sometimes.

Since memories have power in ghostland, and can also be used to trade for favors, we get to learn more of Harry’s past. I was particularly intrigued by the memories of his time with Justin DuMorn. Harry keeps getting more and more complicated – and I like it!

The ending was fantastic! I loved the final fight scenes and how folks came together to do what they could. It was a lot of fun but also filled with tension and since Butcher killed off Harry I have this fear that he might start bumping off favorite characters. Lots of good stuff went down in that final fight scene.

Afterwards, we learn a few more tidbits. The mystery of Harry’s killer has been revealed. Harry has a chance to see his family members, such as Thomas. I have to say that I felt Butcher bent the rules just a little on the Thomas/Justine love but don’t touch thing. It was sweet but I also felt it was a cheat. Anyway, it’s such a minor thing. The ending did have one last surprise, so I hope you have the next book handy. This was another excellent addition to one of my favorite series.

Narration: This book was originally narrated by John Glover but fans had become accustomed to James Marsters’s performances and didn’t want a switch in narrators this late in the series. So Penguin Audio re-recorded it with James Marsters. Hooray! His performance was spot on, as always. Harry has some really complex emotions in this book, usually about his daughter, and Marsters did an excellent job of getting those across to the listener. I also loved his voices for Molly as she impersonates various characters from the original Star Trek crew.

What I Liked: Harry has a whole new set of rules to figure out; the key to the mystery of who killed Harry; what became of his friends and pets after his death; Mortimer’s continued resistance to become entangled in Harry’s ghostly affairs; the big final fight scene; the warp up; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: There is this teensy criticism about Thomas and Justine and their work around.

What Others Think:

Knite Writes

Love Vampires

The Ranting Dragon

iO9

Fantasy Book Critic

Audiobook Giveaway & Interview: Brian E. Niskala, Author of Rhinehoth

NiskalaRhinehothFolks, please welcome Brian Niskala to the blog today. We chat about horror writers, financial growth, cycling, and a porpoise scare – plus much more. Indeed, Brian is quite the entertaining interview! There’s an audiobook copy of his suspenseful horror novel Rhinehoth up for grabs, so scroll to the bottom to check out the giveaway!

What makes you cringe?

Wow, what a question to lead off with. People who Mix capital and lower case letters when they hand write something. The use of the word “mine’s” as “That is mine’s” or at least I think they intend to use an apostrophe. People who think they drive a car/truck well and pass on the right. Okay I could go on and on…

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Works of Shakespeare, I studied them in High School English and hated it. But now I see the root and invention of so many words came from him that I would like time to read all his works. I’ve actually read the Bible 3 times and actually have become rather opinioned on the whole thing. As a result, I like to read the bible every so often as a refresher. Not that I consider myself religious, but more spiritual as I have become older and wiser. I have in fact also read the translated Koran and Torah, but more so as a book, rather than a study. The Koran and Torah I would like to revisit and take my time to understand them as I do the Bible.

NiskalaArticlesInHorrorIDo you have any phobias?

No phobias that I can think of, I’m paranoid about some things, but no so much as to be a conspiracy junkie. Well now that I think of it, I could say I have a phobia about sharks. I mean I will swim in the ocean, or rather wade in it. But if I can’t see my feet, I’m too deep. I had a scare when I was a young teen. I was swimming in a bay off my uncle’s boat and something rubbed up against me. When I say I turned white and froze, I turned pale white and almost sank because I stopped moving my arms and legs. It ended up being a porpoise, similar to a dolphin. But when its fin broke the top of the water, I freaked! Not to mention I had recently watched Jaws and to this day I will not go deep enough in the ocean to swim. I have a lake by my house with a cool looking beach. I even freak out a little swimming over to this floating dock we have about 40 feet from the beach. If a piece of lake weed hits me or a fish, I nearly jump right out of the water!

In my experience, some of the best fiction is based on facts and history. How do you build your research into your fictional works?

I write both fiction and non-fiction so I find myself being a research bee. I like to read and re-read a lot of books. I find myself reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, often. Then into my research, I try to craft characters around Campbell’s research of what works over the millenniums. I draw a lot from biblical reference, more so for the familiarity that people will associate with and as those stories have been so well crafted over time.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you chose to do?

Besides writing, I am an avid investor. I have a book out on investing and I’ve always been interested in the stock and bond markets. I actually spend more time researching stocks and financials than writing. Writing fiction actually gives my mind a break from writing my non-fiction works. So in short, I would have probably chosen to be a stock broker or hedge fund manager at this point of my life.

In 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 have a Twitter account listed under the name Rhinehoth, fitting enough. I have about 19,000+ followers which that number seems to grow daily. I use Twitter to help promote my books as well as other author’s works that I enjoy. I have not started an official blog as of yet, but think that is my next social engagement. Self-promotion is paramount to being successful in just about anything, especially in book marketing and sales in general.

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

As a kid I was high energy! To say the least I had trouble sitting still, so writing was initially the furthest from my mind. I wanted to be a ship captain from an early age. However I did write this adventure story that got some national recognition when I was in 5th grade, I went to a couple of writing workshops as a result but wasn’t taken too serious as I was so young. My short lived ship captain and writing dream was put on hold for another passion. I had a friend who was interested in cycling and as a result I became a very avid cyclist. My love for cycling grew and soon I found myself pursuing a position on the US and Olympic cycling teams. So needless to say, my athletics took over as my primary focus. I began writing seriously after a long term bout with unemployment after the 2008 economic hiccup. It was either sit on the couch and “drink” (I haven’t and don’t drink alcohol) or keep active, productive and write. I had an opportunity to start-over and reinvent myself. I thought of what I dreamed of as a kid, being a captain of a ship was possible, if I bought the ship and captained it myself at my age. I remembered the excitement of getting national recognition for my story when I was younger and that is when my mind became flooded with countless book ideas. From there I knew what I wanted to do, write.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Edgar Allan Poe would be my first pick. He was the only one that truly wrote anything that kept my attention span in High School English. He would order blackbird pie of course…

Alexandre Dumas as he is my favorite author. The Count of Monte Cristo is my all-time favorite read. Said to be an expert cook himself, I would think where ever we ate he would order the house special to learn from and test his taste buds.

Agatha Christie I like her writing a lot, it gives you a glimpse into early 20th century with people’s thought patterns of her day. Her mystery/detective novels would keep me reading for hours. She would order the most exotic thing on the menu.

Jane Austen I love. Her novels are great reads and give you a real good representation of her time period. It truly is remarkable how our language has changed over a few centuries. The fact she died at 41 is a tragedy considering if she had lived another decade or more we probably would have a few more master pieces from her. She would probably order gruel and soft boiled eggs and boiled potatoes…😉

H.G. Wells had a significant impact on my vision of the future. The fact he wrote about complex futures in a time period where the technology was still rather primitive is amazing! Somehow I always pictured him eating steak, baked potato and beer.

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in Horror literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Hell House by Richard Matheson

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

The Shining by Stephen King

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson

I would choose these 6, a nice number representing monsters, ghosts, demonic possession, and one who was driven mad. Classic mixed with some modern tales. My class would be based around how one’s inner thoughts can create a hell on earth.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I am a father of 4. Half of them are grown but still live home and the other half in school. They keep me pretty busy. But I am a voracious reader and audiobook listener as I travel often for business. I am well past the 1,000 mark of books read/listened to! But my true passion, above and beyond anything else is finance. Believe it or not, most of my daily thought pattern is how to invest my money to create more wealth.

Places to Stalk Brian E. Niskala

Website

Twitter

GoodReads

Amazon

Book Blurb for Rhinehoth

NiskalaRhinehothThis AudioBook has a full cast of characters! Over half a dozen actors and actresses were cast to complete this audio drama production.

Rhinehoth – Centuries ago, a great castle was built in the mountains of Germany’s Black Forest. Its ancient guardians still thrive in its walls, forever protecting its dark secrets, holding captive an enemy that threatens their very existence. Foretold is a story of an ancient warrior that is to return to the castle to free the captive Vampire Prince.

Simon Roberts was a petty thief who fled England to escape Scotland Yard after a series of unsuccessful jewelry store heists. He was recruited to do a job in Germany where he was to simply drive the getaway car while providing a look out. He thought this was going to be an easy job and a way to break into the German crime scene. But things go terribly wrong, and he ended up being the only survivor of the botched heist. Simon is quickly sentenced to a prison called Rhinehoth. This is where Germany sent the worst of the worst, surely not a place for a petty thief such as himself.

Rhinehoth is a great German castle that was converted in the late 1930s to a Stalag for war criminals of World War II. The converted prison’s modern day inhabitants are relentlessly tortured, starved, and sleep deprived. This contributes to the prisoners’ delusional visions that help hide the truth and keeps Rhinehoth’s secrets. Their captors are the army of Werewolves who have survived the centuries off the very flesh and blood of Germany’s worst forgotten criminals.

Simon, imprisoned, becomes plagued with visions from his subconscious ancient past with confusion of his modern day consciousness. He discovers through his visions that he is the ancient warrior Guthrie, who has come to free the Vampire Prince and all the captives, while saving the world from a dark plan of biblical proportions that has been orchestrated over the centuries!

GIVEAWAY!

Brian is offering up an Audible.com audiobook copy of Rhinehoth! Hooray! To enter the drawing, do the Rafflecopter thing below or answer these questions in the comments: 1) Do you have an Audible.com account? 2) What makes you cringe? 3) Leave a way for me to contact you if you win. This giveaway ends August 25th, midnight my time.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rhinehoth by Brian E. Niskala

NiskalaRhinehothWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: John Pennington

Publisher: Brian E. Niskala (2016)

Length: 10 hours

Author’s Page

Poor Simon Roberts. He doesn’t know what he’s in for. He fled England because he had made one too many mistakes in the criminal world. Now in Germany he hopes to make his entry into the jewelry heist business by acting as the getaway driver. Things go very, very wrong for him and he ends up in Rhinehoth prison, which is an isolated ancient castle that was converted to a prison in WWII. Rhinehoth has many secrets and Simon is afraid of most of them.

Earlier this year, I read the classic The Sound of His Horn by Sarban and this spooky, suspenseful tale has echoes of that classic. Isolated German castle – Check! Aristocratic jailers bent on a ‘higher’ purpose – Check! Strange, beast like qualities in some of the humans – Check! Dark mystery and deep suspense – Check! If you have enjoyed that classic, then I think you would like this book because it has much of the same flavor but with more going on. There’s werewolves and vampires and an ancient hero come to life and deep questions about choosing morally right over instinct. Quite frankly, I wish we had had two days of thunderstorms so I could listen to this book with lightning flashing outside my windows and rolling thunder above.

Simon Roberts starts off as a fairly simple man. Stuff always ‘happens’ to him (he’s never the architect of his own circumstances, according to him). Indeed, he’s a little bit of a whiner. Then he gets sent to Rhinehoth and stuff really does start happening to him that is weird and dangerous and often leaves bruises. I started to feel for the guy. For a chunk of the book, he does fumble around, simply trying to serve out his time. Then this mix of curiosity and self-preservation pushes him to look around a bit more. With his friends Mouse and Michael, they come across some really questionable things, like lots of bodies hanging suspended in vats. Ugh!

Dr. Maxine Huellen is the daughter of the warden (Adolph). Well, adopted daughter. She has a lot of secrets. She’s got these ice blue eyes and Simon finds he’s very drawn to her. In fact, he has several sexual dreams of her. The story makes much out of these dreams, but I have to say that Simon is dreaming what most of the inmates are dreaming, since it appears that Maxine in is the only female on the premises. For much of the story, she is the only female and nearly her entire role is as the sex object/object of affection, though we do occasionally get glimmers that she actually has a degree and does use it from time to time. A few other ladies appear much later in the book, such as Esmerelda (who is highly sexualized) and some witches.

Simon starts having these rather vivid memories that he’s not sure are his memories. The first one is from his childhood and involves wolves. Then a little later in the story he has a very, very long flashback of a dream that explains a chunk of the Rhinehoth history. While I enjoyed this part of the story, it really did take me out of the main story line for a significant amount of time. Also, I felt the timeline became a bit muddled. The book description talks about ancient times, centuries past. Yet I think that tanks and Hitler were mentioned in this long flashback, so I was definitely confused as to what happened when.

The last two or three hours of the book felt really sped up to me. A lot happens in those last hours whereas the pace has been steady throughout the rest of the book. For instance, Simon takes several weeks to become a trained fighting man in the space of perhaps three sentences. Still, the ending did maintain the tension we’ve had for the entire book and Simon has this big chance to show his true grit. This final bit of the book really plays out questions of souls, the morale good, might vs. right, etc. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the end, I just wish it had the same page time as the rest of the book. All in all, it was a worthy suspenseful tale of werewolves and vampires that relied on characters and plot and not so much on gore and body count.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: The narration is OK. The main narrator, John Pennington, sounds bored most of the time. Then other character voices (and I think some are performed by other narrators though I can’t find a credit to them) cut in and out, sometimes overlapping Pennington’s narration by a beat or two, and sometimes they aren’t the same volume. Then there are some sound effects here and there, but for most of the story they are so quiet I am wondering what they are and if they are really on the audiobook. The editing does get better as the story moves forward. The ladies especially put a lot of emotion into their characters. In fact, the performance of all the female characters is very theatrical and shows a distinct difference to Pennington’s subdued performance.

What I Liked: Plenty of suspense; ancient German castle with a dark history; Simon and friends risk much in trying to figure out what is going on; werewolves and vampires!; some deeper questions get to play out later in the book.

What I Disliked: The timeline of the backstory was a bit muddled; the ending didn’t have the same pacing as the rest of the book; the narration was mediocre.

What Others Think:

HorrorNews.net

The Audio Book Reviewer

S.P.I.R.I.T.

Taliesin Meets the Vampires

Bloodshot by Cherie Priest

PriestBloodshotHeldigWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Natalie Ross

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2011)

Length: 11 hours 16 minutes

Series: Book 1 Cheshire Red Reports

Author’s Page

Cheshire Red is a vampire and an acquisitions expert (thief). Raylene likes that many people assume Cheshire Red is a man and she’s not about to dissuade them, enjoying working in the shadows as she does. Ian, another vampire who is oddly blind, has hired her to track down his medical records from his enforced stay at a secret government complex. Yet before she can dig into this case, things start to unravel in her cushy little life in Seattle – someone breaks into her warehouse and someone else blows her well laid cover. She drops it all to follow a thin lead in Atlanta. As Raylene continues to snoop into Ian’s affairs, things get more and more risky. Before you know it, her best defense is a military-trained drag queen and her best offense is one seriously ticked off blind vampire.

This book was a lot of fun. Raylene definitely has a fluid sense of morals with few hard sticking points. She takes pleasure in her work – removing the priceless and rare from the rich and pretentious. She’s used Seattle as the base for her operations for a few decades now;  hence, the warehouse where she stores (or hoards) some of her collection as a financial safety net. There’s also two homeless kids, Pepper and Domino, who she lets live there. She doesn’t really like kids but for some reason keeps the heat and electricity on in one section of the building for them. Oh, and makes sure they have a cell phone to call her. And she checks in on them regularly. Perhaps she brings them food. Not that they’re pets or anything. As you can see, Raylene has this tough exterior and this gooey caramel soft center.  I really liked all the snark and Ray’s enjoyment of her own sexuality and being a vampire. I also like that she’s prone to panic attacks and that her powers don’t make her invincible – just really hard to kill.

Ian is a bit of a quandary. It’s very unusual for a vampire to have any debilitating injury that becomes permanent. So Ian’s loss of sight is disturbing. If it can be done to one vampire, it can be done to another. He also uses a ghoul, Cal, which Raylene doesn’t like. However as she gets to know the two of them a bit more, she starts to reconsider her views on ghouls. Cal obviously still has a mind of his own and Ian treats Cal with respect and it’s obvious he needs some amount of help being blind. Still, there are plenty of unanswered questions surrounding Ian and he is indeed very reluctant to elaborate on what little he has already told her.

Then we toss in a military-grade highly driven mad scientist and a large number or highly-trained military ‘acquisition experts’ that want Raylene and perhaps even want Ian back and everyone has to scatter to the four winds. Raylene ends up in Atlanta chasing down a lead. This is where my second favorite character, Adrian (aka Sister Rose), comes into the picture. Sister Rose is a drag queen and great at her nightly performances. Adrian is ex-military and has some specialty training. He initially becomes Raylene’s unwilling ally. Adrian was great with all the glitz and fringe and yet muscle and sensible behavior. I like that we never find out whether he’s straight, gay, or bi, or celibate. Raylene is too polite to ask.

There’s plenty of action and interesting characters in this urban fantasy. The ending was solid. We lose a little and gain a little and have a ton of questions for Book 2. Ian definitely has some some things to follow up on. I’m hoping Adrian will continue to be a part of the series. While Raylene and crew took out several of the questionable military bad guys, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them.

Narration: Natalie Ross did an awesome job with this book. All the characters are distinct and her male characters are great. She does this remarkable thing with Adrian’s two personas (Adrian versus Sister Rose). There’s also various accents that she does well. It’s just a very, very good performance.

What I Liked: Our main ‘hero’ doesn’t particularly act or think like a hero; Raylene isn’t all sharp elbows and hefty boot kicks – she’s also got a soft spot for homeless kids and has the occasional panic attack; Ian has his mysteries; Adrian has his fringed sparkly g-string; together, they have an enemy worth kicking in the teeth.

What I Disliked: Nothing – too much fun!

What Others Think:

Fantasy Book Review

Love Vampires

Alternative Magazine Online

Geek Syndicate

My Bookish Ways

The Illustrated Page

The BiblioSanctum

Pissed Off Geek

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest by Keira Gillett

GillettZariaFierceAndTheSecretOfGloomwoodForestWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Michelle Carpenter

Publisher: Keira Gillett (2015)

Length: 4 hours 2 minutes

Series: Book 1 Zaria Fierce

Author’s Page

Zaria and her family recently moved to Norway and Zaria has made a few friends already and is enjoying learning the myths and legends of Norway. One day on the way to school, she comes across Olaf the river troll who threatens to eat her. She counteroffers with a feast to be delivered in three days time. He lets her pass. However, she doesn’t hold up her end of the bargain and she finds there are consequences. Pretty soon, she and her friends are embarking on a quest to save a friend, Christoffer, who was taken captive by Olaf.

This was quite a fun children’s book that I think will appeal to many adults as well. First, I really like the set up. We’re in Norway so we have the great frozen forests and water ways. Then there’s Zaria, a female non-Caucasian lead in a fantasy story. Lastly, Zaria made a mistake in choosing to break her deal with the river troll Olaf, which sets this whole adventure in motion.

Zaria gathers up her allies (friends of Christoffer’s) and one of them has a mysterious magical device (a star gazer) that can pause time, allowing them to head off on their quest without alerting their parents. With Aleks, Filip, and Geirr, Zaria heads off into the Norwegian wilderness. And I’ll just tuck my one little quibble in here – Zaria is the only female character for much of the book, tho eventually we do get an elf lord’s wife and some nameless female warriors and the mention of a Queen Helena. I would have liked a few more female characters.

Pretty soon, they come across a winter wyvern (Ooooooo!) named Norwick and his human-like friend Hector, who is one of the elfvolken. Zaria and the boys aren’t too sure how much to trust Hector but Zaria has formed a bond with Norwick and they elect to travel with them for now. Without getting spoilery, the author pulls in trolls and an the Wild Hunt! Yes! I love stories of the Wild Hunt and the thought of trolls riding the Wild Hunt is enough to send shivers up my spine!

There’s plenty of dashing about and trying to save one another and trickery and defiance and a bit of regret and swearing to make it all right again. Yeah. It was good. It’s a great adventure with the boys and Zaria helping each other along the way. I really like that Zaria owns up to her mistakes throughout the book and that her mistakes also make her human and real. There’s also real camaraderie between her and the boys and she also does her best to treat her allies with respect. The ending had Zaria in a tough position and she had to make a choice. Such a tough one! But now things are set up perfectly for Book 2.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Michelle Carpenter was great. She has this perfect voice for young Zaria and light Norwegian accents for all the boys. I loved her gravelly voices for the trolls. She also had rich voices for the elves as described in the book. She also did a great job of getting the characters’s emotions across to the listener. Great performance!

What I Liked: Zaria’s character – real, flawed, heroic; great book cover!; plenty of magical folks out in the woods; Norwick the winter wyvern; the quest to save Christoffer ends in a tough choice; great narration.

What I Disliked: Zaria is the only female character for much of the book.

What Others Think:

The Booklandia

Emily Reads Everything

Book Lover’s Life

The Atomic Sea Vol. 2 by Jack Conner

ConnerTheAtomicSeaVol1Where I Got It: Review copy.

Narrator: Ray Greenley

Publisher: Jack Conner (2015)

Length: 6 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Atomic Sea

Author’s Page

Note: This is Volume 2 in the series and I feel this is a series best read in sequence. Volume 1 is freaking awesome but it also gives you a good basis for the characters’s motives in Volume 2

I so very much enjoyed Book 1 and then got distracted by life and other books. But I am very glad to be back in the world of the Atomic Sea. Vol. 1 set the stage with the war and the messed up oceans and the tainted people. An unlikely group forms – they aren’t quite all friends but they do all have some shared enemies. Now in this volume we will learn more about the motives behind the war, about what exactly created the Atomic Sea, and about how little chance they actually have of saving their beleaguered world.

Dr. Avery is still alive and kicking and he, the mysterious Layanna (who was pulled whole from the sea in Vol. 1), and their new odd friends (Muirblog, Janx, Simon, Hildra, and Byron) are just hanging out on a mountainside trying to plan their next move when they see a flying ray (possibly hunting them) in the distance. Yet before they can move out, the Mikvandi attack. They’ve got fish faces and weapons, so you know Avery will probably be having nightmares. Layanna in her weird Cthulu-amoeba-like form saves them only to have the Mikvandi declare her one of their gods (one of the Minuthra) and insist on escorting her to the other gods. Layanna is amenable to going with them because she believes the Minuthra will have an active altar, which is a kind of other dimensional portal. She wishes to contact her friends for very secret reasons which she reveals later in the book and which would be spoilery to chat about in detail here.

Things don’t go as planned and the whole lot of them make an escape attempt. Only some of them get out on a dirigible but they have a direction to go and a quest that they adopt because if they don’t then what hope do they have? Layanna needs another active altar and the crew need answers. Layanna can only give them some but they are kind of mind blowing. It’s all kinds of wonderful messed up.

So if I tell you more of the plot, I will be in spoiler land, so I won’t. In broad strokes, I just thoroughly enjoyed this book every bit as much as Vol. 1. If you eat tainted meat from the Atomic Sea, you start getting these weird fishy mutations – and no one has pinned down a predictable trend (will it be gills and bulging eyes or shark skin and a spiny mohawk?) nor a real way to cure it. So we have these humans who have managed to stay all human, such as Dr. Avery, and then you have humans who had no choice but to eat tainted fish to survive and have these fishy attributes (like our big warrior Janx), and then you got Layanna who can have a human form or her other dimensional Cthulu-like form. I just love all the clashes and chances for odd friendships this causes in the book.

One of my favorite, possibly amoral, characters from Vol. 1, Cpt. Sheridan, returns in this book but not till perhaps half way through. I’m glad she’s back on scene because she adds some real angst to the sometimes emo Dr. Avery. These two bounce off each other in ways that highlight both Avery’s humanity and Sheridan’s coldness.

Then there’s the human sacrifices and the Minuthra gods and dirigibles and giant caverns that house whole cities. It’s like HP Lovecraft and Jules Verne got together and had a baby and named that baby Jack Conner who gave us The Atomic Sea series. We got adventure, a touch of guttural terror, the fear of the unknown, things way larger than you messing with your life, and good people stuck in bad situations. Yeah. It’s that good.

I was provided this audiobook at no charge from the narrator in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks!

The Narration: Ray Greenley did a great job with Vol. 1 and he continues to do so with Vol. 2. He does amazingly well with all the distorted fish voices. He makes Sheridan sound ice-cold but then he can switch to the emo Dr. Avery in the same conversation, back and forth multiple times, without missing a beat. Excellent performance.  

What I Liked: Sea mutations on land!; Dr. Avery continues to be a complicated guy; we learn some significant things about Layanna; dirigibles!; human sacrifices and daring escapes; whole towns hiding in giant caverns; excellent narration; even tho the cover art hasn’t changed, it’s still a great cover. 

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