The American Fathers: Escape from New Orleans by Henry L. Sullivan III

SullivanEscapeFromNewOrleansNarrators: Adrianne Cury, Cameron KnightJennie Moreau, Juan Francisco Villa, Kevin Theis, Rebecca Cox

Publisher: Sullivan Serials (2016)

Length: 1 hour 13 minutes

Series: Book 3 The American Fathers

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 3 in the series, it works well as a stand alone, though it is definitely enhanced by enjoying the first 2 episodes previously. However, if you do pick this up as a stand alone, you might want to check out the glossary first to pick up some of the lingo, characters, and overall atmosphere of the series. For the audiobook, this glossary starts at the 59 minutes 20 seconds mark and lasts just over 14 minutes.

Devin Wayne is a hunted man and he doesn’t know it yet. He’s just waking up to another day in the near-future New Orleans that is complete with AI, coffee, and annoying yet loyal friends. Mike has unexpectedly stopped by Devin’s hotel room and Devin, always on the edge, nearly took Mike for an assassin. Devin isn’t far off the mark because Mike is there to deliver some bad news: a hit has been taken out on Devin and one of the most skilled assassin’s in the trade as been hired.

This addition to the series is quite different from Books 1 and 2. While Swept Away and Dinner Invitation were more cerebral and full of political intrigue, this book is all action. It starts with Devin pouncing on the unexpected Mike to their attempt to escape New Orleans to the cat and mouse game Devin and MCM play throughout the rest of the book. Also, there’s no sex. Still, even though this book has a totally different tone, it is still pretty darn good.

There’s a decent amount of future tech built into this tale. I loved the vehicle AIs and all the stuff that can go wrong with such things. Then Devin, who is a highly skilled operative, has some tricks up his sleeve for evading MCM. Yet not to be outdone, MCM has some tracking gadgets that Devin and Mike weren’t expecting.

The action rolls in waves throughout the book so I never got battle fatigue from the story. Things start off mellow with Devin waking up and then he goes on high alert as he tackles an unexpected Mike. Things mellow out again as the two men catch up and then things peak again with the first attack from MCM. This really worked for me because I don’t need one adrenaline rush after another in my stories.

The banter between the two men was very amusing. They obviously have a long history and have built up this trusting friendship over time. Like Mike, I was hoping just a little that Devin would describe some of his intimate moments with his girlfriend Irene Daco (who we met in Book 2) but I can respect a person who doesn’t kiss and tell. I do want to know more about MCM and if this episode will be the last we see of this assassin.

While this episode of the series had a nearly all-male cast, it balances out well with the series as a whole. The female characters were definitely the stars for the first two episodes. Now we’ve seen that Sullivan can do action scenes as well as he does political intrigue and sexy relationships. All around, I’m impressed. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

I received a free copy this book.

The Narration: The quality of this series continues to be top rate. The vocal narrations are well done, each character being well cast. I especially liked Devin’s voice, being a rich manly voice. Mike was playful and impertinent and I could just picture the impish grin on the narrator’s face as he performed this character. There’s a handful of other voices throughout the story and I really liked the New Orleans accent some of these characters had. Sound effects and background music complete the experience. These are well timed and also don’t compete with the narration, which remained crisp and clear throughout.

What I Liked: Future tech stuff; plenty of action; some humor as well; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this was an excellent story!

Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep

Tofu is not bothered by bugs or books.
Tofu is not bothered by bugs or books.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Lauren Fortgang

Publisher: Audible Studios (2010)

Length: 11 hours 59 minutes

Series: Book 1 Elemental Assassin

Author’s Page

Gin Blanco is a stone elemental and an assassin known as the Spider. She also works part time at the Pork Pit in Ashland, at the junction of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. A job goes south when she discovers she has been set up and now an air elemental is after her, along with the local police. With her handler dead and her base of operations currently unsafe, her resources are limited. However, she does gain a temporary ally – Detective Donovan Caine. The stage is set for Gin to fail spectacularly – and she knows it. The knowledge that the cards are stacked against her won’t stop her from taking out those that set her up.

This was a fun addition to the urban fantasy genre! I liked that it was more action and character development than romance, though there is a touch of that sprinkled in here. The story starts off in a mental health asylum. Gin is there undercover as that is the only feasible way of getting to her target. I had a lot of fun with this opening as it was not what I was expecting. Gin’s limited morals make her an interesting character right from the start. I like that she doesn’t go all emo when it comes to killing people. She’s already figured out what her limits are and where the lines are drawn for her in the matter of killing humans.

Her adoptive family trained her and now act as her partners in the business. Fletcher Lane is her handler, setting up the jobs and keeping her from direct contact with those that require her services. Fletcher’s son, Finn, is really good with documents and can make nearly anything that Gin might need for her jobs. They’ve been working together for years, and with the Pork Pit as their base of operations, they have a really good thing going. That is until someone set’s the Spider up for assassination herself.

So I wasn’t expecting things to get personal for Gin in the first book, with her adoptive family targeted along with her. That made this story much more exciting! As the injuries occur and the body count increases, we meet other magical misfits that have worked with Gin and her family for years. Jojo is a Dwarf beautician and a healer. Gin definitely needs access to a healer. Regularly. Sometimes desperately. Jojo’s Goth sister, Sophia, is good at disposing of bodies; another must for the assassination business.  I really enjoyed Sophia and her usually monosyllable responses to queries. The image of a grunting, aloof Goth Sophia is awesome!

Then we have the problem of Donovan Caine. He’s a straight arrow detective and he has a personal beef with the Spider; his partner was killed several months back by the Spider and now he wants this assassin behind bars or dead. Yet Gin saved his life even as she was busy taking out targets that were there to set her up. So now he owes her and agrees to help her on this one case. Pretty soon it becomes clear there is an undercurrent of attraction between the two, even if it is an unwelcome distraction for Gin and an undeniable fact for Detective Caine. Gin had very good reasons for killing Donovan’s partner but she holds off on telling him. After all, she doesn’t have to defend her actions to this detective! Part of me wants Donovan to ask and learn all the facts and part of me wanted Donovan to figure it out on his own – he’s a detective after all! This situation added a delicious dollop of tension to the book.

In the end, I really enjoyed this story. It was a fun mix of magic and mystery. The romance was an undercurrent and didn’t become the main feature – which is just how I like it! Gin is a very interesting character that already has a strong sense of who she is and what she will and will not do. I liked that we learned some keys things about her past but the book wasn’t flooded with flashbacks. Over all, a most enjoyable urban fantasy romp!

I won a physical copy of this book from AudioGals (thanks!). As always, my opinion is my own.

Narration: Lauren Fortgang was great with her southern twang for the Spider. She had distinct voices for all the characters and her male character voices were masculine. She did read the one sex scene in a kind of monotone, like she was bored with it, but that is my only criticism.

What I Liked: Gin is already a well-molded character; she’s an assassin; the elemental magic is fun; her adoptive family and friends mean much to Gin; things are complicated with Detective Caine; this is definitely more urban fantasy than romance.

What I Disliked: The sex scene was narrated in a monotone – was the narrator bored with it?

What Others Think:

AudioGals

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Pacific Burn by Barry Lancet

LancetPacificBurnWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Scott Brick

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 9 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 3 Jim Brodie

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 3 in the series, it works fine as a stand along novel.

Jim Brodie’s passion is art and he loves his life as an art dealer. However, he inherited another life from his father, one that is inextricably tangled in his deceased father’s security firm. The son of his good friend Ken Nobuki is dead and a week later an attempt is made on Ken himself. Local San Francisco politicians put pressure on Jim and the local police department to solve the two cases quickly. But this mystery will take Jim across the nation to DC and then on to Japan and back. All his skills will be needed to catch the killer.

Jim Brodie is a fascinating character. At first he comes off as a kind of bookish man with his love of art and as a widower taking care of his young daughter. Then we learn that he’s fluent in Japanese when the local PD ask him to act as interpreter. His surprisingly quick reflexes from years of martial arts training are put into use when an attempt is made on Ken Nobuki’s life. Then he calls in members of his security firm to guard Ken in the hospital while he travels to DC and then Japan to secure the Nobuki family and hopefully track down the killer. It’s a very interesting skill set and all sorts of seedy characters are pulled into the story via both the art world and the security work.

The plot was awesome. Naomi Nobuki, Ken’s daughter, is a journalist and anti-nuclear power activist. Of course, Jim is immediately worried that her activist activities may be the reason behind the targets on the Nobuki family. Jim races to Japan to wrap the Nobuki family up tight in security and there he hears his first tale of the legendary Steam Walker. I won’t spoil it for you because it is pretty freaking awesome. Just know that Jim and his friends have met a worthy opponent.

There’s a touch of romance in the story. On a previous trip to Japan, Jim met Rie Hoshino, a Tokyo cop. So far, their personal relationship has been kept under wraps. They have some lovely moments together that may one day lead to something more. She’s a martial artist herself and handles herself in conversations but, alas, the author never shows us her other skills. In fact, she has to be medically assisted once and rescued at one point. I hope the author chooses to do more with her character instead of giving her these cliched moments during the action scenes.

I was kept guessing throughout the tale. There’s plenty of Japanese culture wound throughout the story and it is done well. I never felt that the author had fallen into teacher mode and was giving a lecture. Even once our main characters have a solid idea of who their killer is, there is quite the chase to catch him. And this killer has yet more surprises for our heroes. I really appreciated the final note from the author noting what elements of the story were fictional and which are real. It speaks volumes to the research done by the author.

 

I received a copy at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration:  I think this is one of Scott Brick’s better works. I have listened to many of his SFF narrations but it has been a while since I picked up a book narrated by him. His female voices were quite believable and each distinct. He did a great job with all the Japanese sprinkled throughout the story. 

What I Liked: Great plot!; the myth of the Steam Walker; the activist angle; Jim’s unusual skill set; Oribe pottery; volcanic activity; realistic trauma from weapons; a very worthy opponent.

What I Disliked: Very minor – I would have liked to see the ladies do what they do instead of simply being told what they do.

What Others Think:

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The Policeman by Drew Avera

AveraThePolicemanWhere I Got It: Kindle Unlimited

Publisher: Drew Alexander Avera (2014)

Length: 27 pages

Series: A Short Story Of The Dead Planet Series

Author’s Page

Set on a future Mars, Serus Blackwell is a Policeman working for the Agency in the city of Archea. The Policemen are often assigned by the Syndicate, a ruling class of business owners, to assassinate people who break the rules or pose obstacles to the Syndicate’s goals.

Thom, a ruddy-cheeked redhead, is still in training. Serus has taken him under his wing and plans to give him a good chance at becoming a Policeman. Their current assignment is a businesswoman, Mira Taggert, who has been embezzling funds in order to secure her won wealth. The Syndicate doesn’t take kindly to this.

This short story has some cool tech but not as much as I expected. The Policemen have their fancy gauntlets that are wired into their nerves and fire a devastating laser. That was pretty cool. However, the city itself comes off as a bit rundown and shabby. Perhaps this was intended.

Serus himself is an interesting character. He has some inner conflicts going on. His deep need to still be human on some level conflicts with the Policeman training and brainwashing. That constant internal fight has left him a little gaunt, a little ragged. He comes off as a tortured fellow that you just want to make a cup of tea and ask him to have sit down.

In this little tale, we learn that the Policemen can indeed be hurt. I found this bit of human frailty both exciting and amusing. After all, the Policemen are kind of sanctioned bullies. So it’s good to see that sometimes the targets can get in some good hits. If you’re thinking about checking out the series, this is a good intro. The ebook version contains a lengthy excerpt from Book 1, Exodus.

What I Liked: The gauntlet; Serus’s inner torment; Thom’s still got a conscious; the targets can sometimes deal out damage to the Policemen; the setting of a future Mars.

What I Disliked: I wanted a bit more tech.

The Prospect by Drew Avera

AveraTheProspectWhere I Got It: Own it

Publisher: Drew Alexander Avera (2015)

Narrator: Jamie B. Cline

Length: 40 mins

Series: Book 0 The Dead Planet

Author’s Page

The Syndicate rules the planet Archea and for those that try to defy the Syndicate, there are the elite Policemen, trained by the Agency as assassins. The training is a grueling mix of physical workouts, combat training, and brainwashing. The Syndicate has such a loyal force because they have stripped everything else away, leaving the person the Syndicate and the Syndicate only.

Prospect Gentry has just joined the Agency and the stripping of his personality begins right away with removal of all personal items, including a photo of his family. Hi sister is pregnant and he had hoped to be around for the birth. I wasn’t sure if he was forced into the Agency or if he was drafted. Still, he seems a little remorseful to be there but not terribly upset. Initially, I felt this might be a step up for him. Pretty quickly, it’s made clear how severe the training is. There are no wash outs of this program, only the lifeless bodies of those that didn’t keep up. Gentry learns early on to always keep up, if not excel.

Then there is the brainwashing which is a mix of psychological reformatting with the help of chemical stimulants. This programming pumps in pain to the subject whenever they experience positive emotions about something personal, like Gentry’s brotherly love for his sister Ambry. Pain and hate start to replace those positive emotions when it comes to personal connections. Only the joy of accomplishing this bit of training or that particular task remains. It was clear throughout the story that Gentry was in constant mental anguish, no matter how he tried to squelch even that feeling.

There’s some cool tech introduced in this short tale, like the Policeman gauntlets. We mostly see them being used by the trainers. Then there’s the bits of surveillance throughout the city which I expect is monitored either by the Agency or directly by the Syndicate. I’m hoping for more scifi tech in the next installments of the series. My one little quibble is that there is only 1 female character (Gentry’s sister Ambry). No female Policemen?

The ending was poignant. Gentry has his graduation test in order to go from a mere Prospect to a full Policeman. There’s repercussions. However, I have hope that Gentry hasn’t lost all his humanity. Definitely left me ready to jump into the next in the series.

 

Narration: Jamie B. Cline was a good choice for this book. He had a young but not naive voice for Gentry. Cline did a really good job of expressing Gentry’s inner agony in many little ways without being over dramatic about it.

What I Liked: Some cool tech; inner torture; a kind of little guy challenges the big powerful entity scenario; the ending was poignant and yet left us with some hope.

What I Disliked: Only 1 female character.

 

Chronicles of Steele: Raven, the Complete Story by Pauline Creeden

CreedenChroniclesOfSteeleRavenTheCompleteStoryWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Andrea Emmes

Publisher: Topline Tack (2015)

Length: 8 hours 8 minutes

Series: Book 1 Chronicles of Steele

Author’s Page

Set in a steampunked England, this story follows Raven Steele, Reaper, as she tries to find balance in her life. She is tasked by the eldest son (Solomon) of the Duke to see Darius (the youngest son) safely to the Wood Witch in the hopes she will be able to cure his strange malady. Raven soon finds herself caught up in in a tangled web of plans laid by various nefarious folks. She is not sure that she can keep young Darius alive… not sure at all.

The Reapers are a unique set of assassins and righters of wrongs. For every life they take, they must in turn save a life. Raven comes from a line of Reapers and was raised with the code. I liked this give and take aspect to the story. It allowed some of the characters to pass that final judgement but did not relieve them of their responsibility to turn around and save a life without having passed judgement upon it. In this case, young Darius needs Raven’s protection from his own father, but he also needs specialized medical attention for this mysterious condition. This gives Raven plenty to worry about. Plus Darius has a loyal dog, Nikki, who Raven must also keep safe.

Raven has this corset that I really want to get my hands on and have a similar one made. It has big magnets on the back, making it easy for her to store a crossbow or sword. It’s sexy and steampunky, so I can overlook the obvious drawbacks of having items accidentally knocked loose or even someone imply taking something when she’s distracted by fighting. She is a careful and deadly fighter, so I am sure she has weighed the pros and cons of this. I trust her judgement.

Most of the cast is male. Raven stars at the center of the story, but there are few females besides her. Later, we do meet the Wood Witch, and also an herbalist names Marietta. These two ladies affect the plot and play integral roles. I grew quite fond of Marietta – so practical and a little sharp tongued. There are a few more, but they had very minor roles. Meanwhile, Raven is surrounded by men for the bulk of the tale.

Captain Jack Grant has been tasked by the Duke to bring Darius back. He’s also a potential romantic interest. He can’t figure Raven out and she is stumped over him. They have to build trust first, especially since the Duke wants Darius dead. One of my little criticisms is that I was confused for most of the story about Jack Grant. Now, obviously I now know that he is a single person. But for much of the story he is referred to either as Grant or as Jack and only a very few times is he called Captain Jack Grant. So, for most of the story I thought we had two separate men working in the Duke’s guards and that both were potentially interested in Raven. It was confusing. And I fear that I did the same thing with the medical doctor, Colton…. who I think might be Gregory Colton? Or are they two separate people? Sigh…. Obviously, if their last names were obvious surnames like Coltonson or Grantson, then I think I would be able to keep them straight with ease during this action-packed, fast paced story.

The steampunk aspects are nicely built into the story. The author doesn’t dwell on the mechanics and instead makes the mechanized items (like steampunk horses) tools for the characters. I like that not every bit of technology works all the time as planned and that not everyone likes the technology. Later in the story, we get an additional plot line that involves mechanized servants. This, along with keeping Darius safe, gives Raven plenty to keep her busy. Story was definitely entertaining!

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

Narration: Andrea Emmes did a great job with voices and accents. Her little kid voice for Darius was perfect. I especially liked her accent and attitude for Marietta. All her character voices were distinct and she did a variety of regional accents too.

What I Liked: Steampunk goodness!; Nikki the dog; corset bristling with weapons; the tenets of the Reaper code before each chapter; plenty of action; Marietta and her attitude; the plot thickens about halfway through the tale; the steampunk aspects don’t overshadow the plot and characters; great narration; love the cover art.

What I Disliked: Mostly a male cast; sometimes I was confused on characters because they are referred to by a single name (like Jack or Grant for Cpt. Jack Grant) – I thought he was 2 separate characters for most of the book.

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The Balborite Curse by Kristian Alva

AlvaTheBalboriteCurseWhere I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Narrator: Adam Chase

Publisher: Defiant Press (2013)

Length: 6 hours 9 minutes

Series: Book 4 Dragon Stone Saga

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 4 in the series, it works as a stand alone. It is like a first book in a second trilogy following characters we met in the first 3 books, but set years later.

This was another excellent installment in the Dragon Stone Saga. In this book, the main character is Tallin, the half-dwarf dragon rider and teacher to Elias from the first three books. He was a fascinating character in previous books and I was quite pleased to see him take center stage. The Balborite Curse takes place about 5 years after Book 3, Vosper’s Revenge. Peace has lasted, though it is threadbare and falling apart in places (such as the dwarf kingdoms). There are still few dragons and few riders. Sela is still head of the dragon riders but is soon called back from her vacation to help Tallin deal with yet one more merchant attempting to smuggle a deadly poison into the desert city. I sense these two may be headed for romance in future installments, but for this book there was just the merest hint of something more than friendship.

The interrogation of the merchant leads to more questions and sends Tallin on a small quest to ensure the safety of the merchant’s family, if they still live. Along the way, he visits Chua and Starclaw. Starclaw gives Duskeye (dragon companion to Tallin) some much needed advice on finding receptive dragon females, if any still live. Dragon reproduction is a taboo subject for humans and dragons to chat about, therefore there is much mystery as to why the dragons have not started reproducing again.

Peppered throughout Tallin’s narrative, we get to hang out with the Balborite assassin Skarekina (spelling?), who we have met in previous books. We get some flashbacks to how she became a deadly, accomplished assassin. She has a grudge against Tallin and it comes to blows! Skarekina is a wonderful villain because she is so competent!

We also learn a little about the Orcs and their civilization. It seems that everyone discounts and looks down on the Orcs, even some of our heroes. However, I get the feeling that the author has something more planned for us when it comes to the Orcs. I look forward to surprises later in the series. Towards the end, another dwarf magic user is introduced. She is elderly and practical and was a joy to see in action. I expect we will be seeing more of her in Book 5. I am already somewhat attached to her, so I really hope she doesn’t get killed any time soon.

I know I keep saying it about this series, but I feel each book is just a touch better than the last. I couldn’t be more satisfied with a fantasy series. The characters are interesting, the plot has more than one story line and is not horribly predictable, and the bad guys are complicated and often competent. Plus we then have these side issues going on (fighting dwarf kingdoms, the Orcs, dragon reproduction, etc.) that keep the reader wondering what will happen in the next installment. With this book in particular, we have what could be a very significant question to be answered in the next book and I am very much looking forward to giving it a listen.

Narration:  Adam Chase continues to do a great job with this series. I love his blunt voice for Tallin. He voice for Starclaw (an older female dragon) was also great as I could just imagine her wrecked body and mild anger during her chat with Duskeye. Chase has the most wicked female laugh which he employs quite well while performing the assassin.

What I Liked:  Tallin is a great character and totally deserves his own few books; the evil assassin is competent and wicked scary; more info on the dragons; possible new threat in the Orcs; a new awesome dwarf magic user is introduced.

What I Disliked:  Nothing, this was a great book!

What Others Think:

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The Stargazey by Martha Grimes

GrimesStargazeyWhy I Read It: Have enjoyed her other works.

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

Who I Recommend This To: Cozy mystery fans.

Narrator: Steve West

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 13 hours 9 minutes

Series: Book 15 Richard Jury

Author’s Page

Note: Although this is Book 15 in the series, it works fine as a stand alone.

The book opens on a cold night with an assassin in waiting. She has a been of a clean up to do as someone saw something they weren’t suppose to while she was on a job. From this brief prologue, we jump into Richard Jury’s life, superintendent with Scotland Yard. It’s a boring Saturday, at least for Jury. He has few friends, and most of them are police such as he. So he finds himself riding a bus just to be out of the apartment and around people. But of course, he can’t turn off his brain. He notices a woman in a fur coat get on the bus. She stands out because why would someone that dressed up be on the bus? She then gets off and walks a few blocks before boarding the same bus, which had been slowed by traffic, again. But when she leaves the second time, Jury follows out of curiosity. She enters the public grounds of some palace and Jury hangs back under a street light wishing for a cigarette for a time before heading home. When he reads in the paper the next day that a body of a woman was found in the grounds, he wants to smack his head against his desk.

This is my favorite Richard Jury mystery so far. It was a bit more complex than others I have read, and while I could guess certain elements of the various hidden agendas, I didn’t see how it all fit together until the very end. Richard Jury let us in a bit more than usual with this mystery, showing the reader his lonely, empty life and his attempts to fill it. His sidekick Wiggins, who suffers from some never ending cold, was at his side making small talk with those under suspicion. We also got plenty of time with Melrose, formerly lord of this and that, having given up his titles some years back.

The plot twists together art appreciation, foreign travel, astrology, pet sitting, and Jury’s chance encounter on the bus with the woman in fur. Jury taps Melrose to help him with the art appreciation facet since Melrose has some passing interest in it, and the funds to pull off the interest. He in turn goes to his lady friend painter to obtain her assistance. She rents a room from the Crypts family. This family is terribly interesting, being full of small children, a harried but caring mother, and a father who skirts the law or outright breaks it. The descriptions of the various members had me chucking out loud.

One thing that I appreciate about Grimes’s writing is that pets and kids are not simply stand in blanks used to fill out the scenery. Nor does she go overboard in describing them, making them scene hogs. Instead she gives them enough personality ticks to have them add to the scene/plot without being unbelievable. From the dog named Stone to the child witness who poses as the dead woman, these small scenes had me chuckling once again. While I do wish we had at least one main female character, the female side characters, for the most part, bring something to the table.

The Narration: West did a good job once again, giving the male and female, old and young voices distinction. And I always enjoy his congested Wiggins. I do tend to confuse the voices for Jury and Melrose if I am not paying attention. Sure, Melrose has a talking voice laced with ennui, but when it is simply Melrose’s thoughts, the voice is rather similar to Richard Jury’s.

lavinia-portraitRIP9BannerWhat I Liked: Jury’s lonely life; untangling the mystery of the paintings; commentary on gentlmens clubs; the tie in to the opening assassin scene was clear to me until near the end.

What I Disliked: Could use at least 1 main female character.

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

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The Djinn by J. Kent Holloway

HollowayDjinnWhy I Read It: I like djinn stories, and I liked the cover.

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

Who I Recommend This To: If you like your historical fiction with lots of action and a hint of the supernatural, this is a book to check out.

Narrator: Wayne Farrell

Publisher: Seven Realms Publishing (2012)

Length: 7 hours 59 minutes

Starting off with the ancient times of King Solomon, J. Kent Halloway puts the reader right into the action and the heart of the mystery that will drive the plot for the rest of the book. As Solomon realizes his horrible mistake, he makes a desperate attempt to contain the animated clay golems that are tearing his kingdom apart and slaughtering his people. Then we jump forward to ~1185 AD Jerusalem. Baron Gregory De L’Ombre has searched long and hard for the artifacts that will allow him to reanimate and control the golems of Solomon’s times. He is driven partially by the loss of his wife. Now he treats his daughter Isabella like a precious China doll while having disowned his younger brother, William, a knight who was wounded in crusade. William was subsequently treated by the Saracens and eventually adopted. Yet misfortune then saw fit to give him leprosy. While Gregory uses slaves and mercenaries to dig tunnels in an ancient city, the djinn heckles them, taking guard after guard, perhaps to hell.

So there’s the set up. We have a culturally and religiously complex setting, which Holloway lays out well, showing the reader through different characters. Then we have the golems – shudder! We know right from the first that they are real, and mindlessly deadly. The fact that Baron Gregory wants to dig these things up, reanimate them, and control them speaks to the less that stable mind he has. Gregory uses control, fear, and pain to manage his household, guards, and mercenaries. While William uses trust and respect in his daily dealings with people, enabling him to encircle himself with loyal friends. You can see right away that the two brothers are going to end up at odds.

Early on, the djinn gives knight Horatio and his squire (and cousin) Samuel quite the scare. The djinn appears magically, dangles Horatio in the air for a polite chat, and then disappears in a puff of brimstone. Of course Baron Gregory doesn’t take this latest report well at all. He ups his search for the lost relics. He wants Solomon’s Seal, AKA Aldaib’s Ring, bad, and a certain book. The mercenary Gerard, an excellent fighter, but basically a bad man goes toe to toe with the djinn more than once. Then there is a hashashin who also tries to take a piece of the djinn too. Being a djinn is a thankless job fraught with danger and inconsiderate names. The pace of the action scenes was great, interlaced with intrigue and inner monologues.

The book has a total of 4 women, one of which is the dead mother of Isabella, Isabella herself, Isabella’s maid, and a barmaid. Isabella is the only female we get to really see, and most of that time she is crying about something or other. If I have a criticism, it is that the character Isabella felt very incomplete. For the first 3/4ths of the book, she is something for her father to control, and an object to be lusted after. Her actions come too late in the book and feel very contrary to her character, as limited as it is, up to that point. Also, women make up 50% or more of the population depending on the age range. Perhaps we could have a few more ladies in the story? But if you read this blog, you already know that I comment on that last note often.

So, overall I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I love the ancient feel to it, the mix of intrigue and magic, and of course djinn and golems! We need more djinn and golems in our modern reading material, just saying.

Narration: Wayne Farrell did a great job with all the men’s voices. The few times he had to come up with a woman’s voice, it felt strained (perhaps he was physically straining is his attempt?) and I winced a little. Whenever Isabella sadly whispered, her voice was a rich low voice and sounded good on her. But her regular chit chat voice did not sound female to me. Anyway, Farrell gave different accents and age-ranges for the male characters. I could nearly see Samuel smiling or William’s leprotic pain.

What I Liked: Ancient, mysterious setting; dangling a knight upside down for a chat; hidden library; djinn!; golems!; the family last name L’Ombre; the ending was satisfying & set up for another book (if the author chooses to do so); the cover.

What I Disliked: Isabella’s character felt incomplete and her sudden capability towards the very end felt like a last minute addition by the author.

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Narrator Reviews

Undertow by Elizabeth Bear

BearUndertowWhy I Read It: I love Elizabeth Bear‘s fantasy novels, so it was time to try her scifi.

Where I Got It: the library.

Who I Recommend This To: Folks who want to sink into an alien culture on an alien planet and watch the humans struggle along.

Narrator: Timothy Reynolds

Publisher: Recorded Books (2008)

Length: 11 hours 13 minutes

In a galaxy where nearly all humans have implants that allow them to access the collective net at will, Cricket makes a good living on Novo Haven gathering secreted information. Even memories can be accessed (shudder). Her sometimes lover, Andre, kills people, humanely and quickly, for a living. though he isn’t very open about that. Jean is a sorcerer of a kind, affecting Chance, making unlikely outcomes blossom into being. He is also one of the few humans who has taken the time to get to know the native sentient species, the Rannids (often called the Froggies). A series of events surrounding the questionable mining of a valuable resource brings the world close to destruction.

While this book took a little while to get into, I definitely appreciated the build up once the plot began to unfold. Cyberpunk meets alien suppression and exploitation meets assassin meets turning on a chance. Indeed, this tale brought together several tropes and spat out something unique and highly memorable. Told mostly from Andre’s point of view, and an interesting view it is, we see his impersonal approach to his job, assassinating folks. He also has a somewhat impersonal approach to his love life with Cricket. But then things change, and get weird, and very cool. The Charter Trade Company wants folks dead, a valuable mineral mined and off planet before anyone notices, and doesn’t care who gets injured along the way. That includes a good friend of Cricket’s and the Jean’s lover.

The Rannids are introduced bit by bit giving the reader time to get to know them. They think differently, and hence, their actions don’t always make sense to their human overlords. They have no visible sign of advanced civilization, which has left Charter Trade Company legally able to exploit them and remove the planet’s resources. But they are far more complex, able to communicate world wide through vibrations in the water, treasuring stories. Humans have many stories in many forms, and so many Rannids learn to read human lips (lacking the natural auditory equipment to hear human speech) in order to enjoy these stories.

Jean, in introducing Andre to these planet natives, may not only save Andre’s retched existence but also the planet. Jean is a Conjurer, a man who can and does affect chance outcomes. Andre has this latent ability in himself but lacks the training, and the mindset. I found Andre’s storyline the most fascinating because he starts off the least human (psychologically) and grows so much as a character by the end of the book. Listening to the culture of the Rannids unfold bit and bit as Andre would learn of them piece by piece kept me coming back for just one more chapter before bed.

Timothy Reynolds was a great choice of narrator, giving Andre’s voice precision, upper class tones, and that assassin’s detachment. His female voices were decent and his Rannid voices were unique from other voices.

What I Liked: Alien culture; assassin psychology; character growth; lots of cool tech; not everyone walks away scar-free.

What I Didn’t Like: There were a lot of concepts crammed into a single book and occasionally, it felt a little crowded.

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