Aranya by Marc Secchia

Narrator: Shiromi Arserio

Publisher: Marc Secchia (2015)

Length: 14 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 1 Shapeshifter Dragons

Author’s Page

Aranya, princess of the island kingdom of Immadia, is given up as hostage to the invading Sylakian Empire. Chained aboard a Sylakian dragonship (dirigible), she manages to save the commanding officer, a Warhammer, from a windroc. She has a bit of freedom once imprisoned with all the other hostages of subjugated nations but that doesn’t prevent the hostages from forming cliques and taunting one another. Matters get out of hand and Aranya is sentenced to die. She is shackled to a stone and tossed off a high escarpment. That’s when her life changes forever as she shapeshifts into a dragon. This might just be the turning point in the war with Sylakia.

There’s much to be enjoyed in this book. I liked Aranya as a character even though she didn’t wow me. She’s not perfect but she has a good heart. She has her strengths and weaknesses but she also has some good companions to help her along the way. My one quibble would be that she’s a little too good, only having minor flaws. She was rather bland and this made her a little boring.

Meanwhile, her best friend and dragonrider is Zip (short for Zuziana), another princess hostage. They don’t start off as friends but they eventually find merit in each other and bond over shared experiences. Zip has a mouth on her short frame and isn’t afraid to use it, like her archery skills.

The plot was in two pieces for me. In fact, it felt like this was two books pressed into one. First, Aranya must discover who and what she is. That whole bit about being tossed off a cliff that’s mentioned in the book’s description doesn’t happen until several hours into the book. The second half of the book is Aranya and Zip running some guerrilla tactics on the Sylakian air navy and eventually having a really big battle to determine the fate of the island kingdoms.

Let’s talk a little about the male characters. Mostly, they are either there for comfort (like Aranya’s dad) or are of a romantic interest (like Yolathian and the formerly nameless monk). Occasionally they get to do stuff and have a few meaningful lines. That said, most of their plot-related actions happen off the page and the reader only hears about it after the fact. It is both refreshing and odd to have a book that wouldn’t pass a reverse-Bechdel test.

Nak and Odya, an older couple who have experience with both natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters, get to play teachers and stand-in grandparents to Aranya. Sometimes this was very sweet and sometimes Nak was outright creepy with all his lecherous comments to and about Aranya and later Zip. Odya and Nak know something about Aranya’s parentage but are reluctant to give up all their secrets. Aranya’s mom is something of a mystery throughout the book and that’s one of the things I liked.

There’s also warrior pygmies on some of the isles and Zip and Aranya have to trade with them. Then there’s the dragonets, which are small dragons with limited intelligence and speech. This last bit really reminded me of some of Anne McCaffrey’s books. As a biologist, I got a kick out of the info about dragon anatomy – 3 hearts, 7 stomachs, etc. After so many mentions about dragon digestion I did start to wonder about dragon poo. For a good chunk of the book, Aryana in dragon form is being tracked by the Sylakians and spoor is a useful find when tracking anything. Alas, no dragon dung.

As the story goes on, Aryana’s powers grow. At first, this seemed natural and I was interested. Later on though, she has so many powers that she’s getting close to be invincible and I found this a bit boring. I like my heroes to have limited abilities and therefore, they sometimes have to rely either on others or on their wits to get them out of a jam.

All told, it’s a good solid start to an epic dragon fantasy series. The two main characters are pretty interesting and the world they inhabit has a lot left to explore.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobook Worm.

The Narration: Shiromi Arserio makes a really good Aranya, both princess and dragon. I enjoyed the quick banter between Aranya and Zip throughout the book. For the most part, she usually had distinct character voices but sometimes there were a few conversations where the distinctions became muddled. The male character voices really needed some masculinity. She was great at imbuing characters with the correct emotions. 

What I Liked: A world made up of islands; natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters; Zip and Aranya make a great team; pygmies; little dragons; dirigibles; Odya playing grandmother.

What I Disliked: Could use some gender balancing; Nak is creepy; Aranya’s power grow so numerous and powerful during the book that she becoems a little boring; male characters don’t sound particularly masculine.

Check out more reviews on the blog tour.

Night's Curse by Justin Sloan

SloanNight'sCurseWhere I Got It: Found it free on Justin Sloan’s Facebook page.

Narrator: Rebecca Greene

Publisher: Moonshell Books (2013)

Length: 5 hours 44 minutes

Author’s Page

Christmas morning isn’t going as planned. Young Annabelle expected it to be beautiful and fun, as it had always been. However, she finds first one parent and then another, dead, torn apart. But there’s something worse that she has yet to discover, to understand.

This is not a tale for kids, unless they are a bit older and a little twisted. After discovering the horror of Christmas morning, she runs. She continues until she can’t go one any more unless she figures out how to get some food, even it requires stealing. After a fumbled attempt to do so, a group of other street kids find her. She thinks she found others who understand her and what she has been through, but all is not quite that simple.

At heart, this is a Shifter story but it is told from the eyes of you girl who has to go through the horror of it on her own. It is a dark, slightly disturbing story. There’s quite a bit packed into this short story. Plenty questions come up as to what is right or wrong, and how much intent or the situation of the moment play into it.

I was quite impressed with this story and look forward to exploring more of the author’s work. Also, I hope he continues with more Annabelle stories as I think she has more to give to the Shifter genre.

Currently, this book is on the author’s YouTube channel:

The Narration: Rebecca Greene was a very good pick for Annabelle. She had a young woman’s voice without being too childlike. She also had distinct voices for the other characters, including believable male voices.

What I Liked: The cover art; good addition to the Shifter genre; author doesn’t cringe from the darker side of Shifters; plenty of questions on what is right and wrong.

What I Disliked: Nothing – I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Blood Moon by Geraldine Allie

AllieBloodMoonWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Alex Hyde-White

Publisher: Punch Audio (2014)

Length: 1 hour 29 minutes

Series: Book 1 Werewolves & Shifters

Author’s Page

Maxine Lewis and Nate Jackson find themselves thrown together in a dark, dirty place. Nate, as leader of his shifter pack, was on the hunt for some murderous vampires. Maxine was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Things happen super fast in this one. Nate goes on the hunt, rescues Maxine from some vampires, they end up running and hiding and getting to know one another via some sexytimes, and then there is more vampire killing. There’s only one female character, and she needs rescuing. So the whole Damsel In Distress thing was a bit predictable. Also, sometimes the events happened so quickly I felt like I had whiplash.

Now that I have my criticisms out of the way, I did enjoy Nate’s character throughout the story. He is focused and wants what is best for his pack. Falling for Maxine is definitely not what’s best, and that constant flow of contradictory emotions was well played. While I did enjoy the sexytimes, they were over too quickly and since I hadn’t really connected to both characters, it was not as enjoyable as when I care about both parties involved.

There’s plenty of potential with this story. It’s short and perhaps should be read with the intent of jumping right into Book 2 so that the world and character development can continue.

The Narration: Alex Hyde-White was a good pick for Nate. He definitely pulled off the take-charge attitude. He had a decent feminine voice for Maxine.

What I Liked: Lovely cover art!; fun basic premise (vampires versus werewolves); Maxine & Nate definitely have sparks; plenty of room to grow in world & character development.

What I Disliked: The pacing is sometimes very fast (like whiplash fast); Maxine is the damsel in distress.

What Others Think:

Eargasms

Sweeter Than Honey: Call of the Kodiak by Geraldine Allie

AllieSweeterThanHoneyCallOfTheKodiakWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Vanessa Hart

Publisher: Punch Audio (2014)

Length: 1 hour 4 minutes

Series: Book 1 Bear Shifters

Author’s Page

Set perhaps in the late 1800s USA, Crysta is a single woman, and doing quite well on her own in private business. John is a business man in his own right, and his biggest business is honey. Once he sees Crystal, his inner beast takes over and he knows that he must convince her that he is the man for her.

So I am totally guessing on the era this is set in. There are no phones or locomotives, but the USA is somewhat settled and Crystal is able to hold her own in the world of business. This is set in the southeastern US, perhaps Georgia or New Orleans. Honestly, I forgot because all the fun stuff happens out in the woods in a little cabin by the stream. 😉

John basically maneuvers Crystal into a bet. She has to spend time with him out at the cabin, chatting about how beneficial it would be to combine forces in the business world via a marriage. However John has this secret that he worries will drive Crystal away. As you can guess from the title and the name of the series, John is a shifter.

While it was predictable that all would work out, it was still sweet to see it come to fruition. There is one brief sex scene that I wish had been longer. The author left it in a good place for the next in the series to build upon.

The Narration: Vanessa Hart was a good choice. Her sultry southern voice for Crystal was honey on the ears. She also had a good voice for John, being very straight forward and a little gruff when needed.  

What I Liked: The location; excellent narration; John’s secret; Crystal’s independence; sweet ending.

What I Disliked: I wanted a bit more on the era this is set in; the sex scene was brief.

What Others Think:

Eargasms

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.

What Others Think:

Night Owl Romance

The Violet Hour Book Reviews

Alpha Trio: The Complete Collection by Ana Vela

VelaAlphaTrioWhere I Got It: Review copy via Audiobook Monthly (thanks!).

Publisher: Our Pack Press (2013)

Narrator: Meghan Kelly

Length: 4 hours 31 minutes

Author’s Page

Note: This book is composed of three separate, stand-alone short stories: Cats & Dogs, The New Girl, and A Special Taste.

In regards to the collection, each story follows one of three Lupei brothers and a woman. Emillian (Em) and Cat feature in the first book, Andrei (Drei) and Cassandra in the second, and Grigore (Grig) and Kall in the last. The three brothers are wolf shifters of the Alpha Pack and work in a kind of supernatural police force. Their mom is their boss. The boys like to blow off steam at the night club, 5tM, in the VIP section. They tend to run into vampires there and do what werewolves do when they meet a new vampire – attempt to kill it. But all that is just back drop for the sex, for this is, indeed, erotica. No doubt about that. Over all, all the parties involved are gorgeous and the sex is hot. Below is a short review of each individual story.

Cats & Dogs

For some reason, Emillian brought a rather silly and immature girl as his date to 5tM. He’s bored with her. Luckily, he notices a scuffle in the back alley and rescues Cat Dennis. His mere presence scared off the foe, so he can get right to the business of charming the slightly scuffed young lady. Vampires are soon on the scene however and Em must whisk her away to his apartment (where she will be perfectly safe…. in his shower) while his brothers fight the evil undead. Sparks build between these two and pretty soon Em is opening up to her a little, and then she spreads her legs and they have a very good time. There’s a mystery surrounding Cat and danger continues to be an issue, but for the moment, she can enjoy nuzzling her new-found shifter lover.

Em gets a background, a job, real thoughts, and real lines. Cat eventually gets a job (though we learn almost nothing about it) and no background. She also doesn’t get insightful lines or thoughts. So, I found her rather vapid. The sex between the two was hot, but since I wasn’t connected to Cat, I couldn’t get into it that much.

The New Girl

Andrei is the biggest, most heavily muscled of the three brothers. He’s also very tall. So it is very rare for anyone to ignore him, especially straight women. But there is this red-headed barkeep (Cassandra) at 5tM that is doing just that and it is extremely aggravating to Drei. I think this is good for him, pushing him to grow his interpersonal skills. So the boys and Cat end up in the back alley again, and once again silly vampires show up and attack. Grigore is injured and needs tending to pronto and, luckily, Cassandra knows just what to do. Of course this freaks the Lupei brothers out, since she is a mere Mundane human and shouldn’t know anything about shifters or vampires. Turns out Cassandra has a special gift and she is whisked away to Alpha Pack headquarters. There, the Big Boss (the Lupei brothers’ mom) decides she needs round the clock protection for a while. Drei offers to keep her entertained….with his manhood.

More bedroom gymnastics ensue and it is super hot! Cassandra has more personality and backstory than Cat, so I was intrigued by both Drei and Cassandra in this story. It made their mating more intimate.

A Special Taste

Grigore is starting to feel like the fifth wheel at the party – both his brothers have Mates and are into public displays of affection. Grig is wallowing in his single, unattached stud status one night, drinking way too much. He ends up in the alley behind 5tM and is ambushed by several vampires. Lucky for him, a dark-haired warrior swoops in and rescues him. They have to hide for a bit in a dark sewer where they over hear some nefarious plans by the vampires (and make out a little). Once safe, Kall introduces herself and lists her demands. She has an idea of why the vampires keep returning to 5tM and how to stop them for good. But she is also a highly capable warrior….and something more, and the more could be a threat to the Alpha Pack. She is whisked off to Alpha Pack headquarters where she tells her story and lays out what she knows. Plans are made. The warriors must rest before they act, so Kall and Grig end up sharing a room with bunk beds. However, instead of sleeping, earth-shattering sex occurs instead.

This was my favorite of the three and I think it is because Kall had the most back story of the three ladies. Oh, and she is a badass warrior too. She’s armed and wears practical boots for vampire stomping. Also, the sex scenes were more aggressive as Kall likes telling her man exactly what she wants.

Narration: Meghan Kelly did a great job with the voices. Each of the brothers had a distinct voice but all sounded related. She had distinct voices for all the ladies. She even had hissy vampires voices (when needed). Mostly, she pulled off all the sex scenes quite well with no hesitations. The parties involved all sounded like they were having a very good time.

What I Liked:  Awesome, detailed sex scenes; mysterious shifter police force; the warrior Kall; the mystery surrounding the three women.

What I Disliked: Cat comes off as vapid; the cover art doesn’t suggest vampires & werewolves so it doesn’t really encompass all the awesomeness within this book.

What Others Think:

Eargasms

Tarnished by Becca Jameson

JamesonTarnishedWhere I Got It: Review copy via the narrator (thanks!)

Narrator: Meghan Kelly

Publisher: Hartwood Publishing Group (2014)

Length: 3 hours 1 minute

Series: Book 1 Wolf Gatherings

Author’s Page

Kenzie Davis, degreed and employed, isn’t interested in going to the local biennial wolf gathering. She’s been before and hasn’t had any success in finding a Shifter mate. Besides, she has a boyfriend (a human one) and a full life with human friends. But since she still lives at home at age 23, she feels obligated to give the gathering 1 day of her weekend. Drake Spencer is in a similar position. At age 28, he still lives on his parents ranch and he has several siblings that are going to the gathering. He’s been asked to help keep an eye on them.

For a short book, it did take quite a bit of time to get around to the mating part, which if I am to be honest, was my reason for listening to this book. Set in modern-day Oklahoma and Texas, our main characters have the every day concerns – pay the bills, cook dinner, keep your Shifter relatives happy by participating in cultural events. So the story started off pretty domesticated. I think that is why it took me a while to get into the book – it was pretty ho-hum at the start. Once the Davises go off the gathering and we see some of the Shifter culture, it picks up.

Our main love interest seemed younger than her age. Kenzie argues with her sisters (some silliness over cereal kicks off the story) and I never really felt that she was indeed a 23 year old that was gainfully employed. Meanwhile, Drake is 28 and I can believe that he is, indeed, a very hormonal 28 year old man. They both live at home with parents, so this also gave the relationship a teenage feel to it. Drake does have his own house on the family farm, like 50 yards from his parents house.

I was a little confused about the rules concerning mating in general and finding a mate for life. Becca Jameson does have several other werewolf novels (different series) so perhaps these rules are better delineated in those novels. As best as I can tell, the males are allowed to mate around while the females have one shot to give themselves to a male for life. Obviously, I think that is a little lopsided and doesn’t give the ladies much experience in the mating game before they are, in essence, married for life.

So let’s talk about the sex because that is really why we are all here. Sparks fly between our two lovebirds and there is some pretty blunt flirting before things get serious. That is one of the things I liked about Drake – he was upfront with his desires but also kept his hands to himself until Kenzie showed interest. In this blossoming relationship, Drake has a lot of positive experience in mating, while Kenzie has almost zero experience and what little she does have is negative. So Drake has to figure out what has tarnished her idea of mating while also not rushing her. Once they connect fully, the sex is worthy. In fact, it was worthy enough for my man to step into the room for a listen and a laundry folding session. Yes, listening to erotica has gotten my man to help with the laundry. 😉

Over all, while I found some of the story mechanisms a bit rushed and uninventive, I did enjoy Drake’s character, Kenzie’s secrets, and their mating.

Narration:  Meghan Kelly did a good job with the narration. She had distinct voices for all the characters, men and women. She had the added challenge of family members, so she had to have similar, yet distinct, voices for siblings. She pulled that off quite well. She managed a sexy male voice for Drake and showed no hesitancy during the love scenes.

What I Liked:  Sexy scenes; interesting Drake character; Kenzie’s secrets.

What I Disliked:  Slow start; not much shape-shifting at all; unclear mating rules; Kenzie doesn’t act like a 23 year old.

What Others Think:

Fresh Fiction

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