Zero Lives Remaining by Adam Cesare

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

61XAlJ0cuuL._SL300_Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Rollin & Jeanie Press (2016)

Length: 2 hours 37 minutes

Author’s Page

 

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

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

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

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

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

I received a free copy of this book.

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

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

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

What Others Think:

Into the Macabre

Horror Talk

The Audio Book Reviewer

splatterpunkzine

Hellnotes

Scream Horror Magazine

Gingernuts of Horror

 

Wizard's Nocturne by Gary Jonas

JonasWizardsNocturneNarrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Denton & White (2016)

Length: 5 hours 15 minutes

Series: Book 6 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

Note: This is Book 6 in the series and I recommend reading at least the previous 2 books as there are major things that happened in those books that both explain and affect characters’s decisions in this book.

This book takes place in New York 1926 roughly 50 years after the previous book, Sunset Spectres. The Jonathan Shade from the previous book that decided to raise the young Henry Winslow long ago changed his name to John Eastman. Now Henry is a man in his prime and he and John are in business together and have a good relationship. However, John knows from his previous timeline that his younger previous self, Jonathan Shade, is due to show up and kill this version of Henry Winslow. Also, his once-girlfriend Reina is due to show up as well, from a different time jump. Things are about to get very, very complicated.

This was a fun book and while there are many things I liked about it, I did feel all the time traveling stuff got jumbled and was difficult to keep track of. I wanted a time jump map. Still, with that confusion I got enough enjoyment out this book to want to continue the series.

First, I like that John gave 50 years of his life to raise Henry in a loving environment, giving him the basis to become a good human being instead of the evil Henry Winslow that Jonathan Shade and crew have been trying to stop from becoming immortal. John is the mastermind in this tale, knowing some key specifics about how things will go down with the time jumps. In short, he’s trying to keep everyone he cares about alive. As we know from the previous book, one of his best friends died back in 1877. Now he just might have the chance to change that.

As John’s friends and even Jonathan start popping into 1926, none of them seem to recognize him as a much older version of Shade. This allows him to manipulate things. John and Henry have been leading members in an occult group for many years and John has set in motion a plan to initiate a new member, which will give John access to this man’s stunning find – the Emerald Tablets. These ancient artifacts are the source of the immortality spell that the evil Henry Winslow is trying to enact. 1926 is the stage for his final step in that spell.

This story had little bits of sentimentality laced through it everywhere. For instance, a vibrantly alive Esther is doing quite well as Mr. Eastman’s secretary. John knows he probably shouldn’t have hired her, based on his past experience with her ghost, but he couldn’t turn her down. Plus this way John believes he can ensure that Esther, alive or dead, doesn’t fall in love with him and suffer a broken heart for decades. I liked these little nods to characters we lost in previous books. Yet their appearances and different reactions/interactions with various characters also added to muddying the timelines and making it difficult to keep things straight.

Along with all the scheming that takes place in this book, the story wraps up with a decently long action sequence. Some people get what’s coming to them and, as always with this series, some good folks perish as well. This time they weren’t characters that I was heavily invested in so my heart didn’t ache like it did at the end of Sunset Spectres. There’s a lovely afterglow in which some things are explained and the surviving characters make plans to have lovely lives. I am pleased that my favorite characters are still alive and kicking though I do wonder what the author will do next. What a mess with the timelines!

I received a free copy of this audiobook.

The Narration: Joe Hempel is just simply great at this series. I really enjoyed him giving voice to the older, wiser John Eastman and the younger, still cocky Jonathan Shade. As always, his Kelly Chan and Esther are great. His emotional scenes, such as that between John and the good Henry, were very touching. 

What I Liked: 1926 New York; John’s long-term commitment to young Henry; the return of favorite characters (and then some) that I thought had been lost for good; not everyone gets out alive; great narration.

What I Disliked: Wow! I really need to map out the various timelines and the multiple versions of each character to keep that part of the story straight.

Sunset Specters by Gary Jonas

JonasSunsetSpectersNarrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Denton & White (2016)

Length: 4 hours 48 minutes

Series: Book 5 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I received a free copy of this audiobook.

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

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

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

Anubis Nights by Gary Jonas

JonasAnubisNightsWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Denton & White (2016)

Length: 7 hours 28 minutes

Series: Book 4 Jonathan Shade

Author’s Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

ButcherSkinGameWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2014)

Length: 15 hours 49 minutes

Series: Book 15 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: I feel that Death Masks, Book 5, is where reading this series out of order starts to do you an injustice. This book does work as a stand alone to some extent, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the previous books before you jump into this one.

At the end of the previous book, Cold Days, there was some game changers that came out in that nudity fight. The biggest one for me was that Molly became the new, and youngest, Lady Winter. Mab was supremely happy with that and is enjoying training Molly up. Harry has been stuck on Demon Reach island because he has this parasite in his head that is nearly ready to pop – which means his head would explode. Messy! But the power of Demon Reach can keep it under wraps for a while until Molly can show up and help remove it. So Harry has been working on all his physical and magical skills, running through the underground Prison of Nasty Badasses yelling ‘Parkour!’ as he leaps over obstacles and careens around corners.

Mab shows up and she has traded Harry’s skills in order to pay off a debt; Harry will have to assist his arch nemesis Nicodemus Nickelhead in a vault heist. Harry isn’t happy about this, but on the surface it doesn’t sound particularly hard. But this wouldn’t be a Dresden Files book if things weren’t difficult, right? Nicodemus plans to steal a powerful religious artifact right out of the vault of Hades in the Underworld. To do that, he has to first break into the highest security vault on Earth to match a Way into the Nevernever that corresponds with Hades’s vault. It’s going to be a mess!

The good, the bad, and the shaggy will team up in this crazy and deadly effort. Harry wants to bring along Karrin Murphy. Nicodemus brings along his daughter, who also has one of the demon-possessed coins. A variety of other folks join in, a few of which we have seen in previous books. Some are on the fence when it comes to good versus evil and Harry is expecting a lot of double crossing. Out of this crew, Mr. Grey was the most interesting to me. Throughout the entire book, I wasn’t sure what side of the line he would eventually land on. Indeed, he had my fooled more than once. There’s also a pretty cool reveal about his origins at the end of the book.

There is one sex scene in the book and it is smoking hot! It’s been some time since Butcher included such a scene in this series. It’s definitely worthy. Ach! There’s plenty I want to say about the characters involved, but that would be spoilery. Trust me, it’s worthy and yet there is definitely more to be done between these two.

The action is well spaced out with sneaky alliances, reuniting of friends, and hashing out hurt feelings. Waldo Butters is especially distraught over how Harry has treated his friends these past several years. Indeed, Harry has been through quite a bit, but Waldo does a great job of pointing out how Harry hasn’t really stopped to look at things from another point of view. Harry has had increasingly less contact with those outside the Fae and he’s started thinking too often like one of the Fae court, trading favors and owing debts. Plus he has this whole Winter Knight mantel toying with him – his thoughts are more predatory towards everyone, even if the reasons differ. The Fae code of favors and debts seems to help Harry hold the Winter Knight instincts in check, though this doesn’t excuse the hurt he’s caused his friends.

Once Nicodemus and crew make it into the Underworld, there are multiple gates to be defeated before they can get to the vault. Hades and his minions are a real concern and things get pretty dicey. I really enjoyed Hades’s dog Cerberus. Butcher is excellent at tossing in a little humor at the tensest of moments to have me laughing and biting my nails at the same time!

Michael Carpenter also plays a role in this book. I won’t share too much, just know that it is worthy. Also, because Michael is involved, Harry has to face the fact that he has spent almost no time with his daughter. All his friends want him to correct that. It’s a difficult thing for Harry as he wants to protect her and having an active relationship with her may well put her in danger.

The ending was pretty darn good (though I have one criticism I will get to in a moment). We have a surprise hero which I did not see coming! It was well done and I even did a little fist pump in joy when I got to this point. My criticism is with a flashback that Harry has at the end of the book that pertains to some of his actions at the beginning of the book. Since this entire tale is told through Harry’s eyes, it stood out as a weak plot device. The only time in the 15 books that we haven’t lived through all of Harry’s doings as they happen was that one time he ordered Molly to erase a chunk of his memory. So leaving something out that definitely affects the out come later and revealing it at the end of the book was clunky. However, that quibble is definitely small in comparison to my enormous enjoyment with this latest book in the series. As usual, Butcher wraps up the main points but leaves enough open for the next book in the series to build upon.

Narration: James Marsters continues to do this series justice with this latest installment in the series. I like how Harry’s voice has aged a little over the span of the series. I liked his confident Molly and his ticked off Waldo and his still supportive Michael. I thoroughly enjoyed his voice for Hades, especially when Hades talks about his dog.

What I Liked: Big stuff happens in a vault heist; Mab brooks no argument from Harry; lots of fun characters (both good and bad) return in this book to join the adventure; Waldo Butters points out how Harry hasn’t been the best of friends in the past few years; Mr. Grey is a very interesting addition; that lovely sex scene; Hades vault; the final show down.

What I Disliked: There was a flashback/reveal scene near the end that stood out as clunky.

What Others Think:

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Cold Days by Jim Butcher

ButcherColdDaysWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2012)

Length: 18 hours 50 minutes

Series: Book 14 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: I feel that Death Masks, Book 5, is where reading this series out of order starts to do you an injustice. This book does work as a stand alone to some extent, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the previous books before you jump into this one.

At the end of the previous book, Ghost Story, Harry wakes up and finds that Mab, Winter Queen, has kept his body alive with the help of Demon Reach island. He’s a bit grumpy about it. Mab means for him to keep his word and he is now the Winter Knight. First, he has to spend months at Arctis Tor in physical therapy. Thankfully, he has a competent and beautiful therapist, Sarissa, to help him through it. Unfortunately, he is tested nearly daily by Mab herself and this often means sharp pointy things being flung at this head.

Harry is introduced to the Winter Court on his birthday with a big party. Of course, these are the fae and a party wouldn’t be complete without some serious injuries. Maeve shows up in her vagazelled birthday suit and taunts Harry in a variety of ways. Then a Red Cap makes the mistake of harming Sarissa and this gives Harry the opportunity to show off his new powers as the Winter Knight. Once the festivities have tamed down a bit, Mab quietly sets Harry on his first task for her: kill one of her strongest minions, a specific immortal. Harry is going to be hard pressed to carry out that order!

Back in Changes, Harry had a lot happen to him that changed his life – he lost his office, apartment, car, etc. Now in this book, I actually see Harry has changed. We’ve seen Harry pressed to the limits before, having to make hard decisions. These things over time have aged him; some have given him wisdom and some have subtly changed him in other ways, like becoming more cynical. Now he has the mantel of the Winter Knight and that means he not only has this magnificent power, he also has these animalistic urges to protect what is his and destroy anything that threatens him and his, and sometimes even those things that deny him his will. Harry has this roiling mass of violence and lust just beneath the surface that he has to keep in check all the time, or does he? The poor man will be tested sorely!

First things first: very few people know that Harry is still alive. All his friends think he is dead. So you can imagine what it’s like for him to stroll up as the Winter Knight. Ha! There was a plethora of feelings here as he reunited with his friends. Some were angry. Some were happy. Some had very mixed emotions. Then Harry himself has quite a few emotions about being alive and being the Winter Knight.

Harry doesn’t have a place to stay in the mundane world, so Molly puts him up at her swanky apartment. Apparently, she did a job for the svartelves and they were quite pleased with her work. I should mention that all that physical therapy and combat training with Mab has left Harry well muscled. Molly wasn’t the only one who noticed. 😉

Harry ends up at Mac’s for a brew and a sandwich when the Outsiders make an appearance. We’ve had little snippets of the Outsiders in previous books but this is the first book where we get some solid info on them. There’s some senior characters that have been working hard to keep the Outsiders out and few people know the extent of these efforts. Harry wasn’t the only one whose mind was blown by some of the big reveals in this book concerning the Outsiders. Lots of good stuff going on there.

I liked that Bob the Skull ended up with Waldo Butters. Bob is very fond of the internet – ha! Harry needs to pick Bob’s brain on how to kill an immortal and indeed there is one way that Bob knows of. Pretty soon, Harry’s friends are rallying around him to assist in stopping yet another disaster. But first there is the Wild Hunt to contend with. Let me just say that the Kris Kringle bit was awesome.

There’s a significant reveal about Demon Reach island and that was unexpected but also deliciously evil. Demon Reach has definitely developed it’s own personality these past few books. The final big fight scene involved nudity and that made me laugh in the face of all the grimness. Well done! There’s some silliness with Karrin Murphy and her motorcycle that started off OK but then felt a little forced later on. There were several unexpected outcomes to the final fight and at least one of them is a game changer. Jim Butcher continues to surprise me, even though this is the 14th book in the series. Book 15, Skin Game, is out and I suggest you have it ready to go because you are going to want to know how events in this book change the lives of your favorite characters going forward.

Narration: Once again, James Marsters is Harry Dresden. I wonder if he has a leather trench coat and carved staff that he takes with him to the recording studio to channel Dresden. I really enjoyed his performance in this book. He had an evil Sidhe grimalkin (which is a large talking cat) to perform –  and he did it awesomely. Then his voices for Mother Winter and Kris Kringle were also great. Hearing Kringle be so cheerful about hunting was a little chilling. Mother Winter! So powerful! So evil! And perhaps a touch of dementia going on. It’s simply another great performance.

What I Liked: Harry has to face reuniting with friends and family; Harry has put on some muscle; Molly has gotten her life together; Harry’s quest to kill an immortal turns into so much more; more info about the Outsiders; more info about Demon Reach island; the big fight scene – in the nude!; consequences of that fight scene; great cover art; great narration.

What I Disliked: I did feel that the bit with Murphy and her bike was a little over done.

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Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

ButcherGhostStoryWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2015)

Length: 17 hours 36 minutes

Series: Book 13 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: I feel that Death Masks, Book 5, is where reading this series out of order starts to do you an injustice. This book does work as a stand alone to some extent, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the previous books before you jump into this one.

In the previous book, Changes, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s finest (and only) wizard, lost everything in the gambit to save his daughter.  He lost his office, his apartment, his car, and broke his back. So he had to make a deal with the lesser of three evils. His ability to walk restored, he soldiered on and while he saved his daughter from the Red Court vampires he also lost his life at the end of Changes. So this story opens with ghost Harry in a train station. There he meets a familiar face, Karrin Murphy’s old partner who died in one of the earliest books. He gives Harry some info but mostly evades questions as he ushers Harry over to Captain Murphy’s office –  Karrin’s long deceased father. There Harry is given a choice – he can continue on his ghostly journey (and, no, they don’t know what waits outside of their ghostly city) or he can go back as a ghost to prevent harm from coming to three of his friends.

Of course, we all know what Harry decides. So he’s dropped off outside Mortimer’s because he’s the only guy Harry knows that has the ability to reliably communicate with ghosts. There we meet one of Mortimer’s protectors, Sir Steward. Sir Steward explains more about who the ghost world works and Harry has to be rather careful to not think too loudly less he attract ghosts who want to devour his essence. I really liked Sir Steward. He had a dry sense of humor and a strong sense of honor and a very solid idea of who and what he is, which has allowed his ghost to live on as long as it has.

Harry had an uphill battle the entire time in this book. It was crazy. He’s been dead for 6 months and while no one retrieved his body, there was far too much blood left at the scene. So lots of folks have trouble believing that either Harry is dead (Karrin) or that he is a ghost zipping around trying to rescue folks (nearly everyone). Even Mortimer, who accepts that Harry’s dead, doesn’t want anything to do with his ghost. But Harry saves his life and Mortimer gives him a small amount of his time, initially. Harry has to keep on hacking away (pleading, bargaining, threatening) at Mortimer to get more of his time.

Things have gone to rubble while Harry was away. Molly has become unpredictable and homeless. Karrin lost her job. The streets are dangerous now in nearly every neighborhood. Things that had stayed away from Chicago because Harry protected it have come creeping in. But not all is doom and gloom. Mister, Harry’s cat, made it out of the fire in the last book and found a decent home. Mouse, his dog, is happily guarding his daughter who also landed in a loving home. There’s plenty more along those lines, some of which jerked some emotions out of me. Harry, in classic ghost story form, gets a good look at what his presence meant to those that cared for him.

OK, so besides all the feels in this book, there’s plenty of action too. Harry has been tasked with finding his own killer, which is no easy feat. Then this bully and low-level magic user makes his presence known by ordering a drive-by shooting. Through him, Harry learns that one of his old enemies is in town, but this enemy has a new and powerful sidekick. So Harry is floating  around (or sometimes zipping around) Chicago learning to use his ghostly skills and fighting crime. Yay! He’s also learned to make use of that grave that the Black Court vampire lady bought for him several books back. A ghost has to rest sometimes.

Since memories have power in ghostland, and can also be used to trade for favors, we get to learn more of Harry’s past. I was particularly intrigued by the memories of his time with Justin DuMorn. Harry keeps getting more and more complicated – and I like it!

The ending was fantastic! I loved the final fight scenes and how folks came together to do what they could. It was a lot of fun but also filled with tension and since Butcher killed off Harry I have this fear that he might start bumping off favorite characters. Lots of good stuff went down in that final fight scene.

Afterwards, we learn a few more tidbits. The mystery of Harry’s killer has been revealed. Harry has a chance to see his family members, such as Thomas. I have to say that I felt Butcher bent the rules just a little on the Thomas/Justine love but don’t touch thing. It was sweet but I also felt it was a cheat. Anyway, it’s such a minor thing. The ending did have one last surprise, so I hope you have the next book handy. This was another excellent addition to one of my favorite series.

Narration: This book was originally narrated by John Glover but fans had become accustomed to James Marsters’s performances and didn’t want a switch in narrators this late in the series. So Penguin Audio re-recorded it with James Marsters. Hooray! His performance was spot on, as always. Harry has some really complex emotions in this book, usually about his daughter, and Marsters did an excellent job of getting those across to the listener. I also loved his voices for Molly as she impersonates various characters from the original Star Trek crew.

What I Liked: Harry has a whole new set of rules to figure out; the key to the mystery of who killed Harry; what became of his friends and pets after his death; Mortimer’s continued resistance to become entangled in Harry’s ghostly affairs; the big final fight scene; the warp up; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: There is this teensy criticism about Thomas and Justine and their work around.

What Others Think:

Knite Writes

Love Vampires

The Ranting Dragon

iO9

Fantasy Book Critic

Changes by Jim Butcher

ButcherChangesWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2010)

Length: 15 hours 28 minutes

Series: Book 12 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: I feel that Death Masks, Book 5, is where reading this series out of order starts to do you an injustice. This book does work as a stand alone to some extent, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the previous books before you jump into this one.

Out of Harry’s past, Susan Rodriguez gives him a call, though it isn’t to swap the latest news of their lives. Their daughter, Maggie, has been taken by the Red Court vampires and Harry is ready to go on the war path. Harry will give up plenty in this book in order to save a child he has never met.

Way back on my review for Book 3, I said that’s when the series gets real and the ante was upped. Now, this is the book that showed me the author isn’t afraid to push that envelope to the breaking point. I had plenty of emotions on this one, even on the reread. Harry can take only so much abuse!

Susan, who is tainted with Red Court vampire bite but has held off the change all these years, flies into town with her sidekick, Martin (who shares the same affliction). They work with Harry, Thomas, and Murphy to dig up info on one of the leaders of the Red Court, Arianna Ortega. Harry soon learns that he’s got a pair of vampire assassins after him and they have some monstrous near-jaguar thing (which he calls the Ick) with them. The Ick quickly scraps his car and the assassins take out his office. It only gets more heated from there.

Harry calls in every favor owed him and then some in his hunt for info on his daughter’s location. He even burns a few bridges with the White Council of wizards in doing so. A handful of folks guess why this one human child is worth so much to him and all who know advise him to keep that very, very quiet. Meanwhile, Harry is advised to seek out some assistance from crime lord John Marcone, who points him to Monoc Securities. This is one of my favorite little parts of the book. I love that the author starts to pull in some deities as Harry gains in power.

The assassins aren’t done with Harry and he continues to lose things that matter to him. Eventually, he’s trapped between a rock and a hard place and he has to do something he never wanted to do. That was tough. It makes a great read and a great story but I also felt for Harry in that moment when he makes the decision.

The last quarter of the book is this long running battle full of individual triumphs and failures as Harry and his friends face off with the Red Court. It’s incredible! So many people laying it all on the line against such odds and Harry really letting his inner dark side out to play! It was intense but not fatiguing.

There are plenty of repercussions to that lengthy fight. Some we know by the end of the book and some we don’t until later in the series. That’s one thing I really enjoy about this series: your actions have repercussions, no matter your reasons. For instance, Murphy took yet more time off from work to assist Harry and she will pay for that. We also learn some things about Harry’s past and about his mother. All in all, I think this is one of the best books in the series.

Narration: James Marsters continues to do awesome work with this series. He is angry Harry, tender Harry, sad Harry, relieved Harry, etc. He really owns this character. In this book, he also does a great job with some Mayan words (such as the full name of the Ick). His voice for the Red King of the Red Court Vampires is chilling. I also love his voice for the delighted, and perhaps slightly demented, Liana (Harry’s fairy godmother).

What I Liked: Several significant changes happen to Harry in this book; actions have consequences; Harry pulls out all the stops to rescue his daughter; there’s at least one kiss, betrayal, sword fights, might and magic, and overwhelming odds!; great narration; significant ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing – one of the best books in the series!

What Others Think:

Knite Writes

Love Vampires

The Ranting Dragon

Guild Master Gaming

iO9

Fantasy Book Critic

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

ButcherTurnCoatWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2009)

Length: 14 hours 4o minutes

Series: Book 11 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: I feel that Death Masks, Book 5, is where reading this series out of order starts to do you an injustice. This book does work as a stand alone to some extent, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the previous books before you jump into this one.

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only wizard PI, was quite surprised to find Warden Donald Morgan on his doorstep asking for his assistance. Even though Morgan tormented Harry for years, Harry can’t help but be curious. Morgan has been accused of treason by the White Council and Harry has a limited time to figure out who really did the deed.

For all those who wondered what Harry and Morgan could accomplish if they could set aside their animosities and suspicions, this book contains the answer. I loved the set up for this book. Harry and Morgan have detested each other for years and Morgan has tried to execute Harry every chance he got. Now Morgan is forced by circumstance to go to Harry for assistance. Haha! I think it’s Harry’s deathwish-cat level of curiosity that makes the decision for him to take up the challenge of hiding Morgan while trying to uncover the real culprit.

Harry and Morgan aren’t the only two that harbor suspicions – this book brings in various characters that distrust one another. Harry trusts Molly to tend to Morgan’s wounds, but Morgan has just as much dislike for Molly as he does Harry. Then Thomas is brought into the mix – and Morgan can’t contain himself when it comes to vampires, even White Court vampires! Luckily, Mouse, Harry’s dog, has the most common sense and forcibly quells disagreements a few times. Mouse is my hero!

Something horrible is tracking Morgan, besides the White Council wizards. I don’t want to spoil what it is, so I’ll just use Harry’s petname for it- Shagnasty. It’s strong. It’s brutal. Morgan defeated one once, but it took great timing and a serious bomb. Harry might not be able to pull off the same. Butcher does a great job of getting across just how evil and dangerous this thing is! Billy and the college campus werewolves make an appearance in this book and they take their first hard hit in fighting Shagnasty. A bit sad. But that just fuels the fire for taking out Shagnasty.

I do believe this is the first full length novel we meet the mortal, every-day kind of PI Vince in, though I think he appears in one of the earliest short stories. Vince isn’t willing to give Harry much info. However, he’s probably no match for Molly. We also have our first introduction to Binder, a low-level magic user with one trick, though it’s an effective trick. He wreaks havoc on Harry’s attempts to keep Morgan hidden and to keep his apartment in one piece. Toss in the on-going tortured love between Thomas and his mortal girlfriend Justine, a deceptive yet stupid cousin of Lara Wraith’s, Shagnasty capturing and torturing one of Harry’s companions, the distrust of Antonia Luccio, and then Harry has his work cut out for him!

The ending to this book surprised me the first time I read it. During this reread, it still hit hard. I can see this as one of those turning points in Harry’s life. He spent a chunk of his teen years and his early adulthood fearing and hating Morgan. Now, as a wizard in his own right and a man who has been through a lot of scary stuff, he still had all this emotional baggage towards Morgan. Yet he helps him because he believes in doing what is right. There at the end, Morgan asks Harry to continue to do what’s right even though that means covering up the truth for now. It was a bit of a gut-wrencher but very worthy!

Narration: James Marsters, our Harry Dresden incarnate, continues to do the character justice. I’ve always liked his stern voice for Morgan; in this book, we get to see more sides to Morgan and Marsters does a good job of keeping that stern voice while also letting some other emotions creep in. Shagnasty’s voice must have done a number on Marsters vocal cords! It was so harsh and creepy!

What I Liked: Morgan needs Harry’s help; Mouse’s common sense keeps Harry’s guests from killing each other; Shagnasty is probably Harry’s toughest opponent yet; the ending has plenty of serious stuff; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – it was a joy to listen to!

What Others Think:

Knite Writes

SF Site

Love Vampires

The Ranting Dragon

Daniel’s Corner Unlimited

Fantasy Book Review

The Mad Hatter’s Book Shelf & Book Review

Small Favor by Jim Butcher

ButcherSmallFavorWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: James Marsters

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2009)

Length: 13 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 10 The Dresden Files

Author’s Page

Note: I feel that Death Masks, Book 5, is where reading this series out of order starts to do you an injustice. This book does work as a stand alone to some extent, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the previous books before you jump into this one.

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Billygoat? If you’re not, then you should be and this story serves as a good example as to why. The story starts off with a friendly snowball fight at the Carpenter household, which then turns into a murderous brawl between Harry and some gruffs (which look a lot like upright billygoats). As Harry ponders over the implications of this latest tussle, Sargent Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD tasks him with checking out a site with his wizardly senses. There he finds a large pentacle…. and Mab, a Queen of the Winter Court. She calls in a small favor from Harry: John Marcone, crime lord of Chicago, has gone missing and Mab wants him found.

When Mab is in the human world, her voice alone can kill mortals. So she talks through a grimalkin, which is like an extra evil large cat. The things Mab can do to Harry with just her voice make me shudder! And Toottoot tried to warn Harry, but Harry is too curious for his own good.

This is probably my 2nd or 3rd reading of this book and for some reason I always forget everything about it except for the gruffs because they are awesome and scary. And perhaps because Harry is always mentioning their..um… tackle. So once again I was pleasantly surprised by what took place in this installment of the series.

The Denarians are back in play and they are after something pretty darn important, if only Harry could figure out what it is in time. He teams up with Anastasia Luccio (a Warden for the White Council of wizards), Ivy the Archive (who has everything that’s ever been written down in human history memorized), and her bodyguard Kincaide (who has a secret supernatural side). Eventually, Harry has to make some hard choices about whether or not to do a trade with the Denarians. He is not a happy camper about it and he decides to play dirty (hooray!).

Luccio actually makes a play for Harry and he is totally oblivious. Poor dude. Bob the Skull has to point it out to him later. Of course Bob does it with his usual entertaining sarcasm. Harry’s love life, tho small and intermittent, is a mess.

Sanya and Michael (both Knight Templars with saintly swords) lend a hand in the final showdown. Murphy, Thomas Wraith of the vampire White Court, Molly (Harry’s apprentice), and Toottoot with the honor guard faeries all volunteer to help Harry out in some way. This lengthy scene is pretty intense. Harry finally puts a name to what Ms. Guard is, besides being a very deadly assistant to John Marcone. Harry also discovers a new power which, upon explanation from Bob, scares a little poo out of him.

One of the things I really like about this series, is that as the stakes get higher, the consequences go up as well. People get injured. In this book, one of Harry’s friends takes a hard hit and the book leaves us wondering just how bad it is. It’s a good thing the next book in the series is already out. Also, more and more Harry is learning that he can’t be the sole person to fight evil; he needs help from friends and allies and he won’t be able to protect them all.

Narration: James Marsters continues on as the voice of Harry Dresden. I really liked his creepy voice for the grimalkin and his uber-creepy voice for Mab. As always, his voice for Toottoot is both amusing and sincere. Marsters makes a pretty good gruff too, sounding like an angry billygoat.

What I Liked: The stakes are raised; Harry has friends and questionable allies along for the ride; the Denarians return for another round; Mab doesn’t accept Harry’s insolence lightly; the final big showdown at the end.

What I Disliked: Nothing – it was a joy to listen to!

What Others Think:

Knite Writes

SF Site

Love Vampires

The Ranting Dragon

Grasping for the Wind

Daniel’s Corner Unlimited

Notes from a Readerholic

Writing About Reading