Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Narrator: Andre Holland

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 11 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 1 Darktown

Author’s Page

Set in post-WWII 1940s Atlanta, the police department has hired it’s first Black police officers. Tensions are high within the Atlanta PD but also across political lines throughout the city. A young Black woman is found dead and few seem willing to follow up on it.

This was an excellent read, drawing together a murder mystery, racial intolerance, the progressive movement to integrate the police department, and the upcoming generation. The author did a great job of portraying the politics of the day while also giving us a gripping mystery. The main characters, Black officer Lucius Boggs and young Denny Rakestraw, show us the various view points about integration throughout the story.

I most fascinated by the Black officers. They have limited authority within the police department. They aren’t allowed to drive the squad cars and the can’t enter the front door of the police station. Yet they have one of the toughest beats as well. There’s an unwritten division with the police department where the Black officers are expected to police Darktown (the area of Atlanta that is primarily populated by Blacks) and the White officers will police the rest of the city. This sets up a dynamic that is rich for missteps, over-reaching, and bigotry.

Meanwhile, Boggs and his partner Tommy Smith fly under the radar (mostly) to investigate the death of the young Black woman Lily Ellsworth. Since she was last seen in a car in the company of a White man, they have to be very careful about how they investigate.

Young Rakestraw is partnered with an older cop, Lionel Dunlow. Now Dunlow is an open and active racist and many of his usual ways of doing business strike Rakestraw as unfair at the best of times and downright criminal at the worst of times. I wanted to root for Rakestraw, hoping he would find a way to push back on Dunlow’s brutal ways. However, pushing back on Dunlow means pushing back on a good chunk of the PD. So Rakestraw has to pick his battles.

The mystery itself was excellent. There’s a twist near the end that neatly tied everything together and once revealed so many little hints clicked into place. I was engrossed in this book and thoroughly pleased with the ending. I greatly hope for more stories about Boggs and Rakestraw. My one quibble is that I would like to see more female characters and not just as murder victims or romantic interests.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Andre Holland did a fantastic job. He was just excellent at the nuanced local accents. He was also great with all the emotions the various characters go through in this book.

What I Liked: The setting; how the racial tensions are handled; learning about the Atlanta PD in the late 1940s; the murder mystery itself; the main characters Boggs and Rakestraw; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Could have used a few more female characters.

What Others Think:

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The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

LiuTheGraceOfKingsNarrator: Michael Kramer

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2015)

Length: 21 hours 37 minutes

Series: Book 1 Dandelion Dynasty

Author’s Page

This epic fantasy spans decades, starting with a corrupt rulership that has much of the population enslaved one way or another, plenty of folks plot and scheme for a better life. Folks get their wish, sort of, as factions break away from the old regime. Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu become leaders of two of these factions and eventually good friends. However, the glory of battle after battle and the resultant peace will test their friendship.

This was a beautiful, sweeping story. The characters were fascinating and the cast was well balanced. At first, I thought the story would be a kind of alternate Japanese ancient history tale with some mythology tossed in. I was a bit off the mark. While this story has that indeed, there is so much more going on. Various ethnicities are represented and while the story centers around a series of islands, there is plenty of back and forth with the mainland. The characters, by and large, know the world is larger than their immediate settings. Also, there are deities gambling on their chosen favorites, finding sneaky little ways to affect the world they watch.

I especially loved the fighting kites. Yes, these are kites that a warrior straps to their back and they are lifted into the air to do either reconnaissance or battle. There are several scenes that make good use of these kites. There are also airships in play as well!

There are plenty of ladies in this novel and they are not trivial bits of pretty fluff either. Gia is skilled at herb lore and administering her household. She’s a fit mind to spar with one of our heroes, Kuni. Late to the show we get a female warrior, Jin, and I hope we see more of her in Book 2. There are other ladies with large and small roles, but these two really stood out to me.

Kuni wasn’t my favorite character in the beginning but he grew to be so. He starts off as a bit of a wastrel and layabout. He gambles and drinks too much and refuses to work. Yes, he still lives with his parents, so they have to put up with his self-centered uselessness even as they see that he’s clothed and fed. Then things start to change for him and he becomes something else by the middle of the book. He kind of stumbles into his calling.

Meanwhile, Mata struck me as a fascinating character right from the beginning. He’s from a royal family and was raised to be a ruler, if not the supreme ruler. He has refined manners and tastes. Plus he is simply physically imposing with his 8 foot stature and his double pupils. Yes, double pupils. Go look that up. There’s plenty of mesmerizing images even if there isn’t a scientifically documented occurrence.

There’s one drawback to this book and that is all the rather long info dumps. The author writes beautifully, so often I found myself in the middle of an interesting info dump before I knew it. However, there are so many of them that I felt that a good chunk of this book was written like a history novel instead of an action-packed epic fantasy. Perhaps that is exactly what the author intended. Even with all the info dumps, I still really enjoyed the tale.

The Narration: Michael Kramer is a long-time favorite narrator and he doesn’t disappoint with this performance. He has a matter-of-fact voice for the longer info dumps and a variety of voices and accents for the multitude of characters. He’s also great with emotions for the more poignant scenes. 

What I Liked: Fighting kites!; great cover art; The story arc for the two main characters; the ladies are not ignored in this epic story; it’s bigger than an alternate-world Japan; the gods are watching… and sometimes interfering; the ending was bitter sweet. 

What I Disliked: This is minor, since the author writes so elegantly, but there are many, many info dumps.

What Others Think:

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Zero-G by William Shatner and Jeff Rovin

ShatnerRovinZero-GNarrator: William Shatner

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 10 hours 59 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Samuel Lord Series

Shatner’s Page  Rovin’s Page

In the near future, the US has the space station Empyrean under the control of Director Samuel Lord and has now decided to send up FBI personnel to govern this station. These FBI men have been dubbed the Zero-G men. The US, Russia, and China are all still competing with one another for supremacy but some new science has upped the stakes. Something is mimicking natural disasters on the Earth and the Moon, wreaking havoc with a station-born super vine, and causing nanites to go off kilter and basically create a kind of walking, talking cyborg zombie. Sounds pretty crazy, huh? Wait! There’s more! There’s plenty of espionage going on as well as shifting loyalties. Our heroes zoom from place to place in a vain effort to rescue everyone. I truly didn’t know if the Zero-G men would be able to save the day.

This is a convoluted action-adventure story that has bits and pieces of scifi tossed into it. There are concepts I really liked but the execution was sloppy or only half carried out. First, let’s talk about the 80 year old Samuel Lord. He’s our guide through out the story, offering advice to the younger crowd, keeping the station functioning with his wisdom, and calling the hard shots when a man of action is needed. He’s basically an 80 year old Captain Kirk (William Shatner’s famous character in the original Star Trek series). Yep. Shatner wrote a main character based on himself (or, at least a character he played for years aged several decades). In some ways this worked for the good, bringing up the nostalgia of watching the Star Trek TV series. In other ways, it meant that certain plot points and even some dialogue were completely predictable.

I was very excited about the pansexual character, Adsila, who is also a full-blooded Cherokee. This story in general is very sexual-orientation friendly. Adsila, as a pansexual, has the ability to shift from male to female at will. So, A+ for concept. Unfortunately, the execution fell short (C+ at best). Adsila’s Cherokee heritage is merely nodded at and not an integral part of his/her personality. Also, there are times when gender biases become apparent in the writing. Nearly all of Adsila’s action scenes happen when he is in the male gender. There was some comment about how Adsila finds it easier to be focused as a man….. which quirked my eyebrow. If it had been one single comment, I could say it was simply that character’s experience and let it be. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. There were several similar remarks along those lines.

At first I was pretty excited by all the scifi bits. I love having futuristic tech incorporated into a scifi story. I believe it is one of the main things that makes scifi science fiction. Once again, we have A+ for concepts and Cs for execution of these science-y bits. In the end, I felt the scifi tech was simply window dressing to an action flick. Having said that, as an action flick, there is never a dull moment in this tale. Things are always in motion. We might not always get where the story is going or why it’s going there, but it is always in motion.

All together, it was an OK story. I think another round of solid polishing would have made this a good story. Not an outstanding story, but a good one. There is a lot of ground being covered in this novel and as such, some of it was pretty sparse. I think it could have used less intrigue, less future tech, and perhaps a smaller cast so that each bit of science could shine and each character could reach their full potential.

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

The Narration:  William Shatner is William Shatner. He starts off with a pretty even pacing but shortly falls into the odd cadence he has become known for. On one hand, this was soothing because I am a Star Trek fan and this sounded like a really long, convoluted Star Trek episode in some ways. However, there were times when I became fatigued over his odd staccato speech pattern. Also, Shatner doesn’t perform character voices very well, and sometimes doesn’t do so at all. As such, I really had to pay attention to keep track of who was talking. 

What I Liked: Cool cover art; Shatner’s narration and elements of the plot brought up my nostalgia for the original Star Trek series; lots of interesting near-future tech; plenty of intrigue; a range of sexual orientations in the characters; lots and lots of action.

What I Disliked: Several of the concepts were poorly executed; this is more of an action flick than a solid science fiction story; tale could have used another round of solid editing and polishing to make it a good story; Shatner doesn’t do character voices in his narration.

What Others Think:

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Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

GregoryThreeSistersThreeQueensNarrator: Bianca Amato

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 21 hours 9 minutes

Series: Book 8 The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels

Author’s Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

StoreyNothingShortOfDyingNarrator: Jeremy Bobb

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 7 hours 53 minutes

Series: Book 1 A Clyde Barr Novel

Author’s Page

Clyde Barr wants a break from civilization and he finds it deep in the Yukon. Then one night he receives a desperate call from his sister Jen. She begs him to come rescue her. After a pause, he promises he will. Once back home in Colorado, Clyde starts digging up old contacts that can give him a lead on his sister. A variety of obstacles get in his way including drug dealers, gangs, the FBI, and a questionable comrade from his time in a Mexican prison.

This was an excellent action thriller. Clyde Barr is a many-layered man. He’s spent 16 years away from the States, hunting, killing, and sometimes protecting in South America and Africa. Now he just wants to be away from it all, but that can’t be until he upholds his promise to Jen, a promise he wouldn’t have given lightly. As the story unfolds, we learn more about this fascinating character. He and Jen, the youngest of 4 children, share experiences and a secret from their teen years. Jen knows that if he gives his word then nothing short of dying will keep him from fulfilling it.

Being of the Southwest myself, I really liked that the setting was Colorado. The author did a great job in capturing the empty expanse of some areas of the state, the spread-out cities, and the Hispanic influence in culture, food, and language. Clyde has been away from modern tech for some time and his remarks on changes, such as the legal pot stores, added touchstones for those familiar with the  state.

The ladies make up a good chunk of the side characters and they are written like real people. They don’t fall into the typical action flick stereotypes of love interest and/or damsel in distress. Yes, sometimes someone needs a hand up and Jen especially needs someone to rescue her, yet even Jen is doing what she can from her position to aid herself. Allie Martin, bar tender and drifter, has a solid back story and I like that she has skills that Clyde doesn’t, like she’s familiar with modern mechanics.

Jen has gotten caught up in Lance Alvis’s business, which is currently heroin production and distribution. There’s big money in the business and Alvis isn’t a reckless idiot. He has layers of people between him and the street distribution. This makes it tough for Clyde to track him down. Also, it provides plenty of opportunity for brawling. Clyde has some fighting skills and most of his bouts are swiftly put to an end, leaving the drug pushers on the floor.

Now I don’t want to make Clyde sound like a macho man. He’s capable, even deadly when he has to be, and masculine – no doubt about those three points. Yet he doesn’t toot his own horn or show off  for the ladies. There are even a few times where he slips or makes a mistake and he’s the first to chuckle at himself or castigate himself, depending on the situation.

Zeke was probably the most interesting minor character. He spent some time with Clyde in a tough situation and they were comrades of sort. However, Zeke lacks morals and Clyde sees him as dangerous because of this. Yet Zeke is good with horses. Another interesting character was Chapo, who is muscle for a local gang. He joins forces with Clyde briefly as they hunt down a lead on Alvis. Chapo has his own code and Clyde focuses on that instead of the right or wrong of the gang life.

All around, it’s a very interesting action tale with plenty of layers to peel back as the story moves forward. I was never bored with it or rolling my eyes. I also appreciated the accuracy in description and use when it came to firearms. I very much look forward to what else Storey comes up with in his writing career.

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

The Narration: Jeremy Bobb did a very good job with Clyde Barr’s voice. It was practical and a little rough, just like the man himself. His female voices were  believable. He also did a Hispanic accent here and there.  

What I Liked: The setting; Clyde’s many layers; practical Allie; how many people Clyde has to go through to get to Lance Alvis; Zeke and his horses; the ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing –  a very exciting story!

What Others Think:

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Playing Dead: A Journey through the World of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood

GreenwoodPlayingDeadNarrator: Arden Hammersmith

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 7 hours 55 minutes

Author’s Page

The question, is it possible to fake your own death in the 21st century, begs an answer and Elizabeth Greenwood delivers! This was a very interesting book and I feel a tad smarter for having read it.

The author was 27 when she first started pondering if she could fake her own death in order to get out of crushing debt (obtained in the pursuit of her education). That initial, mostly-innocent question lead her to dig deeper as she found real-life examples of people who did just that and got away with it, at least for a time. Sam Israel is our first example. He was a hedge fund manager who was indicted for a Ponzi scheme. He faked his suicide to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. It was only a few years before he was caught. His faked suicide involved ‘drowning’, which is apparently always under suspicion of being possible death fraud if no body is recovered. Hear that, Sherlock?

Frank Ahearn, who co-wrote How to Disappear with Eileen C. Horan, was a most interesting character in this non-fiction. He used to be a skip tracer and later became a consultant on how to disappear properly. This part of the book makes a distinction between faking one’s own death and simply disappearing. The latter is simpler and safer in several regards. If someone files for death insurance payout or a death certificate, then insurance companies and officials may well get involved to verify that one is truly dead. If you simply want to disappear, then often there are no officials of any kind looking into it. Ahearn pops in and out of the book as the author had many interesting conversations with him and I quite enjoyed his take on things.

Private investigator Steve Rambam, inspiration for a character in Kinky Firedman’s mystery novels, makes an appearance in this book. He’s been in the business of tracking people down for decades and he provides a different view than Ahearn on the subjects of disappearing and death fraud. While his sections weren’t as entertaining as some others, he did provide some good sense info and kept the author grounded in what is possible.

For me, the oddest section was on the group of Michael Jackson fans who truly believe he faked his own death and plans to return to the public eye at some point. The author did a great job of both expressing her skepticism but also respecting the ardor of these fans. Of course, fans claiming a celebrity’s death was faked is nothing new but it was interesting to see how grounded these fans were – they hunted for clues in documents and photos instead of simply pulling aliens into the mix.

Traveling to England, the author interviews the Canoe Man, John Darwin. He successfully faked his own death for five years before reemerging, initially claiming amnesia. This case really brought home what a faked death can do to family and friends. Also, it’s a fine example of lack of planning when it comes to the long haul.

Finally, at the end of the book we venture with the author to the Philippines to meet Snookie and Bong, professionals of many jobs. They’re bodyguards, personal safety trainers, and fixers. They were the most entertaining part of the book, perhaps because their everyday life is so very different from mine.

Even if you’re not interested in disappearing or faking your suicide, this is a very entertaining book. Is it morally wrong to fake your death? Probably. Is it illegal to simply disappear, never filing a death certificate? In many cases, no. Is this a fascinating subject? Yes!

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

The Narration: Arden Hammersmith (which is a very cool name!) was a good fit for this book. She did do character voices for the various people the author  interviewed. She also sounded interested in the subject herself, never dropping into a monotone. There were little touches of emotion here and there and she did a good job of imbuing the narration with those emotions. 

What I Liked: Very interesting subject; the author does a good job showing the difference in faking a suicide versus simply disappearing; the Canoe Man and his randy habits; celebrities and their faked deaths; the Philippines and it’s cottage-house industry – faking the death of strangers.

What I Disliked: Nothing –  very fun book!

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A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole

ColeAHungerLikeNoOtherWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Robert Petkoff

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2011)

Length: 11 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 2 Immortals After Dark

Author’s Page

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel. I heard from other readers who have enjoyed the series that this was the first book published and later a prequel, which became Book 1, was published.

Emmaline Troy, a half-vampire, half-Valkyrie, is out on her own for the first time in Paris seeking answers about her dead parents. Werewolf Lachlain MacRieve, recently broken free from his captivity, hunts his mate. While their initial meeting will be tumultuous, they will have to join forces to face down a mighty foe – the leaders of the vampire horde.

This isn’t my typical read but I have been trying to expand my book horizons a bit. However, this wasn’t the book for me. I never became particularly attached to the characters and I found several aspects boring to distasteful.

Lachlain is an immortal, which means he can heal from nearly anything. The vampires have been torturing him for 150 years by having him chained over a fire, letting him cook to death, regenerate, and cook again. Lachlain senses his mate above him on the streets of Paris and that gives him the strength to finally break free. When he finally tracks down Emmaline, he’s still a bit crazed with disgust for all vampires and remembered pain from the fires. And that’s when things get a bit a rapey. Consent is sexy. Forced hand jobs are not. Obviously, I found it hard to see Lachlain as the hero after that. And it’s not just one instance of non-consensual sexual acts; there’s at least 4. Even if you can understand where Lachlain is coming from (his recent years of torture and deep hatred for vampires), it doesn’t make his actions excusable.

To be clear, there are several consensual acts in the book. In fact there is even one that is rather rough but both parties are enjoying it and clearly wanting to continue it. That made it steamy hot. Plus there was lighting in a moonlit forest, so that was an awesome image. However, these events occur between a kidnapped sexual assault victim (Emmaline) and the man who committed those acts (Lachlain), so I still found it hard to wish a Happily Ever After ending for them.

Emmaline’s character was nearly as disappointing. She never really sets boundaries for Lachlain. Most of her time is spent being beautiful and gentle. That’s her role in this story and I found that rather boring. She does eventually have a few moments of small glory, but because her character has been devoid of such characteristics, they felt out of place and rather forced. Emmaline, like all women with Valkyrie blood, has an acquisitive nature, which boils down to the fact that her interest can be bought with material wealth. Sigh…. Let’s not forget that Emmaline is only 70 years old, which is just out of childhood in the immortal world. Meanwhile, Lachlain is at least 900 years old. Emmaline is a virgin, never even having kissed a man. Meanwhile, Lachlain has plenty of experience under his belt. Sigh….

The plot is OK, though rather predictable. Lachlain, king of the Lykae clan, wants two things: Emmaline as his mate and revenge upon the vampires. Lachlain’s immediate friends and family accept his return really easily, which struck me as odd but the story marched on without giving it more than a squint and a blink. Emmaline plans to find out more about her parents. Her Valkyrie aunts want Emmaline back, as well as their long lost Valkyrie queen. In step the  evil vampires who want domination over all immortals. Through it all, Lachlain and Emmaline will have to find love for one another and a way to hold on to it. It was pretty easy to guess who Emmaline’s father was once we had all the characters introduced. Also, the Beauty and the Beast theme wasn’t subtle about wending it’s way through the plot.

Some of the side characters were fun, but most were exaggerated in some way or other. They were mostly there to provide drama and comedy. Regan made me chuckle a few times with her blunt remarks about other people’s sex lives. Nix was fun because she’s obviously working on a different plane where the future is open to her but the immediate present may escape her notice. Kat, who came into the story late, was interesting because she was so straight forward about everything, lacking emotions. Gareth, Lachlain’s brother, doesn’t make a showing until late in the book and then he ends up standing side by side with a vampire named Wroth.

All in all, it was a rather disappointing story. I was turned off early on and the story never really recovered because Lachlain doesn’t learn quickly or thoroughly. The story piled on themes that bored me because it made the outcome predictable.

Narration: Robert Petkoff did a fine job with this book. I’m not a good judge for accuracy when it comes to Scottish accents, but I can say Petkoff was consistent and had a variety of sexy voices for the Scottish werewolves. His female voices were very good, being pretty darn believable. There were a handful of other accents he performed as well, like Louisiana southern accent for Emmaline and a general European accent for Wroth.

What I Liked: Regan’s blunt wit; some of Nix’s silly remarks; one hot sexy scene in the woods; the narration.

What I Disliked: Lachlain’s forced sex acts; Emmaline’s character; Valkyrie interest can be bought with expensive shiny objects; very predictable story.

What Others Think:

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The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

BooneTheHatchingWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: George Newbern

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 8 hours 46 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Hatching

Author’s Page

From the cover and title, I’m sure you can guess this story involves some sort of insect. Responsible world leaders have ensured their countries are prepped for a variety of events: plague, nuclear war, asteroid collision, etc. Yet insect infestation somehow missed the top 10 list. Incidents of voracious bugs start popping up across the globe: Peru, China, USA, India, etc. Get ready to be creeped out by the creepy crawlies!

This was a pretty entertaining creature feature. The tension starts slowly. Perhaps this really is just a touristy walk through the Peruvian jungles. Maybe the Chinese really did have a training accident that involved a small nuclear detonation. Those odd shimmers beneath the seismic lab in India? Probably nothing. The action picks up with a private airplane crash and an entomologist, Melanie, examining an egg sac that is hundreds of years old. US President Stephanie Pilgrim will be tested as few presidents have. The bugs have hit US soil and it’s only a matter of time before the crunching sounds of chewing insects cause the White House staff to puke.

This book has a pretty large cast and more and more characters kept being added in even late into the book. Now some are simply there to die horribly, but some appear to be keepers. On one hand, I really enjoyed that this was a world-wide catastrophe and that meant characters from a variety of nations, both men and women. A diverse cast usually means an awesome cast. On the other hand, we don’t get to spend a whole lot of time with any one character. I wanted to get attached to some characters, but by even the end of the book, I was only half way there. Mike Rich, FBI agent that reports to the Minneapolis event, was one of my favorite characters. He has this back story that involves a daughter (Annie) and his divorced wife (Fannie) plus he has this really tough job. Then I also like Melanie, and not just because we both share a love bugs. She’s in her 40s, has kept both mind and body in shape, and owns that lab in the sense that she is definitely the boss. Even though we get a lot less of her, I also liked Kim, who is in the marines and has to make some tough choices in this story.

The bugs were awesome! There’s this sorta maybe tie in with the Nazca lines in Peru, a small mind in the middle of nowhere China, and the underground monitoring area beneath the seismic lab in India. The source of these bugs is a bit of a mystery, especially since they popped up in multiple countries around the same time. Then I also felt that people reacted realistically. There’s the initial disbelief, even with videos (perhaps an intricate hoax?). Then a few people get their hands on some actual insects and things start to go from fascinating for bug people to potential security issue for the nation. As the story bounces around the various characters, we get to see how scientists, preppers, politicians, military personnel, parents, one old coon dog, and murder mystery writers react.

As things spiral down, some questions are answered and some are not, a few tiny things are resolved, and several big picture things are not. The book does end on a bit of a cliff hanger. I am very much hoping that Book 2 will be out in audio soon.

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

The Narration:  George Newbern has quite a good voice to listen to. He especially did a great job with imbuing the character voices with emotions. I like his sometimes coldly analytical Melanie, his gruff Scottish mystery writer, and his young Annie, daughter of FBI agent Mike Rich. Since this is a world-wide cast, we had characters from all over the world. Sometimes Newbern did a national accent and sometimes he chose not to. I think the performance would have been just a touch better if he had gone the extra mile with the national accents. Still, it was a pretty good performance and I hope he narrates Book 2. 

What I Liked: The bugs!; the initial reaction by people; it’s a global issue; Mike Rich and his initial discovery of one of the insects; Melanie and all her buggy info bits; the preppers and their reaction to the event; a diverse cast of characters; definitely ready for Book 2.

What I Disliked: Since it is such a large cast, I didn’t get to spend much time with any one character; it is a bit of a cliff hanger.

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11-22-63: A Novel by Stephen King

King112263Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Craig Wasson

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2011)

Length: 30 hours 44 minutes

Author’s Page

Al Templeton has a secret and that secret is that he has a little time portal to 1958 in the basement of his diner. Each time he goes through, it resets everything, which has been allowing him to buy ground beef for his diner at an incredibly low price for years. Then Al decided he should do something worthy with this time portal. Alas, he is going to die of cancer before he can complete his self-assigned mission. So he entrusts this mission to his friend Jake Epping. Of course, Jake needs to test the portal out before he believes Al, but once he’s satisfied that it’s real, he’s willing to sit with Al and hear his plan out. The mission is to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting President John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Al believes that by saving this one man, the Vietnam war (and then some) will be avoided.

This is my first Stephen King novel and it’s quite a dense work to start with. The first 6 or 7 hours of the book were pretty slow for me. There’s a little bit of action as Al explains the ‘test’ he did to verify that the timeline could indeed be changed, but mostly it’s a lot of convincing Jake and setting up the reasons why he needs to do this. I also believe that’s it rare that saving or killing one person can alter a major event, so it was a hard sell to me as to the merit of saving JFK – I don’t think saving him would necessarily avert the Vietnam war. So I found myself only listening to this novel in short spurts of an hour or two. But then Jake decides to the plunge and test the timeline himself. That’s when things really got interesting.

Jake Epping becomes George Emberson in 1958. He travels to Maine and settles in while waiting for the chance to set right a grievous injustice done to a mother and her children. The people in the small town are suspicious of newcomers and George’s real estate excuse doesn’t wash with everyone. George basically spies on the family he intends to save and the man who historically tore it apart. Jake of 2011 has no experience doing these sorts of things, so George of 1958 has to get comfortable deceiving people. I liked that George bumbled around a bit as he picked up the lingo and absorbed the atmosphere of 1958.

Once he’s done what he came to do, he returns to 2011 to check on the timeline and see what changes his efforts made. Once satisfied that he can indeed change history, he has the big choice to make. If he goes through to 1958, he has to live several years in the past before he can stop Lee Harvey Oswald on that fateful day, but then he may well also be trapped in the past.

I found myself more interested in George’s side projects at first – saving that mother and her kids in Maine, and then another person from a hunting accident. There was drama and apparently Time herself puts plenty of obstacles in the way, wanting to keep things as they are. Then things slowed down a bit as George settled into a teaching position in Texas (which is what he did in real life in 2011). Eventually, he starts making friends and becomes wrapped up in their lives. The drama rises again as he finds a romantic entanglement with Sadie, the school librarian.

The most interesting part of the book was probably the last 7 or 8 hours. These are the events in George’s life leading up to the JFK parade in Dallas, his attempts to stop Oswald, and the aftermath of those actions. Not everything is rosy and fine, which I thought was great and realistic and really made the story for me. George is faced with yet more tough choices and I felt my heart break just a little for him.

At first, I was a bit concerned that the author wouldn’t be addressing racial prejudices in this book, even though they were definitely alive and kicking in the 1960s. While George is in Maine, we don’t see much, though there are some characters that have racial issues with a Jewish character. Once George heads south, the author does a decent job of inserting a few well-wrought scenes that show the racial divide between folks at the time.

Over all, I’m glad I put the time into this book. It’s definitely well researched – from the foods available, to the TV shows, to women’s rights, to nearly everyone smoking nearly every where, to the cars, to the politics. I had zero interest in the Kennedy assassination before I read this book and now I have at least a little interest in the times and politics of his presidency. The author gives a brief talk at the end of the book about why he wrote this book and how his life was affected by the assassination and I thought that was a nice bonus to us listeners.

The Narration: Craig Wasson did a pretty good job with this book. Several accents – Russian, German, French, along with regional US accents – were required and he did them all well. There is also this huge cast of characters ranging in ages and jobs and situations. Wasson pulled them all off giving us a very good performance. George’s breaking heart and Sadie’s near-suicidal attitude really came through. 

What I Liked: George’s side projects of helping a few people out where he could in the past; the book was well researched and that came through in so many details; great narration; the building tension towards the end of the book; not all is rosy and fine at the end.

What I Disliked: The book started off pretty darn slow; I initially had no interest in the Kennedy assassination.

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The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

LiuThePaperMenagerieAndOtherStoriesWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrators: Corey Brill, Joy Osmanski

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 15 hours 41 minutes

Author’s Page

This is my first adventure in Ken Liu’s works and it does not disappoint! Liu really shows off his diversity in this collection. From historical fiction to fantasy to science fiction to murder mystery to contemporary literature – Liu does it all well.

Below is my summary and thoughts on each story. I do my best to avoid spoilers. Most of the stories have a pretty serious ending, though there are few that use humor here and there. This is a thought provoking collection of stories. Several cultures are represented and many of the stories carry culture clash themes.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”

Evan and his wife Ming Ping discover an atomic particle that lets humans view a snapshot of history. As their discovery is put into use, lots and lots of questions are raised. The initial focus is given to an atrocity carried out by a Japanese experimental science group (Unit 731) during WWII. This story was chilling and thought provoking. Should the past be laid to rest so that future generations can move forward? Or should we bear witness to every atrocity of the past, keeping them close in memory? 5/5

“Mono No Aware”

Hiroto lives on a space ship, the Hopeful. The story moves back and forth in time as our main character has flash backs to his time as a kid. His family packed up and went with all their neighbors to a tent city awaiting to board a space ship. However, not enough were available. Yet kid Hiroto gets a seat on an American space ship that launches in time to avoid the asteroids that slam into Earth. His past weighs heavily on him as he makes decisions in the present. While this story was interesting, it didn’t hit me as hard as several of the others. 4/5

“The Waves”

Earth has become polluted and the Sea Foam carries humanity outward to another habitable planet. In Earth’s last transmission to the ship, they send the specs on how to build a microscopic virus that allows one to become immortal. The ship occupants decide to let each person decide for themselves. However, because of how things are on the ship, for every immortal, there must be someone who chooses to age and die. Since the ship is traveling for generations, this was common sense. Maggie is the main character we follow through the story. When Sea Foam does arrive at their destination, there’s a surprise waiting for them and folks have yet another choice to make. There were several creation myths woven into the story quite cleverly, bringing up the question of whether they could be true. 5/5

“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”

This story explores the vast ways the peoples of the universe write and read books. Some use a proboscis to both write and read books, like a record player. Some do so through scents and flavors. Another species are large strung out wisps that float through the universe reading planets and black holes. There’s a few others, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. This story was a big info dump, but a very interesting info dump, like an encyclopedia entry. I really enjoyed this one! 5/5

“All the Flavors”

Set in the gold rush era of 1860s in Idaho, Lily Seaver and her dad Jack make friends with the local Chinamen. Lao Guan (or Logan to his American friends) tells Lily Chinese stories of Guan Yu, a glorified or perhaps mystical warrior of old. However, the Chinamen butt heads with some locals, Obie and Crick. Eventually, Obie brings charges against Logan. I really thought I would enjoy this story more, as I typically like Old West tales. I found the pace slow and my mind kept wandering.  3/5

“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King”

The litigator Tian is considered lazy but when a widow comes to him for aid, he stands up for her at the local court. He succeeds only to have the widow come to him again for assistance on another matter. The entire time he chats away with the Monkey King in his head. The story starts off a little comical as Tian was dreaming of enjoying a big feast with the Monkey King. Then the story gets serious and then it gets a little brutal. Still, I liked it. Tian has some idea of what his good deed will cost him and even though he has a quick tongue and a quicker wit, he doesn’t make it out of this story unscathed. 5/5

“The Paper Menagerie” 

Jack’s mom is a mail order Chinese bride and his dad is American. Jack has to muddle through growing up with all the comments from neighbors and friends about mail order brides. His mom is a paper artist, making him origami animals to play with. As a small kid, he adores these animals. But as he ages, the insults start getting to him. He packs away his animals and demands real toys. He wants American meals and for his mom to speak good English. He starts ignoring her and is ashamed of her and doesn’t want to look anything like her. The story was rather sad but poignant. I think anyone who has struggled with cultural identity can relate to this story, no matter what your heritage is. 5/5

“State Change”

Rina was born with an ice cube for a soul. Her college friend Amy has a pack of cigarettes for a soul. Each character has their soul manifested as an object that must be protected. Rina lives in constant fear that her cube will melt and her soul will be no more and her heart will cease to beat. Going out for anything requires a thermos and a freezer at the destination, which limits her socializing. It was a fun little piece though a bit slow moving.  4/5

“The Perfect Match”

The AI Tilly and the Centillian Corporation control info. They are in nearly everyone’s house via their electronics, monitoring all their wants and needs. Tilly is helpful in making suggestions and in offering up directions and coupons and even playing match maker. However, a small group of people (including Jenny), believe this kind of data gathering to be wrong. Tilly is so pervasive in Sai’s life, he no longer knows if what he wants is truly what he wants. This story held my attention throughout and was a bit relevant to today’s arguments on government monitoring of phone and internet. 5/5

“Good Hunting”

Liang and his father are demon hunters and they start this story off hot on the trail of two hulijing. Yan and her mother can shape shift into foxes. Liang corners Yan but then lets her go, continuing to meet in secret a few times a year. As the railroad progresses into their area, magic begins to fade out. Liang and Yan each have to find a way to reshape themselves or fade away. The story was a bit haunting, a little sad, but with hope at the end. 5/5

“Literomancer”

Lilly Dyer is going to school in Taiwan during the Communist craze. She and her dad are from Texas but she’s constantly teased at school for her Chinese lunches. One day she meets Mr. Kan and his adopted grandson Teddy. Mr. Kan has a bit of magic – literomancy – which means he can tell fortunes from words looking at the hidden meanings in the characters. Lilly inadvertently gets Mr. Kan and teddy into trouble when she shares some innocent stories with her parents over dinner. I did not see that ending coming! It was a sweet story about building friendships despite vast cultural differences and then it ended so harshly. 4/5

“Simulacrum”

This story is told in 3 voices, like written letters. Paul and Erin were traveling a lot for work but then had Anna Larimore, their accident baby. When Anna is a teen, she catches her dad at home having sex with his 4 simulacrum of his past infidelities. Paul helped create the simulacrum and he didn’t see any difference between them and other virtual tech. Anna becomes estranged from him and eventually her mother leaves her a message about how one weak moment shouldn’t define a person for the entirety of their life. It was an interesting story but a bit short. I felt more could have been done with the simulacrum and how their wide-spread use has affected society. 3/5

“The Regular”

The Watcher has killed yet another prostitute in the Boston area. This time, the prostitute’s mom, Sarah Ding, hires PI Ruth Law to find the killer. Ruth used to be law enforcement, but then tragedy struck and she went into the private sector. She has various enhancements, as many folks do in the story. Some strengthen her grip or give her muscles speed. She also has a regulator, which controls her adrenaline spikes and suppresses her sorrow. This was a pretty good murder mystery. Additionally, I like all the tech. I ached for Ruth and her loss and her inability to cope, relying heavily on her regulator to block out emotions. 5/5

“An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition”

This tale starts off talking about aliens who can join together, experiencing each other’s dreams, fears, hopes, memories, feelings, etc., but when they separate, they are basically copies of one another. The story is a bit rambly, kind of broken up, and makes large leaps. There is this bit about a couple and their child, but it doesn’t really anchor the story. There’s lots of talk about what is love and such. This tale didn’t really work for me. 2/5

“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel”

In this little bit of alternate history, a great tunnel was built in the early 1900s connecting US pacific coast with Japan and China. The story follows a now old, retired tunnel worker Charlie, and Betty, an American woman with grown children (who are off doing their thing). The story flashes back and forth between their blossoming relationship and his memories of digging the tunnel. He has nightmares sometimes about the things he had to do while building the great tunnel. This story made me think of some of the early construction in the US, such as the Hoover dam and some of the big New York buildings. There’s a human cost to such success.  5/5

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

The Narration:  Corey Brill did a fine job with all the Japanese words and accents. For some stories, only a few character voices were required but each was distinct. Joy Osmanski also did a nice job. When there were only a few character voices required, I could easily tell the difference between them. Although when singing the Irish wake song, her voice lacked masculinity (in “All the Flavors”). for “Simulacrum”, the two narrators tag teamed it, which was well done.

What I Liked: A variety of genres represented in the collection; most of heady and provoke deeper questions; I loved the various cultures represented; cultural identity and culture clash are themes in several of the stories; great cover.

What I Disliked: There was one story was too rambly for me to enjoy.

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