48 Followers
40 Following
susanvoss18

susanvoss18

Performance Anomalies by Victor Lee Robert

Performance Anomalies - Victor Robert Lee

Our hero, Cono, is a free-lance spy. With his heightened nervous system, mixed heritage, and gift for languages, he makes a great spy. Now he’s on a personal mission to assist a friend out of a heap of trouble. In Kazakhstan, the stakes are raised as European oil resources are threatened and weapons-grade uranium comes into play.

I was easily swept up by this book. Cono is perfect for espionage and it was refreshing to have a non-Caucasian hero. His mixed heritage and linguistic skills allow him to blend into so many different cultures. Cono is sometimes referred to as Cono 7Q and there’s a short flashback that explains this. He has a rare mutation on gene 7Q that accelerates his nervous system, giving him an extra edge. He can pick up on minutia and interpret their meanings quickly. Also, he has lightning fast reflexes. He’s just on the edge of being a superhero.

Early in the story, he receives a desperate call from his former lover Xiao Li. She’s currently working as a classy prostitute and unfortunately she witnessed something she shouldn’t have. Now her life is in jeopardy. Cono is several countries away but he calls in a favor with his long-time friend Timur who can get to Xiao Li quickly.

Once Cono meets up with Timur, things get messy. There are plenty of things that Cono and Xiao Li are unaware of, making it difficult to figure out who is on their side or against them. I really enjoyed the changing allegiances as people make backroom alliances. It made it so much harder for Cono and Xiao Li to untangle themselves from this mess.

My one quibble with this story is how the ladies are sexual objects or love interests, each of them. Now they are a bit better than Bond Women in that each of them has their own personality and a role that affects the plot. Still, I couldn’t help giggling and rolling my eyes a bit as each woman wanted to bed Cono. Maybe that 7Q gene also puts out an irresistible pheromone. Dimira is a teacher and has known Cono for some years. She provides a temporary safe house and some contacts for Cono. Katerina, a Russian asset, has also known Cono for some years and has enjoyed his personal company on their dealings. Xiao Li struck me as rather petulant and self-centered. While I didn’t like her character very much, I did like how she was a catalyst for the story and how Cono risked much for her safety.

There’s this torture scene that had me laughing quite a bit. Now that makes me sound a bit demented but Cono came up with an excellent way to get under the skin of his captor. The torture was harsh but Cono’s response was all defiance but defiance with a solid understanding of how to demean his captor in front of his lackeys. It was great. That is my favorite scene from this book.

I’m definitely looking forward to more adventures of Cono 7Q. This book kept me up to 1am as I didn’t want to put it down.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: David Pittu was a very good fit for this book. He did an excellent Cono, giving him a vague, unplaceable accent (as the book describes it). There were a ton of accents in this book and to my untrained ear, he did a good job of keeping each one distinct. There were also plenty of characters who yelled and Pittu used skill in making it sound like yelling without actually raising his voice and blowing out my ear drums. His female voices were varied and believable. There were a few tender moments and he did a good job working with those emotions.

Off the Grid by Robert Kingett

Off the Grid: Living Blind Without the Internet - Robert Kingett

In Chicago, legally blind Robert Kingett takes the dare to live without the internet for one month. Has the internet really added to the degradation of society? Kingett shares his experiences, both positive and negative, in this journal-entry like publication.

Initially, due to the main title, I was expecting the author to go off the grid, which means disconnecting from public utilities and trying to live off rainfall and solar power and the like. As I got into the book, I realized this was just a small, but very interesting, experiment of trying to live without the internet in a major city. The author still has his apartment, public utilities, and access to public transport and such. At first, I thought that living without the internet wouldn’t be too big a deal. (Living off the grid is a bit more rigorous.) However, I was wrong. I’m glad the author only had to suffer for a single month as he underwent this experiment.

I really enjoyed the diary-like entries as I felt I was discovering these little nuggets of wisdom at the same time as the author. As he struggled to get movie times for a visually-impaired screening, I struggled with him. Installing a land-line phone was hampered by the fact the manual that came with it is in really tiny print (the author, while legally blind, can read large type… if it’s large enough). Meanwhile, he experienced the rush and joys of meeting people in person and getting to know them through long phone calls or conversations in person, instead of digging up stuff about their hobbies on the internet first. The author uses well-placed humor even when he’s clearly irritated with something, making this a fun read.

There were two scenes that really stood out for me. First, the author was job searching during this month and the lack of internet service definitely affected his chances of getting a job or internship. The other one concerned his gaming system (I think it was Xbox, if I recall correctly). His efforts to play a certain game, which he had the CD for, were cut short when the game required him to be logged into his online account. Customer service was unable to assist him in this.

All together, this humorous account of one man’s adventure made me appreciate the internet more for the services it makes so much easier. I can pay all my bills online. Obtaining information is generally very easy. I have access to news, anything from immediately local to world view. Also, I quite enjoyed all the little references to nerdom – Harry Potter, gaming, etc.

I received a free copy of this book.

Narration: T. David Rutherford was pretty good for this book. He gave a sense of humor or frustration as the story dictated. The production was very good, lacking any external noises or lip smacking. While he only had to do a few voices, he did them well.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott, Andrea Emmes, Listen2aBook.com

This American classic, set in the 19th century during the Civil War, follows the lives of the March sisters as they grow up and become young ladies. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are often joined by their neighbor Laurie, who is living with his grandfather.

Some how I missed reading this book as a kid but as an adult, I have had the pleasure to read it twice, this being the second time. Jo is still my favorite character. I love how she often flies in the face of what society might expect from a proper young lady. At one point she cuts off a good chunk of her hair. She learns to writes short stories that sell to newspapers, so she has a source of independent income. She’s not caught up in the latest dance or the stylish lace. Yep. She’s much how I would imagine myself if I was trapped in the 1800s.

The other sisters all have their own personalities as well. Meg is the oldest and seems be a little mother in waiting. Once she falls in love, that’s exactly what she becomes – a dotting mom. Then sweet Beth embodies the tender heart of the family. She is so kind to everyone and everyone in turn is so gentle and kind with her. Amy has a flash of independence as well but she’s also rather caught up in appearances. While the Marches don’t have much money, Amy makes up for it in grace and practical kindness.

Laurie is a good addition to the mix. I really like his grandfather as well. Laurie starts off as a rather shy and lonely lad but the girls draw him out pretty quickly and adopt him into their little circle of confidences and games. Marmee (Mrs. March) does her best to be a confidant to her daughters while also allowing them the privacy they need. Robert March, the dad, is seen quite a bit less in the book though he’s totally doted on by the family when he is home.

The entire book is riddled with little life lessons. For the first 3/4 of the book, these are well portrayed in story form. The author shows us rather than tells us. For instance, I like how Marmee often gives her girls enough rope to hang themselves. She lets them make mistakes so that they will recall the lesson better in the future. The solitary thing I don’t care for is that the last bit of this book gets a bit preachy. I feel the author was either rushed or got a little tired of the book herself and started telling us the lessons instead of showing us. Plus, perhaps since a main character dies, religion is brought into the mix. Despite this minor let down for the ending of the book, I still really enjoy this classic.

Let’s talk limes. Yes, limes. There’s a great little bit of the book that goes on about these pickled limes that were all the rage at school. In fact, the teacher banned them from his classroom since they were a distraction. One of the sisters had to borrow money from another sister just so she could buy some limes. After reading that section, I really want to try a pickled lime.

One of the reasons I so like this book is that most of the characters are women and it’s not a big romance. There is romance here and there, but that isn’t the main driving force of the plot. Women have so many more freedoms and rights now than they did during the Civil War and yet here we have a well written and enjoyable book that has women actually doing things, instead of being these flowery, vague love interests. So, when someone gives me the excuse, ‘Oh, things were different back then,’ to explain why a book is lacking in relevant female characters, I can always point to Alcott and quirk an eyebrow. Yes, things were different back then, but women were still relevant. Thank you Ms. Alcott!

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Andrea Emmes did such a lovely job with this book. She made each sister sound unique and she also managed to make them sound young when they are little girls and like young ladies by the end of the book. She also had a variety of male voices which were quite believable. 

Kill and Run by Lauren Carr

Kill and Run (A Thorny Rose Mystery Book 1) - Lauren Carr

Set in modern day Washington D.C., a serial killer has just taken out five women. As Murphy Thornton digs into it, more possible victims are discovered as the pattern becomes clear. He will need the help of his stepmom Cameron Gates to untangle this mess!

While there were plenty of things I liked about this book, I often felt that I needed two maps – one for the family tree of all the relatives involved in this story and the second for all the different military and state police groups involved. Basically, I could tell that our main characters had to be very careful of stepping on toes no matter what they did.

Now that I have that little criticism out of the way, here’s the good stuff. I really liked how deep this mystery went. There were plenty of people involved and the events span years. Now there’s a young girl, Izzy, in danger. She was a real treat, being the animal lover that she is. I was on the edge of my seat sometimes hoping things would work out ok for her.

There’s a little romance here as there are a few couples involved in solving the crime. Murphy, who is working with the NCIS, and his wife Jessica Faraday are newlyweds and still figuring out some of their longer term goals. Incidentally, Jessica is related to the main Faradays in Carr’s other mystery series – The Mac Faraday Mysteries.

Cameron Gates, a police detective, lost her first husband to a hit and run many years ago. She since has remarried to Joshua Thornton (a JAG lawyer), Murphy’s dad. As that hit and run is revisited, Cameron and Joshua are drawn into this mystery as well. Cameron and Joshua have their own mystery series that I am sorely tempted to check out – Lovers in Crime Mysteries.

With this talented cast, we need equally devious and dedicated criminals to make a good story and Carr doesn’t disappoint there. A string of rapes is soon connected to certain men rising in the military. Now some of those women are dead. There’s a killer on the loose who is also a sexual predator. It was pretty intense towards the end complete with car chases.

I liked that not every thing came out all rosy. The true villains at the hear of it got most of what they deserved but the good guys didn’t get all they asked for. I like how that reflects life sometimes. With yet another generation of this tangled family setting up for a love match, I had the distinct feeling the author was prepping us for another spinoff mystery series. Hooray!

I received a free copy of this book via iRead Book Tours.

The Narration: C. J. McAllister did an OK job. The narration started off pretty bland but got better throughout the book. At first, the narrator sounded a bit bored but later on he seems to get into the story and the narration picks up. Also, from the voice acting I thought Murphy was much older and then his dad Joshua is brought into the story and Joshua’s voice sounded about the same or younger to me. The ladies voices were distinct and a somewhat feminine. He did do a really good job with young Izzy.

Slade by Eva Gordon

Slade, Book 1 in Team Greywolf Series - Eva Gordon

They’re both werewolves, but they come from worlds apart. Cricket is technically a Runt in the werewolf hierarchy, but her competence and ability to blend in as human has granted her honorary Beta status in the American Lycan Intelligence Agency in Team Greywolf. Slade comes from a long line of werewolf royalty where long-held rules of mate choosing are strictly adhered to. Recently, he lost his entire pack and madness threatens to consume him utterly. It’s hoped that Cricket’s Runt status will serve to bring out his Alpha protectiveness and ground him once again. Cricket isn’t too enthused about the assignment even as her libido lusts after the well-muscled Slade.

I’ve been wetting my feet on paranormal shifter romances this past year. I find some parts of this genre to be fascinating (like the shape-shifting) and other parts to be a bit over-pronounced (the damaged Alpha male). I found this book to be a better story than most I have encountered in this genre. It was Cricket. She made the story for me. I found her wit and sense of purpose and self to be refreshing and totally entertaining. She has a career and a place in Team Greywolf that she earned. Her status isn’t dependent upon the man in her life (another theme in shifter romances that has worn thin for me). I often chuckled at her sarcastic jokes. I think I could be best buds with her.

The damaged Slade was not much more than that. He has his royalty thing going, being a rich man in his own right and then his damaged psyche that needs healing. I could have used something more to give him personality. The lusty scenes between him and Cricket were good if a little brief. Perhaps that’s just my lustful hormones wanting more…

I did enjoy the big mystery to the story. Something is taking out werewolves, like Slade’s pack, and the Lycan Intelligence Agency is at a loss to explain it. One tiny lead gives us another and then Cricket and Slade have to go undercover and on the hunt. The action picks up and there’s one rescue after another. It was fun if a little predictable.

As a biologist, I also liked the few realistic touches about wolf hierarchy, such as all the sniffing, the nose nipping, and other such things. These details made the shape shifting, and especially the wolf form, more realistic and the other all story more entertaining.

At the end, not everyone gets everything they wanted, which I also liked. I don’t need everything to turn out totally happy hunky dory in my shifter romances. A few complications were left for the characters to work out.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Christine Padovan was great as Cricket. She has Cricket’s sarcasm down to a T. Padovan does tend to drop the last word in a sentence and draw it out, giving her speech an odd cadence that I can’t place. However, she doesn’t do this often when she’s doing a character’s lines. She does do it often when telling the story narrative and I feel it takes a little getting used to. Don’t be put off by it though as her character voices are worthy.

Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Kiss -

Note: This is the first book in the third trilogy set in the Kushiel’s Legacy series. However, this last trilogy is set a few generations later and stands on it’s own so don’t be afraid to start here if this book intrigues you.

The Bear Witches of Alba are all but extinct but for those few that remain, they do possess small magics and the Great Bear does look out for her own. Moirin grows up in a cave in the depths of a forest and from these humble beginnings she will be tasked by her divine Bear to fulfill a destiny that lies over seas. First she travels to Terre D’Ange to find her D’Angeline relatives, including her father. A D’Angeline lord and healer is intrigued by her small gifts and she’s soon wrapped up in a semi-secret demon summoning circle. She also meets a Chi’in Master and his student/body guard Bao. Perhaps her destiny lies even further than she could imagine.

I read this for the second time as part of a group read and there were weekly discussions which hold plenty of detail on what I think of the book. Once again, I was wrapped up in Carey’s world building. I fell in love with the D’Angelines when I read Kushiel’s Dart so many years ago. I recall my first time reading this book and how it didn’t wow me as much as the first 6 books. However, knowing this round that this is Moirin’s tale, I gave it a better chance. Indeed, I did like this book quite a bit more the second time through. I think with the first read through, I was constantly looking for reflections of the characters I had come to know and love from the first 2 trilogies. Now with the second reading I was focused on Moirin.

I loved Moirin’s small magics. She’s inherited a few from her D’Angeline side as well as her Alban side. Each individual one is rather small, but as we see Moirin grow from a child to a young lady to a woman, she learns to use her powers to great effect. Carey does a most excellent job of showing the reader this growth as the story unfolds.

Moirin is of the Maghuin Dhonn, the Bear Witch people, which we learned a little about in earlier books in the series. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Maghuin Dhonn directly through Moirin. While much of Maghuin Dhonn live in near isolation, they are still a connected people and will come together in larger groups for certain occasions, such as Moirin’s coming of age ceremony. Moirin has to work hard to be acknowledged by the Bear Witch herself, but that acknowledgement comes at a steep price, one that I think we won’t fully understand until the end of this trilogy.

As usual with this series, there are several lovely sex scenes. Carey doesn’t skimp but she also doesn’t toss in throwaway love scenes. These interactions always reveal something more about the characters involved. I found this especially true in the later part of the book where there is a princess and a dragon. I won’t say anything further as I don’t want to be spoilery. Just know that it’s worthy.

I do have one quibble for this book. At the end, there is some drama and death and I did feel there was some deus ex machina involved. It involves the ultimate bad guy and why he wasn’t properly trussed up. Even with this one small criticism, I did enjoy how the ending leaves our heroes in a complicated place, setting us up for the next adventure.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik is a joy to listen to. She does such an excellent job with the multitude of accents needed for this book. She’s also great with a voice for Moirin that ages as she comes of age throughout the story. Her male voices are quite believable.

A Fine Year for Murder by Lauren Carr

A Fine Year for Murder - Lauren Carr

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone.

Jessica Faraday is still having nightmares and unfortunately she’s acting out in her sleep and striking her new husband, Murphy Thornton. She needs answers as to why she does this. When their journalist friend Dallas Walker calls with some interesting news about the Pine Bridge Massacre, which occurred over a decade ago, Jessica starts to wonder if maybe she’s suppressed a memory from that night when her family was visiting the area. Now Murphy and Jessica return to Jessica’s family winery to hunt for clues. What they find stirs up Jessica’s memories.

I liked this book more than I did Book 1, Kill and Run. There were fewer family members to get mixed up and not much jurisdictional squabbling to keep straight. I was able to focus on getting to know Murphy and Jessica. In Book 1, Murphy had a definite role while Jessica was a minor character. Here, we get to meet her family and learn some history of the area as well. While I did feel that Jessica spent an inordinate amount of time frozen, crying, or freaking out, she eventually is able to struggle free of that and actually do something. She ends on a strong, healthy note by the end of this book.

The mystery is layered, which I loved. There are layers of motive from back then when a family was murdered. Then a few more layers have been added on over the years as blackmail and cover-ups come into play. I also liked this little side mystery involving some minor characters in the story.

Now about Murphy. He’s a Phantom, which is some sort of military special ops super secret silliness. This was brought up in Book 1 but didn’t really factor in, so I could ignore it. Now it gets more play here and I’m on the fence about it. He’s a trained, killing weapon, so you better not startle him… or drop hot tea on his pants. That seemed a little overdone to me. On the other hand, he’s a really great guy to have around in a pinch. I did like the straw trick.

Jessica’s recovered memories are sprinkled throughout the tale and sometimes they act as a deus ex machina to move the plot along. Not all the time, since the duo (and eventually Dallas as well) continue to find other clues. Jessica’s recovered memories were sometimes used well and sometimes I felt they were a little too convenient for the plot. Still, I was kept entertained by the uncovering of not only the previous crime but also of subsequent crimes.

What I really liked about this book is that it brought up some things about spousal abuse, like assumptions other people make. Jessica is having these horrible nightmares and she unknowingly acts out in her sleep, injuring Murphy more than once. In turn, he occasionally acts back without wanting to hurt her but just to stop her from seriously damaging him.  In short, they both have marks but people only react to Jessica’s injuries (which I think is very realistic) without asking for details or checking Murphy for injuries. I liked how the story incorporated this nuance of culture.

I received a free copy of this book via iRead Book Tours.

The Narration: C. J. McAllister did a better job with this book. I was luke warm on his performance for Book 1 but I feel he really improved for this book. He definitely sounded engaged and his female voices were better. Though his voice for Jessica often sounded like he was talking with tight pursed lips, especially during the romantic scenes – and that put an odd image in my head. That could just be me. I liked his big Texan accent for Dallas.

Looking for Betty MacDonald by Paula Becker

Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I - Paula Becker

This biography of one of America’s iconic women captures Betty MacDonald from top to bottom, from her grandparents to the relatives that survived her death. Her books shined a humorous, if sometimes critical, eye on certain aspects of living in the Pacific Northwest as one the last frontier lands in the country from the 1920s-1940s. Now Paula Becker draws the curtain back and shows us some of the things that Betty herself was reluctant to put in her semi-autobiographical novels.

After having listened to Betty MacDonald’s four novels, and having read her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books as a kid, I felt like I knew her somewhat. This biography filled in some of the blanks and had a few surprises for me as well. Getting to know more about Betty’s ancestors and her first husband was an interesting place to start. I loved that her mom was a no-nonsense kind of person and happily traveled with her husband (who worked for a mining company – if I recall correctly). This job took the family to some of the most rugged areas of the US.

Later, when Betty starts publishing novels, Becker gives a somewhat detailed account of what each one is about. While these books aren’t described one after another all in a row (but are sprinkled in among the biography along the timeline of when they were published), I did find the descriptions a little tedious. However, I have recently finished listening to them and they are still fresh in my mind. I think that if you haven’t read the books in some time (or perhaps you haven’t read all 4 of them) then this would be a good refresher for you.

For me, the most interesting parts were in the last quarter of the book – all that stuff that happens after Betty’s fourth novel, Onions in the Stew, was published. While Betty’s second marriage was evidently much happier than her first, it wasn’t untroubled. There were money problems which surprised me. Betty’s books were very well received in their day, complete with radio and TV series along with a movie. Yet success doesn’t always prepare one to manage money well, especially if one turns that responsibility over to a spouse. Betty was in the unusual position of being the breadwinner for the family and yet also feeling socially obligated to play the merry housemaker. Becker gives us details on this without falling into gossip. I really appreciate that she stuck with known facts and extracts from MacDonald letters to paint this picture of Betty’s and Don’s marriage.

While I had read on Wikipedia about Betty’s legal troubles (several people were not happy with how they were supposedly portrayed in her books), Becker gives us many details. Plenty of those complaining received a bit of fame. Some of them really seemed to enjoy it so it was hard to say that the portrayals in Betty’s books did them any harm.

I was saddened to learn of Betty’s death and this probably sounds quite odd as I’ve known since I picked up The Egg and I so many months ago that she was deceased. However, I’ve really come to enjoy her company through these books. As Becker’s biography walks us through her last months, I really felt for Betty. She died young by today’s standards but I doubt there was much more medicine could have done then. After reading her book about her lengthy stay in a tuberculosis sanatorium (The Plague and I), I can guess that she faced her final illness with the same pointed wit.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Paula Becker narrated her own book and since this is nonfiction, it worked pretty well. She tried her hand at doing a few voices when necessary and those performances were passable. For the bulk of the book, she does a great job of maintaining an even speed and giving slight inflections here and there, letting us know that she’s just as engaged in the book as us listeners are.

RazorWire by Troy Hallewell

RazorWire: A Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian Western (RazorWire: After Civilization Book 1) - Troy Hallewell

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Rock is an indie wanderer, traveling from place to place trading news and whatever he might have come by in between. He meets Caroline and her powerful father and is given a mission to escort her to the Wall. There her mission will begin as she attempts to find and bring back the last unscathed and powerful remnants of humanity. A tide of warriors is sweeping the land. They don’t trade, they don’t take tribute and submission. Instead, they seem bent on wiping the land clean of inhabitants and Caroline won’t let that happen without a last desperate attempt to push them back. Rock will have to figure out where his loyalties lie.

Basically, this was a Western given a little post-apocalyptic flare. It followed a pretty standard, and, at times, cliched, script. The beginning held a lot of promise and I was rather excited to venture into another destroyed future that was mostly desert and full of folks who have their own agendas. Once they started circling the wagons and shooting at warriors on horseback, I had to roll my eyes a little. This is a Western, which can be fun if a bit tired and worn.

On the plus side, Rock is an interesting character if a bit standard. I always have a thing for those strong silent types that are good in a fight but bad in relationships. Still, I was rooting for him the whole way. Caroline was your standard plucky female wild west woman. She’s beautiful and knows how to shoot but is a bit brash and wants to rebel. Still, she’s dead set on saving her people, if she can, even if it kills her. There were very few women in this story, which might explain why the world hasn’t managed to repopulate itself yet. There’s Caroline (who has plenty of lines), a mysterious female leader of the warrior tribe that is sweeping the land (who has perhaps 3 lines), a little baby girl that gets to be cute and cuddly for a scene or two, and then Rock’s remembrances of his own mother (who has 3 or 4 lines as well). This story could definitely improve with some gender balancing.

I also feel the need to comment on how the invading hoard all seem to be brown skinned, instead of a greater mix of ethnicities as I had been expecting with humanity surviving an apocalyptic event. Perhaps they are akin to a Mongolian tribe or perhaps akin to a Native American tribe. Since we haven’t met any of them individually, other than that brief encounter with one of their female leaders, we don’t know much about them. Still, their feathers, beaded clothing, horse skills, and archery all add to the Western story tone of the book.

Now I am very curious what lies beyond the Wall and why everyone thinks their saviors may be hidden in that direction. After all, no one has survived their journey over the Wall and returned to tell about it. In fact, bones of those who died shortly after traversing the Wall can be seen from it. I think Caroline definitely has her hands full in attempting this quest.

Over all, if you enjoy your standard fare Western and want a little more sprinkled in, then this is a good book for you. For me, it was so-so. It started off promising but the middle was very predictable. The ending has promise for the series with the Wall and beyond.

I received a free copy of this book through Audiobook Jukebox.

Narration: The author performed his own narration of this book. It was mediocre. First, the production quality wasn’t all good but it wasn’t all bad either. The volume goes up and down but never so loud as to blow out your ears. Also, sometimes it sounds a bit tinny and sometimes it’s good and clear. Hallewell does do a good job of keeping each character distinct. However, most of his voices appear to be based off old Western serials, which adds to the whole cliched Western flavor of this book. His female voice for Caroline is OK.

The River by Bill Stokes

The River - Bill Stokes

This is a tale of young man’s first deer hunt. The author starts us off with a personal note of how deer hunting has been a part of his life even if he no longer directly participates.

Set in Wisconsin in 1947, a teen boy on the cusp of manhood is invited on his first deer hunt. On the first night of the hunt, there’s stories and manly cooking at the hunting cabin as Uncle Duffy and his friends deal out the cards. Our hero soaks it all up. He desperately wants to be considered one of them. He feels a driving need to prove himself on this week-long deer hunt and he fears he won’t measure up.

First, I was a bit surprised that he was allowed to wander the woods alone on his first hunt as we typically make sure to go by twos on any kind of hike that is over an hour long. It’s a little unclear if the area was well known to our young hunter or not. Anyway, he navigates his way back to the cabin day after day.

There’s a rising urgency as the hunt progresses. The men shares stories of hunts past. I liked how the story built up and up. I could really feel the young man’s need to prove himself worthy. When finally the moment comes, there’s a big snag in his triumph, followed by a triumph of another kind. I was surprised by how things ended but was also well satisfied with it. Years later when this kid is a seasoned hunter, he will look back on this incident with wry humor.

I received a free copy of this book.

Narration: Johnny Mack continues to do justice to this author’s short stories. He does a good job of sounding like a young man and also of sounding like an older Uncle Duffy.

Dead Like Me by Kelly Miller

Dead Like Me - Kelly    Miller

Set in Tampa, Florida, Homicide Detective Kate Springer has just returned to the job. She and her partner catch the next murder case, a teen-aged girl, Kimberly Callahan, who shares an unexpected connection with Kate. As they dig into the murder, several suspects catch their eye. However, Kate is distracted by one in particular and that distraction may be her downfall.

There was a lot I enjoyed about this book. It was mostly Kate Springer who held my interest. I believe she will be a great main character for the series. She’s got this dark past that haunts her a bit even though she is well into her 30s. Throughout the book, she’s seeing the department psychologist off and on and that’s where we learn the most about her past. I also like that Kate knows she has certain behaviors for deflecting people which keep her from having close friendships and meaningful romances.

This book does deal with child sexual abuse. While none of it is revealed in detail, the author does a good job of focusing on how that abuse affects not only the child but the adult that child turns into. The story also brings non-sexual abuse and just plain neglect into the story as well.

Some aspects of the book were a bit formulaic. For instance, the killer was easy to identify. In fact, from the moment they strolled onto the page, I was pretty sure. Also, I didn’t ever really worry about whether or not Kate would live through this investigation, since we all know this is Book 1 in a series.

I really liked Kate’s work partner, fellow Detective Patrick Jessup. The two have a good rapport going with their jokes and random fact bets. I also liked the crime scene tech and her knowledge of etymology; for instance, she knows where the phrase ‘humble pie’ comes from.

There were a handful of things that felt a little rushed or slanted in a certain way for convenience. When Kate is doing her sessions with the psychologist, she’s asked to discuss her triggers and Kate doesn’t know what that means. Yet I was pretty sure that Kate had spent some time working with a psychologist or two in the past and also reading up on her own, so I don’t know why she wouldn’t know this basic term. I felt that was put there to give the psychologist the chance to explain it to the reader, not to Kate. Also, there is a fat, bullying cop who Kate is always trading insults with, though Kate’s insults are nearly always about his weight (which I felt was immature). My biggest complaint is that Kate’s past and her connections to the case remain unknown to the homicide department at the end of the story. I didn’t think this was realistic at all.

With that said, this book still gripped my attention. I really wanted to see how things would unfold, even though I had already guessed the killer. Kate is a fascinating character in many ways. She has issues but her focus on her work keeps her centered. The trusting relationship between her and Patrick, who is a happily married man with kids, leads me to wonder if things might get complicated for Kate in the future. Kate is slow to discover who the killer is, or rather, accept what her subconscious is already pretty sure about. I felt this was realistic and I enjoyed the cat and mouse game as Kate finds evidence to support the case. I look forward to Book 2 and seeing where Kate goes from here now that she can lay part of her past to rest.

I received a free copy of this book.

Narration: Angel Clark was a great Kate Springer. I really liked her voice for Kate, especially the more emotional scenes. Clark also went the extra mile and included special effects to mimic speaker phone, PA system, and cell phone calls. Sometimes I did find a few of her voices for minor characters to be a little cartoony, but that is my only little complaint. 

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc - Jennifer Kincheloe

Set in 1907 Los Angeles, Anna Blanc is at the top of the social ladder. She has pretty French clothes, a handsome fiance, in vogue friends, and fancy makeup. Yet she longs for more. She secretly reads detective novels and desperately wants to have at least one murder mystery adventure before her life is sealed with a wedding. She comes up with a scheme to become an assistant police matron at the Los Angeles police department, assuming an alias (Anna Holmes) and a rough spun ugly uniform that doesn’t quite hide her lovely form. Pretty soon, Anna learns that this is more than just a fancy whim of hers; real people need her help and are affected by what she does or doesn’t do. However, if she’s discovered by either her father or her fiance, she stands to lose quite a bit. She has to choose between being an obedient daughter and fiance or catching a killer who is murdering prostitutes.

This was such a delightful book! I really enjoyed it. I thought it would be a bit intense, it being a murder mystery and historical fiction. The book does have those qualities, but the author took things a step further and threw in plenty of well-timed humor. First, Anna’s character is a strange yet compelling mix of innocence, curiosity, determination, and sleuthing ability. She’s had a mostly sheltered life so the salty atmosphere of the mostly male police force and the even saltier streets continuously fascinate her. She’s quick to learn, except when it comes to deciphering the reasons for the scowls she gets from certain coworkers.

There’s plenty of sexual innuendos throughout the story. Anna, being nearly completely innocent, misses the full meaning of most of them. Occasionally, another character will take a bit of pity on her and explain things. I also loved the hit and miss budding romance between her and fellow police officer Joe Singer. She first meets him when he’s dressed as a woman and very obviously drunk. Meanwhile, she has to be all proper when passing time with her fiance, Edgar. She wants him to be a little naughty and steal a kiss or two, but he’s all about being proper even when no one’s looking. I especially loved the arrow collar man advertisements and the interesting bit about how hysterical women are clinically treated. Funny and also a little window into the past.

As for the murder mystery, that had me guessing right up to the end. I felt like I had good company though as Anna was guessing up to the end as well. There was also a side mystery concerning a serial rapist that Anna helps close. These mysteries provide a backdrop to show how men and women were treated quite differently in the early 1900s, no matter their social status or skills. For instance, I didn’t realize that women could be arrested for smoking in public at that time. The humor keeps this from being a brow beating on social justice for women.

I’m definitely looking forward to Book 2. By the end of this book, Anna’s life has quite changed from where she started out. She’s a determined young lady but also still a bit prim, a bit focused on expensive girly things, and a bit innocent on how the majority of people live. I’m sure finding out how she handles a bit more first-hand knowledge will make a good story.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Moira Quirk did an excellent job with this book. She was perfect for Anna. I loved how she handled the humor and the innuendos. I would love to hear her blooper reel on this one! I also thought she did a great job with the regional accents, giving a stiff upper lip to the socialites and a more salty accent to masses.

Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald

Onions in the Stew - Betty MacDonald

Betty and her family had quite the time on Vashon Island, Washington State. With her second husband (Don MacDonald) and her two young girls (Joan and Anne), Betty experienced the joys and disappointments of living on an island. Set during WWII, this mostly autobiographical book recounts Betty’s life with wry humor and insight.

Once again, Betty has amused me. By now, after reading 4 books by her, I feel like Betty is somewhat of a friend. I really enjoyed this book from clamming to peaches to teen years to housecleaners. Living on Vashon Island, which was only connected to the mainland via ferries and personal boats, was quite a bit rougher than she and her family expected. There’s also the beauty of having an island house which is also captured well in this book.

The MacDonalds took over the house during an idyllic summer. There were plenty of clams on their personal beach, including geoduck clams. The downstairs practically-outdoor shower was perfect for rinsing off after time in the sea. The great big hearth would be quite wonderful in winter. Then the cold season sets in. The family comes to find out that having a nearly-outdoor shower is onerous to heat up in winter. The great big hearth is truly magnificent but you have to haul in the wood for it, usually driftwood from the beach. The reality settles in and yet the MacDonalds still find much to love about the island.

Betty does such a great job with the humor. She gently pokes fun at everyone and is a little more jabby when focusing the eye on herself. She praises her daughters abilities while also realistically portraying their teen-aged arguments and volatile mood swings. There are plenty of characters that appear through the several years this book covers. Some are helpful handymen, some good cooks, some terrible at child rearing, some are drunk and merry.

Onions in the Stew does a good job of showing the hardships or inconveniences (depending on your point of view) of island living. Betty doesn’t paint the entire experience as a ‘wonderful’ way of life. Nope. Using humor she gives us a slice of reality. That is the root of why I enjoy her books so much. While The Plague and I is still my favorite book by her, this one was quite good as well.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Heather Henderson is great as the voice of Betty MacDonald. She also did a great job with the voices of Joan and Anne even as they age throughout the book. I also enjoyed her male voices, including Don’s. Her Japanese accent was also good.

Lady Justice and the Lost Tapes by Robert Thornhill

Lady Justice And The Lost Tapes - Robert Thornhill

Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it works perfectly fine as a stand alone novel.

Walt Williams was a retired senior real estate agent but he felt he still had more in him. So he joined the Kansas City police force as part of their senior citizens outreach program. Now he and his partner, Ox, traipse around the more colorful sections of town in this tale. The mafia wants certain real estate freed up and use nearly every dirty trick there is to get people to sell. Meanwhile, one of Walt’s friends uncovered a lost rock and roll treasure that needs to be kept under tight wraps for now.

This was a fun light-hearted murder mystery. There’s lots of corny jokes and the plot is pretty straight forward. The characters are lovable in a good-will-always-win-out sort of way. I really liked how this book had so many seniors in it. Some still work. Some are retired. Several do volunteer duties. Walt’s girlfriend, Maggie, is still working as a realtor and that gives Walt a bit of an advantage as he looks into the unusual circumstances of some recent sales.

Throughout this book, Walt plays dress up, going undercover more than once. The locations of interest to Walt and the police department include some lively bars that cater to the LGBTQ community. While there are plenty of jokes from both Walt and his fellow officers, they felt rather dated, like something an older uncle would say and the next generation would be slightly embarrassed for him.

Speaking of the humor, there’s plenty of it in this book. Everything from a whoopee cushion to a stand-up comedian to one-line zingers to ribbing from fellow officers. Some of it was well timed and funny. Some of it was rather worn and just got a groan from me. Sometimes I felt like the author had a big book of jokes sitting beside him as he worked on this book and he felt obliged to put in at least 3 jokes per chapter.

I did enjoy the main plot concerning the mafia moving in and forcing owners to sell their houses or businesses cheap. The story did a good job of showing the various ways the mafia went about getting their way. They did everything from polite requests to buy outright to dirty trickery to intimidation to torching a place. At first Walt is the only officer that is interested in checking this out but as things escalate, the force in general becomes committed to putting an end to it.

The minor plot line, that dealing with the lost tapes of a rock and roll idol, didn’t really appeal to me. I just wasn’t into the R&R idol and therefore, this chunk of the book didn’t grab me. When the main plot line wrapped up, I still had about 1.5 hours of book to listen to! Well, that was mostly this second minor plot line and a big holiday celebration. They were cute but not nearly as interesting as the mafia.

All in all, it was a fun, quaint little mystery. If you’re looking for something light and, perhaps, a bit predictable, then this would be a good book to check out. For me, it was so-so.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: George Kuch did a good job. He had an unexpected range of voices and even did a decent job with the female voices. His voice really fits well with the variety of seniors. There were a few times where I heard a few mouth noises but they didn’t distract from the narration.

Zero Lives Remaining by Adam Cesare

Zero Lives Remaining - Nick Gucker, Adam Cesare, Frank Walls, K. Allen Wood

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

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

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

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

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

I received a free copy of this book.

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

A Human Element by Donna Galanti

A Human Element - Donna Galanti

By a lake surrounded by mostly empty cabins, a spaceship crashes and the government covers it up, calling it a meteorite. Ben Fieldstone lost his family that night. Sarah, a teen runaway, wouldn’t know just how affected she was by this event until 9 months later when she gave birth. A mysterious man in black from the government was there to whisk away the unusual child. The doctor and nurse did their best to hide the twin sister, Laura, that was born that night, turning her over to the loving Armstrongs to raise as their daughter. Years later, Laura survives one tragedy after another even as she starts manifesting powers from out of this world. Something hunts her but means to make her suffer emotionally before the final confrontation.

This is a science fiction story that turns into a romance. There’s a smidge of thriller in here as well as the hunter catches up to it’s prey. I enjoyed the scifi part and the thriller part was pretty gripping. However, the romance part was a bit too much for me. The middle of the books spends a little too much time talking about emotions and learning to love one’s self and how to love others, etc.

For the most part, Laura Armstrong was an interesting central character, though later in the book she ends up unconscious and needs to be carried to safety several times. I found the antagonist, X-10, to be the most captivating character. Right up to the end I kept hoping ( or wondering?) if he would be able to change despite all he had been through. He was raised in captivity undergoing tests and torture on a regular basis.

Ben ends up in the military and so there’s some true-to-character swearing and objectifying of women. It takes some serious events for him to decide he wants something else, even if he doesn’t know what he wants. I give full marks to the author for including a near-rape of an adult male situation as it is something that is not often addressed in fiction even though such crimes occur in real life. Once Ben meets Laura, he goes all mushy and doesn’t do much beside explore his feelings until the big action scene near the end. I could have used a bit more action in the middle instead of it being solid inner exploration of Ben’s character.

The plot was OK though certain parts were no mystery at all. We know from nearly the beginning that Laura’s twin is going to be a problem child. Even though Ben is ~10 years older and he traveled the world with the military, I knew that somehow he and Laura would have to come together. Still, I had to know how things would end. Mostly, this was because I wanted to see how much X-10 could change, if he could change at all. Part of me wanted him to continue on for the next book and part of me knew that wouldn’t be possible.

The mystery man in black eventually plays a larger role, though I sometimes found him a convenient catalyst, suddenly showing up with certain powers or knowledge, that helped move the plot along. The elderly Mr. B. was a lovely addition to the main cast. I adored his thesaurus skills and his grandfatherly guidance for Laura. All in all, I’m glad I gave this book a listen even though it left me wanting a bit more action and little less on the touchy feely bits.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Chase Bradley was OK as the narrator. Initially, his voices were all distinct. He even had a few accents, like for Andy’s wife, which were well done. Once Ben and Laura meet, they always talk so soft and sweetly to each other no matter the subject or the situation that they actually sounded too much alike and sometimes I had trouble keeping track of who said what. He did have a lovely deeper voice for Felix and I wish he had used that voice for Ben as it would have worked so well for the sex scenes. And speaking of those few sex scenes, Bradley sounded a bit bored during them, like a yawn was just hiding in the corner of his mouth. He did a great job with Mr. B’s voice as he aged and he had an excellent wicked voice for X-10.