The Cryptic Lines by Richard Storry

StorryTheCrypticLinesNarrator: Jake Urry

Publisher: Richard Alan Storry (2016)

Length: 4 hours 13 minutes

Author’s Page

Lord Alfred Willoughby has finally passed away. His solicitor, Charles, must see to his will, which holds quite the surprise! Once Willoughby’s adopted son Matthew views the will, then the race is on for cryptic poems to be deciphered, more clues discovered, and hopefully the final fortune to be won before the time limit is up. Set in a Gothic mansion somewhere in the British Isles, this tale holds much suspense and a little bit of trickery.

This was a delicious suspenseful book, perfect for the Halloween season. The story opens with a rainy storm and the death of rich, old Lord Willoughby. James, the butler, helps Charles to find Willoughby’s important papers. Eventually, Charles finds a film, which is actually Willoughby’s recorded will. After viewing it, they track down Matthew, Willoughby’s wayward son. From there, the story turns into a treasure quest. Poems contain clues and those clues lead them all over the sprawling estate. This tale is complete with hidden passage ways, an actual crypt, and nearly forgotten family secrets.

While the 4 main characters are all male, there are two more characters, Mrs. Gilkerry (housekeeper/cook) and Meg (retired maid) who are more than they seem. First, I really enjoyed Mrs. Gilkerry’s cooking. The descriptions of her meals made my mouth water. Who says English cooking lacks flavor and zest? Meg doesn’t come into the story until much later so I won’t reveal too much about her. However, I will say that the discussions with her provided some humor in the middle of this tense book.

This treasure hunt reveals much about the natures of not only Charles and Matthew, but also Lord Willoughby. In a way, Charles learns more about his client’s private life through this quest than he ever would through his legal duties. Matthew has a long history of being a bit of a scoundrel, only returning home when he gets into more trouble or debt than he can manage. This hunt provides a background to show his true mettle: misunderstood man who made some mistakes or a man who truly lacks a moral compass? The ending has more than one secret to reveal! The winding suspense was excellent and I quite enjoyed taking an afternoon to read this. My only wish is that I had enjoyed it on a dark and stormy night.

I received this audiobook at no cost via The Audio Book Worm.

The Narration: Jake Urry was a really good choice of narration for this book. I loved his proper English accents along with his range of voices for all the characters. I especially loved his voice for Meg. Here and there, the characters reveal some emotion and Urry portrayed those emotions quite well. 

What I Liked: The Gothic mansion setting; Lord Willlougby’s clues and poems; James’s never-ending politeness; Meg’s less than sharp wit; Mrs. Gilkerry’s meals; the suspense of the hunt; the final reveals; excellent narration. 

What I Disliked: Nothing – this is a delicious, suspenseful tale!

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The Florentine Deception by Carey Nachenberg

NachenbergTheFlorentineDeceptionWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Nick Podehl

Publisher:  Audible Studios (2015)

Length: 10 hours 32 minutes

Author’s Page

Alex Fife is rather bored. He had the luck and the skills to start a successful company young and then sell it for a very pretty profit. Now at 25, he needs a new challenge. Cleaning up an old PC for a charity is not quite the challenge he was looking for, but he stumbles upon references to the Florentine, an item an antiques dealer was trying to sell on the black market. Alex’s hunt for the Florentine turns out to be a bigger challenge than he had in mind.

Alex and Steven, who have been best friends for some years, initially dug into the Florentine mystery out of boredom and curiosity. Richard Lister, the now deceased antiques dealer, was involved in some shady things. Alex and Steven hatch a plan to check out his house, which is for sale. Hillary, Steven’s wife, thinks they’re a bit nuts but swiftly gets caught up in the excitement. One discovery leads to another as the action spirals up. However, the stakes also continue to rise as it becomes apparent they aren’t the only one looking for the Florentine.

This was a pretty fun read. I enjoyed that Alex and crew thought they were looking for one thing and as things progressed, it became apparent they were looking for something completely different. Us readers know from the book’s description that this will happen, but it was fun to see how the author made his characters work it out. This story is mostly about the action, though there is some character development for Alex and Steven. There’s also a touch of romance, which was fine, though I didn’t feel that it particularly added to the book.

There’s plenty of computer geek speak in this book, which is what I was expecting, since Alex and most of his friends are computer scientists of one flavor or another. I enjoyed watching Alex use his expertise to collect info on the Florentine and also in laying traps for the bad guys. However, there were a few times when Alex was explaining some basic things (such as fire walls) to other computer savvy folks and that just came off as out of character. I think the author wanted these things laid out clearly for the reader, in case they aren’t computer nerds, but it came off as a bit clunky.

In contrast, the author did a great job in explaining some basics about caving. Alex has a few friends, including the most interesting Linda, who are caving folks and this techno-thriller requires some cave exploration. Hooray! Steven is not a caving person, so Alex has the perfect newbie to explain some basics to. However, there were times when Alex got a little dense on the subject. For instance, he thought it was pretty ingenious of his friend Potter to bring along glow sticks, which I would think would be a basic in most caving survival packs. Then there was that scene where Alex and crew gave up a little too easily for my taste. I felt the author was eager to move on to the next section of the book.

Now let’s talk about the morgue and Alex’s grandfather (Papa). This was by far my favorite scene of the book. Papa was so funny and yet took his role in the task so seriously! I really enjoyed this morgue caper as Alex and crew gathered further information. I’m glad the author didn’t make light of morgue security because it provided so much opportunity for Alex and Papa to have these tense, yet ridiculous, conversations.

Over all, this was a light, fun read. There were some clunky bits here and there. However, this is balanced out by the morgue scene and ratcheting-up tension and action of the story. Once the true nature of the Florentine is figured out by Alex, there’s a race on to either capture the Florentine or counteract it. The ending wraps up all the questions (except for those concerning Alex’s future love life) for this tale and leaves the door open for future installments. It would be interesting to see what Alex and crew go after next time.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author (via iRead Book Tours) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Nick Podehl was a good fit for Alex. He had that successful mid-20s feel to the voice that made Alex come through clearly. The narrator had to do several accents – Puerto Rican, Russian, Philipino, vague Arab, Ukranian, and regional American accents – and he did them well. His female voices were realistic.

What I Liked:  Mystery and action; building of tension; computer intrigue; caving; the morgue seen with Papa; great narration. 

What I Disliked: Some computer basics were laid out in a clunky way; I felt Alex and crew gave up too easily in the cave; the idea of packing glow sticks on a modern-day caving trip isn’t that ingenious. 

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Treasure of the Silver Star by Michael Angel

AngelTreasureOfTheSilverStarWhy I Read It: Space opera that combines treasure hunting, archaeology, and space chase – can’t miss that!

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

Who I Recommend This To: For light space opera junkies.

Narrator: Lee Strayer

Publisher: Banty Hen Publishing (2013)

Length: 5 hours 34 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in a far flung galaxy, we have a disgraced starship captain (Drake) and an independent archaeologist (Tally) who must join forces to save the galaxy and perhaps earn a little money. Drake’s command crew made me think of Star Trek (Sebastien, Kincaide, Ferra, etc.) and the space battle scenes were reminiscent of Star Wars battles. Definitely a mix mash of pulp fiction and space opera.Drake struggles through the book to regain his former polish and glory after wrongly being placed in the Losers box with a bunch of Loser rejects on a Loser ship.

Then we have the treasure hunter/archaeology aspect thrown in. Tally made me think of a female Indiana Jones; she was very focused on her goal and not afraid of the physical effort it would take to get it. She had some of the most interesting scenes because they had to do with history, and therefore, had the most detail.

The plot was pretty straight forward and the characters, once established, didn’t change much. The bad guys were stereotypical and our heroes are 100% good guys. Normally, I enjoy a bit more variation in all of that, but for a fast paced, short space opera, it was decent. If you have some task where you need your hands and a bit of concentration, then this would be good braincandy for the background.

We had more men than women and I would have enjoyed seeing that a bit more balanced. But the few females we had in the storyline added to the plot and weren’t just scenery. The one sex scene came off as a bit awkward and didn’t engage my libido. I like my sex scenes and if one (or more) are going to be thrown in, they should count.

Narration: Lee Strayer did a good job of keeping the characters distinct. There were a few passages where the sentences were repeated, so not the cleanest on final editing. Still, the actual narration was well done with clear feminine and masculine voices, different accents, and proper emotions.

What I Liked: Fast-paced; fun; archaeology, hurray!; space battles!; treasure hunting; the ending.

What I Disliked: Only a few female characters; awkward sex scene; no character growth.

Gaijin Cowgirl by Jame DiBiasio

DiBiasioGaijinCowgirlWhy I Read It: I like nitty gritty stories that throw me into a foreign culture.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher via Premier Virtual Author Book Tours (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Those who like an action-driven plot, a bit of history, a treasure hunt, and don’t mind a bit of sex and violence would enjoy this novel.

Publisher: Crime Wave Press (2013)

Length: 393 pages

Set in the early 2000s, Valerie Benson is a young lady, more than a little spoiled, on the run from her own failings and a closet of family secrets. She ends up in Japan, crashing at her old boyfriend’s place. After several weeks, she ends up working for the nightclub Cowboy as a hostess. Charlie Kwok, a lawyer trying to bring down Japanese business men who benefited from WWII brothels, is at first bemused by her job, which is questionable, but doesn’t entail sex. In short, Val is paid to look good, flirt and dance with the customers, who spend lots on liquor and leave big tips for the ladies and the club. Val’s biggest tipper of all is known as The Painter, and he likes to paint ladies in the nude. Specifically, he likes to paint women’s genitalia. That’s his addiction. He is willing to pay lots of money, and that is Val’s addiction. Val finds herself in the middle of something bigger than anything she has ever tackled before, and this time running won’t get her out of trouble. Essentially, she finds herself the owner of a treasure map, WWII treasure buried somewhere in Asia, most likely Thailand, and long forgotten. Enter Muddy, an Australian with decades of experience treasure hunting.

Initially, Valerie is a character that I didn’t have much connection with. She lacks responsibility for herself, often leaving others who care about her abruptly. She comes from a wealthy, and highly disfunctional, family, her father being a US Congressman. She’s use to having money and someone to take care of her, always willing to rescue her or give her a place to stay. She detests her father, but can’t give up the trustfund, which is how he always tracks her down (whenever she pulls funds from it). And poor Charlie. He was once head over heels in love with her, begged her for months in every way he could for her to come back to him. But no, she gave him no hope. But ran straight to him in far off Japan when she needed a place to hide away from her troubles.

Then Jame DiBiasio takes us into the seedier side if Japanese culture, but he tells it from the view point of Val, an outsider, and Suki, soon-to-be Val’s best friend. Sure, these ladies could make some better choices in their life, but so could all of us. They are very human, with hopes, dreams, needs, mistakes. They both hostess at this bar, and while no sex happens for money, all the ladies are expected to dress up, flirt, dance, and generally let the customers believe there is always a chance some sexytimes may happen.

I also enjoyed the little history lessons DiBiasio built into the story line. First, charlie Kwok and his firm are filing lawsuits on behave of surviving comfort women, women who were enslaved and forced to work in brothels in WWII for the ‘comfort’ of Japanese soldiers. I had not heard the term ‘comfort women’ before this book, and I do enjoy a fiction that can teach me a little bit about history or science.

So, the first quarter of the book is Val’s night life and Charlie’s lawsuits. Then Val and Suki have a near-death experience at the house of The Painter that throws the plot in a new direction. Val discovers a treasure map, and she and Suki both flee, intending to go to the police with their story. However, it quickly becomes apparent they can’t and must leave the country. This option is cemented when Val looses something precious to her, forcing her resolution to follow the treasure map. Val grows as a character, and I like that in my lead characters.

DiBiasio could have built in more sex than there was, but he leaves much hinted at, or merely stated as facts, without going into lots of description. Prostitution, enslaved women, hostessing…. you would think sexytimes would be happening left, right, and center. But the author restrained himself, putting in enough to make it realistic, to move the plot forward, to show us a point, and not so much as to make me think I wandered onto an Adam & Eve film production. I applaud him for that.

Definitely fast-paced, with action happening at every intersection, this book is full of memorable characters and interesting historical tidbits. Pick it up for the treasure hunting and walk away with some historical trivia. My small criticisms weren’t enough to detract me from enjoying this book. If you are interested, my small criticisms included such things as: occasionally moving a little to abruptly from one scene to the next; Suki appears to need a man for a future; and why did it take Suki and Val so long to figure out that the bad guys would check for them at their apartments?

What I Liked: Val grows from a snot-nosed irresponsible main character, to a woman on the hunt to forge her own life; the book captured the seedier side of life without being risque; lots of Japanese cultural references, vocabulary, poetry built into the story line; historical tidbits tucked in here and there.

What I Disliked: Would have liked Suki to be a little more independent; occasionally moved a little abruptly from one scene to the next.

Jame DiBiasio and Gaijin Cowgirl are on tour. If you would like see more reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways, check out the schedule at Premier Virtual Author Book Tours.

The Treasure of Isian by Serena Clarke

Why I Read It: The description sounded like a fun fantasy read.

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

Who I Recommend This To: For those who like a simple, sweet fantasy love story.

Publisher: Red Mountain Shadows Publishing (2012)

Length: 265 pages

The story opens with manling Prince Garin and his trusted servant Elani (and a whole retinue of soldiers) setting off on another treasure hunt, seeking the Treasure of Isian. The fact that no one in the party knows what the treasure is nor where Isian is does not hold them back. Prince Garin has found other treasures before, why not this one? Elani, a girl on the cusp of womanhood, has been his unquestioning servant for the past 13 years. She adores Garin and would willingly live her life for him, even if there wasn’t a geis on her forcing her to follow through on any and all of his commands.

The reader gets to follow along on this fast-paced, G-rated adventure; through giants, water witches, dragons, warrior women, and a few other perils. Both Garin and Elani gain in depth as the story progresses, but never get bogged down in details of the past or too much inner turmoil. While Elani gets to wield a sword a few times, her character over all is subservient to Garin, in particular, and to anyone else in general. Garin starts to see his long-time companion as something more than a servant as new-found friends refuse to treat her as one.

Overall, Serena Clarke gave us a book that is a sweet Disney-like fantasy romance (violence isn’t detailed, simple plot, light kissing, happy ending). While I could tell from the beginning where the book was going, I was still engaged in Elani’s character and in the dynamic between her and Garin. It was gratifying to see Garin’s self-centered behavior change over the span of the book. Elani’s character, however, only gained so much depth and then stopped and her overall goals never changed. While there are a few female side characters, she is pretty much the only female character with an important role. Some of the other female characters were evil witches, lust-filled battle harden crude warrior women, and a self-absorbed princess. The male characters had larger roles to play and fewer of them were evil or crude or selfish, which gave the tale an unbalanced quality in the never-ending Battle of the Sexes. However, despite these simple flaws, I still enjoyed the tale as the main characters felt like familiar friends by the end.

What I Liked: Smooth, easy reading; several small adventures tucked into a larger quest; Elani’s perseverance; watching Prince Garin change; Elani gets to save the Prince.

What I Disliked: Most of the female characters are evil; there is only 1 main female character cast among a sausage fest; the 1st time Elani wields a sword in the story I think it is her 1st time ever and learn much later that she has had training (author could have put 2 sentences explaining that earlier in the book as I had a hard time believing Elani had conquered an early foe so easily for about a quarter of the book).