The Dreams of Phillip Aisling and the Numinous Nagwaagan by Brandon Bosse

BosseTheDreamsOfPhillipAislingAndTheNuminousNawaaganNarrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Brandon Bosse (2016)

Length: 7 hours 48 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Dreams of Phillip Aisling

Author’s Page

On Phillip’s 13th birthday, his friends and family gather with presents, food, and plenty of quirky personalities. That night he has his first strange dream and he soon learns that he is in training to become a Dream Master. Luckily, he has a set of solid friends he can confide in. He’s going to need their help and advice!

Some parts of this book I enjoyed and some parts were only ho-hum for me. I didn’t dislike it, but I find that I wanted just a bit more from the story. I think maybe it is because I’m a scientist at heart and sometimes I wanted to step into the tale and explain to Phillip about coincidence and also how our mind sees and records more than we do consciously, and how that can affect our dreams. For instance, he has a crazy dream about a flower one night and the next day he notices the same kind of flower in his own yard, which had been there for perhaps a year (though perhaps without a bloom on it). So I think my natural skepticism kept me from enjoying this book. If you lack such skepticism or can shove it to the corner of your mind, you might enjoy this tale more than I did.

There are plenty of oddball personalities in this book and that’s one thing I really liked. Cynthia talks too loud all the time but she’s a stalwart friend. Jack, Phillip’s best friend and neighbor, is a rock, totally dependable. He’s also Thai so we get references to some really good food in this book. The there’s a new girl in school named Lair (I think. I had trouble telling if it was Lair or Blair). Anyway, she has lived in several places with her family and this gives her a bigger view of the world. She gives Phillip some useful advice several times concerning lucid dreaming and other cultures.

There’s a variety of hurdles that Phillip has to contend with. One of them is the perpetually-angry Mrs. Bishop, his history teacher at school. Sometimes his older brother Jeff is a bit difficult, along with his cousin Carl. Then there are the draiths in the dreamworld that give him nightmares and are capable of some painful tricks. Luckily, Phillip received a dream catcher early on that assists in preventing nightmares.

In the dream worlds that Phillip visits, I liked the sprite Fidgeon (or Fid for short) the most. He was helpful and playful. The old Dream Master that is in charge of Phillip’s training and the woman who gave Phillip his dream catcher (the numinous Nagwaagan) didn’t catch my imagination as much as Fid.

Phillip and his friends have a few troubles in this book but none of them really caught my attention. It was typical growing pains kind of stuff that really matters at the time, but weren’t anything spectacular or deep or dangerous, etc. This book has plenty of components that work for the story and yet none of it provoked emotions from me. Sad to say, I didn’t strongly connect with this book despite the obvious care and craftsmanship that went into it.

I received this book free of charge from the author.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky continues to do great work in the world of audiobook narration. He has distinct voices for every character. I really liked that he pulled out some few special effects for certain dream character voices, like Fid. He’s also great at imbuing the kids’s voices with emotion. When Cynthia is angry, you know it. When Phillip is distraught over being wrongly accused of cheating, you know it. Wolinsky’s performance brings these characters to life!

What I Liked: Gorgeous book cover; great narration; over all, a good idea for a story; Phillip’s stalwart friends; Fid the sprite.

What I Disliked: There was nothing I really disliked but I was sad that I didn’t connect with this book. I think my innate skepticism kept me from fully enjoying this book.

Saving the Last Dragon by Joe Broadmeadow

BroadmeadowSavingTheLastDragonWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Joe Broadmeadow (2016)

Length: 8 hours 38 minutes

Author’s Page

Young Duncan Emeris has a fairly normal life. He has a dog, two parents, and is required to go to school. But then he starts writing fanciful tales. In fact, the story seems to come to him in his dreams and seems to be almost writing itself. Pretty soon, he learns that his story isn’t just a story and he’s swept into the hunt for the last dragon egg, pitted against determined foes, but joined by stalwart friends.

This story was OK for me. It was your pretty standard kid’s fantasy quest. There’s our young hero, Duncan, a possible love interest, Kathy, the old sage who guides the young hero, Professor Templar, and a comedic companion, Jamieson. Toss in an old dragon, Balinor, and some side characters that provide additional help, and you have the winning team. Opposing them are some sneaky bad guys that can shape shift and one treacherous backstabber. The hunt is on for the last known dragon egg. Whoever possesses the egg can’t harm it, but they can influence the tiny being inside for good or evil. The bad guys are easy to spot and the good guys always refuse to kill even when it would be smartest to do so. Pretty predictable plot, but much like comfort food.

I did like that the author threw in some languages for fun. There’s some mostly made up dragon language (which sounds like a Germanic derivative), and then some German, some Latin, and a smidge here or there of some other tongue. As a person who once upon a time studied languages, I found this fun. Alas, it was also a small plot defect at the end. The traitor has a name that points to their true nature and none of our language buff characters caught it, which seemed unlikely. Setting that little criticism aside, I definitely liked the inclusion of the languages as part of the world building and part of the clues that help our hero.

Speaking of our hero, he’s in a wheelchair. Hooray for diversity in children’s fantasy! And his dog isn’t named Tripod for nothing. Both get around with ease and are useful characters throughout the story. I also liked that the genders were well balanced, there being a roughly equal number of ladies and gents on the two opposing teams.

So my biggest criticism is that the plot is predictable, which made this book a little boring for me. That’s OK. It won’t be boring for everyone, and again, it was a bit like comfort food. My second criticism is that the author kept using the terms toxin, poison, venom, all the same way along with ‘infected by’. Sigh. The biologist in me kept slapping my forehead on this one. They do not mean the same things and they don’t act the same way. A quick internet search on each terms would clear that right up. Still, we all get the point for the story’s sake.

Over all, I think kids or folks just dabbling in the fantasy genre will enjoy it.

I received this book free of charge from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a great job with this book. Each character had a distinct voice and he portrayed the age ranges and the gender differences quite well. His mastery shows in how fluent he sounded in the made up dragon language. Well done!

What I Liked: The cover art; a fantasy story that is comfort food; use of languages; our hero is wheelchair bound; gender equality.

What I Disliked: The story was a bit predictable; misuse of such terms as toxin, venom, and poison; there was a minor disbelieving moment at the end when none of our language buff characters had ever caught on to the ‘hidden’ meaning of the character’s name.

Insanity Tales II, The Sense of Fear, an anthology

PhillipsInsanityTalesIIWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: The Storyside Press (2016)

Length: 7 hours 38 minutes

Six writers have come together with 11 tales in this anthology. Foreword is by Joe McKinney. Contributing authors are: David Daniel, Ursula Wong, Dale T. Phillips, Stacy Longo, Rob Smales, and Vlad V.

This collection ranges from the humorous to the vengeful to the brutal to the calculated deadly. There’s vomiting demons, cheating spouses, serial killings, back-room justice, despair and sadness, innocent madness, and a post-apocalyptic deadly obstacle course. I really enjoyed the first Insanity Tales anthology but I think this one is a bit more diverse. My three favorites from this collection were Hooks, Spirit in the Stone, and The Devil’s in the Details, though Rape Kit deserves a worthy mention.

Snow Day by David Daniel

Ed’s at a bar on a Thursday night about to head home. Normally he stays overnight in the city on Thursdays so he can get an early start at work on Friday and be home early for a long weekend. But it looks like snow is in the air and folks are hoping for a snow day. Liam, the bar tender, brings up the age-old question of whether size matters or not. Ed tells Liam a story about his grade school days: Susan liked to collect baseball cards –the more the better. Each individual one doesn’t matter. The size of her collection was what mattered to her. This story started off pretty innocently, letting me get all cozy within the telling, leading me by the hand down some dark alley of infidelity, handguns, and fancy lingerie. This was a good start to the anthology, getting the audience warmed up. And, yes, I did indeed like the running cliche of ‘size matters…. or not’ throughout the story. 5/5

The Book of Shadows by Rob Smales

James had his eyes operated on in his teen years, returning his sight. Now he lives out in the wilderness. A reporter, Carl, has tracked him down and wants a story about the serial killings. At first, James refuses to chat with him but Carl makes a strong argument for how he’ll get his story one way or the other. So James tells him his tale of how it all started, how he learned to interpret the shadows, and how it all went horribly wrong. Since the tale is told from the standpoint of the main character, I never questioned whether or not he was telling the truth about the shadows and his level of involvement in the deaths. Then we get to the ending and I have to wonder. James’s disturbed emotions over the foreshadowing shadows was quite clear and his horror, even terror at times, and eventual despair comes through clearly. 4/5

Voices by Dale T. Phillips

The story starts off with Chase Davis and his friend Marty at Rebecca’s graveside. Marty’s wife, Rebecca, was having an affair with Chase, who had wanted to call it off due to boredom but Rebecca was clingy. Marty misses her terribly and Chase is determined to keep his little secret so as not to devastate his best friend further. Yet Marty is certain he can find a way to communicate with the dead. All through this story I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Perhaps Marty knew about the affair all along or found out shortly after the funeral and now he wants to pull an elaborate, demented joke on Chase. However, there never is another shoe to drop. The story had a strong set up and then a whirlwind ending. In fact, I felt the ending was rather abrupt. 3/5

Nobody Ever Listens to Eddie by Stacey Longo

Eddie believes he has been psychic since he was a kid – his sister’s bike accident, his dad’s car, vomiting on the priest, that toad. So today is a big festive day and he has the worst feeling ever about the day. However, he’s reluctant to tell anyone about it. His sister Bev always finds a logical way to explain away his bad feeling. His wife Norma left him because of it as well. Will Eddie listen to his feelings today or finally set aside that side of him and try to have a normal day at the festivities? This was a fun, short piece. 4/5

Spirit in the Stone by Ursula Wong

This story flashes back and forth between the present (she’s spreading Joe’s ashes in the desert) and their past few years together. She’s always been a bit sad, but one day she meets Joe in a diner and they hit it off. He likes having someone to take care of and she likes being taken care of. Unfortunately, Joe gets sick. During the last days of his life he goes a little nuts and accuses her of poisoning him, of killing his 3rd grade teacher, etc. As she’s spreading his ashes, she finds some petroglyphs. She vaguely recalls a story that said spirits return to the rocks once their body passes. I really enjoyed this one. A bit mystical and yet everything can be explained by human nature. 5/5

Rape Kit by David Daniel

On a small campus in Pennsylvania, a 65 year old campus cop coordinates with his newest recruit, Roland, in dealing with the accusation of rape. They’ve taken care of all the immediate stuff and are waiting for the state police to show up. The old cop starts telling Roland stories of how such things were handled in the past prior to rape kits and forensic evidence. Plenty of food for thought in this one while dealing with a tough subject. 5/5

The Perfect Game by Rob Smales

Jimmy has been eagerly waiting for Joe and Charlie to return from their adventures in England. Joe shows up but he doesn’t look too good. Charlie still at Logan airport, waiting to be claimed by a family member. Joe tells Jimmy the lengthy story about a game of darts while they were in England and how it all went wrong. The dart game part took up the bulk of the story and I found it a bit boring. The surprise ending was a nice twist. 3.5/5

Hooks by Dale T. Phillips

Mr. Burrows lost his hands to an IED and now he has hooks. He feels they set him apart from society and he hates it. Even when people are kind, like giving him a free breakfast or such, he hates that too. One day he meets a nice lady and they spend hours talking before he reveals his hooks. She still likes him but is busy with school for a few weeks. He thinks she’s just letting him down easy. The story takes a much darker turn, showing how important (and perhaps deadly) it can be to self-identify as a predator instead of prey. I loved this one. It shined an eerie light on how disabled veterans are treated, even by well meaning folks, and a light on what those veterans might think of such pity. 5/5

The Devil’s in the Details by Stacey Longo

Tiffany is having a sleep-over at her house for her birthday. She’s invited the twins (Gretchen and Gerda), Allison (grammatical queen), and Julie. Tiffany received a Ouija board for her birthday and of course the girls have to try it out. Unfortunately, one of them makes the mistake of jokingly inviting a spirit to possess her body. Things change for her after that; some good, some bad. This one was quite fun and a bit light-hearted compared to the rest of the collection. It was cute and fun. I can see it as a start to a YA urban fantasy series. 5/5

Fly Away by Ursula Wong

Danny does his best to explain to his girlfriend Alice about his older sister Vega. She’s different and has spent the last several years at the Hampstead Home. Vega’s old room is full of ceramic birds, most in crazy colors. Now Vega is due to return home and Danny wants to meet her alone and introduce Alice a little later. But is reconnecting with Vega on the isolated farm really the best choice for Danny? This story started off strong. I like all the creepy bird imagery. The ending is a little abrupt and I could see it coming from the beginning. 4/5

Float by Vlad V.

This is a nitty, gritty, grimy, and sometimes slimy story. Set in the post-apocalyptic ruins of a large city (New Carthage), there’s still crime lords. Al Brunichelli wants his sister Adelina to at least marry an equal if not a little higher, perhaps allying his own crime organization with rival gang. Alas, Adelina has her eyes (and other body parts) set on Hector. He’s a low-level runner, and his skin isn’t white enough for Al. But they strike a deal. The biggest holiday of the year is coming up and that means the deadly float race is nearly upon them as well. Hector wants a float, and if he wins, then he gets Adelina. The float race is kind of like the thunderdome on big rubber water floats. There’s dirty tricks right, left, and center, and Hector has to figure a way through or under or over all of them. The competition is fierce and Al just might have added some extra dangers for Hector. I started off really liking this and it ended OK. I like the gritty feel to it and the dangerous float ride. However, there is only 1 woman and she is a prize to be won and she’s OK with that (a rather tired cliche). 4/5

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

Narration:  Fred Wolinsky did a really good job with this collection. In Spirit in the Stone, Wolinsky does a great job narrating the entire thing in a feminine voice. In Snow Day, Wolinsky had a little trouble with Liam’s Irish accent, but that’s my only negative comment on the narration. In The Devil’s in the Details, Wolinsky using special demon voice (gravelly) when the demon speaks and then he gave the voice a hollow echo for when the demon was speaking to his host in her own head.

What I Liked: Quite a variety of spooking stories; some tougher subjects are brought up in this anthology; a few are lighter to balance the heavier stories; horror can also be a part of back-room justice or a naughty prank.

What I Disliked: A few stories ended abruptly; one story treated the only female character as a tired cliche.

Labyrinth of Fire by Keith Robinson

RobinsonLabyrinthOfFireWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Keith Robinson (2015)

Length: 9 hours 54 minutes

Series: Book 2 Island of Fog

Author’s Page

Note: I highly recommend reading Book 1 (Island of Fog) before reading this book.

Our hero kids (Hal, Robbie, Abigail, Darcy, Dewey, Emily, Fenton, and Lauren) from Book 1 continue on with new adventures in this tale. As they settle into their new homes and town in Miss Simone’s world, they also learn more about their abilities. Each will face challenges. There’s child-stealing harpies and dragons with a taste for human flesh. These shape-shifting kids will rise to the occasion!

Not all of the villagers are happy to have yet more shape shifters in their mist. The kids have to deal with some bullying and town politics. The centaurs want the humans to stop mining all together, but the mined ore provides energy for the human homes, making their lives easier. Miss Simone talks all the parties into allowing Dewey (who can shift into Centaur form) to be the one to decide after he has investigated the matter. This is the start of the missions the kids will be sent on to negotiate with the magical creatures and humans alike.

Our heroes are all around 12 going on 13 and love’s first blush is in the air. It was rather cute to see that in the midst of all the deadly serious events of the book. In Book 1, they really were just kids with school, play time, a few chores, etc. But in this book they are coming of age and adults are looking to them to make major decisions or take on actions that will affect many. The kids didn’t always do the exact right thing, but they all rose to the challenge. I was especially proud of how the harpies were handled. Totally did not see that coming! And it was harsh! That made the whole scene so much more powerful.

The whole book had a faster pace and more adventures than Book 1. I definitely enjoyed it more. We get to meet some of the first generation of shape shifters and through Dewey, we learn more about how the shape shifters were made. The dragons and their society were interesting to learn about. Plus there are these holes between the destroyed, polluted Earth and Miss Simone’s magical world that we learn more about. Fairies, wood nymphs, ogres, lizards of various types, and of course, a manticore! There was never a dull moment in this tale.

I received this book free of charge from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a great job with the narration, keeping all the kid’s voices and the beasty voices distinct. When one of the kids shifts, Wolinsky somehow manages to make the shifter version sound very similar to their human voice, which was great. He even did a few little touches like making certain conversations sound a bit different to indicate it was mindspeak and such.

What I Liked: The cover art; the kids are growing up; the harpy mission; dragons!; the centaur dilemma; manticore!; great narration.

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

What Others Think:

 

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Freedom Club by Saul Garnell

GarnellFreedomClubWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Saul Garnell (2014)

Length: 13 hours 6 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in 2085, the world is technology dependent. More and more, humans have come to rely on their Sentients to run things, everything from large financial structures to household schedules. Sumeet, who was top of his class, and excellent in his chosen field, eventually finds himself not satisfied. Shinzou offers up his advice and a possible job, both of which give Sumeet pause. The Freedom Club pushes for simpler, less tech-infused lives, but how does one explain that to a Sentient?

This book offered up a lot of food for thought. The plot was intricate and the cast interesting. Also, if one wanted to do some inferring, there was a deeper message about dependence on technology. The story starts off with a little historical flashback to 1600s Japan and the last remaining Christians. This flashback is explained later in the book. In fact, these little historical flashbacks happen regularly throughout the book, showing various members of the Freedom Club throughout history.

The tale then launches into a mystery crime story with a virus taking down payment systems. Phoenix is the first city hit and Hugo is the cop assigned to look into it. He suspects an anti-tech group might be behind it, but he will have a hard time proving it. He hesitantly teams up with Shinzou for info swapping. This opening is what hooked me on the story – I like a good SF crime story. Little did I know things would get so intricate.

So there’s a bunch of corporate maneuvering with international companies (such as Takahana Biovores and Chando company), which wasn’t nearly as interesting as what Hugo the Cop was doing, but it set a stage for me to get to know several other characters, including a few Sentients. The Sentients, like Henry who is Shinzou’s friend, are a type of AI. They interact with the physical world via avatars that allow them to walk and talk. In fact, if someone isn’t paying close attention, they can appear quite human in their mannerisms. Shiro is another Sentient who plays a pivotal role in the story. His personality is quite different from Henry’s. Rather late in the tale, we learn how the AIs are made and let me just say, wow! I wasn’t expecting that!

There’s other cool tech on display in this thinking SF story as well. I was pretty interested in the biovores, which are like minuscule biologically active machines that can be used for good purposes, like curing blood born diseases in humans. There are also several virtual reality scenes where we get to see what the ‘homes’ of the Sentients are like for when they are not in avatar mode interacting with humans. AI has also freed humans from many domestic chores, like cooking. Now, it is an oddity to go to a restaurant and have humans cook, and some even consider it unsanitary.

Wrapped up in this very excellent SF story, is a message about technology, becoming too dependent on it, and how living simpler lives can provide greater freedom. The story is written so that I, as the reader, didn’t feel any judgement from the author one way or another. Indeed, there are both good and bad characters on either side of that line in this book. Some members of the Freedom Club have taken it too far (both in the past and in the story’s present) and have essentially become terrorists against technology. I found it all very interesting to have this deep question (does tech set us free or chain us?) spirally through the main plot.

My one criticism of the book is a biggie. There are several female characters, all with minor roles, throughout the book. However, there are no major female characters that are plot central and there are no female Freedom Club members. Yep. That’s right. The Freedom Club is one big sausage fest. No ladies what so ever. I really hope this is some horrible oversight by the author. Accidental misogyny is easier to swallow than intended misogyny.

The book is diverse in other ways. The plot takes us around the world to Japan, India, and the American Southwest. There’s some Europeans represented at one of the corporate companies. Various ages are also represented in our major characters.

The ending takes us to the brink of another ‘terrorist’ attack. I really didn’t know how things would fall out. I was surprised with the ending and by choices made by a few of the Sentients. I found the ending both realistic and satisfying. It will be interesting to see if the author does a sequel.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a very nice job with this book. There were a ton of accents needed (Japanese, Hindi, American, German, French, etc.). Hi Japanese accent started off a little rough but quickly got smoother. He had distinct voices for all characters, even when 2 or more were of the same country. For the few female characters, he had believable voices. I especially liked his elderly voice for Shinzou and his skeptical cop voice for Hugo. 

What I Liked: Intricate plot; lots of cool tech; AIs; the underlying question of whether tech chains us or gives us more freedom; Hugo’s investigation; various world settings and cultures; the climax; great narration.

What I Disliked: There are no major female characters at all; there are no female Freedom Club members.

What Others Think:

Eclectic Breakfast

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The Feylands by Peter Meredith

MeredithTheFeylandsWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Fred Wolinksy

Publisher: Peter Meredith (2015)

Length: 10 hours 40 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Hidden Lands

Author’s Page

Ella is boring but beautiful. In her 30s, she works, has a circle of friends, talks with her parents regularly, and flosses. Her life is dull. But then one night, a mysterious man tells her she is something more. Soon she is swept up into a magical land where she faces both dangers and beauties she never thought possible.

This story started off intriguing. I liked that the main heroine was an adult, and well into adulthood. She has already lived a chunk of life so she has a frame of reference for right and wrong, bad and good situations. Once she meets Gada (who we learn very late in the book is called Eireden but you’re told this in the description of the book so I don’t feel bad mentioning it here), Ella’s world starts to unfurl. She has questions for her parents and she is saddened by the answers.

Then the two travel to the Feylands where Ella meets many fantastical beings. She befriends a little fairy who she calls Wipwip. Furan the dwarf is on a quest to find a very rare flower and Ella will do her best to help him. Later on she meets some elf warriors such as Aurok and Generi. There’s also evil beings (most of which are nameless) such as ogres, goblins, and seven evil horse riders. Overall, it had a very Tolkienesque feel to it. While this made it easy to slip into the story, it also made it predictable.

There are very few female characters. For the longest time, it is just Ella and of course every man adores her in some way. Some fuss is made about her virginity early on. Wipwip is female, but not treated as such. Generi is also female, and a warrior scout. I very much liked her character… until she ended up in a love triangle. That was a bit cliched. There’s a few more but largely, only Ella is plot important and she spends most of her time being carried by one male character or another from scene to scene. She does eventually step up a bit and has to do a little slaying, but it is putting down those nameless, evil beings that are already laying out on the ground.

The romance is strong in this story but it also felt predictable. At first, I thought it was sweet. Ella finally has some stirrings for a man and he seems like a worthy catch. But then it becomes this long, drawn out affair. Eventually we get that love triangle, and then a quadrangle, which I felt was just too many angles without any satisfaction. I suppose it was to be dramatic and perhaps tragic, but I yawned through much of the romance. In the beginning, the romance added to the plot, then it became a distraction from the plot, and sadly, it finally became the plot.

Gada/Eireden is our tragic hero. Perhaps half way through the book, we learn that ‘Gada’ is not his name but rather a caste designation. Eireden did something in the past that greatly dishonored himself so he was demoted by society to the lowest of lows, the Gada. Much was made about honor and this lowest caste and I just couldn’t get into it. The whole thing seemed overdone, over dramatic to me.

We keep being told that there is this horrible evil lead by a powerful demon. However, there are only a few fight scenes. There isn’t much military planning or coordinating going on. Essentially, we have this massive horde of nameless evil for the good guys to slaughter… and we got to spend time on Ella’s love life or Gada’s irked pride. I wanted to know more about this powerful demon and his motivations. I wanted bad guys with names and personal vendettas. Basically, I wanted more depth to what I had hoped would be the central plot of the story.

I really wanted to get into this book. It’s narrated by a personal favorite narrator, I listened to the audio clip and liked it, and I read other reviews and liked what I saw. I typically quite enjoy epic fantasy. I went into this novel fully expecting to be entertained. Sadly, this book was not the book for me.

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

Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a great job with this cast of characters. His voice for Ella was quite believable and he had a nice, firm, strong voice for Eireden. I liked that he employed several accents for the various types of beings. His accent for Furan was great and his child-like voice for the little fairy Wipwip was spot on.

What I Liked: Ella is a mature character; a variety of beings involved in the plot; Generi and her scout skills; Furan and his flower quest; lovely cover art; excellent narration. 

What I Disliked: The romance became the plot instead of enhancing the plot; it was predictable; very few female characters; the book was boring to me.

Island of Fog by Keith Robinson

RobinsonIslandOfFogWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Keith Robinson (2015)

Length: 9 hours 37 minutes

Series: Book 1 Island of Fog

Author’s Page

Set in a future post-apocalyptic world, 8 families live in quiet solitude on a foggy island, safe from whatever wrecked humanity. The kids are all 12 years old or close to it. While they have each been long curious about the mainland, they also knew there was no way to go exploring. Yet now things are happening to them and secrets long kept are becoming clear. The kids are changing but they don’t know why, or what they will become, or how their parents will react.

These 8 kids, Hal, Robbie, Abigail, Darcy, Dewey, Emily, Fenton, and Lauren, have grown up on this island with their parents, some hogs, cows, a dog, & a cat. There’s no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no majestic views. The island is perpetually foggy. The kids have never seen a clear night with twinkling stars. The author does a pretty good job setting the stage and giving the reader the feel of the place. The foggy island has shaped these kids as much as their schooling or their parents’ house rules. I really liked the foggy atmosphere because it gave the whole book a mysterious quality.

The families have worked out a communal way to live on the island. One woman is the school teacher, another one the doctor, and yet another bakes weekly bread for all the households. Most of the men work the communal farm. I was surprised that the kids never had farm chores. In fact, they seem to have very few responsibilities other than homework and keeping their rooms clean. I would have liked to see the kids a little more involved in the day to day chores as such a little community probably couldn’t let the kids off to play so often. But that is a tiny quibble compared to how much enjoyment I got out of this book.

So these kids are in for an adventure and things start off a bit slowly. We learn about them, the island, and a few hints as to why they are on the island. Then things pick up with Abigail, who is the first to change and she shares this info with a chosen few. Each kid has a different reaction to these changes and I really liked this aspect. After all, they are all different people.

Meanwhile, there are these sad little remembrances of a family that lost their son many years ago and the couple left the island. Well, Hal & Robbie went adventuring on the island and they ran into something completely unexpected. It was Thomas, the long lost boy, but he’s a manticore. I have no qualms telling you this since he is on the cover art. Thomas is not a well-adjusted kid and doesn’t play well with others, so Hal & Robbie have to flee. To me, Thomas is a rather interesting side character and we learn more about him later in the book. He changed years earlier than the other kids and has been managing on his own for years in the depths of the woods.

Once the adults become aware that at least one of the kids is changing, a specialist, Miss Simone, is called in. This is the first person from off the island the kids have met. They obviously have lots of questions. Yet Simone is evasive and prying at the same time. The kids don’t trust her. They take it upon themselves to do some actions that inadvertently endanger some of the islands inhabitants.

The story lagged in places for me. I felt certain arguments were repeated and repeated.  Also, I felt the kids were rather slow to get to the boiling point. After all, their parents kept the biggest secret of their young lives from them, plus all the secrecy about the world off the island. Then this stranger, Miss Simone, comes and wants them to divulge all their secrets and she wants to irrevocably change their lives, all without telling them anything. So I kept waiting for one of the kids to explode in anger, or at least, in indignation. It was really slow in coming and then was a pretty mild rebuke. That aspect watered down the kids’ characters for me.

The last quarter of the book had the most action and was the most well written. Things are moving along and the kids’ personalities are well-fleshed out. Also, we see more of the adults who were largely these shadowy characters in the background up to this point. Plus Miss Simone gets some depth to her mysterious character. It was a pretty good read and I want to know what happens next to these kids.

I received this book free of charge from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: I have listened to several books narrated by Fred Wolinsky and this may be the best performance yet. Each kid was distinct and sounded like a kid. He also had really good female voices, which I appreciated as I haven’t always liked his female voices. As always, he is great at imbuing the characters with emotions and by the end of the book, there were plenty of emotions to be had! 

What I Liked: The cover art; foggy isolated island; communal living; the many, many mysteries; how the kids all react differently to the changes; the mysterious Miss Simone; the last quarter of the book.

What I Disliked: The story lagged in a few places for me; why didn’t the kids have more chores?; and why weren’t the kids more ticked about all the secrecy?

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The Candle Star by Michelle Isenhoff

IsenhoffTheCandleStarWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Michelle Isenhoff (2015)

Length: 4 hours 32 minutes

Series: Book 1 Divided Decade Collection

Author’s Page

Set in the late 1850s, Southern Belle Emily Preston has been sent by her parents to live for a spell with her uncle Isaac Milford. She comes from a slave plantation in Carolina and she is in for some culture shock in Detroit, a land where slavery is not tolerated. Also, her uncle insists that she earn her keep and this means chores and attending school, things she did not have to do in Carolina.

This was a very interesting book. Most books I have read that are set in this time period always make slavery and slave owners out to be the big monsters of the story line. In this book, the author does a most excellent job of showing how slavery and white supremacy was handed down generation to generation and reinforced with culture and politics. Basically, it was never a simple black and white issue (no pun intended) and while I knew that from reading nonfiction history books, I had not seen an author willing to tackle that in fiction. So, big kudos to the author for showing the complexity of the times through Emily’s eyes.

While the plot itself was pretty straightforward (rich girl has to learn that other people are worthy of regard) the characters made it very engaging. Emily starts off pretty rude and conceited, but we also see right away that she is suffering from homesickness and is somewhat afraid of the unknown. After all, she has never been to Detroit or met her uncle. So right off, I am a little conflicted over her – I don’t want to like her because of many of her attitudes and yet I totally connect with the homesickness and dread of the unknown. Well played because Emily’s story arc has the most growth and by the end I was wanting to invite her into the kitchen for tea and biscuits.

Meanwhile, Isaac’s boarding house employs several free blacks and an Irish woman. They all still have to cater to whoever is willing to pay for a room, even the questionable Mr. Burrows (a slave catcher)  and his crew. At first, Emily has great trouble accepting the idea of free blacks, and she initially finds the idea of blacks reading and going to school to be preposterous. But over several months, it becomes apparent that everything she has been taught about the supremacy of whites is incorrect. It’s a hard, bitter pill for her to swallow. Malachi, a black teen who is attending school, is instrumental in showing Emily a new way of thinking. Meanwhile, the old slave Ezekial who accompanies Emily on her trip, has revelations about his slave status that rock Emily’s world as well.

I appreciated that the author showed that Emily had prejudice against anyone, white or black, that she felt was beneath her family’s status. She comes to truly dislike an Irish maid at the boarding house, believing her to be beneath her uncle’s notice. It was very interesting to see that Emily came from a plantation-owning family that thought and acted very much like minor nobility. So many people of many colors and backgrounds were below their status. It made me wonder if the ‘minor nobility’ of the Deep South got a little inbred after a few generations.

The story progresses, showing us glimpses of the underground railroad that helped move slaves from the south to the northern states. Emily catches glimpses of this throughout the story but doesn’t truly grasp it until the end. And the end was nicely done too. We have some suspense that culminates in Emily’s choice concerning slavery. I was very satisfied with how this book ended and look forward to seeing what the author does next.

I received this book free of charge from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a very nice job with this one. He had a very good stuck-up voice for young Emily. I also liked all his regional accents. There’s a speech by Frederick Douglas in the story and Wolinsky made it sound very epic, like a turning point in history (and for Emily it was an important moment). 

What I Liked: The cover art; showing the complexities of the times; Emily’s story arc; the support characters; all the eye-opening moments for Emily; a very satisfying ending; the excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this was an excellent listen.

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London Warriors by Paul Rudd

RuddLondonWarriorsWhere I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Thorstruck Press (2015)

Length: 10 hours 24 minutes

Author’s Page

The world as we know it no longer exists. The boundaries with Hell have fallen and a variety of demons and mutated humans run amok. London has taken drastic measures to protect some of its human population by building a big wall around the inner city.  Plenty of humans, mostly the poorer ones, have been left on their own. Now Roman leads a band of disgraced and hardened convicts on a suicide mission to thwart the demi-god Demiurge.

This book had a lot of potential. I dived into it thinking it would be a great hit. On the surface, it has a lot of elements that I enjoy: mutated humans, supernatural forces, suicide mission, questionable heroes. But as I got further into the book, I realized this one wasn’t for me.

Let’s start with the questionable heroes. Some of these guys, and one gal, had interesting jobs, like bounty hunting, that got them in hot water and then incarcerated. Some were incarcerated for rape and murder. So it is a pretty interesting mix of ‘heroes’ for this book. Because some of these guys have impulse control problems coupled with a violent nature, they often made sexually violent remarks to the few women. At first, this added to the flavor of the book and gave me a few characters to hate. But these remarks, and later actions, became so common place they outshone the plot.

There is a lot of threatened, implied, and carried out violence towards women in general in this book. It was not balanced out with strong, competent female characters. I’m not a squeamish reader. I enjoy books with cussing, violence, sex, and the occasional terrible event that defines our characters. However, the author chose to put our female characters in skimpy hot pants for the fighting. Yep, hot pants. Who in their right mind wears hot pants to a suicide mission? None of the men did. Also, we were often told how awesome the few female characters (I recall 3, but there might have been a few more) were instead of shown. Much of their awesomeness happens off stage and we don’t get to live through their great deeds. Plus they often have to be rescued. Also, nearly all the plot decisions are made by male characters.

I will say the pacing was fine and I kept getting sucked back into the plot hoping things would even out. Many of the characters have some sort of super power and those were fun to explore. There’s a touch of romantic feelings between Roman and Eden (they use to be on the same espionage team until Roman got thrown in prison and Eden captured while on a mission). Yet despite the individually interesting characters, the action-packed plot, and the Hellish setting, this book was dud for me. It started off strong but then devolved quickly with the overboard gender-biased violence.

I won a copy of this book from the publisher via the Beauty in Ruins book blog.

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a fine performance. He had strong voices for the demons and other monsters and had a fine, commanding voice for Roman.  He had quite a range of characters to perform for this book and he did them well. 

What I Liked: The cover art; the story’s premise; mutated humans; Hellish monsters; suicide mission; questionable heroes.

What I Disliked: Overboard with the gender-biased violence; weak female characters; much of the women’s accomplishments happen off stage and we don’t get to live them; while the women get skimpy outfits, the men are dressed appropriately for the mission.

What Others Think:

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Audiobook Reviewer

To Light the Dragon's Fire by Margaret Taylor

TaylorToLightTheDragonsFireWhere I Got It: Review copy from the narrator (thanks!).

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: Self-published (2014)

Length: 7 hours 17 minutes

Series: Book 1 Dragons, Griffons, & Centaurs, Oh My!

Author’s Page

Twin sisters Terra and Lanni Heegan go caving in the wilds of Wyoming. For Terra, it is her last hurrah before entering into a loveless marriage. However, things take a turn pretty quickly and soon they are swept up in another world where shifters and chimeras rule. They will each face numerous foes, and perhaps even find a mate.

Draven is a shifter and lord of the land. He is use to being obeyed and his every word taken seriously. That is, until he is presented with two examples of the mythical being known as human. Terra is pretty sure Lanni has set this up. Perhaps it is with actors. Perhaps it is one of those all submersive vids that you can buy. Maybe even a dose of mushrooms. So when she doesn’t take Draven seriously, things go awry. He has to shift into his dragon form to save her from a nasty fall. Unfortunately. Draven’s guards take Terra’s actions as an act of aggression and she and Lanni are tossed in a dungeon, only to be rescued by an unlikely being.

The action picks up really quickly and Terra and Lanni, neither of the shrinking violet variety, do their best to hold their own. Periodically, they are being rescued. Sometimes they do the saving. Draven and his wing man (Arin) make a good duo for the twins to alternately argue with and fight evil side by side. The world building is full of fantastical creatures, such as talking animals, all sorts of chimeras, the shifters, and magical creatures who don’t appear to do any shifting (like the unicorns and rhocs). Arin is a bit of an outcast as he is part of a small group of beings that are never fully human, always retaining some traits of what they shift into. So I pictured him as looking a little like the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, but more disgruntled and trimmer, being the war commander he is.

While Terra is a bit more kick ass than Lanni, they both contribute to the plot and are not simply there as romantic interests. They do tend to do more thinking than the men, but this is required by someone if they are to outwit their foes. And the foes are many, with several of them hidden.

My one quibble is that Lanni becomes a trauma medic without having had any hands on training or experience, but just from having read a medical book or two. At one point, a character is injured, passes out, and Lanni stitches this character up. That’s fine. Lots of people can do stitches in a pinch. Once the character wakes, she goes on to say how they must have had some internal bleeding. Uh… well, if that is the case then it is pure luck they didn’t die and that the bleeding either stopped on it’s own, or slowed enough to leave the injured stable until a real medic could be called.

The romance is a light thread that carries throughout the book. For some of the characters, the connection is made really swift, and others it takes a while. It did not detract from the plot and in certain instances, added to it. There’s also a touch of modern and just over the horizon tech. I liked how this was done lightly, so that we could stay focused on the characters and the plot and not get hung up on whether this was fantasy or science fiction. The ending left us on a very dramatic note (which I liked) and then a bit of a cliffhanger. So be ready to jump right into Book 2 because there is plenty of plot left to unfold and resolve!

The Narration: Fred Wolinsky did a good job with all the character voices. I especially liked his slightly furry voice for Aaron (and since he has whiskers and a kind of leonine face it totally fit). His female voices were believable and he had a range that allowed for distinct characters. There was a true challenge in doing voices for Terra and Lanni (who are twins) and yet making them distinct for the listener and he met that challenge with excellence.

What I Liked: So many magical beasties!; Terra and Lanni kick butt and add to the plot; plenty of action; dramatic ending; ready to jump into Book 2!

What I Disliked: Lanni has excellent trauma medic skills after reading a book or two.

BannerOnceUponATimeIXTis the season for fantasy reading. I am participating in this year’s Once Upon A Time IX reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

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