Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Penny For Jennifer Estep's Thoughts

A Brief Interview with Jennifer Estep, the Author of the Elemental Assassin/Gin Blanco series.

Official Bio:  Jennifer Estep is an author, prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea. Spider's Bite, Web of Lies, Venom, and Tangled Threads are the other books in her red-hot Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series for Pocket Books. Jennifer also writes the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series, which includes the forthcoming Touch of Frost and Kiss of Frost. She's also the author of the Bigtime paranormal romance series, including Karma Girl, Hot Mama, and Jinx.

Read more about Jennifer Estep in her bio on her website here.

More on Jennifer Estep on Author Revealed here.

A Penny for Your Thoughts feature on Lost Art Audio is similar to an author interview, except it is short, sweet, and focused on the audiobook. This is the second Penny for Your Thought installment from the author of recently reviewed Tangled Threads, 4th audiobook in the Elemental Assassin/Gin Blanco serious.  Many thanks to Jennifer Estep for taking to time to indulge my curiosity!

Q.   Have you given audiobooks a try? How about e-books and the like? Any preference?
J. E.  I’ve got the Elemental Assassin audiobooks, but I haven’t tried any other audiobooks yet. I’m planning to, though. I’ve also downloaded a few e-books and e-stories onto my computer, but I don’t have an e-reader just yet. I’ll probably get one at some point in the future. I can see the appeal of audiobooks and ebooks, and I think they’ll continue to get more and more popular.


Q.   All four Elemental Assassin audiobooks are narrated by Lauren Fortgang. Are you acquainted with the actress? Have you ever met Ms. Fortgang? 
J. E. I’ve not met Lauren, but she has e-mailed me about the Elemental Assassin audiobooks and asked me about some of the pronunciations and things like that. I thought that was really cool of her to take the time to do that. Judging by the e-mails that I get, everyone really seems to love her narration of the books. I do too, and I’m glad that she did the audiobook for Tangled Threads as well.

Q.   In the earlier books, we see a lot of the morally conflicted Detective Donovan Caine. Tangled Thread focuses more on Gin’s budding relationship with Owen. Have we seen the last of the good detective?

J.E. I’m planning to bring Donovan back at some point. He left Gin at the end of Web of Lies, the second book in the series, which didn’t sit too well with Gin. I think that she needs some closure about their relationship on her terms. Plus, I think it will be really fun to write some scenes with Gin, Owen, and Donovan. Hopefully, it will make for some good drama!


Q.   I’m sure you get this all the time, but your characters – both major and supporting – make the listener fall in love. Do you base them on real people in your life? Is there a real life Finn (and can I have his phone number)? Have you met a real life Jo-Jo Deveraux? Who is your favorite supporting character from the bunch?
J.E. Thanks! I appreciate that. No, I don’t base my characters on people that I know. So there’s no real-life Finnegan Lane – and maybe that’s a good thing. Although I would say that Jo-Jo is just a strong, smart woman who takes care of those around her – the mom or grandma or sister or friend that hopefully everyone has in their lives.

Q.   The fifth audiobook, Spider’s Revenge, is set for release in September. Can you share any details on the upcoming book?
J. E. Spider’s Revenge will be out on September 27th. Basically, this book finishes out the big story arc with Gin and her nemesis, Mab Monroe, who killed Gin’s mother and older sister when Gin was a kid. The two women finally have their final confrontation, and I hope that readers and listeners enjoy the big showdown. Happy listening, everyone!


Read Lost Art Audio's review of Tangled Threads

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tangled Threads – Elemental Assassin/Gin Blanco series, Book 4

1.  Spider’s Bite (September 29, 2010)  
2.  Web of Lies (September 29, 2010)
3.  Venom (September 29, 2010)
4.  Tangled Threads (April 26, 2011) – 4.5 out of 5
5.  Spider’s Revenge (October 2011)

Author:  Jennifer Estep  
Narrator:  Lauren Fortgang 4.5 out of 5 
Length:  10:19, available on audible here

FTC Disclosure:  Audible Frontiers has graciously provided me with an audio version of this book for reviewing purposes.  Aside from this courtesy copy, I have received no payment or services in exchange for this review.

Ashland, a fictional southern city located in the Appalachian Moun­tains of Tennessee, is a place where trolls, giants, dwarves, and vampires live side-by-side with humans.  Among them are elementals, people with control over air, fire, ice, or stone, or sub-powers in between.  This city is filled with crooked politicians, crooked cops, desperate gamblers, drug pushers, self-entitled rich, prostitute vampires, and assassins who’d take out anybody for the right price.  And all this is owned by one Mab Monroe.  By day, Mab is a generous socialite philanthropist. By night, she is a power-hungry tyrant, the head of a crime empire that holds Ashland in a vice-like grip. 

Mab, a fire elemental, has reduced many a family to ash in her quest to remain on top.  Genevieve Snow’s family was just another statistic.  When Genevieve was 13, Mab received a prophecy that one of the Snow daughters, a dual stone and ice elemental, would be the end of her.  Convinced that girl destined to kill her was Genevieve’s youngest sister, Bria, Mab killed Genevieve’s mother and her oldest sister.  Genevieve tried to protect Bria from Mab.  She hid her.  She withstood torture.  She had her silver-stone spider rune burned into her palms.  But when she heard Bria scream, sure that Mab’s men found her sister, Genevieve used her stone power to collapse the house.  Believing she had buried Bria in the rubble, torn by guilt and sorrow, Genevieve Snow died that night.  Born out of Mab’s ashes was Gin Blanco, the anonymous and elusive Spider, an elemental assassin.  

Ashland, the Sin City of the South:
Now retired from the assassination business, Gin is known in Ashland as the owner of the Pork Pit and nothing more.  Her identity as the Spider is a secret, and the Spider’s services are no longer for sale.  They are earned. In the last three books, after Gin discovered that Mab was the fire elemental who killed her family, the Spider officially declared war on Mab and her organization.  It’s Christmas in Ashland, all the Spider wants for Christmas is Mab’s head on a pole. That feeling is mutual. Mab has hired a new assassin, Elektra LeFleur.  Elektra’s to do list is somewhat simple: 1. Kill the Spider, Gin’s alterego; 2. Kill Detective Bria Coolidge, Gin’s youngest sister who doesn’t know Gin’s true identity; and 3. Kill Gin Blanco, the owner of the Pork Pit who stood up to Mab’s attorney. That bumps Elektra LeFleur to the top of the Spider’s to do list. Also on the list is saving a young girl from becoming a forced prostitute under Mab’s newest project by the train yards.  Somewhere on that list is trying to connect with Bria, maybe even letting that detective know that Gin the restaurant owner is actually her older sister, a notorious assassin. Also on that list, between all the killing, Gin must figure out what to do with her 2-week relationship with the gorgeous Owen Grayson and how to get past the wreck that was her relationship with the conflicted Donovan Caine.

I know, I know.  I need to stop harping on the plot, but I just can’t help myself.  It’s such a fantastic story. I am blown away by the fantastical elements, such as the giant enforcers, Elektra’s power to electrocute people from afar, and Gin’s budding use of her ice element (I don’t want to give away how this comes into play in the story, but it’s pretty awesome).  Tangled Threads has the same twists, turns and conflicts that the listener has come to expect from the previous three audiobooks.  And of course there are so many excellent characters and developments.  I feel like I’m not doing the book justice by not mentioning more about the incredible Deveraux sisters, the ever-smooth Finnegan Lane, the gorgeous vampire/madam Roslyn, or Owen’s feisty sister, Eva.

Some urban fantasy series are known for their mise-en-scèneCharlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mystery series is a good example.  When you listen to the Sookie Stackhouse books, you can feel the Louisiana summer with that muddy Bayou humidity and you can practically smell the blood in the air. The Elemental Assassin series has its own mise-en-scène.  And don’t be fooled by the southern accent. This is nothing like True BloodSpider’s Bite, Web of Lies, Venom, and now Tangled Threads present a neo-noir hyper-reality that’s on par with the caliber of violence and villain in darker graphic novels, from Gotham to Sin City. When you listen through the parts of these audiobooks that describe how Gin lived on the street, the crack in the wall where she’d hide as a homeless 13-year-old behind the Pork Pit, the description of the opera house, of Mab’s opulent home, of Northern Aggression, Roslyn’s chic vampire brothel, you can smell the barbecue smoke in the air of the southern metropolis, you can hear the gunfire, taste the grime, you can see the black-and-white limos drive past the homeless and feel that deep-seated sense of urban decay down to the bone. Overall, this series is an incredible listen.

On Narration:
Her Russian accents aren’t great but, boy, can Lauren Fortgang do a southern drawl.  Her voices aren’t consistently distinct, but they are fun.  When Lauren Fortgang reads as Jo-Jo Deveraux, her voice is as soft, sticky, and sweet as salt-water taffy.  When she reads Finn, her smooth words will curl your toes. I usually don’t find women reading men hot, but well, don’t believe me? Listen to the 30-second sample on here. Generally speaking, the reading’s a bit slow, but it’s the South, so there’s no rush. Overall, it definitely works. Nota bene: Lauren Fortgang has also narrated Jennifer Armintrout's Blood Ties series.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eternal Rider – Lords of Deliverance, Book 1

1. Eternal Rider (April 7, 2011) 3 out of 5
2. Immortal Rider (expected 2011)

Author:  Larissa Ione
Narrator:  Hillary Huber - 3.5 out of 5
Length:  12:33, purchased on audible 

You know this story, or so you think.  The Bible and the Demonica predict the way the world will end, but the end is not yet certain.  The fate of mankind rests upon the shoulders of the four horsemen.  Ares, war. His brother, Thanatos, death.  Their sister, Limos, famine.  They are half succubus and half angel, cursed to be the heralds of the end of days.  So long as they do not succumb to evil, so long as their seals remain whole, this world has a chance. These siblings fight to hold off the Apocalypse after the seal of their brother, Reseph, is broken.  Now called pestilence, Reseph, beyond redemption, is determined to break Ares’s seal.  All he has to do is kill the seal-bearer, for if two seals break, so shall the rest.

Enter Cara Thornhart, a human with the gift to heal sick animals.  Just her luck that one night, a hellhound pup with a silver bullet wound is dropped off on her door step.  In a classic case of no good deed goes unpunished, Cara saves the puppy which makes the so-called good guys torture her after they assume she’s a demon.  Ultimately, saving the pup gets Cara cursed to be Ares’s seal-bearer, which makes her the target of Pestilence and every demon itching for the end of the world.  It is also a slow but inevitable death-sentence as the seal was never meant to be housed in a human body.  As soon as Cara dies so will the rest of the world.

Surprisingly Good Sappy/Badass Romance:
I have a strict NST [no shit-talking] policy, see FAQ below, and therefore many of the audiobooks I listen to never get reviewed. Without naming names or pointing fingers, I can safely say that half of the audiobooks I refuse to review fall under the category of the-biggest-most-badass-preternatural-mofo-ever-who’d-kill-you-for-a-dollar-falls-for-innocent-helpless-blond-because-she-just-that-pretty-so-hard-it’s-twilight-and-then-they-have-lots-and-lots-of-sex.  Frankly, I can willfully suspend my disbelief in werewolves, demons, zombies, witches, fairies and vampires, but any scenario where a sociopath who, by falling for Barbie, turns into Ken, is just too saccharine for me to swallow.  However, much like with Twilight, so many people went crazy over Eternal Rider that I bought the audiobook fully intending to give it a listen and forget about it.

I was pleasantly surprised.  Don’t get me wrong – this book fits squarely in the-biggest-most-badass-preternatural-mofo-ever-who’d-kill-you-for-a-dollar-falls-for-innocent-helpless-blond-because-she-just-that-pretty-so-hard-it’s-twilight-and-then-they-have-lots-and-lots-of-sex category. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the intro then skip to the epilogue. Told yah.  But it worked for me because the main story is about something bigger than boy (or rather immortal harbinger of death) meets girl. The fate of the world is at stake, and Ares and Cara, their feelings and issues, are on the sidelines.  There’s also plenty of action, the narration moving in third-person over the deeds of the good, the bad, and the ugly, as the big players take sides in the coming Celestial battle.  I was particularly impressed by how appealing Cara was.  She’s definitely an ingénue – innocent, sweet, only two previous long-term lovers, strictly missionary, you get the picture.  But we are introduced to Cara while she is saving the life of the ugliest mutt known to man, and her selflessness comes across not only as genuine but as active rather than passive. She is proactively good.  I also want to praise Larissa Ione like I should for the way she described Ares’s emotions.  Describing the badass male’s point of view when he’s falling for a girl is usually what makes me put down the audiobook and reach for a spoon on which to gag. Never happened with Eternal Rider. Larissa Ione manages to maintain the integrity of Ares as the epitome of war while getting across how hard he fell for Cara.  There are lines in this audiobook that basically state, “was he developing a crush, he wondered?  Man, he needed to go kill something.” It’s enough to hint at attraction while bringing back that chocking amount of testosterone the badass male is supposed to have that makes the listener smile.

So why only a 3?  I had issues with the ending. There was so much build up, so many lives at stake, so many ways that a happy ending seemed absolutely impossible throughout this audiobook.  I reveled in that tension, paying close attention to any possible foreshadowing in the supporting characters and small details that could unravel that mystery.  I even came up with a few scenarios on how the story could work out, but in none of these scenarios could there be a happy ending on all counts. It seemed downright impossible.  And then – puff - a deus ex machina, and quite literally.  In no way could a listener have possibly foreseen the ending, and when audiobooks end like that I feel - well, happy, sure, everyone loves a happy ending, but I also feel a bit cheated.  
On Narration:
Hillary Huber’s voice is rather soft but still mature and age-appropriate.  Her reading of the sex scenes was well done and her male voices are believable enough not to take away from the story.  I enjoyed her reading of Limos, who sounds like a California surfer girl and from Larissa Ione’s descriptions that seems very accurate. The only thing I didn’t quite like was that the general narrative voice from Cara's point of view, which I think was supposed to sound shocked but came off sounding a little bit bored.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Grave Peril – The Dresden Files series, Book 3

1.  Storm Front  (July 2002)
2.  Fool Moon  (April 2003)
3.  Grave Peril  (July 2005) – 4 out of 5
4.  Summer Knight  (March 2007)
5.  Death Masks  (October 2009)
6.  Blood Rites  (April 2010)
7.  Dead Beat  (April 2010)
8.  Proven Guilty  (April 2009)
9.  White Night  (April 2009)
10.  Small Favor  (April 2008)
11.  Turn Coat  (April 2009)
12.  Changes  (April 2010)
13.  Ghost Story  (July 2011)

Author:  Jim Butcher
Narrator:  James Marsters – 5 out of 5
Length: 11:59, purchased on audible 
In the Chicago Yellow Pages, there is only one entry under “Wizard.”  If you lost something, need a ghost removed, or a charm to ward of bad spirits, you can call Harry Dresden. No love potions, please. Most people in Chicago think Harry is a joke, but most people in Chicago don’t know that they walk among werewolves, vampires, the fae, as well as witches, wizards, and ghosts. Those people also don’t know that most of Harry’s paycheck comes from his contract with the police, keeping the people of Chicago safe from the supernatural.

Taking place a year after Fool Moon, book 2, Harry and Michael Carpenter, a Christian knight, have been running ragged all over town, banishing an unusual increase of harmful ghosts that are invading Chicago from the Nevernever at an alarming rate.  While he’s busy trying to keep Chicago safe, Harry must also keep himself safe from the two women who want him most.  One woman wants Harry alive.  Dresden’s godmother, the faerie Leanansidhe, wants Harry to finally fulfill a pact he entered long ago to serve her in return for her giving him enough power to escape his prior mentor.  Lean is determined to have Harry for a hellbound. The other woman wants Harry dead.  Bianca St. Claire, a vampire who runs a bordello and has been promoted to the head of the Red Court, blames Harry for the death of her friend and human servant.  In Storm Front, Harry protected himself from Bianca by attacking her with a handkerchief filled with sunshine.  The attack injured Bianca so badly, she ended up feeding on her friend until she died.  Bianca is determined that Harry pay.
Harry Potter all grown up:
You have to love Harry Dresden, the wizard.  He can make fire with his fingers, fling off bullets with a word, and make ghost dust from depleted uranium so Michael, the templar knight with a sword made from a nail off The Cross, can dispatch the ghost back to Nevernever. This audiobook opens up with a forward by Jim Butcher, in which he references that many consider Grave Peril to be a turning point in the Dresden Files. This is so true. I enjoyed Storm Front, but I wasn’t blown away by it.  I had felt that the characters were archetypes, including Susan Rodriguez, who was set up in that first book as the future love interest.  Her character – and the relationship between her and Harry – deepens in this audiobook.  The interesting part about this audiobook is its lack of focus.  Storm Front was vampires.  Full moon was werewolves.  Grave Peril was supposed to be about ghosts, but it also concentrates on the vampires and introduces the fae. This audiobook sets up the rest of the conflicts extrapolated in the Dresden Files series, and you can really see that in the ending with Harry and Susan.  Of course, the best part of Grave Peril is what draws all reader and listeners to the Dresden files: Jim Butcher’s unique and engaging voice.  He has such fantastic descriptions, like when Harry watches Michael interact with his wife, and describes himself feeling like a “hungry orphan in a Dickens novel,” looking at something he can never have.
On Narration:
James Marsters does not do voices. He’s a storyteller, but he’s no Lorelei King, Cynthia Hollowayor Tavia Gilbert, who give you consistent characters with specific and recognizable voices that become part and parcel of the characters’ identities to the listeners.  James Marsters has only three voices: (1) male – the voice for basically every character; (2) slightly British male – the male voice with a vaguely English accent for Bob, the ghost, and Thomas, the Vampire; and (3) female – the male voice, but softer and quiet. So why do I rate Marsters 5 out of 5?  No, it is not because he played Spike on Buffy, the Vampire SlayerIt’s his style in reading that really brings the Dresden Files to life.  Sure, his lack of voices makes figuring out what’s internal and what’s external when it comes to dialogue hell, but he has such a perfect, raspy, film noir way of reading these paranormal mysteries that not only works but connects the purpose of the audiobook to the listener.  For example, Grave Peril starts out with a rather frightening scene where a ghost is about to kill a nursery full of babies in a hospital.  James Marsters’s reading is down-right haunting.  When the ghost starts losing it, remembering her death, and recalling the axe she used to dispatch her abusive husband, I had goosebumps on my arms.  Also, his lack of a “female” voice – that is, pitching his voice high to make it sound girly and instead choosing to read in his normal voice but at a quieter tone – works great.  Frankly, when men do “female” voices, I usually wind up giggling, which works fine with comedies, but with thrillers, not so much.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf – Naked Werewolf Series, book 2

"Insert awkward pause in which I stare at Nick as if he's whistling 'Oh, Canada' out of one nostril."

1.   How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf  (February 22, 2011)        – 4 out of 5 

2.   The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf  (March 29, 2011)       – 4.5 out of 5

Author:  Molly Harper
Narrator:   Amanda Roncini - 4 out of 5
Length: 8:04, purchased on audible

At the end of How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, Maggie Graham, a young female werewolf, has finally received the recognition she so richly deserved after dispatching the conniving Alpha-apparent, Eli, and after her older bigger brother, Cooper, settled down with a thoroughly human Mo to have a human family in Grundy, Alaska.  Now, Maggie is the pack alpha of the Crescent Valley werewolves – the sheriff of this-here town.  Unfortunately, too many of the more traditional wolves are waiting for Maggie to find a big bad wolf for a mate to take over that sheriff role.  With furry suitors knocking down Maggie’s door, the last thing she needs is Nick Thatcher, a sexy zoological anthropologist who’s convinced that werewolves exist, and what’s more, that they exist in Grundy. Maggie tries to make Nick go away.  Instead, she gets closer to him than she ever meant to.  Even worse, after Nick arrives, it appears that someone is trying to kill Maggie and attack her packmates.  Can she carry on a romance with a human, protect her pack, and still maintain her alphahood?

True Comedic Pack Mysteries:
It’s no secret that I love Molly Harper, as noted by the short interview posted here. Her writing is snarky, funny, witty, and a joy to sit back and listen to.  I was a bit worried about the book being from Maggie’s point of view as Maggie comes off as a rather flat hard-ass character in How to Flirt, but fifteen minutes into the audiobook, I knew I was not going to be disappointed.  

This book paces better than How to Flirt. We understand the main conflict immediately, and Nick enters Maggie's life almost from the first part of the audiobook.  And then there’s Nick himself – a tall, sexy, educated, blond-haired, blue-eyed, bearded Viking look alike (mentally, I pictured Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy, but with glasses).** A multimillionaire, self-hating Trekkie with family issues of his own, and a passion for werewolves. I would never think someone like that would appeal to someone like Maggie, but then again, who would imagine Mo and Cooper hitting it off so well in the prior book? 

Another thing this book had on How to Flirt is a few good mysteries, which is not something I expect from this author – she’s hilarious, so I read for the comedy (and there’s plenty) but not for the twists and turns.  This audiobook contains at least two “Oh!” moments.  That’s when the audiobook presents enough suspects with enough motives that you don’t see it coming, but there is also enough foreshadowing specific to the perpetrator that you kind of should have.  The result is that when the book lets the cat out of the bag, you actually, audibly, say “Oh!” 

"Never underestimate the excitement of sex with the crazy," Sampson said, wincing when Mo smacked the back of his head. "It's like a tilt-a-whirl and a scary movie all in one."

On Narration:
All of Molly Harper’s audiobooks, including this one, are narrated by Amanda Roncini.  Her voice is perfect for the part.  It’s bratty, snarky, and bit tom-boyish even. It should reminds me of Amanda Roncini’s reading of Mo, in How to Flirt with a Werewolf, which I reviewed here, but I think I didn’t give her enough credit.  It’s not just that she reads the story with great snark.  She knows how to read comedy, how to carry punch lines so they hit home.

**  UPDATE:  Thanks to Twitter, Molly Harper informed me that Charlie Hunnam, the actor who plays Jax Teller on Sons of Anarchy, is actually who she based Nick's physical description on!