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Occupied by Joss Sheldon

Occupied - Joss Sheldon

While it did take me 3 tries to get into this book, I’m glad I stuck with it. Occupied is a thought-provoking work. The three main characters, Tamsin, Ellie, and Arun, start off as kids, each coming from different backgrounds. As they age, they are pulled apart and their friendships set aside though they do occasionally intersect later in the story. A fourth pivotal character, Charlie, comes into the tale much later.

While this story qualifies as a satire, I did feel that I would have gotten quite a bit more out of it if I was more knowledgeable on Middle East politics (past and present). For the most part, the story stood on it’s own though I admit that I often lost track of which character is a Godly versus a Holy. I had the feeling that the underlying alluded to politics were more important than the story and I really just wanted to be swept up into the tale.

There is a lot of repetition in this book. Lots. That is the main thing that kept me from getting caught up in this book. If the book was 1/3 to 1/2 as long I feel that it would have more of punch, the important scenes would hit harder, and there would be more poignancy to the disturbing bits. All those things exist in the book as it is but you have to wade through the repetition to get to them.

The last fifth of the book was my favorite. It takes us into a near-future view of a consumer driven society. It definitely had that Brave New World vibe which I quite enjoyed. Also, I didn’t feel I had to be knowledgeable about certain politics to get what the story was telling me. This was the most chilling part of the book because there’s a society-encompassing apathy whereas the rest of the book has plenty of emotions flying around as one wrong is done after another, usually in the name of Right.

So, all told, I’m glad I finished it and I can see how fans of the satire genre would be interested in checking this book out. While the repetition and my lack of great knowledge on the politics alluded to made this book a bit of a chore to get through, it did end on a very strong note that resonated with me. 3.5/ 5 stars.

The Narration: Jack Wynters gave a decent performance. He had some accents and some voice range though not all of his characters were distinctly performed. He sounded interested in the story for the entire book never going deadpan bored. The pacing was good and there were no technical issues with the recording. 4/5 stars.

➜ This audiobook was received at no-cost from Audiobookworm Promotions. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

The Elf and the Princess by Ann Del C. Dye

The Elf and The Princess: The Silent Warrior Trilogy, Book 1 - Anna del C. Dye, Anna del C. Dye, George Tintura

I started this book with high hopes. I liked the book blurb description and was up for an Elven adventure. However, this story fell a little short. The beginning was easy to start with but then the timeline jumps around a bit and I had trouble following who did what when. Now, if you get past that, the story settles on 16 year old Princess Adren.

Initially, I really liked her character. Her mother dies shortly after we meet her and Adren’s kingdom is in ruins. I worried she wouldn’t be able to save herself let alone her kingdom! But she has been taking sword-fighting lessons from a master, Donian. Now he was a fun character! I loved his harsh nature and no-nonsense training. He’s merciless in her training and she picks up the art quickly. Now, I did find it a bit too convenient that she mastered sword training so quickly, but it’s necessary for the story to progress.

Adren must venture out on a quest to find allies but her little world is one where women are kept safe and secure and don’t learn to fight with swords and gallivant around the countryside. Initially, I found her solution to this problem endearing, because who wouldn’t want to put on a mask and pretend to be someone else, especially if you have to kill anyone? Still, I was a little dismayed that in this fictional world, ladies in general have very little to do with the plot.

Adren hasn’t spent any time with elves and now that she’s met some, she’s fascinated by them. Here’s another part of the story that didn’t work so well for me. We know that she was raised with stories about elves and there’s obviously contact and trade between humans and elves, and yet dear little Adren is totally blank on Elvish factoids. Really? Sigh… So I felt that contradicted what we learned earlier. Then when she learns why her ears are the shape they are…. well, it was just a lot of drama for no reason.
Still, there’s plenty of action and armor and sword fighting and heroes. I liked all those bits. Then we have the love story. Adren loves a certain person and then yet another person is falling in love with Adren (unbeknownst to her). Again, I felt the love story was a whole lot of drama for very little entertainment. Also, the wrap up to that romance in this book was a little cliched and I expected that twist well before it was revealed.

All together, the tale held potential to be a fun high adventure but fell short with some inconcise writing and over-done drama. 3/5 stars.

The Narration: George Tintura did an OK job with this narration. He sounded interested in the story all the way through the book. He does make an effort to do accents and keep character voices distinct but they kind of go in and out. His grumpy voice for Donian is pretty good and most of the time, he does a believable 16 year old Princess Adren. He also makes a believable snobbish elf. 4/5 stars.

➜ Susan received a free copy of this book from the author. Her opinions are 100% my own.

The Ruby Brooch by Katherine Lowry Logan

The Ruby Brooch - Katherine Lowry Logan

I was pretty excited to dive into this time travel novel because I played way too much Oregon Trail as a kid and this book is set in the mid-1800s along the Oregon Trail. Kit MacKlenna is a modern day paramedic living on her ancestral horse ranch. Yet she has questions about her heritage and a small package left to her tempts her into the past to discover her true roots. I really liked that she knowingly traveled to the past. She plans well, studying up on the time period and packing certain supplies. Now I will say that I was a little surprised by how many modern things she decided to take with her (flashlights, IVs, pregnancy tests, etc.) and I did worry that would lead to many, many questions for her later. Also, she chose to take her dog and cat along for the trip as well. While I do like having furry companions in any story, I did find this an odd choice and I deeply worried the pets were going to be Red Shirts for drama down the road.

Then we’re off into the semi-civilized lands of Missouri. She knows that it will be hard to get a place on a wagon train as a single woman so she’s hoping to find a group that will accept her. She’s capable of seeing to her own food, camping gear, and animals so it’s really a matter of bending the social norms of the time. At first, the mid-1800s characters held to their social morays but as the story progresses, I did notice that there were sometimes unlikely reactions to Kit’s modern attitudes. Those little breaks in character took me out of the story from time to time and I wish that Kit had to work harder to either hide her modern ways or win others over to her ways quietly.

There is a strong romantic element to this book. I did like Cullen though I found the insta-luv between him and Kit to be rather convenient. Cullen is an interesting character but once he becomes involved with Kit they had this silly emotional roller coaster. Flirting, fighting, showing off to one another, ignoring each other, kissing, making up, etc. I was much more interested in the historical elements of this story but, alas, those were rather lacking once the tale was set up and off and running. This is a romance story first and foremost and a historical fiction second.

Despite the silly romance, Kit is a woman who does get stuff done. She’s a good shot, knows how to ride well, and has her medical skills. She’s also skilled at sketching. So she has a lot going for her if she can just wrangle in her emotions and stay focused. This mystery about her true relatives eats away at her throughout the story. While I can understand how that mystery can drive a person, I did feel she was a bit too needy at times, forgetting all the good things her upbringing modern Kentucky did have. I can’t help comparing The Ruby Brooch to other time travel books by the likes of Diana Gabaldon and Connie Willis. This book isn’t on the same level as those works. It’s more romance than historical fiction.

Some of the other interesting characters include Braham McCabe, who adds a bit of comedy here and there.The Barrett Family was very good to Kit and I feel I got to know Mrs. Barrett and Frances the best among them. Elliot Fraser is Kit’s godfather in modern Kentucky and he provides wisdom and safe household to return to if needed. All told, 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Teri Schnaubelt was awesome as the narrator. I really liked her variety of accents and the range of voices she had for men and women. Kit cried so much in this book (a little too much for me) but Teri did a great job with all the emotions. Schnaubelt sounded engaged throughout the story and all her character voices were distinct. There were no technical issues with this recording. 5/5 stars.

➜ Susan received a free copy of this book from the narrator. Her opinions are 100% my own.

Leonardo the Florentine by Catherine McGrew Jaime

Leonardo the Florentine - Catherine McGrew Jaime

What little I knew of Leonardo da Vinci before listening to this book was about his later years. Leonardo the Florentinedoes a great job of showing us who Leonardo was as a boy, teen, and young man. At an age we would today consider far to young to be off on your own, Leonardo apprenticed at Master Verrochio’s art workshop in Florence. The story excels at describing not only the work done at the workshop but the various architecture, pageantry, and statues around Florence. Leonardo was exposed to quite the variety of art forms and media during his formative years. Even though he was much older that the typical novice, he possessed a deep interest and no little amount of natural skill. Verrochio noted that and encouraged Leonardo to take on greater and greater challenges.

There’s a bit of intrigue tossed into the tale. Leonardo was alive during the time of the Medicis and the politics of the time often involved battles and small wars up and down the length of Italy. Leonardo isn’t interested in politics and hopes to never get caught up in a war, but there is this mystery concerning the Pitti Palace that threatens to suck Leonardo and his friends into intrigue. While I would have enjoyed the book a little more if this aspect of the story had more of a presence, I still enjoyed Leonardo uncovering information one clue at a time.

This is a family-friendly version of Leonardo’s younger years. There’s no gore or love story or even harsh words. All the characters are polite to each other, even the gruff ones. While I can appreciate that the focus of the story is giving us a good outline of young Leonardo’s life, it did come off as a little to tidied up. The 1470s were definitely harsher than our modern era with flush toilets, antibiotics, and the UN. A little grit would have given a more believable flavor to the story. Leonardo comes off as naive throughout the entire tale; as a kid and even teen, this would have probably worked but as he enters his young adult years, having lived without family and earning his keep from a young age, the naivety didn’t work so well.

While there are a handful of women mentioned, there are no female characters. There were obviously women in the 1470s in Florence and most likely there were some women in Leonardo’s life even if they were relegated to the roles of someone’s wife or housekeeper or cook or such. I would have appreciated even a token try at gender balancing this tale.
Leonardo the Florentine is a good source of information about Leonardo’s young years, if not detailed. I learned that Leonardo had no formal schooling (even by standards of the day) and had to learn Latin mostly on his own. This single skill opened a world of knowledge to Leonardo. His status as a student and worker at Verrochio’s workshop opened doors for him that would have remained closed otherwise due to his birth status. Prior to listening to this book, I did not know that Leonardo had such a strained relationship with his parents. Nuggets of info like these are revealed throughout the story in interesting ways. By the end, I felt I knew young Leonardo as a possible friend instead of some wise old man high up on a pedestal. 4/5 stars


The Narration: David Winograd did a pretty good job with this story. His Italian and Latin pronunciations of names and certain words sounded accurate to me. His voice as young, naive Leonardo was well done. There were a few places throughout the story where there were some odd pauses in the middle of sentences. All his character voices were distinct. 4.5/5 stars.

➜ This audiobook was received at no-cost from Audiobookworm Promotions. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti - Nnedi Okorafor

Young Binti comes from an insular people (the Himba) who are dedicated to their land, their rituals, and science. She is the first of her people to be excepted to this big university and she’s willing to leave the bosom of her people to go experience this thing called ‘higher learning’. I really liked Binti right from the start. She’s a great character to take us through this tale. I was caught up in her culture and how that differed from all those around her. The story does a great job of showing how Binti’s people have, in some ways, limited themselves by choosing to remain so isolated. There’s several details about the Himba culture including their otjize, which is a mix of oil and clay they use on their skin and hair.

Other students on their way to the university populate this spaceship and Binti makes a few friends. Alas, the jellyfish-like aliens Meduse attack the ship and kill nearly everyone before we get a real chance to know these new friends. The Meduse have a bone to pick with university and plan to exact a messy revenge for the perceived insult.


OK. So, I was indeed entertained by this story even though there is this sudden and not subtle at all plot twist with the Meduse. The story started off promising complexity and depth but once the Meduse squiggle into the story, we lose that. Deus ex machina becomes the mechanism driving the story forward from that point. Despite that, I still really liked Binti and was biting my lip wondering how things would turn out for her.


Binti gets more of an education than she ever expected. So do the Meduse. The overall message of the story holds true throughout the plot even if I felt it was a bit strained for the second half: acceptance and respect of different cultures. Despite the difficulties with the plot, I was entertained enough to seek out the sequel and I look forward to giving that a listen. 4/5 stars because I was so entertained.


The Narration: Robin Miles gave such a beautiful performance. I really enjoyed listening to her voice. She made the perfect Binti. Her other character voices were distinct and her male character voices were believable. I also enjoyed her voice for the Meduse. Binti goes through a pantheon of strong emotions in this tale and Miles delivered them all with skill. 5/5 stars

Wraith Knight by C. T. Phipps

Wraith Knight (Three Worlds) - C.T. Phipps

Wraith Knight is a cross between epic fantasy and grimdark fantasy. Our main character Jacob was a hero over two centuries ago but his soul was enslaved by the Big Baddie and he served as a Wraith Knight committing many atrocities. Now his servitude is over and he has no memory of his time spent as the repellent Wraith Knight. He was a very interesting character. He gave his life fighting the King Below but now that that malevolence is gone from the world, he is sad to see that the world isn’t a cheery paradise. He has a lot of conflicting emotions and the large cast of characters all treat him differently. Some are disgusted by his actions as a Wraith Knight. Some fear him. Some seek him out for his power. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with.

In this epic story, there’s so many characters. Serah, a witch of a sort, stands out for me as well as Regina. Both are powerful in different ways and both have an eye on Jacob. I also liked the interplay between the ladies. There’s a bit of romance later in the book, but in typical Phipps fashion, it’s not your standard epic fantasy romance. Yay!


Trickster was a fun minor character. It’s a disembodied voice that often speaks Jacob’s doubts, making them seem more plausible. Indeed, without Trickster Jacob wouldn’t have been so interesting as I bet he would have had more self-confidence.


Despite all these things the story had going for it, I still found it hard to be fully engaged with it. Parts of the story lagged for me. I really wanted to enjoy this story completely but I found that many of the characters held no interest for me. Also, I think the narration style had something to do with it as well. 4/5 stars


The Narration: Kevin T. Collins put a lot into his performance. While I can appreciate that, it was also tough to listen to this stylized narration for 12 hours. It was like I was listening to a Shakespeare play for all those hours. Every character spoke in this high and mighty style, all the actions were great and thunderous, all the prose had flourishes. I am guessing that Collins was directed to narrate the entire book in this style. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. I found myself quickly becoming fatigued and since the nuances were tiny, everything said and done sounded important. I had to listen to this audiobook in small chunks of 1-2 hours or I would start zoning out. It was exhausting to get through this audiobook. With that said, Collins never sounded bored with his own performance. His male character voices were distinct, though his ladies didn’t always sound like ladies, nor were they always distinct. The pacing was good and there were no technical issues with the recording. 3/5 stars

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk - Jennifer Kincheloe

Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it works as a stand alone.

I didn’t realize how much I missed Anna Blanc until I returned to her world of early 1900s Los Angeles. She’s such a charming character having a kind of innocence but also a deep determination once she’s decided on a course of action. I love how she can judge certain traits about a person while also finding the person as a whole to be worthy. Some would say that her current circumstances are all her own making as she could have lived a life of indulgence and pampering, but doing so would have meant giving up her freedom in nearly everything. Besides, living on a police matron’s salary lets her eat decently (if you count whiskey, kippers, and cracker jacks as wholesome food).

Joe Singer is also a favorite character. While he often has to rescue Anna from one situation or another, he is usually returned the kindness when Anna has to rescue him (though that can put a rub on his male ego). It’s obvious he’s madly in love with Anna but he’s also hurt that she isn’t willing to set aside her independence and become his obedient stay-at-home wife. I expect that eventually Anna will cure him of such expectations but until then I greatly look forward to the back and forth, the give and take between these two.

Wolfe surprised me in this book. He’s always so obvious about how he wouldn’t mind making some time with Anna in the police stables. He definitely has a misogynistic streak and is borderline lewd at times with his blatant comeons. Still, there are some moments in this story where he shines and I very much look forward to seeing what the author has in store for him.

The plot delves into Los Angeles’s Chinatown. It’s a seedy, run down section of the town full of tasty food and crime. Anna can’t resist going again and again despite everyone warning her not to. She’s afforded some protection simply because she is a White woman and Chinatown doesn’t want to be turned upside down by the police in the event of something unfortunate happening to a White woman in Chinatown…. which is exactly what has happened to the mystery woman in the camphor trunk. Joe knows that this crime is a match waiting to strike so he and Anna do all they can to solve the murder before it makes news. However, most of Chinatown is not willing to help, with the exception of Mr. Jones who acts as translator for the two (though Joe knows some basic Chinese phrases).

Missionary work was big at the time and could be a blessing and a curse. Several missionary ladies have been providing English lessons to those in Chinatown, along with their spiritual guidance. Add all this to an underlying war brewing between the Tongs, and Chinatown is a hotbed of impending violence. Anna doesn’t care. Sigh…. Joe, I really feel for you. Keeping Anna safe is a full-time job.

Humor and danger intertwine in this tale to make a delightful murder mystery. The historical setting provides a backdrop of sexism and racism all while being very interesting. Anna is the shinning star of the show, often providing a bit of humor as folks are a little shocked by how she deals with various situations. I really enjoyed Book 1 in this series and Book 2 does not disappoint, holding to the high standard previously set by The Secret Life of Anna Blanc. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Moira Quirk continues to do this series justice. Her voice as Anna Blanc is spot on. Her masculine voices for the men are believable and her Chinese accents are well done. There’s a variety of emotions in this story, especially for Anna, and Quirk performs them all well. Joe Singer’s emotions are also on display even if he is trying to hold back and I appreciated Quirk ability to get across nuanced scenes. 5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jennifer Kincheloe. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Dark Retreat by Grace Hamilton

Dark Retreat (EMP Lodge Series Book 1) - Grace Hamilton

There was much I liked about this book. First, the world as we know it is no longer there with all it’s technology and governments and such. While everyone believes that a large powerful EMP is the reason, the details are left sketchy, which I found very believable in this new world of limited communications. While folks begin to explore and rely on herbal medicines, they also concede that they can’t cure everything and diagnosing without medical tests is very challenging. The stage is set well and now we just need a good plot and some interesting characters.

I liked Megan at first. She’s determined to find safety for her daughter and she stumbles upon a remote cabin. Pretty soon, she meets the family that lives there: Wyatt, his brother Chase, Chase’s wife Willow, the men’s mother Rosie, Willow’s young son, and also someone’s neighbor Albert. There’s also the guard dog, Duke. Each character brings some skill to the table and I was pleased that Megan was able to pull her weight from the beginning with her hunting and snaring skills.

Now I did get a little tired of Wyatt man-splaining so many things to Megan. Yes, he’s got skills she needs to learn and she’s a willing student, but after the first round or two, I really felt it was venturing into the ‘pat you on the head, you’re such a good student’ realm. We’re often shown, step-by-step, how Wyatt makes a water filter or a food dryer but when it comes Megan’s skills, we’re just told and it’s very brief. So I would have liked some balance there.

Meanwhile, the plot thickens as a shifty character enters the story: Kyle. He’s out for trouble and we know it from the start. Too bad these well meaning preppers want to think the best of everyone. I liked that Kyle brought so much tension and danger to the story. It’s not just about surviving the elements; it’s also about surviving other people.

Megan’s character does get a little whiny later on. She’s got big trust issues and those push her into making some silly and possibly deadly decisions. If I knew more about her background, this might have come off better but as it is, it felt mostly like drama for drama’s sake. Toss in the near insta-love and you have some cookie cutter plot mechanisms in play. Wyatt was falling for Megan by Day 2 and I felt, at that point, it was more about loneliness and perhaps lust than about love. It’s OK for characters to acknowledge that. Still, I was happy with how their friendship deepened towards the end of the book.

Setting aside my quibbles, I felt the pacing of the story was good. I was never bored and I liked that even as they solve one problem, or are planning for a future harsh winter or such, a new problem crops up. There’s also the varying personalities that everyone has to get along with. The setting/world building is what shined in this book for me. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Andrew Tell did an excellent job with this narration. At first, I was a little concerned because our primary character is Megan and I wasn’t sure Tell could pull off a female voice for the majority of the book. He did just fine as Megan. In fact, all his female voices were feminine and each was distinct from the other. I did sometimes confuse Wyatt’s and Chase’s voices, but they are brothers and needed to sound similar. Tell makes a great grumpy Albert. 4.5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Grace Hamilton. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Terror Byte by J. R. Park

Terror Byte - J.R.  Park

This story started off promising: sex scene followed by several murders by unknown means. Detective Norton is assigned to look into it and initially he’s stumped. There’s no obvious motive or even murder weapon. Norton is reeling from the death of his girlfriend Mel, so he’s got that beaten down, drown-myself-in-work thing going for him. Norton is what drew me into this story.

Then the mysterious Orchid makes an appearance. She’s got skills and I wasn’t sure Norton would last the entire book. Thankfully, Orchid doesn’t want him dead right away! I went back and forth about Orchid. She’s got this ‘disguise’ and her Evil Mistress name Orchid but then some minor character easily identifies her doing her regular day job. So, not much of a disguise there. She’s fun but turns up too conveniently or gets out of handcuffs too easily. That sort of thing had me roll my eyes a few times.

While the story is indeed fast-paced, I occasionally lost interest in the story. It’s one fight or chase scene or quickie in the office supplies closet after another. There are a few quieter moments, usually when Norton is thinking about his Mel. Those helped balance some of the fast-paced nature of this tale. I did enjoy the scifi techno thriller aspect to the murders even if I found it lacked any substantial detail. The story wasn’t here to show me how such a cyber crime could be possible, but, rather, used the idea as a gimmick to set the stage and occasionally push the plot forward.

The story initially gripped my attention, but then lost it, tried to snatch it back, failed, tried again, gained a bit of interest, and then held it because I knew the ending was nigh. All together, it was OK. 3.5/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Rick Gregory had to pronounce the word ‘whilst’ far too many times in this story. I don’t know why the author used that word so often. Gregory did give it a second syllable nearly every time which I found to be a little jarring. Other than that, Gregory gave a good performance. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. 4/5 stars.

The Last Cowboy by John Isaac Jones

The Last Cowboy - John Isaac Jones

This tale starts off in Florida in 2017 but the bulk of the tale is set in 2007 as the main character, J. L., reminisces meeting his current wife. J.L. of 2007 has just been laid off from a Montana ranch but he has a fall back plan which is to go to Argentina and work as a vaquero there. Along the drive to catch the boat to his new life, he meets Karina, who is also making a journey cross country heading to Florida.

While the set up was there for this to be the romantic comedy it claims to be, it fell flat in many ways. The story felt very dated, Karina’s main purpose in the tale was to be the romantic interest, some of the situations just didn’t ring true, and there just wasn’t much humor at all. I’ve listened to several stories by this author and some of them have been top notch. Alas, this is not one of them.

To be up front, contemporary romance isn’t my cup of tea. With that said, I found the little bit of romance we have in this book to be rather stiff and not titillating at all. In fact, when we get near the end of the story (and we know from the beginning that marriage happens), the whole marriage thing felt more like a business arrangement between two people who have a bit of fondness for one another instead of a great sweeping romance. Now, if that was the plot point, I’d be fine with it. But since this is labeled a romance, I want there to be real romance & heat between these characters.

The book is set in 2007 but it really felt more like 1967. I believe J.L. is in his late 20s in 2007 so I expected some modern ways of thinking. He insists on opening doors for the ladies (which isn’t all bad but when added with all the other dated things, it leaves this impression of a cowboy out of time). There’s some arguments about Custer’s last stand and an old Indian show that J. L. catches. Then that restaurant scene where J. L. was the only one to know the Heimlich maneuver. Then that scene where he splashes a little gas on the vehicle carburetor to get it started and the whole car catches on fire and no one has a fire extinguisher or a fire retardant tarp or even thinks to slam the hood down to smoother the flames. I could go on, but I won’t. All together, this didn’t feel like it was set in 2007.

Karina was a problem for me. For much of the story, she could be any woman. She does get a little background here and there but her lines are pretty standard and she makes few (any?) of the plot-relevant decisions in the story. The first night she and J. L. are traveling together, he offers to sleep in the truck and get her a hotel room. But she counters by insisting they just put up a sheet between the beds. The next day, she confesses that she’s always been afraid of men and that she doesn’t know why (so why were you OK sharing a room with a strange man?). Yet she then launches into her upbringing with a father who beat her mother regularly. J. L. then mansplains the psychology of how she’s afraid of men because her father was an abusive spouse. She then has an epiphany in which all that becomes clear to her. Sigh… Really? Later in the story, she faints and has to be carried. Further on, she says nothing would make her happier than to have his babies. Then even later, she wants a daughter so she can teach her how to be a lady, because gender roles…. in 2017…. sigh. Karina was not a worthy character.

During the 2007 trip, these two get into several situations that could have been funny but they are told so seriously that I didn’t find any comedy in them. Indeed, the main characters rarely laugh at their predicament either. There’s not even any slap stick humor. All told, this wasn’t the story I was expecting. 3/5 stars.

The Narration: Richard L. Walton has a very good cowboy voice. I liked his deep voice for J. L. While he gets a B for effort on attempting distinct character voices, he didn’t usually achieve clear, distinct character voices. Sometimes he used a lighter voice for the ladies, but not always and he pretty much only had the 1 female character voice. For the male characters, he relied on attitude and emotions rather than actual different voices, with the exception of doing a deeper voice for a very minor character mentioned by Karina as she went over a memory. His pacing was good. I did notice some background noise (rustling paper?) once or twice. I liked how he handled J. L.’s rudimentary Spanish while being pretty smooth with Karina’s native Spanish. 3/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Feedback Loop by Harmon Cooper

The Feedback Loop: (Book One) (Sci-Fi Series) (Volume 1) - Harmon Cooper
Initially, I was drawn into this world that Quantum is trapped in. Every day starts off with yet one more attempt to kill him. He’s got it down to a T now because he’s stuck in this cybergame on some kind of loop. Life holds no more mysteries for him, except for the big one: why is he trapped here and how can he get out? This story definitely has elements of the movie Groundhog Day (which I always found boring) but luckily this story gives us just a taste of Quantum’s repetitive life before something new happens.
Frances Euphoria walks in, boobs first. Yep, her physical attributes are the first things we learn about and her skills only come on display later. In fact, all the ladies in this story (including a voluptuous waitress) are described first by their looks and perhaps, maybe, later by some important skill they have. After I finished rolling my eyes at this, I really liked what Euphoria brought to the table: A possible way out! Quantum will do nearly anything at this point to escape this personal hell.
The plot thickens as Quantum tries harder and harder to escape. He had slipped into a kind of complacency but now as he pushes back against the Loop, more and more deadly things and characters are set against him. There is also an unexpected ally.
Just as I was getting sucked into this tale, we neared the end. Things felt a little rushed towards the end and I wanted more out of Euphoria. While Quantum was surprised by who was behind his imprisonment, it wasn’t a surprise to me. 3.5/5 stars.
The Narration: Jeff Hays never disappoints. All of his character voices were distinct and his female voices are excellent. Also, his enthusiasm for this story came through in his performance. I liked his grumbly voice for Quantum and his ticked off voice for Euphoria. 5/5 stars.
I won a free copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own.

The 3 H's Trilogy

The 3 H's Trilogy: The Head, the House, and the Hell - Brian Barr, Rick Gregory, Brian Barr
The Head
What would you do if you found a lone human head in the yard? You’d probably do something practical, like dial 911 or bury it. What if that head started talking to you and begged not to be left alone? Yep. That’s the situation our heroine Elizabeth finds herself in.
This tale is equal parts horror, suspension, love story, and humor. First, it’s a decapitated head named Bill complaining about a headache. Ha! Poor Bill doesn’t have many memories but he does enjoy Elizabeth’s company. As time goes by, Elizabeth comes to care for Bill as well despite Bill’s off-putting odor.
Things move along as Bill insists they go in search of his body. More memories come back and Elizabeth is drawn into a twisted paranormal situation. Let’s just say that Bill comes from a messed up family.
It was fun and I wasn’t expecting so much humor nor the love story. Also, on a personal note, my husband’s name is Bill and I couldn’t help but picture his head as The Head in this tale. That just added to the enjoyment of this story, not that I want to decapitate the man. Just if he ever ends up in that situation, I’d like to think I would love him all the same. For such a short story, it was full of entertaining surprises.
The Narration: Rick Gregory did a great job as Bill the detached head. He fluctuated between serious and caring, pleading and decisive, with ease. His character voices were distinct though I felt that Elizabeth could sound a bit more feminine without sounding slightly cartoony.
The House
Retired cult buster Daniel Paine often chats with his long dead wife, a woman who he couldn’t save from a cult. Now the ghost of Alexis Bailey haunts him, begging for his help so that she can truly be free of the cult her family built. Daniel may be retired but he’s not useless!
It took me a little bit to connect The House with The Head but I was probably a bit slow due to allergy medication. Yep. I’ll go with that. So Bill, the detached head from The Head, is Alexis’s brother. The house at the ending of Book 1, The Head, is the same house referred to in this book, being the Bailey Cult family home.
What I loved about this book was that I often wasn’t sure what was Daniel’s reality and what was his hallucinations or products of his schizophrenia. It gave a very supernatural aura to the tale. Also, this story is quite a bit more serious than Book 1. There’s not much humor and no real love story unless you count Daniel talking to his dead wife off and on throughout the story.
There’s little glints of the true messy horror that is contained in the Bailey cult house for much of the book, adding to the suspense. Of course, as we near the end of the tale, those glints turn into solid imagery complete with body parts and blood.
The Bailey cult was interesting in that they do ancestor worship but in a very unhealthy way. I loved that Daniel used to be an excellent cult buster, world renowned. I think this would be a very rewarding, if tiring, job. I think a whole series could be written about Daniel’s career. (Looks hopefully off to the author).
In the end, things don’t go as Daniel thought they would. The House seems to have a spirit all it’s own and that is a malevolent one. I enjoyed Book 1 quite a bit but I enjoy Book 2 a little more. The serious tone coupled with Daniel’s character really reeled me into this tale.
The Narration: Rick Gregory is doing this series justice! I really enjoyed his narration. His female voice for Alexis was well done. Daniel has quite the ups and downs emotionally in this story and Gregory did a good job capturing those.
The Hell
This final installment is quite a bit more serious! Book 1 had some humor and even a touch of romance to it. Book 2 showed us how twisted that romance was but still had some quips and sarcasm here and there. This book is quite a bit darker. We take a walk through the Bailey family tree as we meet Gregory, the grandfather, and he reigns down a type of hell on the occupants of the house. Never fear though! The ladies have been coming up with an escape plan…. of sorts.
So eventually we get to meet the paranormal investigators Susie and Mac. They’ve been doing this for some time and both are sensitive to the paranormal. Susie receives a desperate plea from a client to take out the Bailey house. Alas, arson is not in Susie’s skill set and pretty much goes against her morals.
But then we meet Mac’s new friend. That’s a game changer for Susie! This story was full of unexpected twists and I was delighted with each one. The ending winds up and up to a fever pitch as evil throws punches at good and good-ish kicks back. Not everyone gets what they want by the end (and that’s great for us rooting for Susie and booing Gregory) but things end on a rather positive note. I wasn’t expecting that but it was nonetheless quite suitable for this trilogy. 5/5 stars.
The Narration: Rick Gregory has done a good job narrating this series but I found this book narration could have used just a little polishing. There’s a few mispronounced words and sometimes the pacing is just a little off. Over all though, it’s a good performance. I can tell that Gregory is fully engaged in the story (perhaps because the Big Baddie is named Gregory?). He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were feminine. 4/5 stars.

The Hell by Brian Barr

The Hell: Book 3 of the 3 H's Trilogy - Brian Barr, Jeff O'Brien, Sullivan Suad, Zilson Costa

This final installment is quite a bit more serious! Book 1 had some humor and even a touch of romance to it. Book 2 showed us how twisted that romance was but still had some quips and sarcasm here and there. This book is quite a bit darker. We take a walk through the Bailey family tree as we meet Gregory, the grandfather, and he reigns down a type of hell on the occupants of the house. Never fear though! The ladies have been coming up with an escape plan…. of sorts.

So eventually we get to meet the paranormal investigators Susie and Mac. They’ve been doing this for some time and both are sensitive to the paranormal. Susie receives a desperate plea from a client to take out the Bailey house. Alas, arson is not in Susie’s skill set and pretty much goes against her morals.

But then we meet Mac’s new friend. That’s a game changer for Susie! This story was full of unexpected twists and I was delighted with each one. The ending winds up and up to a fever pitch as evil throws punches at good and good-ish kicks back. Not everyone gets what they want by the end (and that’s great for us rooting for Susie and booing Gregory) but things end on a rather positive note. I wasn’t expecting that but it was nonetheless quite suitable for this trilogy. 5/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Rick Gregory has done a good job narrating this series but I found this book narration could have used just a little polishing. There’s a few mispronounced words and sometimes the pacing is just a little off. Over all though, it’s a good performance. I can tell that Gregory is fully engaged in the story (perhaps because the Big Baddie is named Gregory?). He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were feminine. 4/5 stars.

Welcome to Ludus by Blaise Corvin

Delvers LLC: Welcome to Ludus - Blaise Corvin
Henry and Jason are engaging characters. They have a little knowledge about weapons, armor, and fighting and these are definitely put to the test right away on Ludus. Dolos, the omnipotent god of Ludus, is a jerk but Henry and Jason strike a bargain with him and are determined to win. I am skeptical that Dolos will hold up his end of the bargain. Still, I hope Henry and Jason best him by the end of the series.
The first big hurdle for the guys is to take out some orc-like creatures that have taken some human-like captives. Enter Mareen, the first maiden that needs saving. Now she’s not all helpless. She puts up a fight and is quick to recover enough to get out of there with the guys and back to safety where she can fall apart in private. So, she held potential from the beginning…. if only the author had used that potential.
The quests and magic continue from there. Henry is more the reactive, leader type while Jason is much more the thinker. The inhabitants of Ludus know how Henry and Jason got here because either they themselves were brought here for Dolos’s entertainment or their ancestors were. So they offer what knowledge they have to Jason and Henry.
There’s caves and dungeons to explore to gain treasure and the chance to level up your magical skills. It really felt like these characters were immersed in an epic fantasy computer game. Mostly I enjoyed the world building, though there were a few times where explaining the rules dragged things down a bit.
For some reason, Mareen remains our only female character for some time. Also, her destiny is to fall in love. Yep… sigh…. really? Eventually, we get Uulula who is basically an elf. She’s a bit more interesting than Mareen when we first meet her. Both ladies do get some skills but their main focus is to serve as love interests for Henry and Jason. Since there are so few ladies in a large cast, I really needed them to shine and they didn’t. While they had a little depth by the end of the book, they were pretty much cookie cutter, interchangeable characters which was greatly disappointing. Keeja is the one female character that holds my interest but she comes in near the very end of Book 1. I’m really hoping that the author keeps her around for the rest of the series.
All told, it’s a fun, breezy take on the epic fantasy genre even with it’s flaws. I hope Book 2 holds my interest more than Book 1. 3.5/5 stars.
The Narration: Jeff Hayes was the star of this book. It’s his performance that kept me going. All his character voices are distinct and his female voices are very believable. Hayes sounded engaged for the entire book and appears to have enjoyed giving voice to this story. I loved his serious, grumpy voice for Henry and his flippant voice for Keeja. 5/5 stars.
I received a free copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own.

Dead End by M. R. Forbes

Dead End: Ghosts & Magic, Book 4 - M. R. Forbes, Soundbooth Theater, Jeff Hays, Quirky Algorithms

Note: As this is Book 4 in the series, you really need to enjoy the previous books to get what’s at stake in this story.

Whew! Such a mix of feelings over this book. It was a great, wild ride but I am sad to say it looks like this is the end of the series. First, it was awesome to see Dani back in the mix. She is so good for Conor and just a great character herself. I love her snark and quick comebacks and her absolute certainty once she’s made a decision. There’s some unfinished business between her and Conor and that might break them apart. I was on the edge of my seat for part of the story waiting to see how things would be resolved between them.

Frank, the trogre, continues to be the heart of this little adventure group. Amos is a jerk with a noble cause (protect Dani). Prythi is also back and her cyber skills are put to the test. Then there is Ash, Karatona’s son. He’s a young dragon that owes his life to Conor.

On the other side, we have Samedi. He’s gathered so much power from tricking and cheating Conor. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Conor and his team try to stay one step ahead of Samedi… and sometimes failing. The woe! But Conor and crew rally each and every time. Even though there are zombies.

Death also enters the fray. Yep, that Death. Conor has to figure out what side he’s really playing for. There were so many ways for all to have been lost for our heroes. I was caught up for the entire story! I especially liked Forbes’s take on the Morrigan in this tale, even if the trio create a serious headache for Conor.

The ending was a deliciously tense bit! Conor has been dying for years from cancer but I really didn’t know how things would fall out for him. I also feared for his companions. Even throughout the action, there’s bits of humor tucked in everywhere. Ash and pixies and all of Amos’s comments! Snort laugh! The final ending was very fitting. Perhaps we will see Conor again some day but if this is all we get, it’s been a worthy series. 5/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this audiobook.

Narration:  Jeff Hays has done this series justice! He has a great, rough voice for Conor. I also love his voice for Amos, who is sarcastic or dissatisfied or making lewd comments all the time. All his female voices are feminine (he does a great job with them) and I loved having Dani back. He went the extra mile with the ultra-creepy voice for Samedi. There’s quite the range of emotions in this book, especially for Conor and Hays did a great job performing those emotions. 5/5 stars.

A Looming of Vultures by Richard Storry

A Looming of Vultures: Volume I (Ruritanian Rogues) (Volume 1) - Richard Storry

This was a fun listen! Rudolph (Rudy) enjoys relieving high society individuals of their valuables. I think he does it mostly out of boredom. His manservant, Wilhelm (Willy), has tried everything he can think of to break him of this bad habit. This situation provided plenty of humor throughout the story.

At a fancy dinner party, an expensive necklace goes missing and this newspaper reporter gets blamed but perceptive folks don’t truly believe he stole it. Rudy has a naughty laugh up his sleeve because he knows exactly who took that necklace. Meanwhile, Willy is trying really hard not to roll his eyes at this while others are around.

So this baron or count or some such decides to take extra precautions concerning his safe. He brings three others into the plan, including Rudy because he believes he is an honorable man. Of course, this just presents a challenging opportunity for Rudy to get rich. Willy once again tries to persuade him not to do so… including threatening to never, ever make Rudy his favorite chocolate tiffin ever again. Ha! This story had me chuckling at every turn.

So while I know I shouldn’t root for Rudy, I didn’t want him caught and punished either. Luckily, the story gives us a true villain. There’s murder and deception and politics! Rudy and Willy inadvertently get drawn into this and when pushed up against the wall, they have to decide where that moral line is.

My one criticism for this story is that the ladies don’t really get to do anything. They flutter about in expensive sparkly jewelry and tell their men how clever they are. Really, you could have left them out all together and the plot wouldn’t have been impacted at all. So I would have liked some real female characters.

Overall, this story was a delicious mix of humor and serious crime. The play between Willy and Rudy was great and often had me laughing. Rudy is a bit of a scoundrel but I can see him taking on greater things, especially if there’s a bit of silver or gold in it for him. I love that the author included a recipe for the chocolate tiffin. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Richard Urry was excellent in performing this book. He has distinct voices for all the characters and his lady voices are feminine. I loved his voice for Willy as I could just picture all the facial remarks this character made (rolling eyes, grimacing, etc.). Also, there’s a recipe at the end of the book and Urry proves that he’s delightful to listen to no matter what he’s reading. 5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jake Urry. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.