Zero Lives Remaining by Adam Cesare

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

61XAlJ0cuuL._SL300_Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Rollin & Jeanie Press (2016)

Length: 2 hours 37 minutes

Author’s Page

 

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

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

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

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

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

I received a free copy of this book.

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

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

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

What Others Think:

Into the Macabre

Horror Talk

The Audio Book Reviewer

splatterpunkzine

Hellnotes

Scream Horror Magazine

Gingernuts of Horror

 

Spirited Christmas by Gary Jonas

JonasSpiritedChristmasNarrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Denton & White (2016)

Length: 2 hours

Series: A Jonathan Shade Holiday Story

Author’s Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Disliked: Nothing! Perfect for the holidays!

Sunset Specters by Gary Jonas

JonasSunsetSpectersNarrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Denton & White (2016)

Length: 4 hours 48 minutes

Series: Book 5 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: This is Book 5 in the series and I recommend reading the previous books as there are major things that happened in previous stories that affect characters’s decisions in this book.

Book 4, Anubis Nights, left us with quite the cliff hanger, so I was very glad I didn’t have to wait too long for this book to come out on audio. Jonathan Shade and his crew are still hunting Henry Winslow through time. Jonathan, Kelly Chan, and Ankhesenamun were yanked from ancient Egypt into 1877 at the end of the previous book. At the beginning of this book, Jonathan & Kelly are reunited with Brand and Esther, and they all have the opportunity to bring the confused Ankhesenamun up to speed.

And that’s the perfect set up for things to go very, very wrong. First, they finish traveling to San Francisco, hoping to catch up to the sorcerous Henry Winslow before he expects it and well before he can complete the next stage of his immortality ritual. Meanwhile, Douglas Freeman, a former slave, has suffered a great loss. He’s made a list of men who must die. Vengeful, angry ghosts accompany him as he tracks his quarry to San Francisco.

San Francisco is a mixing pot of cultures but it’s far from any kind of equality in 1877. Might still makes right and being any skin tone other than white leaves you with plenty of extra hurdles. Very few establishments outside of China town will serve Kelly Chan and nearly everyone assumes she is Jonathan’s slave. This provides plenty of opportunities for Kelly to set people right, much to my amusement. I’m really glad that the author didn’t ignore these facets of historical San Francisco as it made the story very interesting; Jonathan and crew can’t help but apply their 21st century standards to whatever time period they happen to be in.

The bad guy is very bad indeed! Henry Winslow is a very formidable foe as we saw in Book 4. That continues on in this book, though his powers have grown a bit. Still, Jonathan and crew think they can take him if they can just get the right combo of might, luck, and surprise going. At the very least, they can mess up this stage of his immortality ritual. For the most part, Winslow ignores them (or tosses them over houses) until they become a true nuisance. Then, there is hell to pay. There is this one scene that was a little bit of a tear jerker. Jonathan, in the first trilogy, managed to undo a few deaths with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. However, I don’t know if that will be possible this time around. This book’s description doesn’t lie about not everyone getting out alive.

In the previous book, I felt it was a bit silly that all 3 main female characters were in love with Jonathan. That theme was carried forth in this book, but now things are more complicated. Kelly and Jonathan had this romantic relationship in ancient Egypt and they continue that in 1877, but now they have Brand (Kelly’s ex-boyfriend) and Esther (a ghost who’s had a crush on Jonathan for years) to pay witness to it. This makes for some uncomfortable moments for these friends. However, I am better with the idea of Jonathan being the center of so much female attention now that I’ve read this book, especially in light of how this one ends.

OK, leaving all this mushy romance stuff to the side, Jonathan has more than one bad guy to deal with in this book. He and Douglas Freeman eventually cross paths and a deal is struck to assist each other, as they have one bad guy in common. This eventually brings plenty of pain and a few broken bones to Jonathan as he fights a man who is near indestructible. I quite enjoyed how he resolved that issue.

In the end, this is one of my favorite books of the series. There’s a lot going on in San Francisco in 1877 and a lot going on with Jonathan and his crew. The books ends on a bittersweet note with a bit of suspense for what will come next. So looking forward to Book 6!

I received a free copy of this audiobook.

The Narration: Yet again, Joe Hempel continues to be the perfect Jonathan Shade. As per his usual performance, he does an excellent light Chinese accent for Kelly Chan and a Southern drawl for Esther. I liked the little bit of high-and-mighty he put into Ankhesenamun’s voice. There were some pretty emotional scenes in this book and Hempel did a great job getting those emotions across to the listener. Indeed, I believe he must be attached to these characters by now and that really shows in his narration.  

What I Liked: 1877 San Francisco was a very interesting place; Kelly has plenty of opportunities to kick ass; Henry Winslow is such a powerful foe that I do wonder if Jonathan will be able to defeat him; not everyone gets out of this book alive (sniffle); Jonathan’s convoluted love life makes more sense now; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this is a solidly good story.

Anubis Nights by Gary Jonas

JonasAnubisNightsWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Denton & White (2016)

Length: 7 hours 28 minutes

Series: Book 4 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: This is Book 4 in the series and I recommend reading the previous books as there are major things that happened in previous stories that affect characters’s decisions in this book.

Private investigator Jonathan Shade starts his day off having a serious argument with a witch and the ghost of her son. Things only get worse when Sharon and Chronos show up at Kelly’s dojo and force Jonathan and his friends into taking care of a little problem for them. Henry Winslow, a powerful magician, is attempting to become immortal. To do so, he split himself into three aspects and placed each one at a different time and place in the past. Now Jonathan and his friends must travel back in time and kill each aspect.

This was a fun addition to this urban fantasy series that I have enjoyed so much. Jonathan has done a smidge of time travel before (a fact that he keeps hidden from his friends) but this time he and Kelly (a magically constructed warrior) are sent back into ancient Egypt to find Winslow and kill him. Meanwhile, Brand (also a magically constructed warrior) and Esther (a ghost who is tied to these old typewriter keys) go back to the 1870s. Reina (who isn’t of this world and has some special abilities) heads to the 1920s.

Let me get my one criticism out of the way. We have three main ladies in this series now: Kelly, Esther, and Reina. For some reason, the author chose to write them all as being in love with Jonathan and that really comes to the forefront in this book. It’s silly and not really necessary for the plot. Plus, there are other interesting men, so why not spread the joy?

OK, back to the good stuff. Most of the book is spent on Jonathan and Kelly in ancient Egypt. I really enjoyed the scenes where everyone was getting ready for their trip and had to dress the part. Reina got a flapper dress plus some practical wear. Brand had some rough yet really durable clothes. Meanwhile, Kelly and Jonathan were given revealing (by today’s standards) clothing that was the norm for King Tut’s time period. Eventually, Kelly and Jonathan rebel and a compromise (sort of) is made. In the end, it didn’t matter much because the two of them materialized in front of people and therefore, folks thought they must be deities.

We get a little bit of time with Brand and Esther in the 1870s. They soon land in some serious trouble with Priscilla and Edward that they weren’t expecting. Brand used to be a very strong warrior, but at the end of the previous book, things changed for him. Now he finds himself in a next to helpless position but I think he’s too stubborn (or dense) to notice. He keeps on thinking, bidding his time, quietly flexing those muscles.

Meanwhile, Reina goes to the 1920s. She doesn’t know much about this time period and she’s never been to New York  city. We only get a smidge of her story and she swiftly finds herself in trouble. I was surprised at how quickly she was subdued and also a bit disappointed. Not much is being done with this character that has so much potential.

It’s a swift moving plot with fun characters and I like that Kelly and Jonathan continue to be at the heart of the story. I also like that things between Jonathan and Sharon are unresolved. Her previous betrayal still rankles him (as it should!) and I look forward to seeing how the author deals with that. The ending was great! I loved the last big fight scene and how things in Egypt resolved themselves. This book does leave us on a cliff hanger, so I’m really looking forward to having Book 5 in audio.

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

The Narration: Joe Hempel continues to be the perfect Jonathan Shade. Also, he’s the perfect Kelly Chan, with her light Chinese accent. He really pulls it off well. I also liked his ‘dumb jock’ voice for Brand (which suits his humor and character well) and I continue to like his light Southern drawl for Esther. All around, it’s a great performance.  

What I Liked: Ancient Egypt!; things are not yet resolved with Sharon; Brand and Esther have their own troubles; King Tut and all the court; the final fight scene.

What I Disliked: All three main ladies are romantically inclined towards Jonathan, which is a little silly.

Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas

JonasDragonGateWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2016)

Length: 7 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 3 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acheron Highway by Gary Jonas

JonasAcheronHighwayWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2015)

Length: 5 hours 56 minutes

Series: Book 2 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a great addition to the urban fantasy genre!

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

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

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

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

 

Modern Sorcery by Gary Jonas

JonasModernSorceryWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing LLC (2015)

Length: 6 hours 13 minutes

Series: Book 1 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Others Think:

Debbie’s Inkspectations

ChiZine.com

Mystery Paranormal Mystery