Pearl Drops: Serbian Folk Poems performed by Zeljka Cvjetan Gortinski

Clementine with my folk poems.

Why I Read It: I’m trying to expand my reading horizons to include poetry.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you’re a fan of epic poetry, this is intense, deep, and culturally significant.

Narrator: Zeljka Cvjetan Gortinski

Publisher: Spoken Word Inc. (2012)

Length: 1 hour 13 minutes

I’ve never really been into poetry, which is probably short-sighted of me. Earlier this year I dug into Gilgamesh, and loved it. I think I simply need the poetry to be somewhat epic, intense, historical, or culturally significant. This collection of Serbian folk poems hits all those notes for me. Each poem was performed with such eloquence and intensity that my heart and mind were immediately hooked. The three poems each tell a serious tale with moral warnings for the listener. Indeed, these poems aren’t filled with lilac bushes, wondrous sunsets, and the sighing over a lady’s love token. As described on the inside panel of the CD, these three poems were passed down through oral history starting somewhere in the Middle Ages. Most Serbian folk poems and tales have women as supporting characters, but these three feature mothers, each in a different plight.

The Building of Skadar tells the tale of a woman sacrificed at the construction of a significant building. She is walled in; however she has a small son who is not yet weaned and she begs the men to leave a small hole for her bosom so she can continue to suckle her child. It was a chilling tale.

The Mother of the Jugovic tells the tale of Mother Jugovic asking God for the eyes of a falcon and the wings of swan so that she may fly over a battlefield and see what has become of the brothers Jugovic. Essentially, it is about the loss a mother feels when her sons die in battle.

The Wife of Hasan Aga captures the tale of the Lord Hasan’s wife once her lord husband dies in battle. Her brother arranges for her to marry another lord and she does not wish to leave her children from her first marriage. Because she is forced into the marriage, she requests a long veil for the wedding procession so that she will not see her children as she passes, as her heart will break. However, they see her and call out to her and as she embraces them and says goodbye, she dies of sorrow.

The narration was excellent as Ms. Gortinski has a deep and smooth voice. Her eloquence combined with an excellent choice in background music made this a haunting and moving listening experience. Each poem is told in English and then in Serbian. I listened to both versions even though I don’t understand Serbian just to hear these poems in their native language. The seventh track is performed by Savo Kontic, a respected gusle player. I found this last track to be interesting, but quite a different pace and tone from the rest of the CD.

What I Liked: The overall deep, serious tone; the historical and cultural significance of these poems; the narration and accompanying music were excellent matches to these poems.

What I Disliked: The seventh track was a bit jarring as it didn’t really match the rest of the CD.

I am participating in a weekly Read & Review Blog Hop hosted by On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to check out other great books reviewed by other book bloggers.

Hush by James Maxey

Waffles with the laundry and my book.

Why I Read It: Book 1 Greatshadow was excellent, so I had to continue the series.

Where I Got It: As a review copy from the author (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Adventure and Fantasy fans alike would really enjoy this series.

Publisher: Solaris (2012)

Length: 383 pages

Series: Dragon Apocalypse 2

I fell in love with the main character Infidel back in Book 1 by the third chapter. Alas, she is honorably wedded to her ghost companion Stagger, who makes it into the second book. As with Book 1, Book 2 is told through the eyes of tenacious Stagger, who does his best to keep following Infidel around despite his depleting spiritual powers. In this installment, James Maxey gives us a new set of interesting characters and an ever more complicated plot. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

In Book 1, Infidel swore an oath to return a certain weapon/holy relic that contains a shard of the primal dragon Hush’s broken heart to the ice ogres of the north and this is what Book 2 is about. Infidel once served with the Romer family of the Free Wanderers and she aims to book passage with them to the land of the ice ogres. Before she can leave the island city, she checks in with the Black Swan, who is getting a new body, a metal one. Maxey’s description, through Stagger’s eyes, of the Black Swan’s new spiritual residence had me giggling. Certain shapely bits are important no matter your age, apparently. This is where we meet Sorrow, a witch with one too many holes in her head who is a metal shaper. She shows up throughout the story, being a bit of a shaper of events and also providing some dry humor.

The Romer family once upon a time saved an important mermaid and were granted each a special power by her people. So they make an interesting collection of unusual seawomen and seamen. Cinnamon can give you any bad taste you ever imagined. One son turns into a shark, another swims through air. Gale, the matriarch and captain, controls the winds. Rigger can throw a few lines around you with a stray thought. Overall, they provide plenty of entertainment for the ride to the far north. Oh, and there’s a handsome hunk bedding the captain and his deranged dwarf brother who thinks he’s the long-lost Princess Brightmoon. This little side bit had me snort laughing to my cats.

There’s the set up. In only one place did I think the dialogue lagged a bit (there’s a conflict of dragons in the second half and I thought it was resolved a little too easily), but Maxey rallied for an unexpected ending twice over. This is one of those books that has all sorts of facial expressions crossing my features and the occasional ‘No Way!’ escaping out loud at the flying orca, or shape-shifting witch, or near-death of some beloved character. Truly, I was quite noisy while reading this book. If you are looking for the next excellent fantasy adventure read, pick up this series. I doubt you’d be disappointed.

What I Liked: Infidel is such a kick-ass character; Aurora gets a guest appearance in the second half; Menagerie provides an interesting plot point; Stagger’s sense of humor comes through loud and clear for a dead guy; once again, this book is the perfect mix of humor and seriousness; the cover is excellent.

What I Disliked: A minor point where the dialogue lagged for a page and a half and a certain conflict seemed too easily resolved, but I would not have noticed this if it wasn’t surrounded on all sides by excellent plot, characters, and writing.

Connections by Mary Lou Gediman

Hannibal is just not sure about the camera.

Why I Read It: The cover drew me in.

Where I Got It: As a review copy from the author (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you greatly enjoy PG-rated daytime mystery/crime shows like Murder She Wrote, you might enjoy this book.

Publisher: Createspace (2012)

Length: 234 pages

The book opens with Pontiac Parker, a 60-something mechanic) and his fiance Maggie Lerner making final preparations for their wedding. Straight off, mystery ensues with an unknown peeping tom in a black SUV studying them through binoculars the night before their wedding. I series of mysterious messages follows over the next few days, plaguing the newly weds. Soon they have the neighborhood busybody elderly Matilda involved along with Maggie’s grown daughter Abbie and her fiance Dick.  The plot goes on to reveal long-lost relatives and a large corporation conspiracy, with the key lying buried far across the country.

Overall, I didn’t connect with any of the characters, finding them one dimensional. While I appreciated Mary Lou Gediman‘s down-to-earth banter between Maggie and Pontiac, it wasn’t anything special. The more you read, the more you find things cliched; and I read a lot. However, there were more cliches in this book than I was prepared for. At the beginning, two adults in their 60s finding true love and marrying was endearing. But then the story becomes flooded with loose ties to the number 7, simple alpha-numeric puzzles, and character slippage (one character’s attributes bleeding into another). Additionally, I felt that Abbie was written as a late 20s or 30-ish woman at the beginning but later slipped into the behavior of a snotty 15-year-old, perhaps for the convenience of conflict.

Most of this story takes place in Virginia. Pontiac is Native American and Maggie Caucasian. When I picked this book up, I expected this inter-racial relationship to be a source of deep discussion in the book, but it’s not really mentioned. Instead of this source of possible strength and/or conflict adding depth to the book, it was glanced over. The story later involves a car trip cross country to Washington state, visiting various of Pontiac’s friends and relatives along the way. This could also have been another source of discussion about regional and tribal differences concerning a breadth of stuff, including bringing Maggie into the family. Alas, a missed opportunity for the author.

What I Liked: The cover; the relationship between Maggie and Pontiac.

What I Disliked: The characters were one dimensional; the plot was weak; the conspiracy theory was not believable; I didn’t connect with any of the characters; there were several small inconsistencies throughout the book (e.g. Pontiac has a thing for the number 7 which everyone on the reservation knows, however later this oddity comes up and it’s stated that few people know of his connection to the number 7).

Caveat Emptor by Ken Perenyi

Why I Read It: Art + History + Real Crime = Interesting Read.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you have an interest in the late 1900s art forging scene, this book hits the spot.

Narrator: Dan Butler

Publisher: AudioGO (2012)

Length: 9 hours 54 minutes

Buyer, beware. That is the moral of this nonfiction tale of the artist and art forger Ken Perenyi. From simple beginnings, young Ken finds himself hanging out with art appreciators and artists who encourage his own interest. In an effort to explore his ability, he mimics some of his favorite artists, only to discover his initial modest ability to accurately recreate another’s work. Set mostly in New York, Florida, and England, this book chronicles Perenyi from young artist to modern-day jaded art recreationist.

One of the most interesting parts of this book was the detailed information on the techniques of producing aging effects, fly spots, and staining or dirty varnish. It was fascinating to ride along as the author tried this or that to mimic certain traits of various artists. His appreciation of the various art styles comes through clearly. Yet I find it contradictory to then cheapen the art by passing recreations off as the original work. Still, my own moral view point did not lessen my enjoyment of this book.

After reading this book, I fear I will be a bit more jaded about buying art, especially at auction. It seems an easy and fertile ground for the less than scrupulous to make money. While the author initially got into recreating art to pay the bills, later on it became evident that he possessed enough skills to make a decent living doing something else but the challenge of recreating a style and passing it off as original was too much of a draw. Oh, and the millions of dollars his efforts sometimes fetched.

The audio narration by Dan Butler was well done, filling in for the voice of the author Ken Perenyi. The author’s sense of wonder at various paintings, his loss of dear friends, and anxiety over nearly being caught at one time or another came through clearly.

What I Liked: The art appreciation; the adventure of it all; the detailed info about how to make forgeries and a few hints of what to look for.

What I Disliked: Art appreciation morphed into an over-inflated sense of self appreciation and money appreciation.

Greatshadow by James Maxey

Heldig

Why I Read It: A good friend recommended it and I really enjoyed Maxey‘s Nobody Gets the Girl.

Where I Got It: From my friend.

Who I Recommend This To: This ain’t your standard fantasy adventure, so if you’re ready for something new, check this out.

Publisher: Solaris (2012)

Length: 416 pages

Series: Dragon Apocalypse 1

This book is in the top 10 of my favorite new reads of the year. I know, I’m being blunt. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was chewing through 50-100 pages a night and only put it down when I was too fatigued to read any more. This book turned me into a little kid – I didn’t want to sleep, or do the dishes, or get dressed. I simply wanted to read this book.

OK, I’ll set the gushing praise aside for a moment and tell you why I loved this book. First, nearly all the story is told from the view point of a dead guy, Stagger. He and Infidel were ruin hunting in the jungles and came across some pygmies and Stagger bit off more than he could chew. Even Infidel, with her super-human strength and invulnerability, could not keep him breathing. Luckily for the story line, he becomes a ghost that gets to follow her around for the rest of the book. Second, Infidel is a kick-ass 30 year-old woman who is the true heroine of this tale. She is fascinating, flawed, and trying to do the right thing after loosing her best friend of many years.

Third, there are primal dragons who are the embodiment of various facets of nature, such as fire or cold or entropy. This tale involves a dragon hunt of the primal fire dragon Greatshadow who resides on the island that Infidel and Stagger have haunted for some years. Infidel ends up joining the hunt along with the ice ogress Aurora (Reason #4). I could go on about the story line and ruin everything for you, or I could get abstract.

Abstract it is: The Black Swan (Reason #5) and her mysterious abilities set the stage for Infidel to second guess herself, providing the reader that inner character strife that often lacks in dragon fantasies. James Maxey put together such an eclectic crew for the dragon hunt and then not all of them made it through to the end. Luckily, one of my favorite characters Menagerie (Reason #6) makes it through to the end. His power comes from tattoos and blood magic letting him be one of the most powerful shape shifters I have seen in fantasy.

Trust me. This books kicks ass and will have you calling in sick to work and family engagements.

What I Liked: The cover, the primal dragons; Infidel; the philosophy rambles; the mix of serious and humor was perfectly balanced; the characters have histories that are hinted at and revealed in little bits; the ending; Stagger was a real guy with fading hair and a little pot belly.

What I Disliked: The death of some of the unique characters in the first half of the book gave me a little sniffle.

I am participating in a weekly Read & Review Blog Hop hosted by On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to check out other great books reviewed by other book bloggers.

Wolfshead by Robert E. Howard

Chupacabra

Why I Read It: I was challenged to read non-Conan RE Howard works.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Howard’s Conan lovers.

Publisher: Bantam Books (1979)

Length: 147 pages

Earlier this year, I read a collection of R. E. Howard‘s Conan stories. My Main Man has been a Conan fan for decades and there was lots of hype with the forthcoming new Conan movie and I felt like I had ignored a living piece of Americana. To sum up, I had mixed feelings about Howard’s Conan works as some stories were elegantly written with a flow of words that had me sighing with appreciation. Other stories were so blatantly racist and sexist that I found myself having pangs of guilt over enjoying the stories that clicked with me. Anyway, I have a nice article about it over on Darkcargo if you want to delve into it.

The 6 stories captured in Wolfshead are not about Conan, are longer than most of his Conan works, and held to be some of his finest writings. I have to agree that they are some of the finest Howard stories I have read (note that my list of Howard works is simply this book and Conan). In short, the writing was beautifully haunting and drew me in time and again; however, this wordy skill is off-balanced by the few racist references and sexist overtone. While I can stand in awe of Howard’s wordsmith, I’m also adult enough to acknowledge the white male chauvinism embedded in the works without dismissing them as ‘due to the times and location’ (Howard wrote in 1920s Texas).

Briefly, let me nod my head to each of these 6 stories.

The Black Stone is about a mysterious black monolith in Old Europe, most likely in the one of the Slavic countries. A man falls asleep  one night in the open near the monolith and has a very real dream about worshipers of the stone and whatever evil deity resides on it/in it (see the cover in the pic). When I think of the well written bits of the Horror genre, I think of stories like this. It was chilling.

The Valley of the Worm was an odd piece featuring Aesir descendants in Africa who have to battle a great evil. I think this was my least favorite of the collection as there were several racial slights.

Wolfshead was a twisted werewolf story complete with a large castle and plenty of victims trapped inside with the shape shifter. However, this was more than just a horror story about a mindless beastman. The ending surprised me and I was pleased with how it turned out.

The Fire of Asshurbanipal featured an Indiana Jones type adventurer from the UK and his Afghan sidekick. This story surprised me because of it’s lack of derogatory slights to the sidekick. There was also no sexism as there were no female characters. If I read this story all by itself as an example of Howard’s work, I would put him on a pedestal as it is well-conceived and executed.

The House of Arabu was an interesting piece featuring a demoness hunting a strong, sword-wielding man. He wishes to trap her or destroy her, but once having a discussion with her realizes he has a mortal foe on the earthly plane that sent her to assassinate him. Once again, a good example of what the Horror genre can provide.

The Horror from the Mound, oddly, was a cowboy story taking place in Texas. A curious cowpoke starts digging into an ancient mound hoping to find some treasure and he releases an evil upon the world. It was fun.

What I Liked: The dark overtones throughout the collection; the eloquence of phrase and description; well executed stories.

What I Disliked: Sexism; racism.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Pico & Waffles

Why I Read It: I saw it recommended by some other book bloggers (especially Stainless Steel Droppings).

Where I Got It: The Library.

Who I Recommend This To: If you like detailed, suspenseful, multi-generational tales, this is for you.

Narrators: Jill Tanner, Bianca Amato

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2006)

Length: ~16 hours

Ms. Vida Winter, a most famous, elderly, and nationally treasured writer, has lied to the press for decades about her past. She has finally decided that her life story needs to be told and she has chosen Ms. Margaret Lea. This book is a record of her distant and tragic past, and quite the entertaining tale it makes too. Interwoven with Ms. Winter’s history is the mystery and personal loss of Margaret’s life.

I loved this story. It was so rich in building the suspense a piece at a time. Towards the end, I had a few moments where I had guessed what was about to be revealed and I found myself holding my breath, waiting to hear if I had it right. Set in England, perhaps in 1970s or 1980s with Ms. Winter and Margaret meeting and making an agreement in which Margaret doesn’t ask any questions that jump ahead in the story and Ms. Winter doesn’t lie.. Ms. Winter tells her tale starting with her own parents, going back to a time when her great house was just starting to decline. Truly, Diane Setterfield laid the grounds for the mystery of Winter’s life, but then coupling it with Margaret’s own tragic beginning made for excellent reading.

While many of the characters in this story are long dead, as they are part of Winter’s past, the author wrote them so believably real and their existence is still reflected in how they shaped and molded Ms. Winter as a young lady. From her own emotionally absent parents to the gardener and the house mistress, and even a short-term governess. All these people had a piece in the tragedy of Winter’s life, some good and some bad and some a mix. I appreciated that in the end, Winter wasn’t free of her burden of guilt and bad choices past.

The narrators, Jill Tanner and Bianca Amato, were an excellent set to perform this book as it is told through the eyes of two ladies. The old lady regret came through clearly in the performance and Maragaret’s longing for a piece of her soul lost colored all her thoughts and deeds.

What I Liked: The suspense; the generational history; Margaret’s loss and yet she perseveres; the uncovering of Ms. Winter’s past a little at a time.

What I Disliked: At the end, there was still some mystery as to the twins – I wanted an answer as to why one was cruel and one was sweet.

Command: Henry V by Marcus Cowper

Why I Read It: I’ve had an interest in Medieval English history for some time.

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

Who I Recommend This To: France and England had a lot of conflict during this time period and this book is very informative about those conflicts without bias.

Narrator: Jamie Glover

Publisher: Creative Content Ltd (2011)

Length: 2 hours 10 minutes

Series: Command Book 8

I don’t know why the cover shows Henry V so alabaster-white – he was out in the field a lot and probably had a decent tan. This was a very informative read and it fed my brain well. Henry V lived from 1386 to 1422 and fought in several battles, mostly against France. Marcus Cowper tells the life of Henry simply, lays out the politics of the time in a straight-forward manner, and covers the big events in an unbiased way.

Henry V was known for his military leadership in his day, before and after his controversial decision to slaughter the captured French after the battle of Agincourt. After nearly conquering France, he signed a treaty that made him heir apparent to France and wed the French king’s daughter. Unfortunately, he died relatively young, which always makes history-tourists scratch our heads and wonder how Europe would have been different had he lived to a ripe old age.

Jamie Glover was a good choice for this book, providing an authoritative voice. He also pronounced the French names and words with alacrity.

What I Liked: Simple, easy to follow; laid out in timeline fashion; I absorbed a fair amount of the information on the first listen.

What I Disliked: Alas, there are no maps in audiobooks.

The Treasure of Isian by Serena Clarke

Why I Read It: The description sounded like a fun fantasy read.

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

Who I Recommend This To: For those who like a simple, sweet fantasy love story.

Publisher: Red Mountain Shadows Publishing (2012)

Length: 265 pages

The story opens with manling Prince Garin and his trusted servant Elani (and a whole retinue of soldiers) setting off on another treasure hunt, seeking the Treasure of Isian. The fact that no one in the party knows what the treasure is nor where Isian is does not hold them back. Prince Garin has found other treasures before, why not this one? Elani, a girl on the cusp of womanhood, has been his unquestioning servant for the past 13 years. She adores Garin and would willingly live her life for him, even if there wasn’t a geis on her forcing her to follow through on any and all of his commands.

The reader gets to follow along on this fast-paced, G-rated adventure; through giants, water witches, dragons, warrior women, and a few other perils. Both Garin and Elani gain in depth as the story progresses, but never get bogged down in details of the past or too much inner turmoil. While Elani gets to wield a sword a few times, her character over all is subservient to Garin, in particular, and to anyone else in general. Garin starts to see his long-time companion as something more than a servant as new-found friends refuse to treat her as one.

Overall, Serena Clarke gave us a book that is a sweet Disney-like fantasy romance (violence isn’t detailed, simple plot, light kissing, happy ending). While I could tell from the beginning where the book was going, I was still engaged in Elani’s character and in the dynamic between her and Garin. It was gratifying to see Garin’s self-centered behavior change over the span of the book. Elani’s character, however, only gained so much depth and then stopped and her overall goals never changed. While there are a few female side characters, she is pretty much the only female character with an important role. Some of the other female characters were evil witches, lust-filled battle harden crude warrior women, and a self-absorbed princess. The male characters had larger roles to play and fewer of them were evil or crude or selfish, which gave the tale an unbalanced quality in the never-ending Battle of the Sexes. However, despite these simple flaws, I still enjoyed the tale as the main characters felt like familiar friends by the end.

What I Liked: Smooth, easy reading; several small adventures tucked into a larger quest; Elani’s perseverance; watching Prince Garin change; Elani gets to save the Prince.

What I Disliked: Most of the female characters are evil; there is only 1 main female character cast among a sausage fest; the 1st time Elani wields a sword in the story I think it is her 1st time ever and learn much later that she has had training (author could have put 2 sentences explaining that earlier in the book as I had a hard time believing Elani had conquered an early foe so easily for about a quarter of the book).

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Afternoon cat pile.

Why I Read It: It’s a classic that’s been kicking around on my list for a long time.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap

Who I Recommend This To: Folks who like character depth in the monsters would enjoy this novel.

Narrators: Anthony Heald, Stefan Rudnicki, Simon Templeman

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2008)

Length: 8 hours 42 minutes

This classic surprised me with depth of character, even in Frankenstein’s unnamed monster. Mary Shelley had an intense if short life; she lost her first 3 children, her husband died during a sailing accident, and she herself expired at 53 due to a brain tumor. Sucks. All of that happened after she wrote Frankenstein, which I can only imagine intensified her later works (definitely on my TBR pile).

Large chunks of this book are told through letters and memories captured in letters, which carried the story well. The story starts with Cpt. Walton writing to his sister about his activities on whaling boats in the far north and his loneliness. He and his crew then see something odd on the ice flows and rescue a man near death, Frankenstein. The story then jumps back in time to Frankenstein’s childhood and early college days. He was a bit of a daydreamer and became fascinated with the idea of imbuing dead flesh with life. The actual detail of the life-giving act to Frankenstein’s creation is kept vague and happens without great fanfare. The suspense is built up to the first nefarious deeds of the creature created by Dr. Frankenstein and then held at the high level to very end. Damn good writing.

After the death of two who Frankenstein cared about, he comes face to face with his zombie-like creation. This part was particularly exciting as we hear what his creation has been doing with his time on his own and what he wants from Frankenstein. I felt greatly for this mish-mashed animated man; shortly after showing signs of life, he was abandoned by his creator to fend for himself, then humans fear him because of his size and his looks so he has zero friends, and finally he is the only one of his kind. The rest of the book is Frankenstein dodging what he promised his creation, fleeing to the far north.

This was an excellent Gothic novel and I am very glad I took the time to explore it. This tale explores the idea of inherent goodness vs. inherent evil and raises the important question of responsibility of life brought into this work (whether a child or mish-mash zombie).

The audio was well done between our three narrators. I have been a fan of Stefan Rudnicki, the voice of the monster, for some time. He did not let me down in this production.

What I Liked: Suspenseful; good counterpoint between enjoyment of nature and family and the despair of loosing those things held dear; the very human side to the creature.

What I Disliked: While there were several female characters, they all had minor roles.

As part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, I am going to count this book as Gothic Fiction. This event is still going strong until the end of October, so feel free to hop over there and join the fun.