Zero Lives Remaining by Adam Cesare

Where I Got It: Review copy Narrator: Joe Hempel Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2015) Length: 6 hours 13 minutes Series: Book 1 Jonathan Shade Author’s Page   Set in modern day Denver, private investigator Jonathan Shade is hired by his ex-girlfriend Naomi Miller to look into the murder of her mother Cathy by her own husband David. Plenty […]

61XAlJ0cuuL._SL300_Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Rollin & Jeanie Press (2016)

Length: 2 hours 37 minutes

Author’s Page

 

The arcade is more than a kids’ favorite place to hang out. Legends are made in the arcade as the gamers compete for the highest score, the special items, and the secret levels. But this day will be different. Legends will die. Robby Asaro’s physical body passed away some years ago, but his consciousness continued on in his favorite arcade. Now an ill-timed act of bullying will trigger a deadly rage in Robby. This time, the body count is real.

This was a wickedly fun story! I know I shouldn’t have enjoyed it so much but I did. What gamer hasn’t fantasized about living in an arcade? Centipede and Ms. Pac-Man! There was definitely some nostalgia for me in this story.

There are few girls in the arcade and Tiffany Park has caught Robby’s eyes… attention. Unfortunately, she’s also caught the attention of the bully Chris Murphy. I really do like how the author portrayed the bully. He’s a messed up kid who’s looking for attention but he’s going about it the wrong way. We get little snippets of what’s going on in his head. I actually found myself hoping he would verbally express his loneliness and that Tiffany would sigh, tell him he had a jerk way of expressing it, and the two would have a friendly Galaga competition.

But this isn’t one of those books. This is a horror flick and it’s a good one. I was surprised how quickly the body count climbed as Robby’s spirit spiraled out of control. Tiffany has to use her wits to make it out of the building but there was no guarantee that would be enough. Her ally in these attempts was the maintenance man, Dan, who had lovingly tended to the arcade games all these years. They have to outwit and out-maneuver this now-malevolent spirit that has taken on the knowledge and attributed of each character it knocks out.

It was a great ride. I really enjoyed this tale. It had some surprising twists and the insight into Chris’s character put it over the top for me. While this is a short tale, I did get attached to some of the characters, Tiffany and Dan especially. I enjoyed the little surprises and the initial nostalgia of the arcade.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Joe Hempel did a magnificent job with this one. I’ve enjoyed several other books he has narrated and he didn’t disappoint with his performance here. One of the characters has a partially paralyzed face and Hempel brought that to life with his performance. He can bounce between angry jerk-face teen to Robby’s spirit to this partially paralyzed character with ease. 

What I Liked: Great narration; love the cover art; a wickedly fun story!; a bit of nostalgia; some insight into Chris the bully; Tiffany and the rest have to use all their smarts to get free; very few make it out alive; Dan and all his love for the arcade; great ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing – was truly a delightful horror story.

What Others Think:

Into the Macabre

Horror Talk

The Audio Book Reviewer

splatterpunkzine

Hellnotes

Scream Horror Magazine

Gingernuts of Horror

 

Spirited Christmas by Gary Jonas

JonasSpiritedChristmasNarrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Denton & White (2016)

Length: 2 hours

Series: A Jonathan Shade Holiday Story

Author’s Page

Note: While this book fits somewhere into the Jonathan Shade series, it works perfectly fine as a stand alone and can be read at any point in the series.

Set in modern day Denver and surrounding area, paranormal private investigator Jonathan Shade is hired by young Madeleine Franklin who is tired of being bothered by a ghost that shows up every Christmas. Each year the sightings of this ghost have gotten worse and worse. She’s determined that this Christmas her family won’t be bothered by it. Jonathan reluctantly takes on the case.

This was a charming holiday tale by one of my favorite authors. He utilizes my favorite characters from the series in the story – Jonathan, Kelly Chan (his friend and part-time bodyguard), and Esther (who is a ghost who died in the 1920s and her spirit is tied to a typewriter). Little Maddy offers up all her money (which can easily be counted in coins) to Jonathan to perform an exorcism. Jonathan gives her a discount and heads over to perform a simple exorcism. It’s a ghost alright, but now he’ll be spending some time and money doing some house repairs over at Maddy’s for the unexpected side effects of the exorcism.

The story doesn’t stop there. Jonathan suspects he doesn’t have the whole story, but he’s not sure what he’s missing. He digs around a bit and discovers a hidden truth. I was quite pleased that this wasn’t a simple little case for Jonathan and crew. Nope. There’s flames and a sewage treatment plant involved.

The ending doesn’t leave everyone with everything they want, but it did leave me with a good warm fuzzy feeling. Jonathan and crew helped out a little girl and still had time to decide if they really wanted to go to a holiday party or not. The tale captured the humor I so enjoyed in the first 3 books of the series, with Esther and Kelly teasing Jonathan and him throwing it back at them. I also liked Jonathan’s little song about the bones.

At the time of posting this review, this short story is free on SoundCloud.

The Narration: Joe Hempel continues to do a great job with this series. He’s a perfect fit for Jonathan Shade. I also love his Kelly Chan voice. Esther is always great, especially with the accent Joe gives her. He did a great job of imbuing the characters with emotion. 

What I Liked: An exorcism!; young Maddy is determined to have a great holiday; flames; sewage; carrying a typewriter everywhere; the humor; the ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing! Perfect for the holidays!

Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas

JonasDragonGateWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2016)

Length: 7 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 3 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 3 in the series, it works mostly well on it’s own. Of course, the first two books were really good, so I highly recommend giving them a read.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series and that set the bar pretty high for this book. Jonathan and his crew (Kelly Chan, her boyfriend Brand, and the ghost Esther) are hired by Dragon Gate Industries to protect the Nobles from the revenge-seeking Marshall clan. It’s not the normal case Jonathan takes on, but he owes the guys at DGI a favor. However both the Nobles and the Marshalls come from a culture that demands the Nobles willingly give up their lives to maintain family honor.

There were several things I liked about this book but then there were also some things that didn’t work for me. The set up is interesting and not something I have come across too often in urban fantasy. The Nobles are unwilling to defend themselves and some will willingly kneel for the sword. This makes it very difficult (and a bit infuriating) for Jonathan & his team to protect the Nobles. However, the reasons driving the Marshall clan to wipe out the Nobles, including the next generation that wasn’t part of the crime that lies between the two families, never fully gelled for me. For instance, the Marshalls take heavy damage and several deaths (which can only be expected when you go up against Kelly Chan). I don’t think it was worth the cost to the Marshalls but we never get inside their heads, so we never know why they keep coming.

On the plus side, we get plenty of Kelly time, which is awesome. My love affair with this character continues. Through the form of journal entries (yep, Kelly’s got a diary!), we get her opinion on everything from the use of high heels as weapons to worrying over Jonathan’s recent personality change. And that leads me to Jonathan and how he is suppose to be rather removed from his friends, harder, and not his normal joking self. Jonathan’s friends comment often on his new harsher self,  but when we ride around in his head he doesn’t sound any different from the first two books. He’s worried about his friends, takes pride in his work, etc. After what he suffered at the end of Book 2, I was really expecting more of a change in him and that change wasn’t fully crystallized in this book.

But then we have more awesomesauce. Esther’s character continues to grow. Through the typewriter keys that she haunts, she has a wider circle of friends and all the places they visit as well. Brand, a second generation sekutar (a magically manufactured warrior of sorts), also continues to evolve. His relationship with Kelly has forced him to develop his sense of empathy. I was convinced he wouldn’t live past Book 1, but I am glad the author kept him around to play the humorous, usually oblivious jock.

Jonathan & crew are left protecting Rayna and her brother Graham, who aren’t too enthusiastic about the body guards. The Nobles have special abilities that get revealed little by little. I really liked how reticent they were to show off their paranormal or magical abilities. For the bulk of the book, Rayna and Graham need to be protected, having no evident fighting skills. However, at the very end of the book, the author suddenly tosses in some warrior skills for the Nobles and I felt this was too convenient and didn’t match up with the character and what little we learned about the culture of the land the Nobles and Marshalls are from.

So while this book was a bit of a mixed bag for me, I plan to continue the series. Books 1 & 2 were so entertaining that I trust the author to get this series back up to that same level.

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

The Narration: Joe Hempel continues to be an excellent narrator for this series. I love his voice for Esther, especially when she says, ‘It’s all berries.’ Once again, he nails the voice for Kelly Chan with her light Asian accent.    

What I Liked: Jonathan & crew are outside of their comfort zone; lots of Kelly time; Brand and Esther continue to grow as support characters; there’s some magical beasties; the conundrum of the feud between the Marshalls and the Nobles.

What I Disliked: Some of the basics never fully crystallized for me, leaving me with lots of questions at the end of the story concerning the Marshalls and the Nobles; We’re told often that Jonathan has become harder, more aloof, removed from his friends but when riding around in his head, that isn’t apparent; A new character gets one too many previously unknown abilities at the end of the book at a most convenient time.

Acheron Highway by Gary Jonas

JonasAcheronHighwayWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2015)

Length: 5 hours 56 minutes

Series: Book 2 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it stands pretty well on it’s own. Of course, Book 1 was pretty freaking awesome, so I recommend checking it out. This book does contain plot spoilers for Book 1, just in case that would bother you if you read them out of order.

PI Jonathan Shade is still hanging out in Denver. He’s approached by Miranda, who literally has no heart. She wants him to find it. Turns out there is a necromancer wreaking havoc in the area and Shade needs to put him down. Yet he is also in hiding from a powerful goddess who demands he helps her find her old lover. The bodies pile up, and then walk around, only to be laid out flat again by Jonathan and his crew. Never a dull moment in this book!

I really enjoyed Book 1, Modern Sorcery, quite a bit and it made my Top 2015 List. So I was quite happy to return to this urban fantasy world again. Acheron Highway does not disappoint! I listened to it in one day. This book has the right combo of mystery, action, character development, and the supernatural. I was never bored and the book doesn’t fall into the trap of battle fatigue either.

Jonathan Shade continues to be an interesting character. He’s got this past that we learn more about and he also has these special abilities that he has to get creative with. In fact, towards the end he does this big trick that I wasn’t expecting. Normally, the plot device used at the end of the book would really turn me off. I like actions and choices to have consequences, and ones that our characters have to live with. But this author pulled it off really, really well. And there are still consequences, and I hope to learn how severe they are in the next book.

Kelly Chan is still my favorite female character. She’s a warrior sekutar, built by wizards to be the ultimate bodyguard. However, she went rogue some time ago and opened a martial arts studio. She’s also a loyal friend to Jonathan. In this book, she takes a pretty hard hit at the studio (riveting scene!) and it’s a game changer.

Meanwhile, Sharon, the librarian from Book 1, is in hiding after the antics she pulled. She’s walking the line of trying to keep her friends safe but also hoping it will all blow over if she just lays low. Things keeps getting bloodier and bloodier and at least part of the responsibility for that lies on Sharon’s shoulders. The friendship between Jonathan and Sharon is forever altered by what goes down in this book. Heavy duty!

This is a great addition to the urban fantasy genre!

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

The Narration: Joe Hempel did more fine work on this series with this book. Once again, his own enjoyment of the characters and plot comes through in his voice acting. All his characters are distinct and his female voices are believable. I love his drawl for Esther, a ghost from the 1920s, and his Asian accent for Kelly Chan.   

What I Liked: Jonathan has more than 1 worthy opponent this time around; the quagmire Sharon creates by staying in hiding; Kelly’s awesome combat skills; Denver setting;  more great narration; heavy ending with plenty to ponder for Book 3.

What I Disliked: Nothing! I really enjoyed this one!

 

Modern Sorcery by Gary Jonas

JonasModernSorceryWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2015)

Length: 6 hours 13 minutes

Series: Book 1 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

 

Set in modern day Denver, private investigator Jonathan Shade is hired by his ex-girlfriend Naomi Miller to look into the murder of her mother Cathy by her own husband David. Plenty of witnesses and the store camera all say there’s no doubt as to how it went down. However, Naomi won’t rest until someone looks into the paranormal side of things. Jonathan doesn’t think there was any magic involved, but he hopes the case will give him a chance at getting back with Naomi. As he digs into it, more and more mysteries pop up, along with enemies willing to kill him and his friends.

This was a very entertaining urban fantasy. I listened to it in two large chunks (had to sleep in between) and am already queuing up Book 2. First, I really enjoyed that all the major characters jump on scene with back histories. That definitely added depth to the story. Jonathan has this old history with Naomi that can’t be ignored due to present circumstances. Kelly Chan, Jonathan’s business partner, also has a a most interesting past, being a kind of supernatural guardian warrior called a sekutar. Then there is Esther, a ghost from the 1920s that is tied to an old typewriter. Later, the librarian Sharon comes into play, but she doesn’t work at a normal library. Each character brings a little something to the table as soon as they walk on the stage.

The book has a really good balance of action, character development, and time for contemplation and problem solving. I was never bored and I never got battle fatigue. As the story moves away from the initial murder, we learn about a long-dead powerful wizard that may some how be involved. Of course, figuring all this out means digging into the secrets of the wizard community, and they are a prickly bunch. Jonathan heads over to Dragon Gate Industries (DGI) to chat with Al, who was at the murder scene. I liked that it was hard to tell where Al stood on all this. I was kept guessing throughout the story if he was a friend or foe. And he wasn’t the only character that had me guessing! Others, such as Anselma (head of DGI) and Cantrell (who has a Western drawl) seemed they could go either way.

Then there is Kelly Chan. Wow! She runs this martial arts dojo and also acts as Jonathan’s personal body guard. Her sekutar powers allow her to take injuries that would completely disable mortals. She has opinions. She’s not afraid to share those opinions. Sometimes her method of sharing means shoving you up against a wall and putting a weapon in your face. No worries. She’s just making sure you’re listening. I really enjoyed her character. She brought a lot of blunt humor and blunt force trauma to the tale.

We have great characters and a great plot. This is where some authors stop. It’s not a bad place to stop, but I definitely appreciate that this author took it to the next level. He gave us a worthy bad guy. This bad guy isn’t easily tricked or trapped or defeated. Nope! Our heroes have to put their heads together and set aside some grudges with part-time enemies in order to stand a chance against this guy. Also, not everyone gets out unscathed. I truly appreciate that last bit because it makes the story poignant. That added weight makes me care for the characters that much more.

Go check out this series. If you’re looking for a new urban fantasy to satisfy your craving, then you won’t be disappointed in this one.

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

The Narration: Joe Hempel did some fine work on this one. I have listened to several of his books by now and I think this is his best work yet. It’s obvious that he enjoyed narrating this novel as much as I enjoyed listening to it. His character voices are all distinct and his female voices are believable. He had to do some accents as well and they were done well. Kelly Chan has a light Asian accent and the ghost Esther has a 1920s vocabulary of sayings and a distinctive accent. Hempel also did a great job of imbuing certain scenes with the right amount of emotion. 

What I Liked: Denver setting; great plot; great characters; love Kelly Chan!; worthy opponent; people are injured and die and that makes it real for the characters; excellent narration; touching ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing! I really enjoyed this one!

What Others Think:

Debbie’s Inkspectations

ChiZine.com

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The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones

JonesTheDinosaurFourWhere I Got It: Review Copy

Narrator: Nick Podehl

Publisher: Geoff Jones (2015)

Length: 8 hours 7 minutes

Author’s Page

The Daily Edition Cafe, in Denver near the Cherry Creek, has been Lisa’s dream for some time. She’s proud to have finally opened it and stayed open with regular customers these past few years. However, she never saw this coming! Now she and several others have been transported somehow to an unknown location. Pretty soon, it’s made clear that they are trapped in a land and time that contains dinosaurs!

This was an awesome ride! I really enjoyed this book and gobbled it down in two days. I had to put it away for sleep, though that was a tough decision. There’s a great balance of action and character development. I got to know each character to some extent, even the ones that met their demise. I really liked how each character made snap judgments about the others, just as I was doing as the reader. Later, as they get to know each other, they and I usually had to revise those judgments. Lisa is the owner of the cafe and Beth is her cute barista. She flirts with the customers and was in fact flirting with an older gentleman, Will, who is a UPS delivery man when all this happened. A regular, Al, was in the cafe, hoping to flirt with Lisa, just as he had been hoping to do so for the past 3 years. Callie and her fiance Hank had been out for a run and just stopped in for a pick me up right. And old lady Helen (who came over from Greece decades ago with her now deceased husband) just made it in the door along with a young man named Morgan (who says ‘dude’ a lot) right before the event happened. Patricia, dressed in a business power suit, was waiting to order. Tim, a joiner who works on building wood frames for houses, was waiting to meet his girlfriend Julie at the cafe for their next date.

They all hear this kind of ticking, but don’t know what it is and pay little to no attention to it. It becomes louder right before the event. Then the cafe and part of the floor above it and the sidewalk outside are all transported to what I believe to be the Late Cretaceous. I really liked all the various reactions people had, the theories they came up with, and how they come to realize they are in the land of the dinosaurs. Especially, I enjoyed how they whipped out their cells and took pictures of things, mostly dinos. Very nice touch, so modern!

Right away, they find a severed hand on the sidewalk. They come to the conclusion that they all were within whatever bubble that transported them and that bubble definitely had limits. The first dino they come across is a hadrosaur. Luckily, Will has two tween boys and they went through a dino phase, so he has some idea about some of the dinos. Patricia wants a selfie with the beastie and gets a little two close. Let’s just say the rest of the group learns a really important lesson from this. I had just started to like Patricia and thought she might be the one to take charge and lead the group. Of course, from the title, I had to wonder if only 4 would make it out of the book alive. So I was primed to expect some deaths before even starting the book. Still, I was surprised that Patricia was the first. Perhaps she was never around live stock and lacked that particular brand of common sense.

OK, so obvious the others are rather freaked out and each is having their own personal reaction to things. Helen took a significant scrape to her shin somehow during the event. After all, part of the cafe ceiling is now in the rear of the store and the bathroom. Callie, a red-headed psychiatrist, is the first to show some real initiative by tending to Helen’s leg. Hank, who comes off as a bully but is much more than that, appears to want to take charge, but the others are not so sure of him. He is wearing ridiculous running shorts. So the group sorts out that some will go on a scouting mission and the rest will stay behind in the safety of the cafe where there is at least food and water.

The scouting mission was awesome! We saw more dinos and folks were injured. We lost another member of the party. Yep. The action has started to get really real for our characters. I loved all the dinos and how none of them were portrayed as benevolent pastured cows ready for the milking. By the selection of dinos, I placed them in the Late Cretaceous and I believe the author stayed true to what dinos were around in that time period. I’m no expert, but based on a few web searches, I believe he did a good job at this. For instance, there was sea grass referred to in the book and I know that not all dino periods had flowering plants, but the Late Cretaceous did.

Eventually, the remaining grew discovers what remains of the floor above the cafe and there is a single survivor of the event who explains the why and how this happened. The crew must split up again to go find the gizmo that brought them here and they only have so many hours to retrieve it and return to the cafe before the gizmo automatically sends whatever is nearby back to downtown Denver. Oh, and there is this fail safe that might allow the crew to stop this hot mess from ever happening.

Now we have time travel conundrums and dinos! Awesome! More adventures ensue and the remaining crew show more spunk as they plot and plan their way out of this mess. The women are not just window dressing in this story (hooray!) and they definitely come up with some of the answers to immediate problems. Only Helen has certain physical limitations and can’t join in the more athletic endeavors, though she does show another member how to fish. Another member of the group starts thinking that life in the land the dinos might just be what they want and maybe they shouldn’t return. This becomes something of an obsession and then an actual plan. It’s a great mix of action and characters showing what they are truly made of.

Over all, this was an awesome book. I really enjoyed that the author stayed true to his chosen dino time period and also the possible conundrums thrown in by time travel. I became attached to many of the characters and was a little saddened when some of them met their demise. While I didn’t like all the characters (and I don’t think I was meant to), I definitely enjoyed getting inside their heads and seeing what made them tick. If you are into dinosaur adventure tales, then this is a great book to pick up.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author (via the GoodReads Audiobooks group) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: Nick Podehl was an awesome narrator. He had distinct voices for all the characters and believable female voices that didn’t sound all the same. He made these incredibly cool dino noises from time to time that were both amusing and a little scary. 

What I Liked: Dinos! Time travel!; the author picked a dino time period and stayed true to it; the characters all got some to a lot of character growth throughout the story; the ladies are not just window dressing but each contributes to the tale; some nice surprises; time travel conundrums; the ending was full of action and very satisfying.

What I Disliked: Nothing! This was an excellent read.

What Others Think:

Everything Dinosaur

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