Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbol

My book has a cat for a hat.
My book has a cat for a hat.

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

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: HighBridge (2015)

Length: 8 hours 53 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in the 1890s France, Madeleine Karno is at the center of this mystery. Her father, Dr. Albert Karno, is a forensic doctor who has been asked to do a brief examination of the body of a young lady found dead at the door of her family’s home. A mystery begins to unfold involving mites, hounds, a convent, and several more bodies.

I really enjoyed this book, though I did leave it having a few minor questions unanswered; I wished they had been wrapped up of a certainty in the epilogue. Nearly the entire story is told through Madeleine’s eyes, with a few letters and journal entries filling in the rest. Madeleine is a wonderful character to spend time with – she has her own motives, pushes against societal norms in order to get to the truth, and isn’t squeamish around blood. While France has started accepting women to universities, it is still highly unusual for a woman to be assisting in detective work or forensic examination.

The author does a very good job of mixing suspense, action, parasitology, 1890s medicine, and convent life in this mystery. I was never bored with this tale. There was family intrigue, convent intrigue, and then other bits and pieces that on the surface didn’t seem connected. Indeed, we had more than one suspect for the murderer and with each body, the connections became harder to see. I really liked that this book kept me guessing until nearly the end.

There is some sex. One scene is described after the fact by one of the participants. It was a pretty robust scene. Then there is one character that has an embarrassing medical condition in which he gets a involuntary erection whenever he has any strong emotion, like social anxiety. There is also one body that is found in a rather compromising position. So, this book is not a cozy mystery or a light read. Be prepared to dig in and enjoy!

As much as I enjoyed this book, the tale left some questions unanswered at the end. Some of these are just follow up to minor characters of the ‘what happened next?’ variety. For instance, I would like to know what happened with the father and brother of the first body. Other questions were related to solvig the mystery. Don’t worry! We find out who did the deeds in the end. But I wanted to know more about how they were done. There are questions I have about how certain marks on Body #2 and I was unclear about the mite species.

Anyway, over all a decent read if you can let these smaller questions go unanswered. I still really enjoyed this book and will be looking up more of Kaaberbol’s work.

The Narration: Nicola Barber is one of my favorite narrators and she does not disappoint in this book. As usual, she had an excellent voice for our lead character, Madeleine, along with a lovely array of male and female voices for the rest of the cast.  

What I Liked: Excellent narration; cool cover art; wonderful mix of mystery and science; I love the different reactions Madeleine gets as she performs detective work; multiple suspects for the murders; plenty of interesting characters.

What I Disliked: I had some unresolved questions at the end, but I ca let them go and seek out more work by this author.

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Fools' Gold by Philippa Gregory

Tanuki wouldn't hold still for a pic, so I got his back legs instead.
Tanuki wouldn’t hold still for a pic, so I got his back legs instead.

Why I Read It: This series, Changeling and Stormbringers, has been fun so far, so had to check out Book 3.

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

Who I Recommend This To: If you’re looking for a light historical fiction on Venice, money forgery, & religion, check this book out.

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 9 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 3 Order of Darkness

Author’s Page

Book 3 picks up where Book 2 left us. Our little crew of Frieze, Isolde, Luca, Brother Peter, and Ishraq have orders to go to Venice, pretend to be a wealthy merchant family, and seek out forged coins and the forgerers themselves. They end up in Venice during Carnival, the one time a year that well-to-do ladies are allowed to go out of the home. This is 1400s Italy, so plenty of rules to help a person stay proper and respectful, especially for young ladies. Early on, they learn about gambling, gondolas, and how convenient a well planned costume can be.

So if you have been following this series, then you know that Frieze was absent most of Book 2, which was one of the few things I didn’t like about it. No worries on that count with this book; Frieze gets to goof around and be at the center stage plenty in this book. His blunt country charm is well received by this reader. The odd love tangle from the last book sorts itself out, somewhat anyway, in this book and such silliness doesn’t get as much screen time (which is fine by me). Over all, I felt this book was better than Book 2, and perhaps better than Book 1.

In carrying out their mission, Luca and crew come upon a pair of alchemists. Lots of mystery surrounds these two and what they are up to. Indeed, Frieze and Ishraq get the chance to snoop through their house, and some of the things they discover are hair raising! Venice is a trade city, and one of the major things they trade is currency, such as Italian currencies for the English gold noble. During this tale, they are in great demand and play an important role in the end of this book. I liked that we got a bit of history on a specific coin, and on coin forgery.

Luca has also had a break through in locating his parents. In Book 2, he was directed to someone who could perhaps find out if his parents were still living as slaves somewhere in the Ottoman empire. If so, there was the chance to buy their freedom. This little side plot is a bit of a tear-jerker.

I feel the characters grew in this book, even Brother Peter who is always so by-the-book straight. Isolde has a moment when she must defend her good character, which has the consequence of tearing another down. Luca has the drama with finding more info on his parents. Ishraq has to face the confining culture of Venice which requires young ladies to basically stay at home unless at church or escorted to another lady’s house for a visit. Frieze….well, he had to stable his best buddy Rufino the horse outside Venice for the duration of the book, which was very hard on the lad.

My one criticism is that for much of the book, when any two or more ladies were talking together, it was about a man (usually Luca). Sometimes, this was fighting over the man. It was silly. Women do talk about more than men when they get together, and considering the new culture for our main ladies (that of Venice) and the mysteries of the alchemists, there was plenty for them to talk about.

Narration: Nicola Barber was an excellent choice for this book, as she was for the previous book. She does Isolde’s voice perfectly, with the right notch of a high-born lady, plus the wonder of youth. Ishraq almost always has a questioning tone, as fits her nature. Brother Peter is so very stern. Luca and Frieze are done quite well, and with distinct voices.

What I Liked: The Venician setting; learning a little about coin forgery as I read; the alchemists’ lair was interesting and spooky; Brother Peter bent a bit to help his young charges and I found it to be one of the most hilarious and yet moving scenes in the book.

What I Disliked: The ladies pretty much only talk about men when it is just them, which didn’t seem realistic considering their surroundings and mission.

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Shadows of Glass by Kassy Tayler

TaylorShadowsOfGlassWhy I Read It: Read the first in the series, Ashes of Twilight, and thought it pretty good.

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

Who I Recommend This To: Folks who enjoy steampunk, adventure, and Logan’s Run.

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: AudioGO (2013)

Length: 9 hours 40 minutes

Series: Book 2 Ashes Trilogy

Author’s Page

Book 1 left us with Wren and her whole village scampering before a deluge of water. Wren, Pace, and a few Shiners find themselves outside the Dome via the underground tunnels. They also find that a lot of people didn’t survive the disaster. On top of mourning their dead, they must also get use to fresh air, wildlife, sunlight, and the elements. It soon becomes clear that they are not alone in the outside world as the Rovers are clearly interested in their goats and ponies. Luckily, some generous and helpful Americans descend in an airship, very intrigued by the smoke that continues to pour from the holes in the Dome. The Shiners easily make friends with the Hatfields (Jane & Lion and their daughter Xanth and her cousin Levi) and their well-stocked airship.

Wren has Shiner eyes, eyes that have evolved to low-light environments. And she makes the mistake of looking into the sun. Drama ensues. Everyone’s emotions are running high as those who made it out with Pace and Wren deal with the dead, or worse, the not knowing if loved are are alive, trapped, or dead and lost. James, ever the divisive force, and Pace square off while Wren feels torn between her remaining people and the bond she has with Pace. More drama.

Then the airship shows up and Wren is the first to stumble upon it. Luckily, the occupants are friendly and have extra resources. They trade Wren a grand meal in exchange for knowledge of the Dome and the surrounding area. Xanth takes to her right away, making sure she is bathed and dressed. Pretty soon, the remaining Shiners are taken under the protective wing of the Hatfields. They begin training on simple weapons, like bows, and also hunting.

Between the action scenes, we are treated to Wren’s inner turmoil. She’s had a lot of deal with and with no chance to rest. She is especially torn by her ability to kill, constantly questioning the morality of it. Luckily, Levi can relate, and the two start to form a bond. And yet more drama ensues as Pace and Levi vie for Wren’s affections.

There were many things I was taken with in this story. I love the idea of folks stuck in an enclosed environment, losing much of their knowledge of the surrounding world, and then coming out into that world. for instance, Pace was privileged in that he had access to numerous books. So he is able to figure out how to dig up muscles, cook them, and eat them. They all learn about sunburns and the Shiners have to take extra care with their eyes that are evolved for miner life. The American explorers and their airship was a nice touch, even if they are a little too nice and polite to be real. Still, they have an airship! And they bring knowledge of the bigger world.

Wren has so much to deal with, and by and large, she does a really good job. She helped many of the remaining Shiners when they first emerged from the caves. Then she spread the world about the Rovers so folks could keep an eye out. Then the airship brings much needed protection but also complications. They wish to make contact with those inside. While Wren worries for her friends who still remain inside, she doesn’t want to return.

But then it all gets complicated with the love triangle. You won’t give me the evil squinty eye if I tell you I kind of tuned out some of it because it was overkill? Wren acts like she doesn’t have any control over her emotions, which leads to lack of control over her actions. She also can’t decide what she wants. I didn’t really care for these dramatic sections of the book, but I guess they are required in modern-day Young Adult. Sigh…..

Levi is half Sioux, thought he doesn’t really look it. There are a few sections where he goes on about how much he learned during his single year with his mother’s tribe. This seemed to smack of putting the noble savage on a pedestal. Native Americans are real today and haven’t been lost to the mists of time. And they are supposedly real in this book too, still having healthy societies. Perhaps we could have had a Native American family piloting the airship? Just a thought. In case an author is looking for a new, crisp idea that hasn’t been explored/exploited.

The bad guys were terribly easy to spot. They all smelled bad, looked bad, and acted badly. I was hoping that the Rovers would have some sort of society as they managed to exist outside the Dome all these years through the calamity of the comet. But no, rather they all fell into this cookie cutter mold of ‘Bad Guy’. On the other hand, several got to die during the action scenes which provided an opportunity for character growth by our heroes.

OK, with those few criticisms, I still enjoyed the book. I want Wren to succeed and I want Pace to get his mom back. I want James to die a glorious death instead of being a dick all the time. Levi and his family are cool and helpful, but soon they will lose interest and fly away. So, yeah, I will probably check out the third book because I need to know how things end.

The Narration: Nicola Barber was the perfect voice for Wren. Her various accents (the Shiners, Pace’s, the Rovers, the Americans) were are done quite well. Her ability to pour Wren’s emotions through the narration was excellent.

What I Liked: Cool goggles; cool airship; smoking dome!; Wren and crew get to bumble around in the real world; Xanth was a joy because of her practical teasing and joking; Wren is the hero and I can’t help but rout for her.

What I Disliked: Easy to spot Bad Guys; Native American on a pedestal; the love triangle.

2014SFExperienceI’m taking part in the reading event of the season, The Science Fiction Experience 2014, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory

Tan-tan trying to nap as I bother him for a pic.
Tan-tan trying to nap as I bother him for a pic.

Why I Read It: Book 1, Changeling, was fun.

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

Who I Recommend This To: If you’re looking for a light historical fiction with a strong bend towards witchcraft & religion, check this book out.

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)

Length: 7 CDs

Series: Book 2 Order of Darkness

Stormbringers picks up right where Changeling left off. Philippa Gregory gives us more about Ishraq and we learn some of Luca’s past troubles. As the four traveled on to their next mystery to investigate, they come across a crusade of children lead by a 15 year old shepherd named Johann. The towns people readily believe Johann and his divine guidance to lead the children to Jerusalem before the End of Days comes. Luca takes more convincing, but soon comes to believe that the lad knows things about his past that he could only know through some divine power. Johann prophesies that the waters will part and he and the child crusade will be able to walk to the Holy Land. Miraculously, it appears that his prophesy comes true….but then things turn unexpectedly.

This book picked up a bit slower for me. Philippa Gregory spent perhaps a third of the book with Johann and there was plenty of religious talk in that space that didn’t particularly appeal to me. But once Johann’s prophesy comes true, things really pick up. The twist midway through the book brings three of our heroes into danger and leaves one lost, potentially forever. Towards the end we get yet another twist that could lead Luca to find his long lost parents and tests Ishraq’s loyalty to her mistress Isolde. Once again, Freize was my favorite character and had some of the best lines, being of a more practical nature.

I have to say that growing odd love quadrangle leaves poor Brother Peter out in the cold and the reader rolling their eyes. At first, some of the aspects were cute, even sweet or compassionate, but then jealousies strain the plot and leave at least one of the characters looking like a spoiled 12 year old instead of young adults who have been facing the world on their own two feet for a few months, if not a few years. Mostly, I tried to ignore that. Again, Ishraq is a fascinating character, but so many proficiencies are attributed to her it makes her character a bit unbelievable: she’s a scientist, a doctor, trained in hand to hand combat, multi-lingual, etc. She’s a 17 year old servant. Can’t she be extraordinary at that and still be believable?

Even with those distractions, I found the children’s crusade fascinating. The reader is also left to conclude on their own about Johann and his supposed divinity. When Johann’s prophesy comes trues, the reader can easily conclude it was a natural phenomenon. I don’t want to give away what this was exactly, but I personally have been fascinated with this particular phenomenon for a few years now. It is done really, really well in this story. Of course, this natural phenomenon then leads to accusations of witchcraft and Luca, the papal inquisitor, has to hold an official inquiry. I have to say that I felt the inquiry was wrapped up too easily and lacked drama. But then Philippa Gregory makes up for that with the last quarter of the book as the townfolk and Luca have to confront a slave galley. I won’t say more, but the last bit of the book was filled with delicious tension and mystery.

Narration: Nicola Barber was an excellent choice for this book. She performed Isolde exactly how I imagined her in my head. She gave Freize a playful, mocking voice, and Luca an inquisitive and sometimes haughty voice. Her range for age and gender brought this book to life. Additionally, there was an afterword from the author on what was factual and what was fiction about her book – such afterwards I always find of interest.

What I Liked: The setting (1400s Italy); interesting child crusade; natural phenomenon – very well done; the last quarter was excellent; the ending is set up perfectly for the next book.

What I Disliked: Odd love quadrangle; slow start with lots of focus on Johann but little depth; the inquiry was over too quickly & lacked drama; too many abilities assigned to Ishraq to make for a believable character.

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Ashes of Twilight by Kassy Tayler

10634286Why I Read It: I like reading about confined folks who got issues, whether it’s in space or under a dome on ruined Earth.

Where I Got It: From the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are a fan of Logan’s Run and YA, then this book has a lot for you.

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: AudioGO (2012)

Length: 9 hours 25 minutes

Series: Book 1 Ashes

I grew up with Logan’s Run, first the movie and then the series. There were many things I liked about them, including the characters’ needs to live beyond their assigned roles and years. Ashes of Twilight captures that same feel, but without being a duplicate of this classic. Set under a large dome somewhere in Wales, UK over what once was a large coal deposit, Wren MacAvoy struggles to fit in, to make her grandfather proud, and to unravel the hidden reasons for a friend’s death. As a coal miner, next to the lowest of the low in this structured society, she is shunned in most public places above ground and people of her status rarely marry outside of their class. And indeed, their world is very set, having existed under a dome for several generations after a world calamity made the surface unlivable.

With that set up, Kassy Tayler leads us into her world, bit by bit through Wren’s eyes. Indeed, this was one of the things I enjoyed about the writing: the story showed me Wren’s world instead of telling it to me. At 16, she and a few other young friends feel the need to stretch their wings and push for something more. One long-lived question in their lives has been what is beyond the dome wall? Alex challenges the status quo and ends up dead, his last words being, ‘The sky is blue,’ which leads to all sorts of grief and consternation.

Wren has to avoid not only the Filchers (masked folks that will grab a coal miner off the streets), and the city guard, but also her own people’s senior council. Yet she manages to attract the attention of all three plus the city Royals. Indeed, she becomes the focus for the spread of revolution. The intensity and action were sprinkled with Wren’s inner thoughts and concerns, keeping the tension high throughout the book. Along the way, she meets Pace, an aspiring city guard who ends up on the wrong side of a bit of knowledge and needs a place to hide. Young love strikes the both of them. Now, there was really only 1 thing I didn’t care for in this book, and it was the near instant love, yet no sex. Please, a set society trapped under a dome for numerous generations is going to have birth control freely available, or it would have collapsed due to over population after a few generations. It’s OK to be 16 or 18 and in lust and have that lust turn to friendship , and perhaps more later on.

I really connected with Wren and Pace and even a few of the minor characters. I like the use of animals (cats, canaries, and ponies) throughout the story. While I found it a little convenient that Pace is a super athlete brimming with muscle, a sensitive guy, and has great concern for his mum, I still enjoyed his humor and felt he made a descent counterpoint to Wren and her periodic lack of confidence. The ending gave me mixed feelings, but set up the reader for Book 2. On one hand, Wren stayed true to her 16-year-old self; on the other hand the larger picture wasn’t considered by Wren and her friends.

Nicola Barber was the perfect choice for this audiobook. She captured Wren’s voice crystal clear and I enjoyed her portrayal of Peggy, Pace, Alex, and the other young folks. Her ‘Royal’ voice was also fitting.

What I Liked: The cover; structured society trapped under a dome; big freaking secret kept from society at large; Wren’s kindness yet she has survival instincts; Pace’s humor; the characters had fears and shortcomings and this made then more real; Tayler’s storytelling is very approachable.

What I Disliked: Instant love yet no sex (not realistic); mixed feelings about the ending.