Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Narrators: Anna Bentinck, Josie Dunn, Bea Holland, Huw Parmenter

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (2017)

Length: 11 hours 28 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in England, David just recently took a job with a group of child psychologists and he and his wife Adele have moved. Louise is a single divorced mother and recently met an attractive man in a bar, making a romantic connection. Much to her woe, that man has turned out to be her new married boss, David. Next, to compound things, she inadvertently runs into Adele (who apparently doesn’t know Louise has been snogging her husband) and they become friends. Pretty soon it becomes clear that there is some deep secret and some serious issues with David’s and Adele’s marriage. Louise is caught in the middle.

I heard a lot of hype about this book and was intrigued. However, it did take me two tries to get into it. The beginning was rather slow for me because I don’t particularly care for romances and this book starts off mostly focused on Louise’s romantic life, or lack of one. Then we get Adele and her secretive nature coupled with David’s controlling behaviors which livened up the story a little for me. Still, there’s a lot of minute character building with lots of tease as to Adele’s and David’s pasts with very little reveal until near the end. So for the majority of the book I was bored. Adele’s character kept me going back to it, wondering what her big secret was.

I’m going to give you a medium-level spoiler: This story is really a paranormal thriller. End Spoiler. I wanted to put that in here because it affects what genre this book really belongs in. However, that part of the story doesn’t really come into play until perhaps the half way point. Once this became clear in the story, the tale became more interesting. Also, the cat and mouse game Adele was playing with Louise and David made for decent reading.

The truly interesting bits were saved for the very last chapters. There we learn more about things that have only been hinted at: David’s history, a certain fire, Adele’s time in a mental health institute and the the friend she made there, and also the big secret that ties Adele and David together. Finally, at the very end we get one last big reveal and it was OK. I found it an interesting twist but not one that sealed the deal for me. The majority of the book was boring for me and the decent ending didn’t make up for that fact. Over all, it was an OK story.

I won an advanced listening audiobook copy of this book.

The Narration: Anna Bentinck, Josie Dunn, Bea Holland, Huw Parmenter all did a great job. This was a quality narration all around. I don’t know who did which role but I liked all the performances. The main narrator for Louise made her sound just as I pictured her in my head – slightly frazzled, good natured, and a just a tad plump. Adele’s voice was cultured and measured and sounded upper crust but still friendly.

What I Liked: The unexpected twists near the end; the secrets that lie between Adele and David; Adele’s special ability; the final revealed twist; great narration.

What I Disliked: I was bored for most of the book.

What Others Think:

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The Dark Deeps by Arthur Slade

SladeTheDarkDeepsChupaNarrator: Jayne Entwistle

Publisher: Listening Library (2010)

Length: 8 hours 11 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Hunchback Assignments

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works OK as a stand alone story. Reading the first book would give you more info on the characters, but their past relationships are covered well enough in this book that you don’t need to have read Book 1, The Hunchback Assignments, to enjoy this novel.

Set in a steampunked 1800s, Modo works hard to please his master, Mr. Socrates, with his espionage abilities. Stealing secrets from the French has been fun, but now he and Octavia are sent on a much more mysterious mission. Something has been floundering ships in the North Atlantic. Is it a trained whale? No one is certain and Mr. Socrates wants to be the first to know.

I really enjoyed Book 1 but I think I enjoyed this book a bit more. The characters are a bit more refined and the world better set in it’s fixture. I was pretty excited to see that the author drew upon two classics, Invisible Man and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Mixing these two themes with steampunk and then tossing in Modo, Octavia, and some new interesting characters, the book has charm written all over it.

The evil Clockwork Guild is still active with Dr. Hyde creating his metal-jawed dogs and a new type of human. Gryf, an unfortunate kid, is the subject of these experiments. Well, he’s the one that has survived long enough to be an important role in this story. Ms. Hackdotter, who has a mechanical arm, is the true villain in the book, sending chills down my spine as she toys with her captives. She’s devious, using her charm to maintain power over some of the Guild’s minions.

Meanwhile, we have two new and very interesting characters. There’s the French spy, Colette Brunet, who is half Japanese and who can speak English without a noticeable accent, letting her blend in easier. Then there’s Monturiol, who is a captain in her own right. Both of these ladies could be enemies or friends and Modo spends much of the book trying to figure out who his real foes are.

Even though Octavia and Modo started off on this adventure together, they soon became separated. While Modo is off with these new characters, Tavia is organizing a rescue party. I was a little sad that Tavia didn’t get to join Modo on the real adventure with Colette and Monturiol, but I was also glad that the author didn’t simply shelve her. The story keeps peeking back in on her and her rescue efforts. Meanwhile, Modo is learning to like a whole new cuisine and I quite enjoyed the little jokes that with it – dolphin’s milk indeed!

As a counterpoint to the adventure and humor, we have Modo’s struggle with his natural looks. He feels that people will despise him if they see his real face. Of course, this was enforced throughout his childhood by Mr. Socrates, even if he meant it in a good way. However, in this story, Modo often finds himself in a position where it is very difficult to keep his natural face under a mask or morphed into something pleasant. While my heart goes out a little to Modo during these scenes, I do find it a bit refreshing to have a male character so very concerned about his looks, instead of a female character.

The ending was a little bittersweet, which was quite suitable for the story. I like that not everything came up roses. Since Modo and Tavia are getting older, this story seems a little more subtle and adult than Book 1. I definitely like the direction this series is going in.

Narration: Jayne Entwistle continues to narrate the series. In this book Modo is 14 and I was hoping that his voice would have aged a little, but he still has a kid’s voice for the entirety of the book. Again, I first got to know Modo through Ember’s End, a graphic novel, so I came into these audiobooks with an idea already in my head of what he should sound like as a near adult. For Book 1, the kid’s voice was OK, even worked well in certain scenes. But now that he’s older, and also that he and Tavia are supposed to pretend to be married for some of their espionage work, I need his voice to be a bit older. Setting that aside, Entwistle did a good job with all the female characters and I loved the various accents she had to pull off. She’s also really good at imbuing the character voices with emotions.

What I Liked: Steampunked!; Tavia and Modo joking with each other; the new ladies – Colette and Monturiol; Dr. Hyde’s latest experiment; underwater cuisine; Ms. Hackendotter’s chilling control of the situation. 

What I Disliked: I need Modo’s voice to be masculine and a little older. 

What Others Think:

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Through the Looking Glass

AudioFile

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

GregoryThreeSistersThreeQueensNarrator: Bianca Amato

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 21 hours 9 minutes

Series: Book 8 The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is listed as Book 8 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.

Henry VIII, King of England, had two sisters – Margaret (his elder) and Mary (his younger). These two ladies, along with Henry’s first wife (Katherine of Aragon), will form a unique sisterhood of queens, sometimes rivals, sometimes allies. This book is told solely from Margaret’s point of view, starting in her childhood and carrying through her three marriages.

Over the years, I’ve dabbled in books about the Tudors. There are tons of them out there, both fiction and non-fiction. However, few of them have more than the bare bones concerning Margaret. So I was tinkled pink when Philippa Gregory came out with this book. Margaret wasn’t considered the great beauty her younger sister was. She didn’t wield as much power as Katherine. She wasn’t Henry’s favorite sibling. However, she still played an important role in Scotland, and hence in Scottish-English relations.

We learn early on that Margaret is betrothed to James, King of Scotland, who is nearly twice her age. So she has to wait until she is 14 to go to Scotland. As a teen, Margaret’s concerns are rather narrow and self-serving. From Margaret’s point of view, there’s competition between the three ladies (Mary, Margaret, and Katherine) for attention and their beauty factors into that. While Katherine received a large, beautiful wedding to Arthur (Henry’s older brother), Margaret gets a small, perfunctory wedding at age 12 with a stand-in for James. This is just one example of how Margaret measures her worth (or lack of it) to the English court.

Margaret’s character starts off as a mixture of naive, self-absorbed, and driven. Indeed, sometimes I felt her selfish attitude was going to do her in! But Gregory is such a good writer that you can see there is something more there, waiting to blossom, in this character. Once Margaret goes off to Scotland, she has to deal with hardships she never faced as a treasured English princess. The Scots had big, bushy beards! James, King of Scotland, has bastard babies! The Scottish Lords actually have to rule and work, including James! Indeed, it was a bit of a culture shock for her. She holds to her English superiority, but as the years pass, and she faces some true hardships herself, her attitudes shifts a bit, and a kernel of wisdom is formed.

Now I didn’t always agree with Margaret’s decisions or her reasons but I also have the historical knowledge. She didn’t have that, obviously, but she also lacked reliable communication and news from the rest of Europe. In this light, most of her decisions make sense. By the end of the book, I felt Margaret was someone I would have enjoyed being friends with. She had grown from that self-absorbed child we met in the first few chapters.

Throughout the book, Margaret, Mary, and Katherine write each other frequently, so you can’t help but compare the three of them. All three married more than once, each married for love at some point, and all three lost babies to illness. Also, each suffered ‘poverty’ at some point. Now, poverty to a royal is a little different than poverty for the masses. Indeed, they still have servants, even if they can’t pay them. They still have some fine clothing, even if they have to patch the sleeves. Still, it was interesting to see how each dealt with it differently.

Margaret does have a few awe-inspiring moments in the book. There are times where she faces down Scottish lords, a besieging army, or a very difficult run for the border while several months pregnant. These are the moments when I liked her best, when she was under the most pressure. She shone in these moments, and that made it easier for me to excuse her petty side.

The author includes a note at the end about how much of her book is factual versus fiction. I was surprised to learn that there is little historical information on Margaret beyond the bare bones of her life. The note did explain a bit about how Margaret’s decisions seemed to show her changing direction often. In my opinion, Gregory did a great job showing us how those swift changes in loyalty could make sense at the time. Indeed, I quite enjoyed this novel, including the self-absorbed aspects of the main character. Margaret was raised to think highly of herself and the story wouldn’t ring true without that attitude.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

The Narration: Bianca Amato did an excellent job with this book. I really liked her various accents (English, Scottish, Spanish, French). She also did a great job with the variety of emotions the characters went through. Her male voices were believable. 

What I Liked: The subject matter – Margaret; she grows from a selfish child to a woman with a bit of wisdom; the comparison between the three sister queens; the Scottish culture and how ‘shocking’ it is to the English princess; Margaret’s best moments; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – a fascinating take of an often over-looked historical figure.

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The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

SladeTheHunchbackAssignmentsChupaNarrator: Jayne Entwistle

Publisher: Listening Library (2009)

Length: 7 hours 15 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Hunchback Assignments

Author’s Page

 

Set in the 1800s in England, the story starts off with Dr. Hyde working on his latest formula. It has rather gruesome side effects. Meanwhile, Mr. Socrates is looking for the unusual and he finds it in a very young boy named Modo who can, to some extent, change his appearance. Skipping ahead several years, Modo’s first true test comes when he’s left on his own in London. There he finds a way to make enough money for food and lodging, which leads him to meet Miss Octavia Milkweed. Together, they get pulled into a devious plot, one that has Dr. Hyde at the center.

This was a very fun story that gave a new twist to some old classics. Of course there is Dr. Hyde, who I think obviously comes from the story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Then there is Modo himself. His full first name is Quasimodo, which is the important character from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Plus there’s a bit of The Wolf Man (a classic 1940s movie) going on too. And if I want to stretch things a bit (there’s the need for Modo to wear mask sometimes), perhaps there’s a touch of The Phantom of the Opera as well. Slade has done a great job of plucking certain elements out of these classics and spinning them into an entertaining tale set in a steampunk Victorian England.

Modo and Tavia (short for Octavia) were the stars of the show. We get to see snapshots of Modo growing up in the care of Mr. Socrates. He’s a stern figure and Modo gets most of his human contact from Mrs. Finchley, a governess and care taker, and Mr. Tharpa, his Indian fighting instructor. Although Tavia comes into the picture later, we learn about her upbringing through remarks she makes or her inner dialogue. Both of these kids (who meet when they are in their teens) have interesting backgrounds and Mr. Socrates is obviously shaping them for bigger things. I really liked that we aren’t sure for most of the book whether Mr. Socrates’s goals are good, bad, or simply selfish.

Dr. Hyde is one of those evil characters you enjoy hating on. He’s totally self-absorbed, running these cruel experiments solely for his own ends. He’s not the only evil one. There’s a fascinating lady with a steampunked mechanical arm and also a crippled man made whole by metal and gears. I do have to say I was a little disturbed by Dr. Hyde’s experiments on the dogs. Oh, how that made me want to see him ended!

The steampunk elements are definitely well in place with this Modo/Tavia adventure. I have read one of their other adventures, a graphic novel called Ember’s End, that was described as a steampunk western but had very little steampunky goodness in it. In contrast, The Hunchback Assignments does not disappoint in this aspect. There were small touches here and there throughout the story, and then the larger elements such as replacement body parts.

Modo himself is quite charming. His upbringing is not your standard schooling with extracurricular activities. His unusual looks could easily be called ugly but his morphing abilities give him some lee-way in fitting in. He’s clever and strong but also very shy about who sees his real face. There’s a lot to relate to in this kid. Tavia is also a treat, in different ways. She’s had to learn to be clever to avoid the pitfalls of street life, but she’s a different kind of clever than Modo. She’s also quite pretty and she knows it, which allows her to use her beauty to gain information. I was very glad to learn, as the story progresses, that she can also be a very loyal friend.

All told, this was a excellent start to a YA steampunk adventure series. I look forward to reading more of the series.

Narration: Jayne Entwistle was better than I thought she would be. I think because I eyeball read the graphic novel Ember’s End, I already had certain voices for Modo and Tavia. Entwistle hit Tavia’s voice perfectly. However, I was expecting a deeper voice for Modo as an adult. Now since he’s not an adult in this book, but ranges from a toddler to a 14-year-old, I think Entwistle did a really decent job. Also, she did have deeper male voices for the older men like Mr. Socrates. I loved her English accents. Also she was excellent at portraying the emotions of the characters.

What I Liked: Victorian England; steampunky goodness everywhere; Dr. Hyde is a true villain!; Tavia is clever and extroverted; Modo is a different kind of clever and rather shy; references to classics sprinkled throughout the book; Mr. Socrates is a little bit of an enigma. 

What I Disliked: I was expecting a deeper voice for Modo but I think I can come to enjoy Entwistle’s portrayal of his character. 

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Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri

Heldig ignoring me supremely.
Heldig ignoring me supremely.

Where I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Alex Wyndham

Publisher: Dreamscape Media (2015)

Length: 5 hours 35 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in the mid 1980s, London, Ananda is a student who has little interest in his studies. Instead, he practices at being a poet. He and his Bengali uncle are occasionally visited by their relatives. In fact, Ananda’s mother recently left and her leaving has spiked his ever-present home sickness. This is the story of a day in Ananda’s life in which he spends it with his uncle Radhesh on their weekly rumble through London.

Ananda is a bit of a hopeless romantic when it comes to poetry. On one hand, he lives in this constant anxiety that his poetry will never amount to anything, will never be truly recognized, and, yet, on the other hand, he kind of revels in it. He lives in an apartment with several other noisy people. Mandy practices some sort of loud music at odd hours. The Patels have kids. Also, there’s a shared bathroom that creates the opportunity to run into people at the least opportune moments. I have the impression that he could live in a quieter place. He tends to revel a bit in his inner turmoil. He’s the poster child for the self-tortured poet.

Meanwhile, uncle Radhesh is the interesting one, at least, to me. For much of the book, he is referred to as Rangamama and I don’t know why. Perhaps I missed that. Perhaps it is some endearment. Anyway, I think of him as Rangamama in my head. He’s well off, at least enough to live without working in his early retirement and to help out various family members as well. He’s a bit fascinated with his gut, and all it’s functions. Also, he thinks he knows how to spot aliens and ghosts. He always wants to get the check and leave a fat tip, but he loves the dance of someone else offering to pay and the resultant back and forth. While sometimes a bit odd or noisy, Rangamama was also lovable. Everyone should have a quixotic uncle like him.

This tale was a bit like poetry and jazz – it exists for the simple enjoyment of being. There is no plot, no main reason for the tale. The story line doesn’t take you from Point A to Point B. There is no big epiphany or revelation. It simply is a day in the lives of these two men showing how they interact with each other and some of Ananda’s inner musings. Rangamama seems to muse out loud most of the time, much to my entertainment.

At first, I wanted there to be a plot, but once I realized there wasn’t one, I settled down and just enjoyed the story. There was a ton of poetry talk, nearly all of which went right over my head. I’m not really into poetry so I found the musings on poetry and poets somewhat boring. Also, this made it hard for me to connect with Ananda. I just couldn’t get into his plight, that of wanting to create beautiful poetry and have it appreciated.

On the other hand, the men talk about several other things. There were contemplations on skin color (and how perceptions on the subject have changed over the years), food, going to the bathroom (how come European heroes never need the toilet?), movies (James Bond 007), sex, love, prostitutes, bathroom jokes, etc. So there was always something right around the corner to amuse me. This book wasn’t my normal cup of tea, but I am glad I gave it a listen and experienced something new and memorable.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in return for an honest review.

Narration: Alex Wyndham did a decent job. I know nothing about the Bengali language and accent, nor can I tell the different dialects of India apart. Still, to my ignorant ear the narrator did a good job with the accents and keeping the characters distinct. For some reason, Wyndham’s pronunciation of Ananda sounded like Allender throughout the entire book. I don’t know if this was on purpose or not.

What I Liked: Totally different for me; Radhesh is very amusing; the relationship between these two men; their many conversations about a huge variety of things.

What I Disliked: At first, I wanted a plot, but later settled into the fact there was none; tons of poetry talk that went right over my head and bored me.

What Others Think:

Kirkus Reviews

Corridors of the Night by Anne Perry

Heldig was not disturbed by the taking of this photo.
Heldig was not disturbed by the taking of this photo.

Where I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: David Collacci

Publisher: Recorded Books (2015)

Length: 10 hours 42 minutes

Series: Book 21 William Monk

Author’s Page

Note: While this is the 21st book in this series, it worked pretty well as a stand lone. My only comment is that several of the side characters are fully formed and it takes several hints to figure out what they do. I expect they were introduced far earlier in the series and the author expected the reader to already be acquainted with them.

Set in the latter half of the 1800s not too long after the Crimean War, nurse Hester Monk is working at London’s Royal Naval Hospital annex when she comes across three young siblings who are not doing so well. As she investigates, a case of questionable medical experimentation comes to light even as Hester does her best to save Bryson Radnor, an elderly man dying of the white blood disease. Hamilton Rand, a chemist, is dead set on discovering why blood transfusions from the three siblings work where most donated blood fails.

Hester Monk served as a nurse in the Crimean War and her husband, William Monk, is commander of the Thames River Police. Together, they make a formidable force. However, this is primarily Hester’s story. We do get one little interlude of police work on the river as William and his crew deal with some gun runners (though that section stood out as a little odd because it was completely unrelated to the plot). Hester’s wits, patience, knowledge, and compassion are on display in this tale.

Asked to stand in for an ill friend, Hester has a temporary nursing gig at the Naval annex working the night shift. During one of these nights, the young girl Maggie finds her and begs her to come have a look at her brother Charlie. When Hester lays eyes upon the young boy, she quickly sees that he is in need of medical care. She sits with them (and the youngest sibling Mike) throughout the night, providing water to Charlie. In the morning, she asks Dr. Magnus Rand about them and he says he will see to them.

Hester is then assigned to assist Dr. Rand’s brother, Hamilton Rand, a chemist, with his patient, Bryson Radnor, who is ill with the white blood disease (which might be the early term for chronic lymphocytic leukemia). Anyway, he’s a cranky old man who is being treated by a brusque, goal-oriented sexist. As you can see, Hester has her work cut out for her. Hester soon learns that Hamilton is taking blood from the three young siblings and transfusing it into Bryson, and it works. He wants to know why it works but first he has to keep his patient alive long enough to prove that this is a ‘cure’. I found all the medical stuff pretty interesting. I am sure the author had to do some detailed research on what was known at the time about blood transfusions and white blood disease. That research comes through in the writing as the characters never enter a time warp and use modern terms or have some unprecedented medical epiphany on blood types.

Of course, Hester objects. The kids have no parents or other relatives about approving the procedure and Charlie is obviously suffering from the blood letting. Hamilton feels he is left with no choice but to knock Hester unconscious and kidnap her away with his patient to some secluded country manor where treatment may continue. There, Hester has more time to get to know the kids, Bryson, and Bryson’s grown daughter Adrienne.

Meanwhile, William Monk is going a little nuts over his missing wife. He just got back from this gun runner business and it is very unlike Hester to not leave word as to where she is. At this point, the story pulls in several side characters that were most likely introduced earlier in the series. They assist in tracking Hester down, as well as finding the parents of the three kids. I got some of these side characters mixed up as not many descriptors were used with them (though I think if you have read previous books in this series, you wouldn’t have any trouble).

Then that whole bit is resolved and we still have about a third of the book to go. I was surprised at the quick wrap up to Hester’s abduction. The last third of the book is mostly courtroom drama, though there is some sleuthing both Hester and William undertake. I found this section of the book less entertaining than the first two-thirds. And, again, more side characters that are obviously old time favorites are drawn in, such as the lawyer Oliver Rathbone.

Overall, I found the book interesting and it was a look into Victorian England that I haven’t explored before. I quite enjoyed all the medical stuff. Hester’s character was fun too. She’s got a sharp tongue that sometimes gets away from her. After all, she spent quality time around military men who were in serious pain. Most of the side characters, while obviously on good terms with Hester and William, left me feeling like I was missing something. Admittedly, this is my first Anne Perry book. So, I think if folks have read previous books in this series, they probably wouldn’t have this feeling. I really liked that there was no cut and dry bad guy. Hamilton Rand had distinct reasons for doing as he did and while dismissive of the female gender in general, he didn’t outright mistreat women. Bryson Radnor wanted to live, and live a full life. Adrienne Radnor wanted her father healthy, probably so she could go on to live her own life instead of nursing him. This aspect of the story was well done and made the plot all the more interesting.

I won a copy of this book from the publisher via GoodReads.

Narration: David Collacci did a good job with this book. He had a variety of regional accents for the characters. His female voices were believable. He also did a great job with the voices for the little kids. I especially liked his voice for Bryson as it was a kind of gravelly old man’s voice, but an old man who could also be a little obscene or clever as the mood took him.

What I Liked: Complex characters; Hester’s got a sharp tongue; all the medical stuff; the Victorian England setting; the three kids; the sleuthing in the last third of the book.

What I Disliked: I felt like I was missing something with the numerous side characters; the gun runner scene felt out of place; the abrupt end to the kidnapping and then we still have a third of the book to go.

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Dirty Business by Julie Elizabeth Powell

PowellDirtyBusinessWhere I Got It: Review Copy

Narrator: Melanie Fraser

Publisher: Julie Elizabeth Powell (2015)

Length: 3 hours 30 minutes

Author’s Page

Gavin and Alex started an English fashion model magazine not too long ago. It’s flirty and just skirting the edge of racy. They want to push the envelope without being trashy. But then model after another turns up mutilated and dead, with a third woman missing. The police are looking at Gavin and Alex pretty hard.

Gavin and Alex are opposites in many things. Gavin is more serious, definitely the kind to fall in and out of love hard, a bit of a workaholic. Meanwhile, Alex is something of a playboy, tending to excesses. Together, these characters strike a balance for the plot. Of course, I never suspected Gavin of any ill deed – he’s too much of a white knight. But Alex was another story.

There’s several ladies in the tale and they are well varied. We have Gavin’s ex-girlfriend, who is something of a snob. There’s models and fashion people and just plain office workers. In fact, Tally eventually takes center stage in assisting to solve the case of the missing woman. And let’s chat a little about that missing woman – she was no slouch. We meet her right at the beginning of the story (she’s already been snatched) and then we see her efforts in little snippets to assess her situation and try to free herself throughout the tale. So, all around I liked the characters. None of them felt like they were duplicates of another.

The beginning was a little slow for me because there was so much focus on the fashion magazine and the glamour of it all and I just wasn’t feeling the glamour. I wanted the mystery to get started and sleuthing to commence. But once the plot was underway, I was well entertained. The resolution to the story was a bit vague, a little too open ended. I wasn’t quite satisfied with it. Maybe the author wanted things left that way for a sequel? Anyway, I felt it needed a bit more to round things out. The motivations of the perpetrator weren’t fully explained.

Sexy fashion model magazine – Elvira’s? Gavin and Alex went into it  together. They love working with all the ladies. Gavin is the more serious one, and Alex the play boy. Gavin’s ex-girlfriend Sasha (?) turns up dead and mutilated. Then another model killed and a third woman missing. Gavin and Tally team up and Alex’s brother Doug turns out to be in big trouble. Mysterious man hired to do the dirty deeds. Resolution to the story was vague, open ended, not satisfying. The narrations was OK. Not as swarmy as last book but the accents were hit or miss.

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

Narration:  Melanie Fraser did a decent job. This is my second book narrated by her that I have listened too. Initially, her narration started off feeling a little forced, a little swarmy, like trying to put too much warmth into it. But pretty quickly she relaxes and the voices feel much more natural and she seems to have fun with it. Of course, her English accents were all fine. However, there were some other accents that were hit or miss. For example, for one character, I couldn’t tell if she was going for Irish or French, within the same conversation.

What I Liked: Great caste of characters; an entertaining mystery; the women are no slouches; the captive woman is not passive about being captive.

What I Disliked: Started off a little slow; the ending was too vague; the narration could use some work.

What Others Think:

Just Book Talk

The Shuttered Room by Charles J. Harwood

HarwoodTheShutteredRoomWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Rachel Shirley

Publisher: CJH Publications (2015)

Length: 7 hours 28 minutes

Author’s Page

Jessica has made an escape attempt and it fell short. Jake managed to catch her in the orchard and haul her back to the house. There, Jake and his two fellow kidnappers (Justin and Kia) keep Jess for several weeks as they demand a sizable ransom from her rich parents. As Jess languishes in this attic room, the reader becomes privy to her life, both present and past. But soon the stress of the situation brings about a condition that has laid dormant for years and this slightly unhinges Jess, making her bold enough to try a few things she might not otherwise have done.

Early on, we learn that Jess as a kid believed she could see things living inside people and that those things (often weird, distended frogs) partially controlled the human they inhabited. Jess could hear their inner voice. Of course, she often spoke whatever that inner voice was saying and eventually it drew enough attention that she had to see a psychologist and was put on medication. Essentially, she became a bit of an outcast and I can see how that childhood experience shaped the adult Jess.

She marries, eventually, an older man who already has two daughters by his ex-wife and he doesn’t want any more children. At first, Jess is OK with this but eventually the longing to have a child becomes too much and she seeks ways to become pregnant by Henry. If you’ve read the description of the book, then you know if she was successful or not. Whether she was or not, you can easily see how her relationship with her husband became strained over the years. So by the time she is kidnapped, her life is rather messy anyway.

About half way through the novel, Jess finds a peep hole in the attic floor and spying on the goings-on below becomes her chief past time. She does gain some knowledge about her captors that she then uses in subtle ways. Sometimes, Jess uses this knowledge in a calculated manner. Sometimes it is hit or miss. After all, she hasn’t been kidnapped before and, in general with the exception of her husband, she doesn’t go around manipulating people. While I liked that this was true to the character, it did make some parts drag on a bit as Jess tried to work out how to use the knowledge she had.

Several times throughout the story, we have Jess mouthing the words the inner beasties say and several times this became almost stream of consciousness type of thing and it was hard to follow which beastie was saying what and also the relevance of it. Sometimes it was humorous and sometimes it was just obvious character traits. Sometimes it added to the story and sometimes it dragged the story out and I was just looking forward to the next scene.

I did enjoy several things about Jess. She is not a whiner. She knows this is a bad situation but she rarely looses it and is always thinking of a way to get out of the situation. She’s very practical in that sense. I enjoyed most of the flashbacks of her life up to this point as it gave me a strong sense of who she was. She’s a pretty uncreative person, but that might be to counterbalance the inner beasties she sees when she is having an episode. I wanted Jess to come out on top.

Her captors were somewhat interchangeable until the last third of the book. I kept getting Justin and Jake mixed up and Kia was window dressing. Towards the end, the personalities of Justin and Jake crystallized for me, mostly because I developed strong feelings towards one of them. I wish I had kept them straight from the beginning.

The ending drug on a bit and things got messy again for Jess. I’m not sure why she and one of the captors made the decisions they did. On one hand, it fits with Jess’s messy life. On the other hand, it was a less than satisfying ending for me as the reader. I wanted Jess to have some closure over the event and I don’t feel she really got that. Honestly, it felt like there needs to be a Book 2 set like 10 years later to wrap up some of this stuff.

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

The Narration: Rachel Shirley was a great fit for Jessica. She had a steady voice that fit Jess’s practical character. Shirley also performed regional accents for the various characters. They were each distinct and her male voices were believable. I especially liked her character voices when Jess was speaking for the inner beasties.  

What I Liked: Jess’s character; there’s no dramatic screaming and crying; Jess is always keeping her eye out for a way to get out of the situation; the flashbacks to Jess’s life before the kidnapping were interesting; good narration.

What I Disliked: Some parts of the book dragged a bit; I had trouble keeping Justin and Jake straight until near the end; the ending left me wanting a bit more closure.

Among Others by Jo Walton

Pico was rudely awakened from his nap for this pic.
Pico was rudely awakened from his nap for this pic.

Where I Got It: Audio Swap Club

Narrator: Katherine Kellgren

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2013)

Length: 10 hours 39 minutes

Author’s Page

 

Set in the 1970s, this is Mori’s story. She and her twin sister grew up in Wales with a mum who dabbled in magic. They could talk to fairies and had little magics of their own. But their mother seeks greater power and an accident leaves Mori crippled and her twin gone. So Mori makes the hard but necessary choice to track down a father she’s never met. He’s quite surprised but takes on the challenge of raising a teenage girl. Mori finds herself in England at a boarding school, which is a completely foreign experience for her. So she dives further into her reading, devouring SFF novels by the dozens each month.

This tale is told through a series of journal entries and sometimes letters to her father. It felt like such a personal tale, as if Mori was writing to her lost twin sister and I was eaves dropping on the conversation. The story twined three elements together – the discussion of SFF novels (always a bonus!), bits of magic, and historical fiction. It really worked for me and I was so caught up in this book. I felt like Mori was a good friend by the end of it.

We also have some touches of mystery. For instance, it takes quite some time to find out how Mori was crippled and what happened to her sister (though the latter is a bit vague on the details). Then we have a smaller and much more common mystery of her father and how he met her mother and what the fall out was over. Lastly, there are the fairies themselves. For much of the novel, I was wondering if Mori was still caught up in a childhood game or if she could really see fairies and that magic was a real, tangible thing in this book (at least for her). I loved trying to catch her in some circumstance that would tell me for a certainty one way or the other. That moment doesn’t come until late in the book and having that bit of tension for the majority of the novel was a delicious tease.

Life at the boarding school is full of the teasing just about any new crippled kid on the block could expect to get. She’s got so much new to figure out, having come from a small Welsh town where everyone knows everyone. There’s some bullies I wouldn’t mind giving a nose tweak to and then there are some cool kids that do what they can to make her feel welcomed. In between terms, she has her father, a paternal grandfather, and a few aunties to get to know. Life in England is definitely different and there’s plenty of blunderings to share around. I really resonated with these aspects of the novel as I often moved as a kid and shared several of the same feelings as Mori.

The wonder of science fiction and fantasy literature is on grand display in this story. I loved all the talk about what made a story good or didn’t in Mori’s succinct few sentences. While I was born in the late 1970s, I had access to my dad’s SFF library growing up, so I recognized  perhaps 3/4 of the novels referred to in this story, however, I had only read perhaps 1/3 of them. Reading this book definitely added some classic SFF novels to my TBR list. Mori will travel on multiple buses, slogging through foul weather on her cane in order to get to the library, post, or local book shop. I could totally relate.

This is one of those novels that makes me wish really hard that magic was alive and well in our world. In fact, this book almost makes me believe that if I keep looking, I will find it. As a coming of age novel, it rang true in many ways – the teasing, having to make adult decisions, going through the awkwardness of puberty. Toss in the mystery, the magic, the love of SFF literature, and you have quite the worthy read!

The Narration: Katherine Kellgren did a great job. She was the perfect voice for Mori. I loved her Welsh accent overlayed with Mori’s humor and wit. Kellgren performed other regional accents as required, making it a great narration. Her male voices were distinct and believable as well. 

What I Liked: Part historical fiction, part fantasy; told via journal entries; by the end, I wanted Mori to be my best friend; loved all the SFF book talk; great narration; very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing – truly enjoyed this book!

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Catherine de Valois by Laurel A. Rockefeller

RockefellerCatherineDeValoisWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Richard Mann

Publisher: Laurel A. Rockefeller (2014)

Length: 1 hour 9 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Legendary Women of World History

Author’s Page

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

Princess Catherine was daughter to France’s King Charles VI, who suffered from mental illness. During her lifetime, she knew the hardships of France’s civil war and England’s King Henry V’s repeated warring in France. Married off to King Henry, peace between the two countries lasted briefly. After King Henry V’s death, Catherine married a Welsh man, Owen Tudor.

Before giving this book a listen, I knew very little about Queen Catherine. This is a great way to get introduced to this historical figure. The author uses touches of drama here and there to bring this bit of history to life. Since this book is only 69 minutes long, only the highlights of Queen Catherine’s life are covered. However, it is apparent from the beginning that Catherine comes from a line of women known to speak their minds, whether they are speaking to a man or a woman, a peasant or royalty.

This book is classified as creative non-fiction by the author, a classification or genre that is new to me. With that said, the book reads like a historical fiction and is not dry like many straight histories are are. If folks are a bit intimidated by histories or historical fiction, this series of books is a great place to get started.

I was provided this audiobook at no charge by the author in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks!

The Narration: Once again, Richard Mann has a very nice voice to listen to. He even gives a little singing here and there as the book requires. He has distinct voices for all the characters, and a good range for the male  voices. His female voices could use a touch more femininity.

What I Liked: A bit of history I was ignorant about; great overview for the beginner; the touches of drama were not overdone.

What I Disliked: Nothing – I truly enjoyed this one.

What Others Think:

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