Aranya by Marc Secchia

Narrator: Shiromi Arserio

Publisher: Marc Secchia (2015)

Length: 14 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 1 Shapeshifter Dragons

Author’s Page

Aranya, princess of the island kingdom of Immadia, is given up as hostage to the invading Sylakian Empire. Chained aboard a Sylakian dragonship (dirigible), she manages to save the commanding officer, a Warhammer, from a windroc. She has a bit of freedom once imprisoned with all the other hostages of subjugated nations but that doesn’t prevent the hostages from forming cliques and taunting one another. Matters get out of hand and Aranya is sentenced to die. She is shackled to a stone and tossed off a high escarpment. That’s when her life changes forever as she shapeshifts into a dragon. This might just be the turning point in the war with Sylakia.

There’s much to be enjoyed in this book. I liked Aranya as a character even though she didn’t wow me. She’s not perfect but she has a good heart. She has her strengths and weaknesses but she also has some good companions to help her along the way. My one quibble would be that she’s a little too good, only having minor flaws. She was rather bland and this made her a little boring.

Meanwhile, her best friend and dragonrider is Zip (short for Zuziana), another princess hostage. They don’t start off as friends but they eventually find merit in each other and bond over shared experiences. Zip has a mouth on her short frame and isn’t afraid to use it, like her archery skills.

The plot was in two pieces for me. In fact, it felt like this was two books pressed into one. First, Aranya must discover who and what she is. That whole bit about being tossed off a cliff that’s mentioned in the book’s description doesn’t happen until several hours into the book. The second half of the book is Aranya and Zip running some guerrilla tactics on the Sylakian air navy and eventually having a really big battle to determine the fate of the island kingdoms.

Let’s talk a little about the male characters. Mostly, they are either there for comfort (like Aranya’s dad) or are of a romantic interest (like Yolathian and the formerly nameless monk). Occasionally they get to do stuff and have a few meaningful lines. That said, most of their plot-related actions happen off the page and the reader only hears about it after the fact. It is both refreshing and odd to have a book that wouldn’t pass a reverse-Bechdel test.

Nak and Odya, an older couple who have experience with both natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters, get to play teachers and stand-in grandparents to Aranya. Sometimes this was very sweet and sometimes Nak was outright creepy with all his lecherous comments to and about Aranya and later Zip. Odya and Nak know something about Aranya’s parentage but are reluctant to give up all their secrets. Aranya’s mom is something of a mystery throughout the book and that’s one of the things I liked.

There’s also warrior pygmies on some of the isles and Zip and Aranya have to trade with them. Then there’s the dragonets, which are small dragons with limited intelligence and speech. This last bit really reminded me of some of Anne McCaffrey’s books. As a biologist, I got a kick out of the info about dragon anatomy – 3 hearts, 7 stomachs, etc. After so many mentions about dragon digestion I did start to wonder about dragon poo. For a good chunk of the book, Aryana in dragon form is being tracked by the Sylakians and spoor is a useful find when tracking anything. Alas, no dragon dung.

As the story goes on, Aryana’s powers grow. At first, this seemed natural and I was interested. Later on though, she has so many powers that she’s getting close to be invincible and I found this a bit boring. I like my heroes to have limited abilities and therefore, they sometimes have to rely either on others or on their wits to get them out of a jam.

All told, it’s a good solid start to an epic dragon fantasy series. The two main characters are pretty interesting and the world they inhabit has a lot left to explore.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobook Worm.

The Narration: Shiromi Arserio makes a really good Aranya, both princess and dragon. I enjoyed the quick banter between Aranya and Zip throughout the book. For the most part, she usually had distinct character voices but sometimes there were a few conversations where the distinctions became muddled. The male character voices really needed some masculinity. She was great at imbuing characters with the correct emotions. 

What I Liked: A world made up of islands; natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters; Zip and Aranya make a great team; pygmies; little dragons; dirigibles; Odya playing grandmother.

What I Disliked: Could use some gender balancing; Nak is creepy; Aranya’s power grow so numerous and powerful during the book that she becoems a little boring; male characters don’t sound particularly masculine.

Check out more reviews on the blog tour.

Bookish Giveaway & Interview: Marc Secchia, Author of the Shapeshifter Dragons Series

Scroll to the bottom for the giveaway!

Folks, please give a warm welcome to historical fiction author Marc Secchia. I recently had the pleasure of listening to his book, Aranya: Shapeshifter Dragons Book 1 which follows the dragonish adventures of Aranya and her friends.

If you could give any literary villain a happy ending who would you chose?

Snape – well, he’s not so much a villain, but he is a beautifully conflicted character who I found myself rooting for almost despite my instincts. Very well-written indeed.

The public library of your dreams has arrived! What special collections does it hold?

African fiction. I believe this is one of the most underrepresented fields of literary endeavour and I’d love to see powerful African voices taking their place on the world stage.

If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?

I’d choose a dragon. They are Fantasy’s finest and most magical creatures and they’d undoubtedly possess the skills and magic to pull off a crazy rescue.

If you could, what book or movie or TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

Definitely The Lord of the Rings. It’s the classic fantasy tale of the insidious, corrupting power of evil and the courage of those who choose to stand against it. Peter Jackson did an awesome job of bringing the tale to the big screen, but I still love the rhythm, detail and power of the original text. I’d love to dive into that world afresh because it’s just incredibly immersive and every detail is thought out.

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?

There are so many terrific books out there that would make amazing movies, it’s hard to choose. Let me throw out a classic author’s name here – Anne McCaffrey. I think it’s a travesty her works have never made it to screen, although some of the mores are a bit dated I think this series would still resonate with so many people, not just Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans. I’d play Robinton, the Master Harper of Pern.

If you could sit down and have tea (or a beer) with 5 fictional characters, who would you invite to the table?

Let’s see … Dumbledore since we’re having a smallish Potteresque vibe here, Aladdin if he doesn’t come in his canned-and-potted Disney guise, since he’d have plenty of fun tales to tell, and it’s weird I know but I think Mulan just kicks it in her world and time. Two more (scratches chin) … Killashandra from one of my favourite books of all time, the Crystal Singer omnibus by Anne McCaffrey, and Aragorn from LOTR. Maybe I’d throw in a dragon just to liven things up. Toothless is awesome but not much of a conversationalist. He’d just have to make funny faces.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I live and work in Ethiopia so that’s a little different to most. I love to play music – I play a range of woodwinds such as flute, panflute and Irish whistle – and when I’ve a quiet evening I love nothing more than a relax with an epic book.

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

Ha ha, it’s really boring, but it’s one of those “learn-to-read” books about Kathy and Mark I think. After that must come Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and then I had a Hardy Boys binge before graduating to older books.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Well, I’ve a sale coming up on 15th/16th August when I’m going to take a run at getting one of my books into the Top 10 free books on all Amazon. If you’d like to sample my work, Aranya will be free on the 15th and it is a bestseller in Coming of Age fantasy. http://smarturl.it/draconic

Secondly, I’m really excited about the release of Dragonstar on August 16th. It’s the 4th book in my Dragonfriend series and the culmination of the series. http://smarturl.it/dragonstar

I think you’ll love the cover art for this series – do check it out, thanks!

Check out more interviews, spotlights, & reviews on the blog tour.

About Author Marc Secchia:

Marc is a South African-born dragon masquerading as an author, who loves writing about dragons and Africa, preferably both at the same time. He lives and works in Ethiopia with his wife and 4 children, 2 dogs and a variable number of marabou storks that roost on the acacia trees out back. On a good night there are also hyenas patrolling the back fence.

He’s the author of 21 fantasy books in 3 languages (2 more languages coming this year – watch this space!), including 8 rip-roaring dragon fantasy bestsellers. Dragonfriend won a Gold Award for Fantasy in the 2016 IPPY Book Awards. Look out for Whisper Alive, his latest release. The 4th tale in the Dragonfriend series, Dragonstar, is coming soon!

When he’s not writing about Africa or dragons Marc can be found travelling to remote locations. He thinks there’s nothing better than standing on a mountaintop wondering what lies over the next horizon.

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Amazon ~ GoodReads

Synopsis of Aranya:

Chained to a rock and tossed off a cliff by her boyfriend, Aranya is executed for high treason against the Sylakian Empire. Falling a league into the deadly Cloudlands is not a fate she ever envisaged. But what if she did not die? What if she could spread her wings and fly?

Long ago Dragons ruled the Island-World above the Cloudlands. But their Human slaves cast off the chains of Dragonish tyranny. Humans spread across the Islands in their flying Dragonships, colonizing, building, and warring. Now the all-conquering Sylakians have defeated the last bastion of freedom – the Island-Kingdom of Immadia.

Evil has a new enemy. Aranya, Princess of Immadia. Dragon Shapeshifter.

Series Note

There is a companion series to Aranya, set in the same unique Island-World above the Cloudlands. Aranya is the last of the Dragons – or is she? Find out why the Dragons disappeared in The Pygmy Dragon, now available on Kindle.

Audible ~ Amazon ~ iTunes ~ Audio Excerpt

About Narrator Shiromi Arserio:

A native of London, England, Shiromi Arserio is a stage actor, voice talent and audiobook narrator. She holds a B.A. in Theatre from Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. In addition to narrating dozens of audiobooks, her voice can be heard in documentaries, e-learning projects and video games such as Nancy Drew: The Shattered Medallion. Shiromi currently resides in the Seattle area with her husband and her two furbabies.

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ SoundCloud ~ IMDB

GIVEAWAY!!!

The giveaway is for a $50 Amazon gift Card. Open internationally! Ends August 16th, 2017.

Aranya Giveaway: $50 Amazon Gift Card

Interview: Jeremy Flagg, Author of the Children of Nostradamus Series

Folks, please give a warm welcome to author Jeremy Flagg. We chat about his love of graphic novels, the hope for a Salvatore-based tabletop game, and plenty more.

Is there a genre or literary niche that you feel hasn’t gotten its deserved amount of attention?

Currently with the boom of comic book movies and TV shows, I’m honestly surprised the same hasn’t happened in the literary world. I grew up on comic books, in fact, it’s how I learned to read. However, the jump from illustrated stories to novelization seems to be a slow process. With only a few breakouts such as Brandon Sanderson or Peter Clines, the market is vastly underserved. But despite the market having yet to sway in that direction, there are some amazing superhero inspired stories happening. I think the ability to get inside the head of the hero makes it a unique medium that brings a lot to the table for the genre.

If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?

I’m a superhero writer, I should pick a superhero, but I think I’d have to go with the supernatural. There is something about these myths and folklore that continue to make us wonder. I like the idea that there is a world we’re not quite sure about. I’m curious to see what wonders there are. Granted, with my luck I’d be stuck with a grumpy gnome saving me.

What decade from the last century would you pick to have been a teenager in?

I’m a 90’s kid through and through. I was born in the early 80’s, and loved the music of the time, but nothing will surpass the 90’s for me. My playlists are filled with songs from the late 90’s and even the weird look we had during that period sticks with me. Despite that though, there’s a bit of an 80’s child hiding in there. I secretly like to think I’m a punk in corporate clothing.

What future invention would you like to see not only created during your life time, but readily available to the public?

We’re on the verge of so many emerging technologies, I think it’s fascinating to see how much science fiction has simply become science. Still, the thing I’m dying to see is the computer screen from Minority Report. I find myself frequently annoyed that I don’t have enough screen space and constantly flipping through windows. I frequently have my laptop hooked up to a TV and my iPad next to me. It’d be amazing to have it all in one place and just be able to manipulate it with my hand. We’re not far from it, I think this one may actually happen during my lifetime.

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

Not the worst by a long stretch, but definitely the most difficult would have to be teaching high school. I’ve been a high school art teacher for a decade now and it’s a demanding job. You’re constantly pushing kids to be creative and step outside their comfort zone. It’s extremely rewarding, but after a day of wrestling with kids, you find yourself lacking the creativity to do your own work. There are the hand full of kids who give back as much as you put in, and those have been the ones that continue to inspire. Writing on the other hand, during my off months is a walk in the park. The only temperamental thing I have to deal with is my laptop, and that’s nowhere near as complicated as wow-ing a room of twenty-five teenagers. The only difficulty is in forcing myself to sit down and write when I have the time (which isn’t too difficult for me.)

You’re granted a super power and given the chance to team up with 4 other superheroes (or supervillains). What power do you have and who have you teamed up with?

The obvious answer is teleportation. I will always want the ability to teleport. I hate going places, but I’m always happy once I’m there. As for the others I would team up with? Not that I haven’t thought about this in depth, but it’d be Nightcrawler, Colossus, Magneto (every time needs the slightly villainous character) and Phoenix. That’d pretty much be the unstoppable superhero team. I may have spent more than a little time figuring this out (aka a lot.)

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?

I would love to see R.A. Salvatore’s Demon War Saga turned into some sort of tabletop game. Salvatore has a wonderfully unique perspective on traditional fantasy and I think it’d make for a great storyline. I’d love it even more if it were turned into a console game similar to Skyrim. I’d want to play Pony, one of my favorite female leads who wields magic and her female intuition like a weapon. That’d be a pretty badass game.

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

I actually teach a college class about graphic novels. There are a variety of great pieces that should be in there. I like to blend great stories such as the Watchmen alongside classic superheroes such as X-Men’s Inferno with things like Maus. My favorite question to pose the class is to ask, do comics influence society or does society influence comics? I like exploring the need for diversity in mainstream comics and how smaller companies are filling in these niche categories. I feel if given enough time, there could be entire concentrations in comics similar to Art History at this point. Unfortunately, I don’t think we respect comics as much as we do novels. I am happy however to see them get more attention thanks to the popularity of movie adaptations.

What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

Marvel beats DC. Star Trek over Star Wars. Sub before Dub. With the company I keep, there are always geeky conversations happening. I’m always down for a geek argument.

About Author Jeremy Flagg:

Jeremy Flagg is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes.

Jeremy is the Co-creator of Massachusetts Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors and member of the Metrowest Writers writing group. He is also an active member of the New England Horror’s Association and Broad Universe.

Jeremy spends most of his free time at his desk writing snarky books. When he gets a moment away from writing, he watches too much Netlix and Hulu and reading comic books. Jeremy, a Maine native, resides in Clinton, Massachusetts and can be found in local coffee shops pounding away at the keyboard.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

Synopsis of Nighthawks:

New England is a walled off radioactive prison. People exhibiting extraordinary abilities are hunted for experiments. The only talent twenty-six-year-old Conthan has in life is his art and knack for sarcasm. When a cop threatens his life, Conthan discovers he has the ability to teleport. Hunted by the military and a woman with her own gifts, Conthan finds exiles in the Boston wastelands with powers of their own. For the first time, he sees potential to become a hero. But as he unravels a conspiracy threatening the world, he must decide between his survival and his humanity.

Audible ~ Amazon

Naamah’s Blessing Part II

The read along continues with Naamah’s Blessing, Book 3 of Moirin’s trilogy! Everyone is welcome to join in. Here is the SCHEDULE for the read along.

This week, I’m the host. We’re covering Chapters 16-26 29, so be prepared for spoilers below!

1) What do you think of the assistance the Sharhizai have provided to Moirin and Bao so far? Do you think there’s merit to their claim that the Sharhizai should govern the Shemizai district?

They say that their assistance and the housing is a gift with no expectations but at the very least it gave then the opening to present their claim to Moirin and Bao, who are now the guardians of Dauphine. Obviously, Moirin and Bao have to listen, even if they don’t agree, if they don’t want to be rude.

As for their claim, I’m not sure. I can see that they should be proud of their bloodline, but does that give them an innate ability to govern a province? No. I would need to seem them or their close kin in action along with the current governors being incompetent.

2) Did you enjoy the Oath Swearing Ceremony where Moirin pledged to be Desiree’s protector? What did you like best about it?

First, I liked the solemnity about the actual oath swearing. Not only do the Maghuin Dhonn take oaths seriously, but Moirin herself values her word of honor and wouldn’t swear an oath lightly.

I liked that Moirin was able to gently chivy King Daniel into spending the afternoon with this daughter enjoying the tumblers.

3) Finally, there’s news from Terra Nova. From chocolate to spices to riches to a vexing pox that Raphael may be able to cure to the loss of crown prince! Do you think Prince Thierry is really dead? If not, what kind of trouble might he be in? What else about Terra Nova intrigues you at this point?

Yes, I expect that Thierry is still alive and that Moirin’s dream is a true dream. However, he’s obviously in some serious trouble if no one has had word from him…. I can’t help but wonder if maybe Raphael and the demon Fokolor have something to do with it. If so, then Thierry’s in big trouble.

The other side of the coin is that Raphael has come up with a way for the Terra Novans to manage the pox, greatly reducing the numbers it kills. That makes it hard to want Raphael dead at this point.

I look forward to seeing how Carey tackles this tumultuous clashing of cultures.

4) Let’s discuss King Daniel. He spent some time with his daughter but then planned to abdicate to Thierry when he returned. Upon the sad news, King Daniel is no longer with us. Is there anything more that could have been done, either by Daniel or for him?

Tough to say. I think Daniel was suffering from depression for many years, perhaps even before losing his first wife. Losing Jehanne was tough but then to lose his son was another hard blow. If Daniel was a more ordinary man with people around him that felt they could boss him around a bit, then perhaps his friends could have nudged him into more healthy activities over the years instead of so much brooding and attempting to feel numb. But he’s not an average bloke. He’s the king with no queen, no close confident, and no close family to give him a shoulder or shove depending on what he needs.

5) Rogier is angling for more political power. What do you think of him using his grieve to obtain his goal? Will Moirin and Bao be able to head off to Terra Nova without provoking Rogier further?

Moirin acknowledges to herself that Rogier’s grief is real but like Moirin, I don’t like him using it to sway public opinion and gather political clout. Sometimes I’m OK with characters using this tactic because it fuels a greater end, but Rogier isn’t a beloved good guy. He’s manipulative and power hungry and his son has a nasty streak that makes me wonder if he does as well.

I expect that whatever Moirin does next (unless it was to leave the country quietly and I don’t mean on some stealth mission to retrieve Thierry) is going to piss off Rogier. I think he would love the excuse to either put her under house arrest or kick her out the country.

Other Tidbits:

The poetess can still understand ants, which I find amusing.

I’m glad that Moirin’s dad, Phanuel, broke off his relationship with Rogier.

So I messed up and didn’t catch it until after posting this. This week was supposed to be through Chapter 29 but the questions only reflect through Chapter 26. Anyway, for Chapters 27-29, I figure we can all discuss them in this Oddbits section.

Nice to hear that Phanuel will go to Alba with a letter from Moirin for her mother.

Balthazar plans to go along and he’s pretty good with a sword.

Dennis de Toulard says that Terra Nova is no place for a lady. Ha! Like there’s no women, noble, peasant, or otherwise in Terra Nova.

And here is the current list of participators:
Allie at Tethyan Books
Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog
Grace at Books Without Any Pictures
Susan (me) at Dab of Darkness

We also have a Goodreads Group started for SF/F Read Alongs in general, and there is a specific folder for this read along. You are welcome to follow the fun there as well. If you want to be on the weekly email, just leave me a comment or shoot me an email with NAAMAH’S BLESSING in the subject (nrlymrtl@gmail.com).

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.

What Others Think:

The Book Smugglers

io9

The Eyrie

Fantasy Book Critic

Fantasy Cafe

Speed-Reading Book Nerd Reviews

A Wizard by R. F. Whittaker

Narrator: Jake Urry

Publisher: Richard Whittaker (2016)

Length: 5 hours 38 minutes

Author’s Page 

Ambrose is in a self-imposed exile after he accidentally killed a man with his magic. Now this wizard roams the wilderness looking for a purpose and possibly for redemption. He comes across Bertold who has a bloodsucker imprisoned. He’s waiting for the sun to rise and roast her alive. Ambrose won’t stand for this and his actions change the course of his life, bringing unexpected companions into his life along with deadly danger.

This tale had some high points, some amusing moments, and a lot of info dumps. Sometimes I was totally engaged and sometimes I was bored. the villains are really easy to spot being brutish, so that took some of the suspense out of the book.

Florentina is the bloodsucker (vampire) that Ambrose rescued at the beginning of the tale. She’s got some dimension to her. She’s suffering from an illness that means she needs fresh blood. Ambrose vows to find a cure for her but his wizard skills are still in their fledgling state. He bumbles his way through the book. Florentina offers some wisdom and acts like a central spoke around which all the other characters rotate.

Each time we got a new character in this tale, there would be a big info dump that would mostly be their back story. It was a rather tedious way to get introduced to each character. It often took me away from the plot. From Florentina to Reggie to the Wolfboy to even Bertold. It was like reading a character development sheet instead of being an integrated part of the story.

Florentina and Ambrose fall in love almost instantly. It’s not even lust. It’s this deep soul-cleaving love. Since it was so automatic I had trouble getting behind it.

The Tookingtons were amusing. They were these little animated flowers that acted as an honor guard for Florentina. Definitely dangerous in great numbers.

By the end, Ambrose and his crew still have some things to wrap up. I smell a sequel in the making. I was very satisfied to see that Ambrose had found his tribe. He’s the stronger for it.

The Narration: Jake Urry is so good in every book I have listened to him narrate and his performance here doesn’t disappoint. He gives Florentina an accent. The Wolfboy gets his own unique voice. The ladies sound like actual women. Ambrose’s emotions are nicely displayed in this narration.

What I Liked: The cover art; the initial set up; Ambrose’s quest; all these misfits that are brought together; ending left room for a sequel; great narration.

What I Disliked: Insta-love didn’t work for me; lots of info dumps.

The Devil’s Due by CM Raymond & LE Barbant

Narrator: Ben Smith

Publisher: Smoke & Steel Press (2017)

Length: 2 hours 53 minutes

Series: Book 1 A Jack Carson Story

Raymond’s Page ~ Barbant’s Page

Set in a small town in Iowa, the story opens with the mysterious Jack Carson, who goes by Jack York. He’s obviously on the run from something and the local bartender, Maizey, is the first to call him on it. There’s something very odd about Jack. The Feds are very interested in finding him, believing he has the answers concerning an exploded building. Jack is also searching for something, a girl in a photo he carries with him. However, his quest is waylaid as he becomes entangled in the local illegal going-ons.

This was a fun story that reminded me of The Jack Reacher series but it has a touch of the fantastical since our Jack has some special, otherworldly abilities. The opening of the story requires some focus since the authors drop us directly into the middle of Jack’s life. We have to figure out that he’s on the run, what he’s on the run from, and what abilities he’s hiding. I was intrigued from the start and the tale held my attention all the way through.

Jack’s got quite a bit on his plate already, but he entangles himself with the local small town criminals when he defends the bartender Maizey in a little bar brawl. While this is a little cliched, it’s a useful plot device to suck our beleaguered hero into the local bad guy antics.

Mr. Hill runs most, if not all, of the town’s illegal activities and his two main henchmen take a decided interest in Jack. When they turn up rather injured, Mr. Hill makes it clear that Jack can either work for him or Mr. Hill will turn him into the Feds. So our Jack is hired on as muscle for Hill’s crew. That doesn’t go as expected, as you might imagine and Jack finds himself in an even tighter position. Now he has to decide whether to stand with the town against Mr. Hill and his crew, or flee from Iowa continuing to hide from the Feds.

There’s really only 3 female characters in this tale. There’s Maizey, who has a little mystery to her and is an interesting character. Then there’s a female Federal Agent hunting Jack who is continuously underestimated by her coworkers. She has potential but has very little time in this story. Then there’s the girl in the picture. She’s basically a place holder now. We don’t know if she’s a grown woman or an actual girl, we don’t have her name, and we don’t really know why Jack is searching for her (though I have this impression he wants to protect her). So I would have liked a better gender balance with the characters since there are plenty of male characters in this story.

The action and the twists and turns of the story were well done. They are well interspersed among quieter moments in Jack’s life, many of which were his various chats with Maizey. By the end, some things are resolved but other things are left hanging. It’s not until near the end that we learn it was a science lab that was destroyed but since that’s in the book’s description, I don’t mind mentioning it in this review. This mysterious girl in the photo is still a big question mark. The source of Jack’s special abilities and his limitations are also big question marks. While there’s plenty to build upon here in future books, I would have liked a bit more info on Jack’s personal quest to find this mystery girl.

All in all, it’s an entertaining listen and a solid start to a new action-packed series. I really like this little twist of Jack’s special powers. I look forward to learning more about his past.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Ben Smith was pretty good for this book. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. He did speak a bit fast but with the Audible app, I could slow it down and it sounded normal. Occasionally, there were a few mouth noises and at least once, he repeated a short sentence. He did a really good job with the various emotions the characters had.

What I Liked: The lovely cover art; Jack’s troubles – all of them piling on him; Maizey isn’t your typical bar tender; Mr. Hill makes a great villain to hate on; the various mysteries surrounding Jack; the Feds hunting Jack; how Jack leaves the town.

What I Disliked: Could have used more female characters; could have used a few more loose ends tied up.

Escape from the Overworld by Danica Davidson

Narrator: Dan Woren

Publisher: Audible Studios (2015)

Length: 2 hours

Series: Book 1 Overworld Adventures

Author’s Page

Minecraft comes to the real world! Stevie is happily building his treehouse when night begins to settle. Oooopppsss! He’s suppose to be home by now. But he has to fight his way past a creeper then a mob of zombies! Things don’t go smoothly and he feels like the worst mob fighter ever. The next day he spots a portal and he takes his chances, popping out of a computer screen on the other end into Maison’s bedroom. The sixth grader and Stevie quickly become friends, which is a good thing because the monsters of Minecraft have also discovered the portal and the people of Maison’s world are not well-equipped to deal with them!

I’ve never played Minecraft but this book was easy to get into anyway. Stevie is seeking his dad’s approval and is constantly measuring himself against his dad’s great deeds with his diamond sword. This little misadventure into Maison’s world gives him a chance to stand on his own and have great deeds to tell of later.

Maison was fun and bright. She’s keen on building things and wants to be an architect like her mom. While surprised to have Stevie pop out of her computer screen, she’s also very excited to show him her school and perhaps visit his world. Unfortunately, this also means having to deal with the school bullies, Dirk and Mitch. Argh! I wanted to pinch their ears and haul them off to the principle’s office!

Later on, once the zombies and spiders start showing up at the school, the bullies get their comeuppance. Also, Stevie’s wood working skills are greatly appreciated. Maison gets her wish as she and Stevie have to go back to Minecraft to deal with the portal. Together, they and Stevie’s dad come up with a solution that lets them continue their friendship. I really liked how Maison was able to get Stevie’s dad to see how worthy his son is.

All around, it’s a great little family-oriented story. You don’t need to be familiar with the Minecraft game to enjoy it.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Dan Woren was a great fit for this book. He sounds like a young Stevie and he was great at portraying his emotions. He also made a really good Maison. Then he had adult voices as well for Stevie’s dad and the school shop teacher. His bully voices were spot on as well.

What I Liked: Fun story line; Stevie’s wood working skills; Maison’s enthusiasm for building stuff; how the bullies were dealt with; big spiders!; showing Stevie’s dad that Stevie is worthy; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – it’s a great family-oriented story.

What Others Think: 

The Simply Me Blog

Owl Dance by David Lee Summers

Narrator: Edward Mittelstedt

Publisher: Sky Warrior Publishing LLC (2017)

Length: 9 hours 10 minutes

Series: Book 1 Clockwork Legion

Author’s Page

Set in the 1870s, this Wild West steampunk adventure is full of surprises. Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi make a great pair of heroes as they travel from New Mexico to California. Gun fights, dirigibles, steam-powered mechanical wolves, a Russian plot to take a chunk of the US, plus an unexpected alien influence called Legion provide a dangerous playground for our main characters – and plenty of entertainment for us.

I read this book back in 2011 and it was great to see it come to audio! I enjoyed it more in this medium as the narrator did it justice. If you love your Wild West and you like it weird, then this is a great series to get into. The story includes several different ethnicities and I love that about this book. The frontier West was a very diverse place and having that reflected in this work is worthy.

Our Persian healer, Fatemeh, has traveled far from home and she’s a bit vague about why. I love that we have this little mystery about her. Also, she talks to owls… or does she? She claims that she only understands their nature but to others it looks like she is actually communicating with them. While I felt the romance between her and Ramon sparked a little too easily, I also feel they make a great couple. Fatemeh is of the Baha’i faith while Ramon is Catholic and this sets up a dynamic to explore not just culture clash but also these different religions.

Meanwhile Ramon has recently had a big shift in his life. He was a sheriff in Socorro, NM and then things went south.. and so did he while he fled with Fatemeh (who was about to be executed for witch craft). Their search for work takes them all the way out to California. Along the way they meet the eccentric inventor, Professor Maravilla. He’s got a thing for steam-powered mechanical beasties. I loved his owls!

Then there’s the bounty hunter Larissa who I look forward to hearing more about later in the series. She’s got plenty of gumption and loves her independent life but she’s drawn into this bigger plot as Russia starts making moves to invade the West coast.

Now lets talk about that alien influence Legion. We come across it early on but it’s not clear right away if it’s something supernatural, man-made, or from outer space. Whatever it is (and yes, we do get that cleared up in this book), it has a hive mind and can communicate directly with humans as well as influence them. So we got the Wild West (yay!), steampunk (awesome!), and now this unknown big picture influencer. The author does a great job of pulling this all together.

My one real quibble with the story is that sometimes it’s a little too easy for Ramon and Fatemeh to convince a ‘villain’ to assist them. It seems like everyone is really a good guy at heart and was just simply misunderstood or was acting under some false or incomplete data. I think the story would have benefited from a real villain or two.

The Narration: Edward Mittelstedt did a really good job. His Spanish accent was consistent throughout the story. Now, his Spanish pronunciations were sometimes different from what I expected. Living in New Mexico, I expected a certain accent (like for Chavez or Maravilla). Mittelstedt’s pronunciation isn’t wrong but it’s not the local dialect either. I believe it’s the difference between high proper Spanish and the Southwest Hispanic accent. Besides that, he was great with keeping all the characters distinct and also with the various emotions throughout the story. He also gave Fatemeh a consistent Persian accent. His female voices were believable.

What I Liked: Gorgeous cover art; Wild Weird West!; Steampunk!; the mix of ethnicities; the owls; the hive-mind influence; Fatemeh and Ramon make a great duo; the ending leaves us ready for further adventures.

What I Disliked: There was no true villain; the romance between Ramon and Fatemeh sparked up rather easily.

What Others Think: 

RJ Blain

Steampunk Journal

Steampunk Junkies

Naamah’s Curse Part III

The read along continues with Naamah’s Curse, Book 2 of Moirin’s trilogy! Everyone is welcome to join in. Here is the SCHEDULE for the read along.

This week, I am your host. We’re covering Chapters 33-47, so be prepared for spoilers below!

1) What stood out to you for Moirin’s baptising ceremony? Have you ever been through such a religious ceremony and did it go as you expected?

At first, I thought this ceremony would go well and then Rostov or the Duke would decide to keep her captive anyway, like a trophy or something. In fact, I worried that Moirin would be married off directly afterwards just to keep her new chaste self safe from herself. I had totally forgotten how things went down. I agree with Moirin on not swearing that final vow and I don’t really know if there was anything she could have done at that moment to have changed Rostov’s mind about stoning her. Addressing the Duke concerning her royal lineage didn’t help. However, her anger also didn’t help. Still, I would have wept to have seen her beg.

I’ve never been through such a religious ceremony but I’m glad that I have the freedom to explore such things as I like.

2) Now Moirin and Alexsie (spelling?) are free. Alexsie has much to learn not just about Moirin but also about the larger world. What moment do you think challenged his ingrained believes the most? What do you think he will do ultimately with his life?

Alexsie and his idea that charms and enchantments lurk around every corner and are in everything that Moirin does! It gave me a laugh.

I believe that moment when Naamah bestows her blessing upon Alexsie and he knows it really challenged his ingrained beliefs, but in a good way. He now knows that the world, both mortal and godly, is so much bigger.

I’m not sure what Alexsie will go on to do with his life. I feel he’s a scholarly sort, so perhaps he will found a school of learning and religious tolerance. Hopefully, he will get some real traveling in before then so he can experience many new things before settling down.

3) There comes a moment when Moirin realizes that she did come to love Alexsie, in a way, and that’s the same moment she knows she will not see him again. Naamah’s curse indeed! Have you had such a moment yourself? Do you think this curse also applies now to Moirin’s love of the departed Jehane?

That was a little bitter sweet, wasn’t it? She’s done her best to be honest with Alexsie and hopefully he came to understand that there are many types of love in their short time together. No, I haven’t had such a moment yet though I expect if Naamah’s Curse ever does fall upon me, I will automatically think of Moirin.

As to the second question, perhaps. Moirin knows she loves Jehane but perhaps in that moment when she learned of her childbirth death, she realized the full weight of the love she bore for Jehane and also how she will no longer be able to revel in it with Jehane.

4) Falcons and spiders and rats, oh my! What stood out the most for you in Moirin meeting up again with Erdina, Bao’s wife? And what do you expect Moirin will find as she heads towards the Falconer with his Spider Queen?

It was such a gamble to approach Erdina in the first place, but then to hang around waiting to meet with her at an assigned time and place was really pushing her luck! Moirin is lucky that Erdina has more honor than her father. It was also extra lucky that Erdina gave Moirin back her personal belongings, though I half expected Moirin to turn around and give Erdina a small token, perhaps a bit of cloth scented with a few drops of Jehane’s perfume.

Falcons are cool, even spiders as long as they aren’t biting me. Same for rats, though the fleas they can carry could be a problem. Moirin is a forest-raised lass, so I expect she won’t have any trouble dealing with the beasties themselves, but this Spider Queen and her assassins could be a problem.

Other Tidbits:

While I like that Alexsie is still holding to such things like not stealing the horse from the church, he also takes a moment to weigh Moirin’s responses, like how they stole her first so she can right well borrow this horse now.

Moirin’s deep satisfaction at having the silver chains and manacles melted down was shared by me. Good riddance to them! While I think they were expecting a bit much to not be tracked by those chains, they definitely needed the money. Perhaps they should have fled first, and bedded later?

And here is the current list of participators:
Allie at Tethyan Books
Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog
Grace at Books Without Any Pictures
Susan (me) at Dab of Darkness

We also have a Goodreads Group started for SF/F Read Alongs in general, and there is a specific folder for this read along. You are welcome to follow the fun there as well. If you want to be on the weekly email, just leave me a comment or shoot me an email with NAAMAH’S CURSE in the subject (nrlymrtl@gmail.com).