Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Humorous Death – Charley Davidson Series, Books 1 – 3

1.      First Grave on the Right  (9:04), available here4.5 out of 5
2.      Second Grave on the Left  (9:30), available here4 out of 5
3.      Third Grave up Ahead (9:51), available here4.5 out of 5

Author:  Darynda Jones 
Narrator:  Lorelei King 4 out of 5
Publisher: Macmillan Audio 

Charley Davidson is one funny, witty, pain-in-the-butt Albuquerque PI.  She used to be a consultant to her police detective dad, and is now a consultant to her police detective uncle.  But there’s more the Charley than “Danger” and “Will Robinson” – her tits. She’s also a grim reaper.  Not the DeadLike Me type either, but the kind chosen from birth, can speak every language known to man, see the dead and let them pass through her, and remember everything from birth kind. That’s a hard burden for a girl who’s just trying to make rent and avoid getting killed while doing it. 

 First Grave on the Right – Not your mom’s chick lit:

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – or rather on the cover.  The cover art screams silly chick lit, but as the old adage goes, don’t judge this audiobook by the paint on the model’s toes.  This book is so much more.  The beginning is quirky, fun, and entertaining, and because of that humor, the story builds on you without you realizing it.  The listener’s sense of Charley’s complicated relationship with her family, especially her evil step-mother, starts out light and fluffy and ends with shocking depth.  Her interest in Reyes starts out seeming superficial before becoming a desperate need.  Somewhere between the laughs, the serious themes of child abuse, domestic violence, etc., sneak up on you.  An overall great listen.

Second Grave on the LeftTaking the Grim out of Grim Reaper:

Like First Grave on the Right, this second book in the series is a stellar read, and again, Ms. Jones dresses up a serious theme in humor to make it more palatable. Here, Charley has to find a missing wife and solve the cold case of a teenage who disappeared without a trace over a decade ago.  Ms. Jones pulls no punches there. And then there’s Reyes.  Charley needs to find him to keep him alive, but he doesn’t want to be found.  He’d rather let his body die, even if that brings about the end of the world.  What’s a Grim Reaper to do?  I loved this audiobook, but then again, I’m a sucker for bad boys. Son of Satan – how much more bad can a boy get?  

Third Grave Dead Ahead – The Best of Three Worlds:

Just like in First Grave on the Right and Second Grave on the Left, this third book in the series blends great comedic style, scorching, blistering sex, and serious drama.  At the end of the last book, Charley bound Reyes to his corporeal form. He is mad and he is taking his anger out on Charley by intruding into her life day and night. In the meantime, Charley is hired by a man to find his wife, except she’s sure that he killed his wife, or at least believes he killed her.  This book has more twists than a Chubby Checker song.  It also has a painful development in Charley’s relationship with her father, and a promising new friendship between Charley and a local biker gang.

On Narration:
I’m not going to lie. The only two reasons I purchased the Charley Davidson series were because: (1) it fit the paranormal/urban fantasy mystery genre; and (2) Lorelei King narrated it. As usual, she doesn’t disappoint. If you’re familiar with Janet Evanovich’s StephaniePlum series, you know how well Ms. King pulls of snarky, and there’s plenty of snark in these books. She gives great cop voice, and there are a ton of cops in this book. Lorelei King even does a good biker gang…wait, that sounded wrong. You know what I mean. In one of the books, she even clucks like a chicken. The things a narrator does for her art. 

Some fantastic quotes:
Some girls wear Prada. Some girls wear Glock 17 short recoil spring-loaded semiautomatic pistols with a loaded chamber indicator and a nonslip grip.
...and then she glared at me, the same glare my stepmother used to give me when I gave her the Nazi salute. That woman was so touchy about her resemblance to Hitler.
If I couldn't be a good example, I'd just have to be a horrible warning.
 I like to see the glass as half full, hopefully of Jack Daniels.
I strode toward Mr. Coffee with lust in my eyes. We'd had a thing for quite some time now Mr. Coffee and I...
A sheriff arrested me. I could be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure my men-in-uniform fetish began that day. The sheriff was hot. And he handcuffed me. I've never been the same.
“No. This has to do with drugs."
My jaw fell open and I almost lost my toothbrush. "You're on drugs?"
She pressed her mouth together. "No. You are."
"I'm on drugs?" I asked, stunned. I had no idea.”

Let me express how much I don't care on a scale of one to bite me
But give up my business? The same business I'd built from the ground up with my own two hands and designer Louis Vuittons? The same business for which I'd sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears? Well, maybe not sweat and tears, but there was blood. Lots of blood. Give it up? Not likely. Besides, what else would I do? I totally should've gone to Hogwarts when I had the chance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thorn Queen – Dark Swan Series, Book 2

1.   Storm Born (January 12, 2010)    
2.   Thorn Queen (December 10, 2009) – 4 out of 5
3.   Iron Crowned (February 22, 2011)
4.   Shadow Heir (January, 2012)

Author:  Richelle Mead  
Narrator:  Jennifer Van Dyck 3.5 out of 5
Length:  11:07, 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.

In Storm Born, Eugenie Markham discovered that she was not just a powerful shaman who maked her living banishing other-worldly creatures out of the mortal realm.  She found out that she is half fae.  As the daughter of the late Storm King, it is prophecy that she will give birth to a son who will conquer the mortal realm for the fae.  At the beginning of Thorn Queen, Eugenie is stuck between two worlds.  In Arizona, Eugenie is still the shaman her mom and step-dad raised, living with her were-fox veterinarian boyfriend, Kiyo, who wants nothing more than for her to stay away from the Otherworld.  But she can’t do that.  Not after Dorian, the fae Oak King, tricked her into bonding with the land she conquered, and becoming its queen - the Thorn Queen.  On her first trip back after months, she discovers that she's in charge of the health and happiness of the people she conquered and her reluctance to rule is causing starvation. With her crazy half-sister still on the lam, the Thorn Land’s economy dying, and gentry girls disappearing, Eugenie needs to choose. Choose between humans and fae, between the mortal world and the Otherworld, between Kiyo and Dorian.  Something has to give.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
This is a typical Richelle Mead book.  Meaning, it’s fantastic.  If you’re not familiar with the author’s writing (such as the Georgina Kincaid or Vampire Academy series) then, to put it simply, the writing is dynamic and sexy.  The characters’ motivations, loyalties, and appeal to the reader change from chapter-to-chapter but in a way that’s believable and credible to each character.  For example, Eugenie in Storm Born hates the fae, kills them liberally, and is disgusted by non-human men,  Even at the end of Storm Born, her feeling about her own heritage can best be described as self-loathing and fear.  Loathing for who her real father, the Storm King, was and what he did to humans and gentry alike, and fear that her power, which she developed with some force, would turn her into him, make her more gentry, and take over her identity.  In Thorn Queen, these feelings shift.  Richelle Mead delves into what it means to be human – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  She also discovers what it means to rule, to be responsible for others, and how far she's willing to go to protect them.

As always, the sex scenes are phenomenal.  Between kinky bondage sex with Dorian and the rough, passionate instinct-driven sex with Kiyo, I enjoyed the emotion that came along with it.  It causes a good deal of tension and drama.  Here we really see Eugenie’s jealousy of Maiwenn, Kiyo’s ex-girlfriend and another fae queen, whose pregnancy has brought Kiyo so much joy and the insecurity this causes to Eugenie who knows she can never risk getting pregnant because of the prophecy.

On Narration:
Jennifer Van Dyck, who also narrates Rachel Vincent’s Shifters series, has a no-nonsense tone, that works well since Eugenie’s character is supposed to be tough, butt-kicking and over-all intimidating.  Her voice for Dorian is proper - slightly British, very aristocratic, bored and self-involved – it is just as the man is described.  I also enjoyed how the reading generally reflected the tone of what’s happening in the book. Not to give too much away, but there is a scene in this audiobook that concerns abduction, drugging, and sex assault.  Jennifer Van Dyck’s voice slowed and becomes detached, which deepens the experience for the listener.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hounded – The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book 1

     1.   Hounded (April 19, 2011) – 4 out of 5
     2.   Hexed (June 7, 2011)
     3.   Hammered (July 5, 2011)

Author:  Kevin Hearne  
Narrator:  Luke Daniels3.5 out of 5   
Length: 8:11, may be purchased here

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

He may look 21 but he is 21 centuries old, and for the last 2,000 of those years, Atticus O’Sullivan has been hounded by Aenghus Og, a fae Celtic love god from whom he stole a magical sword.  Atticus, the last of the Druids, has been hiding out rather successfully in Tempe, Arizona, running a New Age store.  The only ones who know his true identity are his faithful wolfhound, Oberon (with whom he can communicate mentally), his werewolf and vampire lawyers, and Morrigan, the fae queen of destruction.   Unfortunately, as the internet makes the world smaller, the Tuatha Dé Danann (the fae) discover the true identity of Atticus O’Sullivan and are again coming for the sword.  Tired of running, Atticus has decided to make Arizona his last stand. 

The Druids: they’re about more than just trees.
This audiobook was not what I expected.  I expected any tale about a druid to be another Lord of the Rings-type, high fantasy, Renaissance Faire-like, tight-wearing tale. Hounded is not. This audiobook is very modern, very urban fantasy, incorporating the real world, the real police, including jurisdictional and media concerns.  Tempe versus Phoenix cops?  Check.  Can’t go to the hospital because of the paperwork that requires? Check.  I really appreciate that real world considerations.  It makes the cynic in me happy.  

Also, having first read the official blurb on the book, I was worried about how many different supernatural creatures are in the story: werewolves and vampires and witches and fae and Norse gods and miscellaneous demons, oh my!  Usually, with that many different paranormal types, the reader starts to trip up over the storyline.  Here, it worked because the focus remained on the fae.  Atticus is the only Druid, and his power is witchy, making it easier on the reader.  With the lawyers – the vampire and werewolves – these characters are ancillary enough not to complicate things.  The only trip-up I found was with Granuaile MacTiernan. When we find out what’s up with her, I did roll my eyes.  It was just a tad too much for me.

Overall, Hounded was a joy to listen to.  The writing itself is very skillful and conversational.  The tension is there continually, and it builds easily from scene to scene, at times, honestly shocking.  I enjoyed learning with Atticus which characters he could trust and which he should fear.  There are some very sexy moments, although the writing is PG-13.  Also, there’s a ton of humor in this audiobook, especially from the wolfhound, who’s obsessed with Genghas Khan and French poodles, and Atticus's old neighbor, who hates the British and drinks like a fish.
On narration:
Luke Daniels does not sound like a 21-year-old, but he sure does sound like he knows his Celtic.  His pronunciation of old Irish names is spot-on.  When he narrates Oberon, he sounds like a big, loveable, fuzzy, panting hound. When he reads female voices, he doesn’t pitch his voice up high, but he makes his tone softer and breathier, which works as most females in Hounded are sexual characters.  His accents, specifically Polish and Hindi, were passable.  Overall, the reading went well with the story.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Crimes by Moonlight – Mysteries from the Dark Side

Book:   Crimes by Moonlight - 4 out of 5
Editor:   Charlaine Harris
Narrators:   Natalie Ross - 4 out of 5
Jeff Cummings - 3 out of 5
Length:   13:00, available here

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


1. Dahlia UndergroundCharlaine Harris
This book takes place in Sookiverse, somewhere during or right after the 7th Southern Vampire Mystery series book, All Together Dead. If you’re not familiar with the books or True Blood, this is a parallel universe where after the Japanese develop synthetic blood, vampires come out of the coffins and integrate into human society. Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, a several-hundred-year-old vampire who is famous for breaking the arm of a newswoman who refused to stop asking her questions, finds herself stuck in a hole with a dead vampire and a dead human after the conservative, anti-vampire hate group, Fellowship of the Sun, bombed her hotel during a vampire convention in Rhodes, Illinois. About 300 vampires are dead. Cedric, sheriff of Rhodes, sends Taffy and Dahlia to infiltrate the Fellowship and bring the culprits to justice.

It’s a fun story, but there’s not much conflict and little tension. This is clearly something for the avid fans of the series, but if you’re not familiar, you’re not going to truly enjoy the story.

2. HixtonWilliam Kent Krueger
People all over the county visit the ornery old Albert Goreman’s pig farm. Sure he’s old and mean, and he sits on his porch with a shotgun threatening the customers, but everyone knows that Mr. Goreman has the most delicious hams around, home-made from the pigs he pens. Martin Deangelo traveled from Hixton to visit Albert Goreman for a different reason. He is there investigate the disappearance of five Hixton teenage boys from back when he was young. Martin Deangelo tells Goreman, who was the investigator back than, that he is a reporter, that he wishes to learn the truth. This short story brings back the old adage: be careful what you wish for.

This short story is a very fun listen. It has a feel of a familiar urban legend or maybe just a story you probably already read in a newspaper a long time ago. The mystery is well foreshadowed and expected, but the ending is not. It has a unexpected karmic twist to it.

3. Small ChangeMargaret Maron
A 13-year-old girl whose dad owns an antique story tries to solve a mystery after a number of small items of little value begin disappearing. With her unique gift of shape-shifting into inanimate objects, Laurel transforms into a cheap statute of a goddess in order spy on the pilferer and to catch him or her in the act. Unfortunately, she's the one who gets caught. Next thing she knows, she finds her inanimate self kidnapped, stolen, and driven away in the trunk of the shoplifter’s car.

A surprising story. It’s cute, mysterious, and it’s nice to see a shape shifter who isn’t a werewolf or something similar to it. There’s almost a coming-of-age feel to it, and a pseudo-happy ending.

4. The TrespassersBrendan DuBois
The Logan House, located in the small New England town of Salem Falls, has an interesting history. The new owners purchased the it with dreams of renovating to place into a Victorian bed and breakfast. They even hired a lawyer to make their case before the zoning board. As a publicity stunt, they invited two teenagers to do a paranormal investigation. When one of the investigators drops dead, apparently from a fall, they find themselves with more of a problem than they can handle.

This is another urban legend type short story, like “Hixton.” This one is told from the point of view of the town’s sheriff, which gives it an unexpected twist toward the end. However, it does start off a bit slow though. It’s worth a listen, but not particularly great.

5. MadeedaHarley Jane Kozak
A pregnant woman, her husband, and their 2-year-old twins sold their small Pennsylvania home and moved across the country so that her husband could work his dream job for a major corporation. The dream job turns into a nightmare when her husband accidentally discovers that the company is involved in a white-collar crime cover-up. In their old, fixer-upper home, Jane’s twins start seeing a ghost - Madeeda, a purple witch. The disturbances keep coming. The twins start repeating a series of strange numbers “twelve-e-twenty-one-e.” Jane makes her bed, but a few hours later, it looks like someone had slept there. Jane sees cracks in the window that disappear the next day. The family pet throwing up because the twins insist that Madeeda made the dog sick. The pregnant Jane starts to unexpectedly hemorrhage, which sends her to the hospital after her husband confesses that his company is engaging in crime but that he doesn’t know what to do about it.

There's not enough that can be said about this short story.  I am not surprised that “Madeeda” has been nominated for an International Thriller Writer award. This short story basically has it all. It has a wonderfully creepy tone, and it has a moral theme. You empathize with the narrator, but you also understand what her husband is going through. You even come to feel for Madeeda.

6. House of Horrors - S. W. Hubbard
John and Miriam Harrigan and their two sons, the older Gordon and the younger Christopher, are an average family. Or rather, they were, until they took in Grace, a quiet and precocious 9-year old with a muddled past. The family decides to celebrate the addition of Grace to the family with their first official outing to Seaside Heights at the Jersey Shore. On the family's way into the House of Horrors attraction, a high-school-aged jerk makes fun of Grace's new family. Mysteriously, that jerk disappears inside the fun house. The police get involved. Miriam is sure that Grace is simply a strange little girl because of her past experiences with her disappearing parents, her disappearing uncle, and her abandonment by her other family to the foster system. John starts to suspect Grace has something to do with all the mysterious disappearances. John starts to think the little girl may be more than he bargained for.

This is probably one of my favorite stories in this collection. “House of Horrors” is strangely cerebral in that you really understand where John is coming from, how he’s feeling, and why he’s afraid of the little girl. Moreover, there is no overt supernatural element in this short story. It’s merely a question of belief. Miriam believes it’s all imagination while John believes it’s all real. What makes this story one of my favorites is without a doubt the ending. It’s not climactic, but it’s very satisfying.

7. Sift, Almost Invisible, Through - Jeffrey Somers
Marx is a jaded reporter on the paranormal, so he gets to hear all sorts of strange stories. However, he doesn't know what to make of the one he just received. A man comes to him for help. He brings him photos of himself taken through the years. In different locations and at different times. At his home and in foreign countries. In each photo, there appears to be a man staring at the camera. In the oldest photos, the man is so far away, he's part of the scenery. However, with each more recent photo, the man is getting closer and closer. Marx's new informant swears that not only does he not know the identity of this man, but that, in fact, this man is the man who wasn't there. He was never in the places were the photo was taken. He only exists in those photographs.

This is an interesting story because of the twist in the middle of it, but I found it a bit too The Ring at the end, which if you've ever seen the movie, you'll know is not morally satisfying. It has a nice urban legend feel to it and it's a good listen, but the strange mystery is never really solved so the story didn’t gel with me.

8. The Bedroom Door - Elaine Viets
Francine was never as pretty as her business partner Angela, who has friends with benefits and still maintains a strict professional life. She was never as pretty as her 15-year old daughter. In high school, Francine was a nerd. But she's a happy woman, with a loving husband, a great interior design career, a daughter who will one day surely outgrow her teenage angst. All this changes when Francine's grandmother tells her she saw Angela in her bedroom doorway. You see, Francine’s grandmother has a strange gift, or rather a strange curse. When she sees a person in her bedroom door, that person will is sure to die in three days. And Francine’s grandmother also has a feeling that Angela's death will involve Francine, and a crime of some sort.

Maybe I’m too jaded, but I saw the surprise twist in the end coming pretty early on in this story and it ruined it for me. Also, whenever you have a story where the hero is told in the beginning what will happen to them in the end, and they still step into that scenario, the story may lack credibility it isn’t properly steered. This hero should have, due to circumstances, really, truly, had no choice but to act the way her grandmother had predicted.  However, even in the emotionally charged way that this story was written toward the end, I felt that our hero should have (and more importantly could have) acted differently.

9. The Conqueror Worm - Barbara D'Amato
Neil is a careful man with a guilty conscience. This conscience starts sending Neil emails. Emails from Burko, his friend who had died. Emails that call him by a nickname only he and Burko knew.  Emails that details a night of horror that only he and Burko could remember. Emails that accuse him of being the cause of Burko's death.  Emails that disappear after reading, that don't show up in photos, that no one else can see.

This story definitely has an urban legend feel, which usually makes me enjoy it, but this short story missed the spot for me. There was something that felt kind of O.C.D. about the characters. I didn’t connect with Neil enough to care about him. I cared more about his girlfriend, which made the ending fun and definitely made me smile, but she’s not the main character, so the majority of the story was very Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.”

10. In Memory of the Sibylline - Lou Kemp
This tale is the beginning of one of the most well-known ghost stories to date. It takes place when most of the Third World was part of some larger European-based empires, back when Britannia ruled the waives. A doctor, his pregnant wife, and his young daughter Felicity find themselves on board with an unscrupulous captain who has dealings with pirates and a mysterious, magical prisoner who is to be kept away from all other persons.The prisoner tells us he has been imprisoned because he practices witchcraft.  We soon learn that he is no prisoner at all, but that all others are really his prisoner.

I loved this story. It’s recognizable, especially now with the popular Pirate of the Caribbean. Parts of the story still remain a mystery, as the short story seems to start at the end.  Perhaps I didn’t pay close enough attention, but I’m not sure exactly what happens at the end either to Felicity or to the doctor. There is entirely too much left to speculation about where the story, or the ship, really goes. Still, I enjoyed the listen.

11. The Bloodflower - Martin Meyers
Hope was ugly, fat, limp hair, bad skin, and had a terrible job in the mail room of the cable station. Then she met Pandora, her landlady, who gave Hope an amulet in honor of the goddess Hecate. Now, Hope is beautiful, sexy, with a great job as a cable producer. She is everything she ever wanted to be, but at what cost?

I did not enjoy this story. I think the author was going for a moral, but I cannot figure out what it was since every character is despicable. Perhaps the point is that beauty is skin deep, but when Hope was ugly, she didn’t seem much better a human being. Her love interest, Rusty, is also morally bankrupt. He best friend is awful.  Her bosses, her coworkers, all terrible human beings.  It just seems like this story is filled to the brim with outwardly beautiful, internally awful humans who end up in a hell of their own making, but deserve each other and deserve to be there.

12. The AwarenessTerrie Farley Moran
A banshee who has followed the O’Connor clan in America has spent her life properly mourning the line and their descendents with the banshee cry to mark each of their deaths. But when the banshee gets the awareness of Casey Rinegold's death, something is different. It isn’t just a death, but likely a murder. And the banshee feel that the proper send off is not to merely wail but to solve the crime and bring the murderer to justice.

This story is a typical mystery with some fun references to Irish lore. Personally, I always roll my eyes when at the end the culprit spills all of her or her plans and reasons for killing and how it was done. It just seems too easy. But overall, a surprisingly fun listen,

13. TadesvilleJack Fredrickson
Jim Crack (as in Jimmy crack corn) returned from the war to Michigan in 1954. He, the banjo man, and his veteran buddies, who play the jug and the washboard, travel town to town, playing grassroots favorites and then “browsing” or rather stealing and pilfering the town before high-tailing to the next one. Then they come upon Tadesville, a seemingly abandoned village that no one's heard of. When no one comes out to hear them play and sing, the boys go browsing. Jim Crack refuses. He is starting to worry about his choices in life, about his moral standing. Instead of stealing gasoline in random garages as he's instructed to do, he walks down the road and finds a woman in the woods of Tadesville. She's beautiful.  She asks him if he’s “greedy."  The beautiful woman him a cheap-looking ring and tells him they'll wait and see.

This was a strangely depressing story. It reminds me of something that happened to a bunch of Odysseus’s men in the Odyssey. Rolling with that theme, the whole grassroots hoedown band reminds me of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? I honestly didn’t expect it to be depressing. It was a good listen, but the ending threw me through a loop.

14. LimboSteve Brewer
A hired thug wakes up in the morgue, light streaming out of bullet hole in his head. He has no memory of what happened, how he got there, and who tried to kill him. But has some memory of some of the bad guys he's had dealings with.  The thug binds up his head, steals the clothes off the morgue attendant he scared to death by rising, and is out to find out who killed him and to make that person pay.

I didn’t particularly like this story. The characters is typical as are the twists. What I did like in this short story was the sense of karma and the idea of killing someone you hate twice.

15. The InsiderMike Wiecek
Earnest Appleworth comes to a private security man, one who specializes in ghosts and used to work for the Lehman Brothers, with a very strange problem. Earnest is making too much money. A ghost of a horribly massacred man in tattered businessware is giving Earnest tips on the stock market. The ghost is always right. So is it a crime for Earnest to accept these tips? Is it a case of insider trading? That depends on who this ghost was in real life. Earnest would like the security man to find out.

This story was saved by the twist ending. The ghost’s motivations in making Earnest rich don’t particularly jive with me. I didn’t really care one way or the other who killed the ghost. What hits the spot is the answer to the real question: how does this ghost know which stocks to bid on? Surely ghosts can’t go forward in time, so how can our nameless ghost always be right on which stocks will make money? The answer is a bit like peeking under a magician's sleeve.  It will make you smile.

16. Swing ShiftDana Cameron
It’s war-time America, maybe 1940s, and Jake is asked by his friend, Harry, an FBI man, to fly to Boston to investigate how government secrets are being leaked out of a research facility in Cambridge. Jake plays the part of a janitor and easily discovers that one of the research workers is unwittingly leaking information to her boyfriend. But the case is just too easy. Why couldn’t Harry figure it out himself?

This story had a nice war-time feel to it that will appeal to those who enjoy a good historical story. As a mystery, it’s okay. As a paranormal mystery, I thought it was a bit overdone. There were a lot of gratuitous supernaturals in such a short story to make sense. It was almost like the Justice League of vampires, shapeshifters, etc.

17. Riding HighCarolyn Hart
Bailey Ruth is a ghost – er, “emissary” - who works for the Department of Good Intentions. Her job is to assist those in trouble. Bailey Ruth isn’t that great at sticking to all the rules though and is on probation when she finishes her last mission.  She followed the rules this time, but has to wait for the Express to take her to heaven, and that means hovering over a country club for a few hours. Getting restless, Bailey Ruth notices a woman who seems to be a victim of domestic violence, and simply has to intervene, rules be damned – er, darned.

This story is just plain cute. There is a twist in the middle that I didn’t see coming, but from that point on, cute is the word to describe it.

18. Grave Matter Max Allan Collins & Mickey Spillane
In the early 1950s, Mike Hammer (the hero of the 1947 “I, the Jury” comic) is a big-shot detective from New York City.  He comes to the sorry little hamlet of Hopeful to investigate the death of his friend, Bill Reynolds. Bill was a football hero, a war hero, and ended up a disabled veteran working in Hopeful as a handyman. Then, Bill’s body was found in the park, and the police assumed Bill was hit by a car. Hammer finds out that Bill had worked for the gorgeous, secretive Dr. Victory Riddle. Hammer finds out that Dr. Riddle’s last handyman was also an amputee like Bill. And who also died mysteriously.

The story is very, unsurprisingly, comic-book like. Mike Hammer is your average trench-coat-wearing, big-talking, New York City investigator in a small town. Victory Riddle is your average mad-scientist with a killer body and maybe a killer mind. There are very few surprises, and I’m still not sure there was anything supernatural in this short story.

19. Death of a VampireParnell Hall

“How do you kill a vampire? Silver bullets?”
“That’s werewolves.”
“That’s French bread.”
A private investigator is hired by a Columbia student, a goth chick who wants the private investigator to find out if her boyfriend is truly a vampire. The girl’s father is also very curious about the young man, whom he hates. But our investigator can’t seem to pin the so-called vampire down. He talks to him, but can’t get a straight answer. The next thing he knows, the vampire's dead and so is the answer to his identity.

Like with “Grave Matter,” and “House of Horrors,” I’m not sure there’s anything supernatural in this short story, but I suppose that’s the point. It’s cheeky, but the story has the same problem I’ve seen in a few other stories like "Bloodflower": I don’t sympathize with any of the characters. The goth chick/client is too annoying and childish. The perhaps-vampire boyfriend is too philosophical and evasive. Our investigator and his friend are too callous and self-interested. I understand the dilemma, but I'm not engaged enough to care about these people.

20. Taking the Long ViewToni L. P. Kelner
Marc, a freshly turned vampire, goes to a gala with his maker and lover Stella. The party is thrown by Ramon, the joker of the vampire community, for Velmous, Stella and Ramon’s maker. The party turns into a murder mystery after a beautiful human concubine, Rinette, is suspected of having killed her vampire employer Jeff. Marc, a contract attorney, is certain that Rinette – however greedy and dumb – is innocent. He takes on her case to keep her from being sentenced as a slave to Jeff’s maker.

I liked this story. I didn’t see the ending coming, and even though the main characters are all of the fanged variety, the story illustrates all the same human flaws that undeath can’t seem to cure like lust, greed, betrayal, love, pride and financial dependence. It’s a regular dinner-theater murder mystery with a little Perry Mason thrown in.

On Narration:
This short story compilation was narrated by Natalie Ross and Jeff Cummings.  I am familiar with Natalie Ross's narrations through her reading of Karen Marie Moning's Dreamfever and Shawdowfever, reviewed here, with Phil Gigante.  Therefore, I expected that like. with Phil Gigante, Natalie Ross and Jeff Cummings would duly read the stories, each adding the vocals for female or male voices respectively.  I was a bit let down when I realized that Natalie Ross read half the stories and Jeff Cummings read the rest without any collaboration.  For me, this hurt Jeff Cummings's readings more than Natalie Ross's, because I always find men mimicking female voices a bit comical.  I enjoyed most of Natalie Ross's readings in that her voice has a soft lilt that complemented some stories, like "Riding High" and "Small Change."  That same voice unfortunately emphasized the things I didn't like in other stories, like the rather naive and slightly petty tone of "Bedroom Door." Jeff Cummings has a great voice for film-noir type stories like "Grave Matter," where his reading of the small-town police chief actually gives the man's voices a "blubbering" edge.  However, Jeff Cumming's voice is just too cheerful for most of these stories.  I think his reading was what threw me most in "Tadesville," which I expected from his fun and happy tone to have not be as depressing as the story turned out.  But then again, that cheerful tone also threw me in "the Trespasser," which added to the twist in the story.

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 audible.com 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.