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Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy - David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings is a classic in the epic fantasy realm. I read them as a kid but only recently have enjoyed the first in the series as an audiobook. Here is my review.

While the premise to Pawn of Prophecy is pretty basic (ancient evil is awakening and a Chosen One may be our only salvation), I still enjoyed it. I read this series as a kid and only recently have discovered them as audiobooks. As an adult, I find that I have a more critical eye. However, I still found myself enjoying this book. Perhaps part of that is nostalgia but I think the characters hold up well even if the plot is pretty much boiler plate.

I really enjoyed Silk for his wit. He pokes fun at other characters but also has quieter moments where he teaches Garion something useful or playful moments when he’s getting up to some mischief. Garion’s Aunt Pol (Polgara) is also a favorite. I love how she insists on keeping Garion clean, presentable, and well fed. She’s the care giver in the group but she’s also one of the sternest characters. She will suffer no foolishness on her watch!

There’s this one scene that really stood out for me because Silk was poking fun at certain social norms. At a big meeting of the nations’s leaders, there are some women present. Some nations expect their ladies to stay pregnant and in the house while other nations have greater equality. Silk pokes fun at the former while praising the later. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps the author was making a little fun of earlier epic fantasy works where the ladies are relegated to minor roles of providing love, comfort, and babies. It’s scenes like this that rekindled my love for this series.

Garion himself is an OK character though I expect I will once again fall in love with his character later in the series. Right now, he really is a bit of a pawn. People want to control him because he could be The One. Yep, the bad guys want him and the good guys in the know want to keep him safe. While that is all pretty standard for several epic fantasies, I still found my self holding my breath during fight scenes or when a bad guy was skulking around.

All told, this was a story that stood the test of time and I’m glad that I have reacquainted myself with it. 4/5 stars

The Narration: Cameron Beierle did an amazing job with his narration. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. I especially love how he managed Silk’s role. Silk speaks multiple languages and likes to go about in disguise, including disguising his voice. I liked his grumpy Belgariad and stern Pol as well. All around, an excellent performance. 5/5 stars

Heat Wave by Richard Castle

Heat Wave (Nikki Heat) - Richard Castle

This is fan fiction of a sort for the TV show Castle. I have only seen 1 episode of the show so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got into this book. Heat Wave is a fun, fast-paced murder mystery. Detective Nikki Heat is brought onto a case that involves the murder of Matthew Starr, a real estate baron of New York. Jameson Rook, a reporter, manages to get himself attached to the investigation.

The action keeps the story moving along at a fast clip. There’s a little romance between Heat and Rook but it didn’t distract from the murder mystery. The plot itself was pretty straight forward, the mystery being fairly easy to unravel by the reader if not the main characters.

There are several sidekicks in the story, like detectives Ochoa and Raley and the medical examiner Lauren Parry. Mostly, they fade into the background and go unnoticed. Lauren has a few moments where her personality shows through. The cast of characters attempts various quips and jokes but much of it comes off flat. I was much more into the serious scenes. The action scenes were usually well done.

Over all, I liked Nikki Heat as a character. I will enjoy getting to know more about her in future books. While it was a quick, easy read, it had it’s charms. 3.5/5 stars

The Narration: Johnny Heller took some getting used to. His style is nearly monotone but he also tries to go for that hard-boiled detective story feel. Once I settled into his voice, I liked it well enough though I had to pay attention to which character was talking as Heller didn’t always make distinct voices. There were no recording issues. 3.5/5 stars

The Green Lama by Adam Lance Garcia

The Green Lama: Scions - Adam Lance Garcia, Douglas Klauba

This story was way more fun than I expected. I do enjoy pulp fiction but I usually have to be in a mood for it as so much of the genre can be campy and sexist. Not this one! I was happy to see so many female characters in the book – and they get stuff done too! They don’t just look pretty while being rescued.

Set in New York, there’s a variety of characters for the Big Bad Evil to infect and/or kill. The creeptastic aspects lead back to a ship that crashed into Liberty Island. It’s something out of a horror movie and it has the police baffled. But never fear! The Green Lama knows what this evil is, much to his sadness.

For such a short story, it’s a pretty big cast of characters. I did have a little trouble keeping them all separate. However, they are all interesting. There’s Jean Farell, who is a good shot and doesn’t shy away from rescuing men knocked unconscious. Frankie, who is French Black American, has a soft spot for kids that need rescuing.

Jethro Durmont, the hero of this tale, is a bit standard. He’s a millionaire white guy who lost his parents under horrible circumstances, and ran off to Asia to learn some mystical self-defense arts. Sound familiar, no? Batman, Iron Fist, The Arrow, etc. He does have at least one unique aspect – he needs his special radioactive salts on a regular basis to maintain his special powers. I hope he labels those appropriately so the guests don’t use them to flavor their soup!

Betty Dale, a newsreporter, has me wondering what will happen in the next book. She knows the Green Lama’s secrets but he also knows who she is. Then there’s poor Lt. Caraway. He made me laugh a few times but things didn’t go well for him in this story. Overall, it was a fun story. 4.5/5 stars

The Narration: Jiraiya Addams puts on a great performance. He has unique voices for all the characters and his female characters sound feminine. He went all out voicing the Evil, which was multi-layered voices for individual characters affected by it. Chilling! There were no technical issues with the recording. 5/5 stars

Frostbite by E. J. Stevens

Frostbite - E. J. Stevens

I’ve enjoyed all the Ivy Granger audiobooks so far and it was nice to jump way back to the beginning of the series with this prequel short story. Ivy and Jinx run a private detective business. Ivy has the paranormal abilities and Jinx gets along with the public. It’s obvious these two ladies have been friends for some time and work well together.

This short story gives you just a peek into Ivy’s world. There’s ghosts, danger, fairy dust, a mystery to solve, and more. It’s a great way to check out the series to see if it’s right for you.

I wouldn’t call this a cozy mystery urban fantasy as the tale has some grit to it. A little kid needs help and Ivy is hard pressed to find a way to do so. I like the darker side to this series even as a bit of humor and snark is mixed in. Being a fan of the series, my one little complaint is that it is indeed a short story. Looking forward to the next installment in the series! 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Melanie A. Mason does a great job with Ivy’s voice and Jinx’s practicalness. I liked her spooky little kid voices and Big Baddie voice as well. Mason gives a great performance with unique voices for all the characters. The pacing is perfect and there are no technical issues with the recording. 5/5 stars.

Starless by Jacqueline Carey

Starless - Jacqueline Carey

I’ve just been on an adventure with Khai and Zariya. The desert sand is still wedged in creases, the sea salt adhering to my hair, and some jungle forest mystery patch is making it’s home in the shady part of my imagination. I’m a long time fan of Carey’s works but Starless may have surpassed them all.  The plot was unexpected, the characters unforgettable, and the settings deadly beautiful.

A beautiful mythology wends it’s way through the plot. The stars, children of the sun Zar and he three moons, were cast from the heavens ages ago. Now these stars reside throughout the world, each gifted and bestowing their gifts upon mortals. Sometimes this is through direct interaction, sometimes through objects like rare seeds or a magical pearl.

The story is told through Khai’s eyes. He grows up in a desert fortress being trained by the monks on a variety of skills. He was born with a destiny: to be the Shadow to the Sun Blessed, Zariya. Once we’ve gotten to know Khai good and well (several years have passed), he goes to the royal palace to serve as Zariya’s body guard and confidante.

Since I had already fallen in love with Khai, I wasn’t sure I would bond as well with Zariya. Her world is so very different from the desert fortress but she has not been without her trials. An affliction challenges her daily. On top of that is the endless intrigues, making it difficult to trust anyone other than her Shadow. Zariya, being the last daughter of the last wife, believes she is destined for a simple marriage and child bearing. However, prophecy steps in and drags Zariya and Khai off on a world-saving adventure.

If Jacqueline Carey were ever to write horror, she would send a tremble through the entire genre. The creepy critters from the sea that threaten to decimate the world are truly things of nightmares. I thought the ants from the 3rd trilogy in the Terre D’Ange Cycle were scary; however, the critters from Starless take the cake.

I loved the gender fluidity of Khai’s character. The desert people call it ‘bazim’ (not sure on spelling). Khai grew up among only males but once he moves to the palace, he spends most of his time in the women’s quarter, guarding Zariya. There he learns about women and starts questioning his own gender-based roles in society. It’s all very well done. As Khai interacts with more cultures, each shares their take on the matter, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes bluntly. Khai grows by leaps and bonds and I loved his character all the more by the end of the tale. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Caitlin Davies did a great job with this book – a truly top notch performance. She provided so many different accents, keeping all the characters unique. Plenty of emotions, subtle and not, were on display in this tale and Davies gave them all their due. I especially enjoyed the valiant Mayfly. 5/5 stars.

The Culling by Ramona Finn

The Culling (The Culling Trilogy Book 1) - Ramona Finn

It took me a while to get into this book but I’m glad I stuck with it. I really enjoyed the characters and the main struggle. Glade Io is a pretty standard main character. She’s likable but a bit flawed in her absolute belief in the Authority. Still, I felt it was true to her character that she wouldn’t immediately believe those that oppose the Authority. It’s that struggle (Glade’s ability to parse the truth) that really drew me in.

The Ferrymen of Charon are your standard rebels or resistance. They just want to protect their families and have enough to live a decent life. Coopier inherited the leadership of the Ferrymen when his brother Loose died. The Ferrymen have come up with a plan to take out the Authority, but they need a Data Point and set about kidnapping a few (Glade and Sulia). This is where things finally got interesting for me. Glade’s 16 years of believing in the Authority are challenged by the Ferrymen (how they act & what they show her) and her world begins to crumble a bit.

Back at the Authority, Glade continues to train under Don, her long-term mentor. The story has set up a love triangle and love triangles are not my thing. It rarely works for me and it doesn’t work here. Despite that, I like Don and his own inner struggle – to trust Glade, hold true to the Authority, hate the Ferrymen.

The main premise of the tale is that specially trained people with a very specific personality (a little sociopathy, still maleable, highly intelligent, etc.) can work with specialized tech to read another person’s brainwaves and then snuff them out. Yep. Snuff out hundreds to thousands of people from afar. Planetwide but sometimes from other planets. I couldn’t help but shake my head at this. The writing could have made this a bit more believable but it was real loose and ridiculous.

Also there were small things that just didn’t ring true. The Authority monitors the Data Points during training… yet not during an actual culling? Some of the Data Points take up communicating silently through their tech and yet it’s not a common practice and is apparently unmonitored? Unlikely. Also, Glade is considered rather important and yet they don’t monitor all her movements all the time through her tech? It would be so simple to do…. So because of all these small things like this, I often felt the writing was lazy instead of giving us a story with solid, realistic rules.

On the other hand, the emotions of the characters and how some of them grow throughout the story kept me engaged. Even Sulia, who is a jerk, might have something more going on than just what we see on the surface. Because of the characters, I look forward to Book 2. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Stacey Glemboski did a great job with this book. She had distinct voices for all the characters and her male voices were believable. I really liked her voice for Coopier’s little brother and for Sulia when she’s being nasty. There’s plenty of tense emotions in this story and Glemboski did a great job portraying them. There were no technical issues with this recording. 5/5 stars.

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

Girl Vs by Xela Culletto

Girl Vs - Xela Culletto

The story drops us right down into the middle of things and that’s the way I like it. Rhyan is a likable character and it’s easy to grasp what’s going on. Aliens have wrecked Earth, tearing down nearly all human civilization. Now Rhyan and a handful of other survivors live day by day, scavenging for food, killing a few Vela aliens, and sleeping in a cavern at night. Things soon go wrong and Rhyan is on her own again, searching for safety and the basics. Luckily, she comes upon an abandoned horse, Lucky, who is more than happy to get out of his pasture and join her.

It’s not an easy road, but eventually Rhyan comes across a real human town that has electricity (solar & hydro power), apartment buildings, and even a hospital. Yet even then, danger is just around the corner. Rhyan never finds true safety because the aliens aren’t leaving and the remaining humans have conflicting agendas. I loved this aspect of the story. There was never a dull moment.

I did have trouble picturing the aliens. They’re bigger than humans, have claws, and bleed blue blood. But beyond that I’m not really sure. How many eyes? Number of arms? Armor? Hair? Perhaps there was one big long on description near the beginning and I missed all the details since I was gathering up the details of the story. I would have liked details about the aliens spaced throughout the story.

The humans were an interesting mixed bag. John stands out because he was so sure about the possibility of communicating with the aliens. Kalisha was my favorite side character. I can see her and Rhyan being a kickass team throughout the series. Valerie (I think that’s her name) was a panicked, wishy washy lady who just couldn’t fully trust Rhyan. I also liked Rhyan’s legless neighbor (Clarissa?) who watches TV too loudly in the early morning hours.

I did find it a bit odd that the aliens, with all their technology and military strength, have left this city of skyscrapers alone for the moment. Some people inside the city walls have wondered this too, so I hope the sequel gives us a good reason for it.

Even though this is silly, I’m going to say it anyway – the title keeps throwing me off. Until I heard the audiobook, I didn’t know if Girl Vs meant the V was her last name, a designation, etc. It turns out it’s Girl Versus – and I’m guessing that means Rhyan versus the aliens…. Still, I don’t like the title because it doesn’t tell me anything about the book. Despite that small criticism, I still enjoyed the tale. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Tonia Blake did a pretty good job with this narration. She had distinct voices for all the characters and her male voices were believable. I did notice that sometimes two or more character voices would blur into each other when more than 1 character was in a scene. Pacing was perfect and she did well with the emotions of all the characters. There were no technical issues with the recording. 4.5/5 stars.

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

The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski

The Ghoul Archipelago - Stephen Kozeniewski

The Curien Island chain is infested with the walking dead… and they wear glass jars on their heads tightly sealed to their necks. Yeah – that should give you a horrific visual. Drug traffickers collide with the locals and the US Navy. It’s really quite a mess as the world falls apart. On top of that, Rand Bergeron, creator of the virtual reality gizmo and sex programs, is right smack in the middle of this as well. It’s quite logical that a twisted religious cult would rise up out of all this mess, lead by Sonntag. I loved hating on Sonntag! He was the most despicable character but also a powerful force that pushes all the other heavy hitters around.

My favorite character was Libby West. She’s trapped walking this thin line under Admiral Fall. She wants to keep her men safe and also help the remaining humans but Admiral Fall has some twisted ideas. West tries again and again to hold to some healthy morals as people around her stray ever further into one flavor of depravity or another.

It took me some time to get into this book. First, the zombies jar heads (while an awesome scary image) just wasn’t practical. Where do they get all these jars? What happens when they break? Zombies are clumsy. Then the story spent time on this fancy new tech from Bergeron which was at odds with this nitty gritty zombie infestation. But once all the characters clashed together, the story worked a lot better for me.

Tuan Jim was a fun character because he kept popping up in unexpected places. I loved it when he squared off with Sonntag. Martigan, while an important character, was only so-so for me. Hannibal Mo was more memorable, along with Kurtz and how they lend a much needed helping hand to Butch (a stow away).

The story takes a devious turn in the last quarter that I didn’t see coming. Yet I did wonder about Bergeron’s virtual reality collars. They have a little needle that slips between the vertebrae…. and injects something? There was line about the collars needing a refill? So I had questions about the collars and their final use.

All in all, it was a mash of fun ideas that could have been tightened up a bit. Most of the characters were one-dimensional and I wanted the details about the tech to be clearer. 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Jennifer Fournier did a great job with this narration. She had a variety of character voices, complete with accents. Her male voices were believable. There were plenty of emotions in this story and Fournier portrayed them well. 5/5 stars.

The Lawn Job by Chuck Caruso

The Lawn Job - Chuck Caruso

Ex-con Craig Collins isn’t the sharpest pencil in the pack but he thinks he is. He’s ticked off for losing his lawn job with several clients so he hatches this plan with his stripper girlfriend Juana that he hopes will give him a big payday. The plot was pretty straight forward though I did hope Alfonso’s guns for drugs stuff would complicate matters and make things interesting. Alas, that didn’t lead to much but it did give Alfonso a bit of personality.

Initially, I was rooting for Juana. She had the most depth out of all the characters. While it’s never made clear if she’s transgender or a hermaphrodite, she does use her assets to the best of their ability. I liked that Collins found her sexy in many ways but he was also a bit of jerk for thinking of her as a freak. Juana was great for pushing back for more in a relationship and for a little while there I hoped that things between her and Gino would turn out well.

But then one betrayal after another happens and I stopped rooting for any of the characters. The mystery still held a little interest for me. I wanted to know which character would win this little drama. I was pleased to see it wasn’t Craig. 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Joe Formichella narrated in a monotone voice for most of the story. He did give Craig’s two ex-con friends distinct voices. However, his Spanish accent for Alfonso was pretty rough. His female voices were lacking femininity. His pacing was good. There were technical issues with the recording. 3/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

Tracing Shadows by Alex Lidell

Tracing Shadows - Alex Lidell

Kali and Trace make a really good team! I enjoyed getting to know Kali on her own and even enjoyed her initial interactions with Trace, who was a bit high and mighty. There was a bit of silly tension between the two as they worked out their always fluctuating relationship but I can forgive them that.

Kali’s young enough to have doubts about her abilities on her first real espionage mission. Still, there were situations that I thought her training would have readied her for, like nudity in the guards change room, etc. So, I did do some small eyerolls. After all, what good is a spy that gives themselves away by blushing over a bit of casual nudity? Kali totally redeemed herself with her knife skills.

Leaf, Kali’s sister who is being held hostage, has her secret skills too – she’s talented with the crystal healing magic, a Whisperer. Alas, this talent can get a person killed. Even though she has such a small role, I liked her character and want to learn more about her.

Crown Prince Wil and his sister Violet are very different from each other. Kali is charged with protecting Wil, so she has to traipse around with him, and also Trace. Meanwhile, Violet is an introverted young lady who has severe doubts of her self-worth. She is also caught up in deep grieving over the recent death of their mother. While I didn’t particularly like her character, she gave us a window into a dangerous and manipulative religious group.

Next to Kali, Trace becomes my favorite character…. yes, it’s a tie between the two of them. While the plot and characters start off simple, we get a little layering later in the tale, with Trace especially. He’s got plenty of secrets and hidden skills. Kali eventually grows a bit after she makes a bad mistake that leaves her injured.

The story never lagged for me. Plenty of action interspersed with spy stuff kept me engaged. The tale does end on a cliff hanger so I hope Book 2 comes out on audiobook very soon. 4.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Hayden Daviau gave a really good performance with this narration. Her male voices are believable and she had distinct voices for all the characters. I especially liked her waspish, peeved voice for Leaf while she tries to attend to Kali’s injuries. She did a great job with the emotional scenes as well. 5/5 stars.

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

Graveyard Shift by Michael Haspil

Graveyard Shift - Michael F. Haspil

Vampires are out in the open now and UMBRA, a top secret group of government-funded vampire hunters, has been dismantled. Now Alex, a former UMBRA agent, has to navigate a new world of bloody drinks at every corner store and a good chunk of the world that operates at night instead of the day. Instantly, I was captivated by this main character. Alex isn’t your typical vampire hunter. He’s got some supernatural secrets of his own. And a cat.

The former Pharaoh, Alex Menkaure, now lives in Miami working as Detective Alex Romero. A murder mystery needs to be solved fast before more civilians and Nocturnes (as vampires like to be called) die. When it became apparent that someone has been tampering with commercially available blood drinks (Hemo-Synth), I did flash to True Blood briefly. While this central plot point may not be original, the story still worked really well.

Marcus, Alex’s partner, is also a vampire, one who once was a Roman Imperator. So the two do most of their work at night. They eventually team up with some unlikely allies to solve this murder mystery and bring down the criminal mastermind going by the name Abraham. Marcus and Alex have great banter between them. I often enjoyed a dark chuckle.

Betrayal and dangerous enemies make life hard for Alex. I enjoyed all the action. There was never a dull moment. I really hope for a sequel. 4.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Michael Kramer has long been a favorite voice to listen to. I was quite pleased to hear him give life to this story. He had distinct voices for all the characters, including a variety of accents. His female voices were believable. All around, it was a great performance. 5/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

Uncanny Valley by C. A. Gray

Uncanny Valley - C.A. Gray

This book was only so-so for me. It was more romance than science fiction, with a little touch of conspiracy theory stuff thrown in. Romance isn’t my cup of tea and I was left wanting more sci-fi. The conspiracy theory stuff kept the characters running around and provided most of the interesting parts.

Rebecca was hard for me to connect with. She’s working on an upper graduate degree but often she acts like a 15 year old. Her ridiculous attraction to Andy went on too long, becoming a little mind numbing. She’s usually a big ball of emotions simply reacting to events and people around her instead of being a force that drives the plot. She’s very needy, wanting to be all things to everyone around her. Initially, I saw this as a starting point for her character and expected her to grow throughout the story, but, alas, there is very little character growth for Rebecca.

I liked Liam well enough but felt that he was a bit too trusting, as is Rebecca. After all, if they truly believe some large corporate enemy is after them or at least monitoring their websites, then why do they communicate so freely via their electronic devices? I wish Francis, with his analytical mind and skeptical nature, had come on the scene earlier. I really enjoyed him, even with his often snide (but honest) remarks.

Madeline, Rebecca’s taboo companion bot, was fun. I like the conundrum she represents. How much of her caring nature is her programming versus an AI’s personality. Can Madeline have genuine feelings? This was the best part of the book.

The female characters were mostly fluff, even Madeline. When the ladies get together, they talk about the guys and romance… and not much else. I expected more from them.

The plot was straight forward and while some reveals were built into the storyline, none of them were a surprise. I would have liked a bit more complication to plot, since that’s what I look forward to in conspiracy theory stories. I wasn’t surprised about who sent the mystery messages, nor about Francis’s suspicions, and not about the identity of the government supporter of the Liam’s Resistance friends. The story leaves us on a cliff hanger. 3/5 stars.

The Narration:  Melissa Williams gave a great performance on this narration. She had the perfect voice for Rebecca and distinct voices for all characters. I especially liked the slightly robotic voice she gave to Madeline. Her male voices were believable. While I didn’t like all of Rebecca’s emotional drama, Williams performed those emotions well. 5/5 stars.

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

Song at Dawn by Jean Gill

Song at Dawn - Jean Gill

Estela de Matin has secrets and that made her an engaging character right from the beginning. Alienor is intrigued too and takes her into her household out of curiosity. The women build a kind of trust even as politics and scheming threaten Queen Alienor and those around her. The Victomtess of Narbonne, Ermengarda, has to put her people first and the whole of France second. Estela is talented in both singing and playing her mandora, so she’s placed as a troubadour in training.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction. The history aspect was first and foremost. I loved all the details that made me feel like I was learning even while I was entertained. The fashion and gender roles of 12th century France are well incorporated to the tale. For example, it was fashionable for the ladies to have high foreheads, so some would modify their hairline by shaving part of their hair off to extend their foreheads.

While there were strong gender roles during this time period, the ladies were not sidelined in this tale. There is indeed romance, but they don’t spend all their time on it. So refreshing! I loved that the female characters would talk about all sorts of things and not just romance. They drove the plot and didn’t always have to rely on bedroom skills to do so.

Dragonetz was an interesting character as well. He’s a knight and a troubadour. He is sworn to serve the Queen but he also has a secret lover. He also has a dedicated spy and confidant – Sancha (spelling?). She’s a unique character in that she’s really a man who has chosen to live as a woman for decades. I really hope the series explores her character more.

I did leave the story feeling a little confused on three points. First, would Estela really have left home with so little? She comes from a privileged family and it’s not clear to me what could have forced her out on her own, literally sleeping in ditches. Second, I don’t get why Estela gave up her virginity when she did to who she did. I was left wondering if she just wanted it over with so she could stop worrying about it. Third, I don’t get Arno. The one weak thread in this novel is this idea of love above and beyond station, family, marriage, etc. I think  Arno was caught up in that and was supposed to be this example of unrequited courtly love… and yet it didn’t feel like a complete picture to me. With that said, some of these points might be made whole in the sequel.

The story ends with several dramatic scenes, wrapping up the main mystery of who has been leaving threats for the Queen. There’s still a larger mystery that Dragonetz must solve plus the politics of Narbonne are practically on fire at this point. The crusades weren’t all glory and profit and I loved that several aspects were displayed through the characters. All told, 4.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Jake Urry is always a treat to listen to. He has an excellent voice and I have enjoyed several stories that he has narrated. With that said, his female character voices could use a touch more variation. He can do a decent female voice, but all the ladies sounded like alto ladies. There wasn’t much difference from lady to lady. There was some singing in this book and often it was in a foreign language – and Urry did a great job with these songs. I also liked the little snippets of music between chapters. I know this is a small thing, but it took me forever to figure out that it was ‘Moor’ and not ‘maul’ that Urry was saying, referring to the one Moorish character in the story. 4.5/5 stars.

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

Bellwether by Connie Willis

Bellwether - Connie Willis

Haha! This book was a sheer delight to listen to. Willis builds subtle humor in the characters, the plot, and the setting. I often found myself nodding my head, thinking, ‘Yeah! That could totally happen!’ or “Yep, been there. Done that.” The characters were immediately relatable. Sandra Foster is clever but also has some compassion (which not all of her coworkers do). Her study on fads and what causes them now has me interested in the subject as well!

One of the best things about this book is all the little snippets of history worked into the story. Not only are there factoids about the hula hoop, hair bobs, and the Rubik’s cube, but also about sheep, ostriches, cuisine, and how famous scientists stumbled into an ‘Aha! moment’. While the indoor smoking dated the piece, it was interesting that Sandra considered the banishing of public smoking in buildings and restaurants a fad.

Then there’s Flip. I think the universe uses Flip to try out the latest fads like her flop of hair, duct tape clothing items, and her eye tattoo. Flip is notoriously bad at her job and yet feels that too much is asked of her. She’s always complaining and yet likes Sandra because she’s one of the few people that isn’t openly mean to her. While Flip seems to be simply there to provide comedic relief or convenient plot devices, her role is eventually revealed to be much more important.

I loved the sheep. We used to have goats, so I immediately sympathized with Bennett and Sandra on how difficult it was to get the sheep to do anything they wanted. Eventually, it’s revealed what a bellwether is in a sheep herd, and hence the meaning of the title. Or so I thought! Willis gives us another little twist on the bellwether towards the end of the book and it made me look at my co-workers, friends, and family in a different light. Aha! There’s the bellwether in my life! Thoroughly entertaining and educational. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Kate Reading gives a great performance. She makes a perfect Sandra Foster, being an insightful woman with a touch of humor. Her masculine voices are also well done. I especially liked her voices for Management and their fake enthusiasm at the Team Building Exercises. Her voice for Flip was spot on, sounding bored and put out and occasionally needy. There were no recording issues. 5/5 stars.

Ice by Lauren Carr

ICE - Lauren Carr

Retired FBI agent Chris Matheson lives with his mom (Doris) and his daughters (Katelyn and Emma) on a little hobby farm complete with dogs (like Sterling), horses (such as Chewbacca), and a bunny rabbit (Thor). His mom doesn’t think his life is complete, so she introduces him to the local murder mystery book club. However, there’s more going on in this book club, which is full of retired investigators, cops, emergency responders, etc. They (who shall be known as the Geezer Squad) want to delve into a cold case and Chris has one that is near and dear to his heart – Sandy Lipton went missing along with her unborn baby when Chris was in his early 20s. A new entanglement with this old case brings in Helen Clark from the West Virginia state police. She also happens to be Chris’s old flame.

I have listened to many Lauren Carr books and this is one of my favorites. There’s plenty of humor mixed in with the more serious scenes. While there’s a little romance in the tale, it doesn’t distract from the main plot. I especially liked the inclusion of the family pets as they provide much of the comedic relief.

The plot was pretty good on this one, having plenty of twists and turns. I liked all the little surprises as one mystery is solved even as it provides another mystery to tackle. About half way through the tale, it did become a bit obvious who was the father of Sandy’s baby. Other than that, there were plenty of surprises.

Every once in a while, things gets a little too cutsy, like saccharine sweet. But I know Carr’s works often do this just as I know such moments move on quickly. I did think Helen was a little silly for still being a little ticked about how things fell out between her and Chris so many years ago. Sounds like she never made peace with it. Otherwise, Helen was a good character on her own and good fit for Chris’s partner on this mystery.

Doris was a hoot! She and Sterling were my favorite characters. She makes her granddaughters try to guess her talent that won her a state beauty pageant when she was in her teens (which provided the tuition money for college). At the end, we finally get to know what that talent was – a talent she kept in top order and came in handy.

All told, this was a fun murder mystery that kept me engaged the entire time. 4.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Mike Alger makes a great Chris. I have listened to many Alger’s narrations and he continues to refine his performance with each audiobook. each character was distinct and his female voices sounded feminine. There were no technical issues with this recording. 5/5 stars.

I Serve by Rosanne E. Lortz

I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince - Rosanne E. Lortz

I went into this book expecting to learn about the Hundred Years War and to be entertained. This story managed to do one of these things. John Potenhale is telling a very lengthy tale to the widow of a French knight who he met and admired. The entire book is told in a kind of flowery language that makes me think of the great King Arthur stories or Chaucer’s tales. Such manner of telling a tale works good for a Shakespearean play but was rather tiring for a 10+ hour long novel.

I did like that setting was well done. The politics of the day as well as the geography were covered but not in a big hard to swallow lump. I felt like I was learning things as Potenhale was as he worked hard to become a knight and gain esteem. I think this is a good introduction to the Hundred Years War if someone is looking for a way to get interested in that time period and location.

There are very few female characters and this was a disappointment. There are plenty of histories (nonfiction and fiction) for this war that fail to include the ladies so I was hoping this tale would be more inclusive. There’s Margery, a handmaid to the Lady Joan. That might be it… I think Potenhale thinks about his mom from time to time…. and the Virgin is mentioned several times when a knight feels like praying. Joan and Margery are love interests and nothing else. So that let me down.

The tale has a few slumps but then a rousing battle scene at the end. It wasn’t all glory, which I was glad to see. Potenhale takes in the reek and savagery of battle. Then there’s a bit of an epilogue in which we learn the outcome of the romantic pining that has been going on. All told, it wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad. 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: James Young did a good job with this narration. He maintained a flowery oration all the way through as the story required. His French accent and pronunciations were great. His female voices could have used a touch more femininity. His pacing was just a touch slow for my taste. 4/5 stars.

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