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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.

Timekeeper by Tara Sim

Timekeeper - Tara Sim

Set in a Victorian England, the clock towers keep time from fracturing and the Timekeepers keep the clocks ticking along smoothly. Danny Hart is a time mechanic like his father and he hopes to one day free his father and citizens of a Stopped town where a clock tower broke 3 years ago. Meanwhile, he has been assigned temporarily to the clock tower in the little town of Enfield where small things keep going wrong. Danny begins to suspect sabotage even as he learns an unsettling yet still intriguing truth about the clock tower – it does indeed have a clock spirit. Colton seems equally intrigued by Danny and the two share a spark of romance that may or may not go anywhere.

This book was so much more than I was expecting. First, I was sucked in by the mythos of Chronos and how time was shattered but brought back under control by the clock towers and their spirits. Through out the book, we get little snippets of this mythology – never enough to bore and they always intrigued me. Then we learn more about the clock mechanics, their rigorous training, and how it’s more than just sprogs and bolts. There’s also this slightly mystical ability to feel the flow of time coupled with intuition of knowing just what the clock needs to run smoothly.

Danny Hart enters the picture and he has plenty going on in his life. He’s the youngest mechanic to graduate from the training program. His dad has been absent for the past 3 years trapped in the stopped city of Malden and no one has figured out how to free the city yet. Also, the lad survived a nasty accident himself and he’s suffering from PTSD. Lastly, he has finally come out of the closet, now that being gay is no longer a hanging offense. Few people are understanding, including his mom. Luckily, he has a stalwart friend in Cassie, a lass who has been his friend since childhood. As you can see, I was totally caught up in Danny’s character and definitely wanted to follow him around and see what he could accomplish in this book.

When Colton, the clock spirit in Enfield, first appears, he doesn’t tell Danny what he is. Danny guesses early on in their friendship but this presented yet another problem. Few people believed that the clock spirits were real so it wasn’t something he could readily explain to folks. Then as their romance begins, he finds it even more difficult to chat about Colton to folks. The romance is light, sweet, fumbling, and has a few misunderstandings between the two. I look forward to seeing where the author takes their relationship in the next book.

Danny becomes convinced that someone is sabotaging the tower in Enfield and so the hunt for clues begins. I enjoyed this little mystery and I only began to suspect the culprit late into the story. I was delighted that the tale hid the true nature of this person for so long. That made the reveal that much more delicious to me as the reader and it hit a hard punch to Danny when he figured it out.

As for side characters, I felt they were nicely developed and weren’t simple stand ins. Mrs. Hart is obviously grieving for her lost husband and is ready to move on. I think she’s a bit afraid to care too deeply as her son is in the same line of work and has already escaped one nasty accident. Cassie is a mechanic herself, though she tends to enjoy automobiles most. Daphne greatly intrigued me. She has a facial tattoo, wears men’s work clothes, and is rumored to have a parent from India. I hope there is more about her in the next book. I was charmed by Matthias, an older friend of Danny’s who went through a hardship and now is a teacher instead of a mechanic. He often took Danny under his wing in a paternal uncle-ish sort of way.

All together, it’s a great start to the trilogy. I saw that some folks stuck this book in the steampunk genre but I wouldn’t call it steampunk. I don’t recall a single thing being steam-driven. Regardless of what genre you place this book in, it’s going on my top shelf.

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

The Narration: Gary Furlong was a great pick for this book. I loved his rich, older voice for Matthias. He had the perfect on-the-cusp-of-manhood voice for Danny. His female voices were believable and varied (the ladies didn’t all sound the same).

The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald

The Egg and I - Betty MacDonald

The Egg and I is a mostly autobiographical account about Betty MacDonald’s time on a chicken farm in the late 1920s in Washington state. Filled with humor, there’s plenty of odd characters, hardships to over come, new foods to be explored, and eggs to be gathered, cleaned, and packaged for sale. The story starts off with a brief, but laughter-inducing, account of Betty’s school years leading up to her whirlwind romance with Bob, their marriage, and then moving to the Pacific Northwest in search of heaven – a chicken farm of their own! Betty isn’t your typical heroine with perfect hair and stylish figure. Nope, she’s like all the rest of us. She was considered rather too tall for the times, being 5 ft 9 in. I like that she had a belly and rough hands and messy hair. In many ways she’s a very practical person, but she’s still a city girl moving to the country, so there’s plenty for her to learn. There is one big negative to this book, which was typical of the time period (this book was originally published in 1945): racist remarks towards Native Americans. At the time, such remarks were common and considered accurate. Thankfully, our society as a whole has grown and such remarks today would not sit well with me at all. In truth, even in a historical perspective, these remarks make me a bit angry. However, I am glad that the publisher decided to keep the book as it was originally written instead of washing out these remarks, maintaining the historical accuracy of views at that time, and showing that people of every ethnicity, including the author, are flawed. OK, so now that that is out of the way, there’s plenty I enjoyed about this book. First, this story spoke to me in many ways. My husband and I some years ago left city life for rural living and had a little farm. We had to go through many of the same learning curves as Betty – starting a fire every day in winter to heat the house, irrigation, gardening, chickens, plowing with equines, stray dogs getting into our property, etc. While we have indoor plumbing, it’s not too hard to picture Betty briskly walking out to the outhouse on a crisp autumn morning. The Pacific Northwest, and several places named in this book, hold a special place in my heart. Having family in Port Angeles and Seattle, we have visited the area many times. So it was a real treat to see these places through Betty’s eyes in the late 1920s when things were really rugged. She talks of all the edible local foods including the Dungeness crabs and the geoduck clams. Having a chicken farm, they were never short of eggs, so she learned to add an extra egg or two to any recipe that called for eggs, and to a few recipes that did not. Ma and Pa Kettle feature prominently in the story, being some of the closest neighbors to the isolated chicken farm. There’s also the Hicks, who are eccentric in other ways. I think anyone who moves to the country will find a bevvy of interesting characters in the area and Betty doesn’t skimp on telling how odd her neighbors are. Also, Betty told amusing tales about the animals on the farm, her husband Bob, and inanimate objects, like the wood-burning kitchen stove. She doesn’t leave herself out of this well-meaning, laughter-inducing critique either. There’s plenty of chuckles to go around. It being a chicken farm, we have to talk about the chickens. Since Bob was often working away from the farm during the day, Betty was the main care-taker of all the beasties. I love her descriptions of all the loving labor she, and sometimes Bob, put into caring for these birds. There’s the daily cleaning of their houses, maintaining the fences around their yards, putting together their feed, tending to the chicks (which far too easily succumb to death), gathering the eggs, and regularly culling the flock. She very accurately describes how with any other beast, such care would be returned with affection. Not so with the chicken! So true, and I say that from a place of love for chickens. While Betty often jokes, she also usually tells it like it is. I hope others enjoy this classic as much as I do. I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm. The Narration: Heather Henderson did a great job with this book. I love how she carries the humor, telling it with a sense of irony where needed. She has a unique voice for each character and her male voices are quite believable.

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

Indexing - Seanan McGuire In this urban fantasy, fairy tales can kill. A person can get caught up in their story and then the narrative will carry that person to the forgone conclusion. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Sleeping Beauty, a Wicked Stepsister, or a Pied Piper, eventually the story will be too strong for you to ignore and then you will no longer have a choice. Henrietta (Henry) Marchen runs an indexing team for the ATI Management Bureau. They are tasked with tracking down these narratives that just went active, indexing them (which is figuring out what class of fairy tale and how strong they are), and diffusing them before the story creates a body count. Sometimes the only way to diffuse a narrative is to take out the human at the center of the story, because they are no longer in control of their actions. Henry has to make some tough calls during this tale. Her little team is like family; they all have their hangups and they all care about each other. In truth, I did find some aspects of this book difficult to keep track of. Once I figured out what was going on with the narrative, it got a little easier. Sometimes the long wordy explanations (which might have been a spoof on actual government procedure documents) was cumbersome and didn’t really help explain anything. Plus, they were a bit boring. Rather, the conversations between characters did the best to explain how a fairy tale can take over a small piece of reality and what, if anything, the ATI folks could do about it. Other than that, there was some great stuff going on in this book. I liked thinking of modern Sleeping Beautys or Snow Whites trying to make their way working in an office or a daycare center. It often gave me a chuckle. My favorite side character was Sloan Winters. She was awesome! She got to say all sorts of cranky things I wish I could say at the office, and her team understood because that’s how her fairy tale built her. McGuire also pays a nod to the transgender community with a character and I thought that was well done. There’s also this murder mystery going on. At first, it looks like random narrative attacks and there’s a few bodies piling up. However, the indexing team does love to analyze stuff so pretty soon it looks like there’s some sort of pattern and perhaps someone or something is controlling the narrative outbreaks. The murder mystery part took some time to get going, but once it did, it really added to the story. Over all, I did enjoy this book, though I find McGuire’s other urban fantasy series, the Toby Daye series, much easier to get into. That series teaches you the rules as you go along, whereas this series tends to have big chunks of convoluted rules dumped on you, sometimes repeatedly. Still, I think it’s worth the time and effort. I had access to a free copy of this book through the Kindle Unlimited program. The Narration: Mary Robinette Kowal did a good job, as usual. I really liked her voice for Sloan, who is always snappish. She did a great job shifting from a character’s every day voice to their ‘possessed’ fairy tale voice.

Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave

Five Minutes Alone: A Thriller (Christchurch Noir Crime Series) - Paul Cleave

Note: While this is Book 4 in the series, it works pretty well as a stand alone. There are some reveals about what happened to certain characters in previous books. Also, this series is part of the bigger overall Christchurch murder mysteries, which has intersecting timelines. Have you ever read a headline about some horrible crime and thought, ‘Well, the victim or their loved ones should get five minutes alone with the culprit!’. That’s the central plot to this book. A convicted rapist turns up dead and the Christchurch (New Zealand) cops aren’t too enthusiastic in investigating who might be responsible. Still, they have a job to do. Get ready for an intense cat and mouse game between avenging killer and reluctant yet dedicated detectives. Wow! This book was super intense! I really enjoyed it and it was difficult to put down in order to sleep for a few hours before picking it up again. Theo Tate is back on the force, having been sober for a year. He’s the king of second chances, as some call him. He’s messed up plenty of times and yet he always means well. His new partner is Rebecca Kent, who recently recovered from her own injuries which she received while on duty. They catch the the case involving the recently released convicted rapist and aren’t too excited about it. Meanwhile, Carl Schroeder, who also recently recovered from a serious injury, just isn’t the same. He’s no longer on the force but he’s got his own work keeping him busy. His story arc for this series is the most interesting so far! I’m really impressed with Cleave’s writing on this one! Schroeder was the guy that helped keep Tate on the side of good (most of the time). Now, Schroeder may be the one needing Tate to act the conscience for him. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Tate’s wife had a significant role in this book. If you’ve read the earlier books, then you know she has been mostly out of the picture. Now her presence brings Tate both joy and anxiety. I don’t want to say too much because I do my best to avoid spoilers. Just know that Cleave is upping his game by bringing Bridget into the mix. There’s also Warren the spider, a kind of pet to one of the characters. His cheeky remarks provided some humor to this dark and gritty tale. I was a little sad to see that Warren will probably not be in further novels. The plot was intense! I now, I already mentioned that, but I really mean it! There was never a dull moment. As the reader, we know right away who this mysterious avenging killer is. At first, I was rooting for this person, but as the story unfolds, this vigilante makes mistakes and good people start dying. With the first accidental death, I was ready to forgive the vigilante, because, hey, we all make mistakes. But the bodies kept piling up and it became obvious that this type of justice has a cost. Cleave is clever in that he doesn’t stop there. Instead, through these gripping characters, he asks the question of whether this cost is less or more than the cost society and victims pay under the current justice system. The cat and mouse game continues as each of our main detectives have to weigh the answer for themselves. This was an excellent murder mystery turned thriller. I really wasn’t sure where Cleave would take the story on the final stretch. In the end, I was very satisfied, feeling that a kind of justice was meted out while staying true to overall feel of the book. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Theo Tate already needs plenty of therapy. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox. Narration: Paul Ansdell did a pretty good job. His individual voices started off crisp and distinct, though well into the book Tate and Schroeder started to sound the same. From there forward, it was off and on with the clear distinction between these two. However, the text is often very clear about who is talking, so that made it easy for most of the book to keep things straight. Ansdell has believable female voices unless they are sad and anguished. His voice tends to drop several notes when he mimics a woman in deep sorrow or distress. For the purposes of the story, that doesn’t really matter. Ansdell does a great job imbuing the characters with emotion.

Relentless by Nancy J. Alexander

Relentless (Elisabeth Reinhardt) (Volume 1) - Nancy J Alexander

Gina Reynolds is a successful doctor specializing in babies suffering from chronic illness or deformities. She has a cat, good friends, an exercise routine, and a deep, traumatic history. Even as she begins to unfold these long-suppressed memories, her childhood tormentor Jake continues to hunt for her. Dr. Elisabeth Reinhardt, Gina’s psychologist, is determined to help her, even if it is by unconventional means.

There were several things I liked about this book. First, Gina has a full, functional life, even as she deals with these traumatic memories. She has to find a way to fit them into her life even as she continues on with her life. I liked that she did several things that are healthy ways of dealing with such memories. She sees a professional, talks with trusted friends, and takes self-defense lessons (which are more than simply learning how to punch someone, such as including smart places to park, staying in crowds, etc.).

The book switches points of view often, which I liked. I was especially intrigued by Elisabeth. She starts off with a simple role of being Gina’s psychologist but as the story unfolds, we learn that Elisabeth has an interesting past and also is part of something bigger. I don’t want to give too much away, but I was pleased how her story arc grew throughout this tale.

There were lots and lots of info dumps in this book. I do wish it was edited a bit better. The info dumps were sometimes interesting but often I was left wondering if all of the info would play into the plot. While these added to the depth of characters, it was also a tedious way to impart that info to the reader.

Jake and his little gang worked well as our bad guys. When Jake was a kid, he was a handful and rather dangerous to smaller kids. Hence, he had been booted from home to home. As a teen, he had Reggie to torment, but eventually she escaped from him, disappearing. As an adult, Jake obsesses over her, the one that got away. He never gives up hunting for her, always asking after her with her family, checking her old haunts. As the body count builds, the FBI and local law enforcement pull at every little string they come across.

There is a cat and mouse game that starts early in the book and continues throughout the story. I got the cat and mouse part for young Reggie (AKA Gina) as she hides from her tormenters. I also got the cat and mouse game for much later in the story when it’s clear that Jake has a lead on Reggie. However, there was this long patch in the story where Gina’s certainty that Jake was still hunting her seemed unwarranted. For instance, she hasn’t had any indication for years that he’s even still interested in her in any way. Gina has this very elaborate way of communicating with a childhood mentor of sorts but she has severed all ties otherwise with her childhood self. Jake and crew are not masterminds, so I felt this near-espionage communication was a bit overdone. With that said, the second half of the book really shows the cat and mouse game to full effect and that’s when I became glad that Gina had done her best to be ready for Jake.

Sometimes things are repeated more than once, and once again, I think this book could have used one last round of editing to polish it. There’s a great story in here, full of suspense and drama, but those elements are diluted by the info dumps and the repetition. Still, I was impressed with the depth of character analysis we have here, showing the deeper motivations behind each of the main characters. While the ending does get a little off target, it eventually pulls back together and I found the over all end satisfying.

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

Narration: Nancy J. Alexander narrated her own book. She was OK. She does have a limited range of characters, and this book did have a larger character list than the range of her character voices. However, all the main characters were distinct and she did use regional accents to carry off even more characters. Unfortunately, her voice for her main bad guy, Jake, often sounds cartoonish and this made it a little hard to see him as a true threat. There were a few spots that had minor mouth noises (she sounded like she needed a water break), but over all the production was pretty good.

A Colder Kind of Death by Gail Bowen

A Colder Kind of Death - Gail Bowen

Note: While this is Book 4 in the series, it works mostly well as a stand alone. There are definitely some character backstories that I was a bit muddled on, but in regards to the main plot, they dd not matter.

Set in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, Joanne Kilbourn is a parent, a professor, a TV panelist, and a widow. Now her past comes back to her with the news that Kevin Tarpley, the man who killed her husband, Ian, six years ago, was shot to death in the exercise yard of a Saskatchewan prison. Odd as that is, it pales in comparison to the unexpected photo of a young mother with her baby in Ian’s old wallet. Then Maureen, Kevin’s wife, shows up for cocktail drinks at one of Joanne’s local haunts and ends up dead. Joanne starts digging into her husband’s past in order to unravel her current mystery.

I can see why this series is so popular! I really enjoyed this Canadian mystery. Joanne is a very interesting character with her multiple professions and her single parenting skills. Toss in the 6-year-old case of her husband’s murder with the recent death of Maureen, and you have quite the engaging story. Joanne was really caught in this balancing act – does she ask the questions and possibly dig up hurtful information or does she let things lie and cherish the memories of the husband she knew?

Even though Maureen ends up dead in the first quarter of the book, I found her character rather seductive. She obviously has quite the ego on her. Even after her demise, we continue to learn about her as Joanne digs into the past. Maureen indeed was quite the little manipulator, but Joanne has to figure out why and to what ends.

Then there is that odd photo in her husband’s old wallet. Was this a secret lover of his? His baby? I really felt for Joanne as she struggled with what to do over the photo. Should she dig into it, hoping that there was some benign reason he had this photo? Or should she let things lie, maintaining the memory of her husband? This aspect of the story really shows Joanne in a very human light as she has some ungracious thoughts about her dead husband.

The story builds cleverly upon itself as one clue after another is dragged into the light. However, they don’t all appear to be part of the same puzzle. Joanne struggles to connect them all and it’s not until near the end that things become clear. There’s also some drama at the end as the real killer feels trapped and out of choices. It was a real spin up with a final, rather messy ending. Joanne will need therapy. I was so caught up in this book, I listened to it all in one day. I plan to go back to Book 1 and enjoy the rest of the series in sequential order to get the most out of it.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Audiobook Jukebox.

Narration: Lisa Bunting was a really good pick as narrator. She was the perfect Joanne in my head. I liked her male and female character voices, as well as her regional accents. While I’m no expert on Canadian Native American accents, I can say that Bunting’s performance matched my experience with Native American accents here in New Mexico. I also liked her kid voices for the various kids in Joanne’s household.

Spirited Christmas by Gary Jonas

Spirited Christmas: A Jonathan Shade Holiday Story - Gary Jonas

Note: While this book fits somewhere into the Jonathan Shade series, it works perfectly fine as a stand alone and can be read at any point in the series.

Set in modern day Denver and surrounding area, paranormal private investigator Jonathan Shade is hired by young Madeleine Franklin who is tired of being bothered by a ghost that shows up every Christmas. Each year the sightings of this ghost have gotten worse and worse. She’s determined that this Christmas her family won’t be bothered by it. Jonathan reluctantly takes on the case.

This was a charming holiday tale by one of my favorite authors. He utilizes my favorite characters from the series in the story – Jonathan, Kelly Chan (his friend and part-time bodyguard), and Esther (who is a ghost who died in the 1920s and her spirit is tied to a typewriter). Little Maddy offers up all her money (which can easily be counted in coins) to Jonathan to perform an exorcism. Jonathan gives her a discount and heads over to perform a simple exorcism. It’s a ghost alright, but now he’ll be spending some time and money doing some house repairs over at Maddy’s for the unexpected side effects of the exorcism.

The story doesn’t stop there. Jonathan suspects he doesn’t have the whole story, but he’s not sure what he’s missing. He digs around a bit and discovers a hidden truth. I was quite pleased that this wasn’t a simple little case for Jonathan and crew. Nope. There’s flames and a sewage treatment plant involved.

The ending doesn’t leave everyone with everything they want, but it did leave me with a good warm fuzzy feeling. Jonathan and crew helped out a little girl and still had time to decide if they really wanted to go to a holiday party or not. The tale captured the humor I so enjoyed in the first 3 books of the series, with Esther and Kelly teasing Jonathan and him throwing it back at them. I also liked Jonathan’s little song about the bones.

At the time of posting this review, this short story is free on SoundCloud.

The Narration: Joe Hempel continues to do a great job with this series. He’s a perfect fit for Jonathan Shade. I also love his Kelly Chan voice. Esther is always great, especially with the accent Joe gives her. He did a great job of imbuing the characters with emotion. 

The Kingdom of Oceana by Mitchell Charles

The Kingdom of Oceana (Volume 1) - Mitchell Charles

Two Hawaiian princes are coming of age and their sibling rivalry could turn to more than pranks and minor disagreements. When their trespassing on forbidden ground unleashes an ancient curse, things turn bad between their island and a rival island kingdom. Sorcery, surfing, and subterfuge combine in this beautiful coming of age story.

Prince Nahoa and his younger brother, Prince Ailani, are on the cusp of manhood. Their father has lead their island kingdom well for these many years, but now a rival island, Pearl Island, seeks their support and subservience. None of the royal family are eager to enter into such an agreement. There’s sibling rivalry, a minor love story, adventure, magic, mystery, and talking to animals. I was enchanted by this story.

The entire tale is told through Ailani’s eyes and I became rather attached to him. I really wanted him to come through this book intact. While he knows his place isn’t to rule (that’s the first son’s job once his father passes), he still has a well developed sense of right and wrong. Coupled with that is his ability to forgive, which is greatly tested where his brother is concerned. Nahoa is constantly teasing Ailani and sometimes outright insulting him. There’s also his pranks, one of which leads to the unleashing of a curse.

Both princes are tutored by the island’s kahuna, which is a magician priest. Ailani does a better job listening than Nahoa and he has a stronger bond with the old kahuna. The magic element of this story is so well done. The characters don’t question that magic exists because they have grown up around it. There’s shape shifting, speaking with animals, playing with lightning, telepathy, and more. I especially liked the bond with animals that most of the characters had. While the animals don’t talk back per se, they do respond to conversational questions, prompts, and commands. You can really tell a lot about a character in how they treat animals and that idea isn’t lost on Ailani.

My one little criticism for this story is that there are so few female characters. There’s princess Momi, who has a spark to her but is basically a love interest. Then there is Ailani’s mother who we catch glimpses of. She might have her own personal agenda or her nature may simply be to be a selfish and manipulative; we saw so little of her it’s hard to say which it is. I was most impressed with the daughter of the chief navigator; he’s training her to walk in his footsteps one day. Then there was an old lady selling fruit at market… and I do believe that was it for female characters. The story would have been enhanced by using some female characters to move the plot along instead of having them all be minor characters.

The story makes great use of the setting. This is one of those books where the setting is nearly a character unto itself based on how much it affects the story line. The Hawaiian culture is on full display. I loved that travel times between islands were realistic. I also had fun trying to guess what century this tale was set in. The islands have pigs, goats, and dogs so I was guessing perhaps this story takes place in the 1700s or 1800s.

Starting with some sibling rivalry to kick us off, the story build and builds. The unleashed curse isn’t initially a big deal but later it does become so. I loved learning alongside Ailani how this balance of nature and magic, or good and evil, of traditional ways and outside influences all tied together in the final burst of action. I really didn’t know how things would turn out for Ailani, Momi, and Nahoa and I was on my seat’s edge as I finished this book. The ending was satisfying but also left me ready for the next adventure in Volume 2.

As an aside, the publisher and/or author have a great website (http://kingdomofoceana.com/) set up for this book that includes study guides, a glossary, and a map. They really went all out in making this book a great pick for a class read complete with activities and quizzes built into the study guides.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Narration: Rayton Lamay was such a perfect pick for this book. I really felt submerged in to the Hawaiian culture with his narration. While I’m no expert on Hawaiian accents, he maintained a consistent accent throughout the entire book. He was also great at keeping all the characters distinct and his female voices were believable. He was wonderful at imbuing Ailani with the appropriate emotions.

Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps

Cthulhu Armageddon - C. T. Phipps

The Old ones rose more than 100 years ago and humanity dwindled and fractured in their struggle to survive. John Henry is a highly trained ranger for one of the last ‘civilized’ cities. However, he lost his friends and his sanity (temporarily) while battling a one-time friend who had gone over to worshiping the Old Ones. Now he seeks vengeance for his dead friends and his own lost future.

This was a wonderful mix of wild weird west, post-apocalyptic, and creature feature. John Booth is an intense man and it was great to live this story through his character. Also, just a side note, it’s refreshing to have the main hero be non-Caucasian. Hooray for diversity in SFF! OK, so back to John. The story starts off with him and his small group of rangers heading out to find several children who had been kidnapped by Cthulhu-monster worshipers. Things go very, very wrong. John wakes up while being interrogated with his memory all fuzzy. Yeah, that sucks.

John goes on a quest of sorts to find out if all his ranger buddies are dead and to regain his lost memories. Specifically, he’s hunting for Jessica who was the last ranger standing with him before everything went blank. He needs the help of a skilled torturer, Mercury, if he’s going to be successful. John gets a few brief moments with his estranged wife Martha throughout the story. Then there is also an ex-lover of sorts that he and Mercury come upon later in the story. I really enjoyed the main female characters – they were so diverse and written so well. However, nearly all the ladies in this story had some sort of sexual/romantic interest or tie to John. I felt that was a little silly, but it was a very minor part of the story so I won’t let it detract from my enjoyment of the tale.

The Old Ones were gooey and deadly and scary and awe-inspiring. Phipps did a great job with these creatures from the beyond. There’s your typical squidhead Cthulhu-looking monsters, horrible bat-winged flyers, and things that defy description but the characters have to describe anyway. I want to see these things but not feel their wrath, so it’s a good thing I have John’s story to enjoy.

There’s plenty of action scenes but they are spaced out well with scenes that touch on dark humor or on deeper things. It’s not just humans versus the Old Ones but also human versus human all too often. There’s slavery and bigotry and government assigned marriages. Phipps has the start of a whole world to explore here. I especially liked Richard the ghoul. He brought in humor but also fed on corpses. No one’s perfect.

The story kept me guessing right up to the end. I really didn’t know if John would persevere. After all, the title does have the word ‘armageddon’ in it. I was definitely attached to John and several of the other characters so I really did care how things turned out. I was very satisfied with the ending and I am hoping Phipps gives us another story set in this world.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Jeffrey Kafer did a great job with this book, as I expected he would. He’s got the right voice for the main character, John. I also like his female voices, especially for Mercury in this book. She doesn’t have an ounce of tact and asks such personal questions so straightforwardly. He’s great at imbuing the characters with emotion as well. 

Escape from New Orleans by Henry L. Sullivan III

ESCAPE FROM NEW ORLEANS: DEVIN WAYNE - EPISODE 3 (THE AMERICAN FATHERS) - Henry Sullivan Note: While this is Book 3 in the series, it works well as a stand alone, though it is definitely enhanced by enjoying the first 2 episodes previously. However, if you do pick this up as a stand alone, you might want to check out the glossary first to pick up some of the lingo, characters, and overall atmosphere of the series. For the audiobook, this glossary starts at the 59 minutes 20 seconds mark and lasts just over 14 minutes. Devin Wayne is a hunted man and he doesn’t know it yet. He’s just waking up to another day in the near-future New Orleans that is complete with AI, coffee, and annoying yet loyal friends. Mike has unexpectedly stopped by Devin’s hotel room and Devin, always on the edge, nearly took Mike for an assassin. Devin isn’t far off the mark because Mike is there to deliver some bad news: a hit has been taken out on Devin and one of the most skilled assassin’s in the trade as been hired. This addition to the series is quite different from Books 1 and 2. While Swept Away and Dinner Invitation were more cerebral and full of political intrigue, this book is all action. It starts with Devin pouncing on the unexpected Mike to their attempt to escape New Orleans to the cat and mouse game Devin and MCM play throughout the rest of the book. Also, there’s no sex. Still, even though this book has a totally different tone, it is still pretty darn good. There’s a decent amount of future tech built into this tale. I loved the vehicle AIs and all the stuff that can go wrong with such things. Then Devin, who is a highly skilled operative, has some tricks up his sleeve for evading MCM. Yet not to be outdone, MCM has some tracking gadgets that Devin and Mike weren’t expecting. The action rolls in waves throughout the book so I never got battle fatigue from the story. Things start off mellow with Devin waking up and then he goes on high alert as he tackles an unexpected Mike. Things mellow out again as the two men catch up and then things peak again with the first attack from MCM. This really worked for me because I don’t need one adrenaline rush after another in my stories. The banter between the two men was very amusing. They obviously have a long history and have built up this trusting friendship over time. Like Mike, I was hoping just a little that Devin would describe some of his intimate moments with his girlfriend Irene Daco (who we met in Book 2) but I can respect a person who doesn’t kiss and tell. I do want to know more about MCM and if this episode will be the last we see of this assassin. While this episode of the series had a nearly all-male cast, it balances out well with the series as a whole. The female characters were definitely the stars for the first two episodes. Now we’ve seen that Sullivan can do action scenes as well as he does political intrigue and sexy relationships. All around, I’m impressed. I look forward to seeing what he does next. I received a free copy this book. The Narration: The quality of this series continues to be top rate. The vocal narrations are well done, each character being well cast. I especially liked Devin’s voice, being a rich manly voice. Mike was playful and impertinent and I could just picture the impish grin on the narrator’s face as he performed this character. There’s a handful of other voices throughout the story and I really liked the New Orleans accent some of these characters had. Sound effects and background music complete the experience. These are well timed and also don’t compete with the narration, which remained crisp and clear throughout.

Dinner Invitation by Henry L. Sullivan III

The American Fathers, Episode 2: Dinner Invitation - Henry L. Sullivan III, Adrianne Cury, Amy Montgomery, Cameron Knight, Fawzia Mirza, Jennie Moreau, Juan Francisco Villa, Karin Anglin, Kevin Theis, Sullivan Serials

Note: Since this is Book 2 in the series, it is better (though not absolutely necessary) to have read Book 1, Swept Away, before reading this book.

Once again, we return to the near future America, where powerful houses run the country from behind the scenes. Irene Daco, the first American dynastic princess, is a current hot topic. Sheila, a smart academic who believes the dynastic houses will ruin the country, has been swept up into an undefined relationship with the mysterious Jasira, a congressional correspondent. Now Sheila is offered a dinner date with this dynastic princess and she’s tempted to go.

It’s been over a year since Book 1 came out in audiobook format, but this sequel was worth the wait. I think it’s even a little better than Book 1 (which I really enjoyed). First, my little criticism about the lack of cutting edge tech in Book 1 has been blown away by the wonderful tech integrated into the story here in Book 2. I can’t tell you all the awesome stuff going on in this book because that would be spoilery, but I was definitely impressed with the cutting edge tech and how it added to the ambiance of the story. I will say one thing: artificial intelligence. Yay!

Jasira and Sheila continue to be my favorite characters. Sheila is so open and straight forward, perhaps even a little naive in some ways. Jasira is full of grace and mystery and I can’t tell what her motives are, but I do hope she’s on the side of good. The chemistry between these two was sweet and intense in Book 1 and it continues to be intense in Book 2. The love scene was fantastic – detailed, hot, and charming all at the same time.

Irene Daco plays an important role in this story and she isn’t what I was expecting. I was glad that we finally get to meet someone from one of the big American dynastic houses. Sheila has pre-formed ideas about Irene and I think that’s going to be hard to shake. Yet I have faith in Sheila because she’s a fair person… and yet I also worry that someone is trying to trick her. Perhaps we’ll find out in the next episode which way that will fall out. This book does end on a little cliffhanger, so that’s another reason to look forward to Book 3.

Just as an side note, I want to give this story credit for bringing the Peters map into play. It’s difficult to portray the Earth accurately on a flat surface and the Peters map shows land area correctly, which looks a bit different from the maps we typically see in American school systems. The conversation between Sheila and Jasira about Sheila’s work on the dynastic houses was pretty intense, and the Peters map was the perfect comparison.

Over all, this is a smart and sexy story and I really enjoyed this second installment. I’m definitely looking forward to what the author will do next with this tale!

I received a free copy this book.

The Narration: The audio experience continues to be excellent. The ladies performing Sheila and Jasira do an incredible job – the accents and emotional inflections are spot on. Also, the love scene is so well done I have to wonder if there’s real chemistry between the performers. All the character voices are distinct. The production includes ambient sounds to add to the over all experience, never drowning out the dialogue. Just a quality production all around.