Audiobook Giveaway & Review: Speakeasy Dead by Vicky Loebel

LoebelSpeakeasyDeadScroll to the bottom for the GIVEAWAY!

Narrators: Emily Beresford & Nick Podehl

Publisher: Pentachronistic Press (2013)

Length: 12 hours 49 minutes

Series: Book 0.5 Demonic Intervention

Author’s Page

Note: This book and it’s loosely tied-in sequel, Keys to the Coven, can each work just fine as stand alones.

Set in Falstaff, Arizona in the 1920s during Prohibition, the Woodsens run a speakeasy bar and also sell some of their surplus alcohol to others. Now a Chicago-based mob is trying to move in and run the alcohol trade. They will be surprised at how little pushing it takes to upset a witch. Meanwhile, the youngest of the Woodsen cousins, teen Clara, is desperate to save her beloved movie star Beau Beauregard. She’s willing to break some rules in the name of true love (or her first crush). Her older cousin, Bernard (Bernie) Benjamin, is just the guy to help her out, even if he has to be lured to the basement and tied to the center of a pentagram. Demons and zombies have never had so much fun as they will during the dance competition!

Once again, Vicky Loebel has given me something original and very funny. There’s a bit of sexy (though it’s pretty PG-13 for this book) as well. Clara is a driven character who’s young enough to not know to look at the bigger picture when it comes to love, yet old enough to have just enough responsibility and autonomy to get into big trouble. She’s dead set on saving her ‘beloved’ Beau even if he has no idea she exists (and that’s because they’ve never met). She’s even willing to become a warlock by summoning a demon and striking a bargain with it. Hans is the handsome demon that appears and somehow he talks things around so that his demon familiar, Ruth, will enter a dance contest. The pit just gets deeper from there on out.

With the Chicago mob, Bernie and his personal schemes, Gladys the Golem, Beau’s resentment over the whole mess, zombies, stolen booze, and an older Woodsen sibling arriving soonish, Clara really does have her hands full. It was so funny! There’s plenty of clever lines and each person really has their own agenda in mind. Clara wants love from Beau, and to not get caught. Bernie doesn’t want to die a horrible death (which is surely what will happen when Clara’s older witch sisters find out about this whole mess). The mob want their booze, the money, and control (and they seem constantly surprised when that doesn’t happen easily). Beau is quite angry with his situation and Clara is totally surprised by what he truly wants. Gladys just wants to get back to housekeeping.

I really enjoyed the various magical elements. There’s the demon Hans and his familiar Ruth which have their intricate little dos and don’ts. Then Gladys who is a Golem and rather protective of young Bernie. One of Clara’s best friends is a ghost whisperer and she has a ghost familiar (Gaspar, complete with Spanish accent). Loebel manages to pull each one into the storyline seamlessly. Moreover, she gives each one rules to work with and she keeps them within those rules. With a comedy, it would be easy to have these various magical folk breaking rules, so I appreciated that once the author laid down a law of this is how this type of magic works, she kept her characters in line.

I did quite enjoy all the flirty, sexy behavior that popped up here and there. Demons love to trade on sex because it builds up their karma, which is basically spiritual coinage. Clara knows all this from her older witch sisters and her book on demons. Yet when the offers are made to her, she’s tempted. Bernie isn’t as naive but he’s not as well-schooled as he likes to pretend either. Ruth, being a large hunting cat most of the time, has a sexy confidence all the time, even when she’s totally mangling her dance partner’s foot during practice. There’s plenty of wit and humor with the sexy bits, making them just as fun as the rest of the book.

Having listened to both audiobook set in this urban fantasy world, I really hope Loebel gives us more. The humor is a bit unique and I love the mix of serious situations, magic, and laughter. Not everyone makes it out of this story unscathed. In many ways, Clara comes of age in this tale. Loved it and looking forward to more of it!

I received a free copy of this book.

Narration: Emily Beresford and Nick Podehl once again did a great job on this book. Even though they voiced totally different characters for Keys to the Coven, I read them far enough apart that I didn’t have character echos in my head, as can sometimes happen when you listen to books set in the same universe that have different characters yet the same narrators. These two are great with all the emotions and also delivering straight lines so the humor is left hanging there for the reader/listener to catch even as the story moves onward.

What I Liked: Arizona!; the Prohibition era; silly mobsters being all tough and hard to take a hint; Clara’s first real crush; Beau’s reaction to that crush; Bernie’s role in all this mess; Gladys is probably the most dangerous one in the mix but knows when to hold back; Ruth is a sexy beast; Gaspar and his Zorro sword; how it all ends with a Charleston.

What I Disliked: Nothing – so darn funny!

GIVEAWAY!

Vicky is generously offering up 3 audiobook copies of her book Speakeasy Dead! The audiobook is available through both Audible.com and Audible.UK. To enter the giveaway, do the Rafflecopter thing below or answer these questions in the comments: 1)  Do you have either an Audible.com or an Audible.UK account?  2) What attracts you most to this book? Zombies? Prohibition? Demons? Dance Contests? 3) Leave a way to contact you if you win. Giveaway ends April 4th, midnight, 2017.

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Janus: Zombies versus Dinosaurs by James Livingood

LivingoodJanusWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Randal Schaffer

Publisher: Paperbackward (2016)

Length: 5 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 2 Zombies vs. Dinosaurs

Author’s Page

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

I really enjoyed Pale Rider so when the author offered me a review copy of the sequel, I jumped at the chance. Sad to say, I didn’t find this installment as interesting. Janus is a zombie leader and he controls his pack of zombies through instinct. He also uses this power, instinct, to control a non-zombiefied deer or elk (I forget which), which he rides upon. The zombies are definitely different than the ones we saw in Book 1, being able to group together like this and be lead by a strong ‘personality’. However, I found the whole instinct power not well flushed out and difficult to believe in. Yep, I can totally believe in zombies and genetically created dinosaur-looking beasties, but I had a hard time with this instinct. Mostly, it was because of the elk. Wild animals have their own agendas – eat, sleep, fornicate, repeat. Elk aren’t big fans of rotting meat smell either. So Janus is using his power, instinct, to keep this elk in line, by negating the elk’s own instincts to run? That’s where Janus’s power gets to squishy and ill-defined for me.

The character, Pale Rider, is a reluctant leader in his town. He settles disputes and folks seek him out for advice on difficult fencing situations. He has a young daughter and he deeply misses his wife. Janus has recognized him as the human leader and if Janus wants to ‘free’ these humans from their boring lives, giving them the gifts of instinct and freedom, he must take out Pale Rider. The story sets up early for a good Western-type showdown and I really enjoyed the building of suspense.

Then we have Heche, who is like a mad scientist. She creates new dinos to sell to the local farmers. They are used in putting up fencing, taking down trees, and farming. I really like the basics of her character – she’s a seeker of knowledge both in books and through her work. However, this is another area that isn’t really clear. Does she have a lab with petri dishes and sterile equipment? Or is more like a wizard’s barn, full of smelly potions and unidentified bits of dried animals? I would have liked a bit more on this front because it ties into other questions I have. How far has civilization fallen? There’s a reference to contact lenses and it’s unlikely someone whipped those up, even if the town has a watchmaker. Is it 6 months since the zombie calamity or 6 years? If it’s 6 months, then contact lenses are still around. If it’s 6 years, then no, not realistic.

Book 1 was pretty sparse on the ladies and Book 2 does better but there are definitely not enough females around to save humanity. Heche has the most lines, but that’s perhaps 10-20 lines, though we get some quality time in her head. Pale Rider’s young daughter also has a role. Then there are 2 female zombies (why so few?) and maybe a few human ladies tossed in here and there. As usual, I like to see more ladies in post-apocalyptic stories. How else will we rebuild?

OK. So, bad to the goodness. We do get a showdown at the end and there were some twists. The author took the story beyond what I expected. These zombies are more like feral beasts than shuffling corpses; they are not so easily beaten. Heche creates a fantastical beast that comes in handy. And then there’s that thing that happened right at the end that has me craving to know where things will go from here. It’s all very dramatic at the end and very satisfying.

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

 

The Narration: Randal Schaffer’s performance was OK. When the characters were talking, he imbued them with emotion. The rest of the story he read in a monologue that made me wonder if he was bored with the book or not.

What I Liked: Modified beasties!; showdown between zombies and humans; Heche’s work; the reluctant leader; some great surprises at the end.

What I Disliked: Not clear about the level of science or manufacturing that is available; the zombie instinct power was pretty nebulous and squishy; few female characters.

Dead Man by Domino Finn

FinnDeadManWhere I Got It: A gift

Publisher: Blood & Treasure (2015)

Length: 296 pages

Series: Book 1 Black Magic Outlaw

Author’s Page

Cisco Suarez, necromancer and a wee bit of a dumb ass, wakes up in  a dumpster. Wait. Can the dead wake? Cisco is full on dead and he’s none too happy to learn about it, especially since a variety of folks are set on seeing him dead. Again.

The Miami heat can be harsh, especially if you’re already prone to giving off body odor. Cisco needs info and the first person he runs into that he knows is Milena, who was his sister Seleste’s BFF. Cisco soon learns what tragedy befell his family and he’s heart broken and ticked off all at the same time.

The Haitian gang, The Bone Saints, are after him and he’s not too sure why.  They have a new leader, Baptiste, who is dead set on ending Cisco’ second life. Cisco has few options so he calls upon his friends for info and aide. There’s the Norwegian biker tattoo artist Kasper, his boyhood school friend Evan Cross (who’s as straight laced as you can get), and his buddy in studying the dark arts Martine. Unfortunately, Cisco will get less aide tham he hoped for and more info than he can easily handle.

This is a wonderful nitty gritty urban fantasy detective story. Miami provides the author with the opportunity to mix in several cultures and languages. Of course, I loved all the food references. Cisco has that interesting mix of boyish charm, machismo, underdog, do-gooder, and more power than he can easily handle. It made for a fascinating character set in a place that ties together several cultures, and hence, several mythologies.

I often found myself cheering on this necromancer, which is not something I have done often. I mean, it’s just wrong to mess with the dead, right? But Cisco made me see the right of it. After all, there’s utilizing the dead for a higher purpose and then there’s abusing your necromancer privileges. Cisco sometimes walks a fine line, but that only added to the tension and enjoyment of the story.

My one quibble is the ladies. They are few and far between and mostly are comforters and sex objects. Now part of that is how Cisco sees the world, so I can see that adding to the character’s personality, but the ladies as a whole aren’t well represented. Martine has some skills in necromancy, but she has a pretty small role. Max, a body guard, I think has like 5 lines for the entire book and is one-dimensional. Seleste gets a nod and Milena has the largest role mostly because Cisco spends plenty of time admiring her figure. There’s an od girlfriend who also gets a nod but must be protected from the truth as she’s too fragile to handle it. It’s modern-day Miami, which is known for a lot of things, including their bad ass women (for example the numerous ladies from the series Dexter). Alas, this book was lacking in this regard.

With that said, it was still a very engaging story and an excellent addition to the urban fantasy genre. Apparently, the dead can be used more creatively than I expected. The balance of humor and serious points kept me on Cisco’s side throughout the book.

I received this book as a gift from the author with no strings attached.

What I Liked: Almost a noir detective feel to it; the cover art; Cisco is a very interesting character; great mix of cultures and mythologies; food references; the humor; the serious points; ready for Book 2.

What I Disliked: The ladies are little sidenotes in this adventure.

What Others Think:

James A. Hunter

Midnight Riders by Pete Clark

ClarkMidnightRidersWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Michael Gilboe

Publisher: Pete Clark (2015)

Length: 9 hours 14 minutes

Author’s Page

Early American history is interesting to some and now, it’s finally interesting to me. This book is a fun crazy mashup of historical fiction, humor, and the supernatural. The Rippers are anything paranormal and troublesome. The American Founding Fathers have more than the English or French to worry about! But they find a way to stop the Rippers from multiplying and it involves finding the last lost descendant of the Roanoke settlement of the 1500s.

There’s plenty of humor in this book. Daniel Boone’s smelly raccoon hat gets him recognized far more often than his skills with a gun. Swamp Fox Frances Marion is so very PC while Samuel Prescott tries to go anonymous everywhere (and fails). Paul Revere is a bit of a twit but makes awesome weapons and dinnerware. Then the author tosses in things like a wendigo, werewolves, succubi, zombies, mole people, etc. yet everyone knows there are no such things as vampires. This story had me chuckling all the way through.

Now sometimes I did get silliness fatigue if a joke was used too many times or if there was just scene after scene of humor without something more serious to ground the story. Also, there are very few female characters and for the longest time our only females are some succubi. Eventually we get a female character that affects the plot, but again, she has a pretty small role.

I really liked how this humorous tale pulled in the Roanoke mystery and made it a key point to the plot. I’ve long been interested in this historical mystery and it was fun to see a new take on it. The author tosses in key historical moments like the Boston Tea Party and the First Congressional Meeting. Of course, every thing goes awry with those due to the abundance of supernatural beings mucking about in the New World. Sometimes the story felt more like a D&D adventure (there’s even a maze crawl!). All together, it made early American history sound way more interesting than the boring version told in public schools.

 

I received a copy of this book at no cost (via Audiobook Blast) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: Michael Gilboe did a great job with this book. He came up with some great voices! I loved his gruff Morgenstern and his proper Frances Marion. There were even some supernatural critter sounds tossed in. All his characters were distinct.

What I Liked: Supernatural beasties in American history; Boone’s smelly hat; Marion’s political correctness; the D&D feel of the story at times; no one believes in vampires; the Roanoke mystery tie in; humor throughout.

What I Disliked: Very few female characters; sometimes got humor fatigue. 

 

Cattle by Joseph Duncan

DuncanCattleWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Ian M. Walker

Publisher: Joseph Duncan (2015)

Length: 7 hours 30 minutes

Author’s Page

Note: This is a sequel of sorts to the novel Mort, formerly published under a pen name (Rod Redux). It works just fine as a stand alone.

10 years after the phage turned most humans into flesh-craving zombies, it has now mutated. Now zombies can awake to their memories, can dream again, and they definitely know what they are eating. So they have started organizing into nations and have created breeding facilities to maintain their food supply. This includes capturing humans for a people breeding facility. Yep. It’s just as horrendous as it sounds.

Brent and Harold have been traveling together for a while now. They heard a radio broadcast from a nearby human town, one that has a truce of sorts with the closest zombie population. They are trying to make it to this haven called Home when they are spotted by a zombie patrol. Harold is killed in the pursuit and Brent is captured. However, the Revenants (zombies who have their wits about them) need a new rooster for their human hens. So Brent is tossed in with the other roosters; Ian, Jamie, and Vicars. They’re a right cheery bunch. Right off, the three suspect the Revenants may be planning to retire one of them and none of them want to be it.

The prison/meat plant is an old supermarket. The men are kept in the back where the butcher’s station use to be. The ladies have their cubicles and the zombies have their stations inside and then quarters outside (old trailers and such). It seems so orderly and civil…. except that part where they are breeding the ladies for baby meat. Muriel is one of the older yet still of breeding age ladies. She had escaped, again, and was recaptured at the same time that Brent was caught. Throughout the story, she often provides comfort and advise to Brent. She got the most page time out of all the lady characters and she was my favorite. She was the brains of the bunch and I wish she had gotten a larger role in the story. There’s a limited number of female characters in a sea of male characters (and why is there only 1 female zombie?).

There’s this whole command structure among the zombies and I thought this was interesting. So often, we think of them as pretty brainless, simply reacting to a deep hunger (and indeed, that kind do exist in this world and are called Chompers). So it was different to see them thinking and organizing and holding back from their instant cravings to plan for the future. Also, it was good to see that the Revenants were just as scared of the Chompers as the humans, as the Chompers are none too picky about what kind of meat they are eating. Blech!

While Brent is in this meat prison, he has to make some really tough choices. First, all of them are being coerced into breeding, including the 14 year old Ruth. Definitely a sad state of affairs. Brent has a set of morals, and while some of them have been tarnished, bent, or broken over the years, that is not one of them. It seems Brent’s basic nature is to trust people, but here, in this literally cut throat place, he has to choose very carefully who he can trust. The other roosters are big question marks. Brent’s most difficult position and the tough choices he keeps having to make definitely had me fully engaged throughout the story.

Late in the tale, the author tosses in a little tidbit I really enjoyed. Two characters are added to the mix and they have an odd dialect. Basically, they and their little group of people had become isolated long enough to have developed their own version of the language, making it a little difficult for others to understand them, though in the big picture, they are all speaking the same language (roughly). This is such a realistic probability, that I really enjoyed it being tossed in here.

This was a great zombie read because it was different and original. It’s not just your mindless eating hordes versus the last remaining humans. Nope. These zombies come in different flavors and at least some of them can think and organize. This book sets a new bar for zombie horror fiction.

I bought a copy of this book from Audible.com.

Narration: Ian M. Walker did most things really well and a few things need a little work. First, his female voices could be a bit more feminine. And also, it would be OK for him to show some emotion while narrating (was he bored by the book?). On the other hand, he did this incredible job with the zombie voices – these falling apart, decaying faces and vocal chords make some truly horrible sounds. Walker managed to pull that off and keep the dialogue understandable. Also, later in the book when two characters with their own version of English are tossed in, Walker had to make it sound almost like English and also smooth like the character knew exactly what they were saying. That was well done too.

What I Liked: Zombies with brains and agendas; humans in a breeding facility (doesn’t get much more messed up than that); Muriel with all her determination and brains; Brent’s tough choices; the language barrier for the new arrivals; the ending part action, part terror, and part sadness.

What I Disliked: The ladies are limited in number; I would have liked more emotion from the narrator.