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Born in Fire by K. F. Breene

Born in Fire - K.F. Breene

What a fun story! I really enjoyed this urban fantasy. Reagan is my kind of bounty hunter – efficient with weapons and full of sass. I so enjoyed all her quips and how that affected those around her. Through a series of work technicalities, she gets stuck working with a powerful and handsome vampire Darius. They are hunting down some strange magics.

Now this isn’t your typical vampire tale. While there is a hint of flirtation that could develop into romance, there are no sex scenes in this story. It’s all about solving the mystery and if a few instances of dry humping occur, that’s just one of the hazards of dealing with magic. While Darius is all for entering into a formal bond with Reagan, she’s an independent sort and not interested.

Reagan has her secrets and apparently some old family friends (Callie and Dizzy) know some of those secrets plus a few more. Reagan’s magic isn’t like any other magic she knows and she goes to good lengths to conceal that. I can see how Callie could become a surrogate mother to Reagan as the series moves forward.

There’s plenty of humor in this story and I applaud the use of sarcasm and pointing out the obvious. Her mouth lands her in trouble a few times but she has the muscle and magic to handle it. Sword, gun, and magic all get equal time in the fights.

When I finished this book, I was quite ready to jump into the next. Looking forward to the rest of the series. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Nicole Poole was a perfect fit for this book. Her voice for Reagan is spot on and she makes a sexy Darius as well. I love her harsh voices for Reagan’s neighbors, Callie’s commanding shout, Dizzy’s old man apologetic voice, and the mechanical modified voice of the Big Baddie. I felt that Poole had a lot of fun with this story; her enthusiasm shows in the performance. 5/5 stars.

Truth Kills by Nanci Rathbun

Truth Kills: An Angelina Bonaparte Mystery - Nanci Rathbun

I love that our hero in this tale is an independent, older woman. Angie Bonaparte is an independent investigator that often works closely with the local Milwaukee police. However, she’s also got some character flaws that made it difficult for me to like her. She’s really hung up on looks and comparing herself to other women. Angie assumes all women do this and she does so through out the entire book. I would have liked more self-confidence in her character. She trades some petty gossip about her boyfriend and that puts her in Mean Girl territory. I felt it was small of her… but then I liked how things ended there and felt she deserved it. So, yeah, I had a love/hate relationship with Angie. Despite that, I have solid hopes that she will grow as a person and do better in Book 2.

The plot itself is solid and I quite enjoyed this aspect of the story. Anthony Belloni, a mob boss, is the obvious suspect when his dish on the side (Elisa Murano) gets murdered. Angie was hired by Gracie Belloni (Tony’s wife) to look into whether or not Tony was having an affair. After digging around in Tony’s affairs, she believes Anthony was honestly re-prioritizing his life with the imminent birth of his 4th or 5th kid by his wife. Of course the local police assigned to the case are way more skeptical.

I especially liked Ted Wukowski, one of the police detectives assigned to the case. He’s grumpy and not personable but Angie sees there’s something more going on there. It was a joy to see the back and forth between these two.

The story does beat on one particular drum quite often: a woman’s independence. Angie comes from a very traditional Italian family that expects women to be stay at home wives and mothers. Angie, after her divorce, has broken away from that. She went even further by choosing a traditionally male occupation. I like all of this but, even so, sometimes that drum beating was a little too often. Angie has a bit of a chip on her shoulder while also being a bit silly worrying over her personal sex appeal. I would have liked the story a little more if this aspect had been toned down a bit.

The pacing is good with clues, some action, character building, and this budding relationship between Angie and Wukowski. Over all, I look forward to Book 2 and seeing if Angie can gain some self confidence. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Kieren Calland Metts was OK for this book. Her narration needs some polishing all around. She has a decent voice for Angie and her pronunciations are very clear. She is hesitant with any accent so sometimes it came out a bit fumbled or over-accentuated. Her male voices need some masculinity. The pacing is a little slow and the volume sometimes fluctuates a bit. 3/5 stars.

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

Murder by Perfection by Lauren Carr

Murder by Perfection - Lauren Carr

Note: While this is Book 3 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone.

I’ve been a fan of Lauren Carr’s works for several years now. Sinking into this book was like joining an old friend for a lengthy cup of tea. I enjoy the writing style and characters equally. There’s also a twist or three and there’s usually more than one mystery to solve.

Jessica and Murphy are trying to balance her schooling and his career with their personal lives. And that’s how they get pulled into a minor investigation that involves a couples’s cooking class. Natalie Stepford is a well known cook and quite the looker too.

Of course, we get a body or two and the investigations into each are off and running. Then Murphy turns up missing. So the timeline jumps around a little in regards to Murphy and that through me a bit more than once. Still, I loved it that Murphy, this very capable man with lots of combat training and other special skills gained from his time in the super secret Phantoms, is the one that goes missing and it’s up to his wife and family to save him.

Newman was a source of amusement, a mix dog of some sort that rules over the TV, changing the station if the show doesn’t suit him. I also found the electronic butler Nigel fun, as people are sometimes started by his disembodied voice.

This tale had a few more cliches than normal for Carr’s works. On one hand, that made it easy to follow along and just enjoy the characters. On the other hand, it did make some things predictable. Despite this, I had a lot of fun with the story.

Murphy’s twin brother gets called in to help lay down a ruse that will bring the culprits to light even as other members of the family continue to pursue their investigations. I didn’t really like that Jessica had to use her feminine wiles, playing a woman in emotional distress, as her part of the ruse. First, she hasn’t acted like that at all, and secondly, she has plenty more to offer as a character.

The action is well balanced with humor and I also liked the flirtations between Murphy and Jessica as they do their best to fit in some sexytimes with their busy schedules. The end leaves us on a very satisfying note. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Mike Alger has narrated several of Carr’s books and listening to his narrations is like listening to an old friend at this point. I love his voices for the men. He manages to make all the related men sound like relatives while also giving them their own unique voices. He makes a perfect Murphy. His female voices are usually feminine but there’s less range there and sometimes more then one woman will sound like the other. His pacing is perfect and there’s no issues with the recording. 4.5/5 stars.

Cash Kills by Nanci Rathbun

Cash Kills - Nanci Rathbun

Note: Even though this is Book 2, it works fine as a stand alone novel.

Private instigator Angeline Bonaparte is growing on me. I was on the fence in Book 1, but I like her better in this story. She’s a bit more mature and not as lacking in confidence as in Book 1. The plot is tighter than Book 1 and the mystery takes a bit more to solve. I also enjoy the continuing relationship between Angie and Ted Wukowski.

I didn’t care for all the fashion name drops and the repeated descriptions of Angie’s underwear. I don’t care that much about her matching bra and panties, even if Ted does. I liked that a 50+ year old single woman enjoys her sexuality, but I don’t need to know her daily choice in under garments. I don’t pay attention to fashion name brands, so dropping those names to describe what characters are wearing was boring for me. Honestly, I’m not going to go google what this type of hat is or that type of jacket.

Back to the plot: Adriana Johnson is a young adult who recently lost both her parents in an apparent robbery gone bad. Now she’s inherited millions of dollars but she’s got lots of questions. Her family didn’t live like they had money so Adriana has suspicions about where this money came from. Considering her family has a bloody past, I think this prudent of her. Adriana has a mix of distrusting nature and innocence. She doesn’t know how to do her own makeup but she’s wise enough to hire a PI to look into this money.

It’s a small cast this time, so it soon becomes apparent who’s the bad guy, but tracking that person down and keeping Adriana safe isn’t so easy. Most of this tale is about the hunt which I liked. Angie carries concealed & knows how to handle her gun, which is great. The fact that she feels she needs to repeat this was a little tiring. Angie had a chip on her shoulder about women working in traditionally male jobs in Book 1; she’s still got that chip in this book. I don’t mind the point being made, but to keep hammering away at it is a little tiring.

Ted and Angie continue to circle each other, figuring out just how deep their romance really is. I liked the back and forth between them. It’s quite sweet how their families get pulled into it. I didn’t feel that Angie should have to apologize to her dad, but I also could see how a traditional Italian family might take the minor ‘scandal’. This tale ends on a sweet, happy note. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Kieren Calland Metts did OK with this narration. Her pacing is a little slow but she has a very good voice for Angie Bonaparte. Her masculine voices are better than in Book 1 but could still use a little more masculinity. Metts accents are hesitant and muddied. Also, and I don’t think this falls on the narrator, but there are several moments in the book where the author explains how certain names are pronounced. With an audiobook version, there’s no need to spell out how to pronounce Adriana, etc. Metts has great little kid voices and a perfect elderly woman voice for Ted’s mother. 3/5 stars.

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

In Times Like These by Nathan van Coops

In Times Like These (Volume 1) - Nathan Van Coops

Ben and his friends just wanted to play a bit of softball but that lightning strike zapped them back in time, going from 2009 to 1986. Ben, Fresca, Carson, Robbie, and Blake. They’re all in their mid-20s and quite baffled by the common fashion sense of the average 1980s Florida resident. The story has a bit of nostalgia to it but also plenty of action. Once they come to terms with their reality, sort of, they decide to address their immediate needs: shelter & food & perhaps clothes. Luckily, Robbie’s grandfather lives in the area in the 1980s and luckily he’s bored enough or lonely enough to give these young people a chance.

I love the pace of the story. The tale doesn’t linger over the how and the characters don’t get to wallow in self pity. Sure, some are more concerned than others (Blake – I’m looking at you pining away for Mallory) and some take longer to deal with the shock of it, but pretty soon our fab 5 are hunting for some scientists to help them figure things out. That’s there Dr. Harold Quickly comes into the picture, along with this well traveled daughter Mim.

There’s a challenging foe in the story as well. Strenger is an arsonist who doesn’t mind killing people along the way. Somehow he also got sucked back into 1986 and he is also hunting for answers. I liked this aspect of the story because it complicated matters for our heroes. As if accidental time travel wasn’t bad enough; here’s this murdering evil fire bug to stop.

There was so much I liked about this story. It’s all about the adventure and avoids the often drawn out drama of time travel that can bog a story down. Things keep going wrong and there were a few times that I wanted to give Ben a little shake for making such a simple mistake. There’s side characters that help our heroes and there’s those that do them wrong. I also loved that not all of the fab 5 decided to put everything on the line just to get back to their natural timeline. After all, there’s plenty of time travelers that live when they want to.

The one issue I have with this story is the dearth of female characters. Fresca holds potential but she’s pretty one dimensional in this book. There’s a handful of female side characters, and they do get names and a few lines. However, I had to get about 5 hours into the book before we got another main female character: Mim. And, of course, she’s immediately slotted into the role of main love interest. She contributes little else for the rest of the story. There’s no female scientists or individual time travelers and they make few plot related decisions.

The story leaves us with enough wrapped up to be satisfying but plenty open enough for the sequel to just stroll right in. I was especially happy with Robbie and his choices. I can see Ben becoming the great time traveler we all need him to be. 4.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Neil Hellegers is a shear delight to listen to. He gives Ben the barest goofiness to his voice which makes him sound like the relatively innocent young man he starts off as. I loved his rough, angry voice for the villain Strenger. His female voices are believable and I liked his very light accent for Fresca. His Montana cowboy voice was also well done. 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 Nathan Van Coops. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

The Gad Nail by Anthony Spaeth

The Gad Nail - Anthony Spaeth

I had the great pleasure to listen to Howl of the Lambergoon and was very happy to see a sequel to the series (Gad the Zig). While this is the second book, it stands on its own. As with Book 1, the story captures the fanciful and instantly pulled me in. I own both the audiobook and the paperbook, so this review is for both formats.

A potter lives a lonely life on the Hebrides so he uses a bit of magic to craft a kid (who gets a robin’s nest for a cap and an iron nail for a heart). Gad is then sent on his first quest – to find a meal. The potter warns him seriously to stay out the Fendrees woods.

And we can all see where Gad will have to venture for one reason or another. There’s a turtle involved and faeries! Gad wasn’t sure he would be able to make it out alive! Thankfully, more than one comes to his aid and the faerie queen of Fendrees woods takes their pleas into consideration.

While the plot is straight forward, it is eloquently told. The cadence and word choice are just as well used as the imagery. I would recommend this for adults and kids as there’s enough here to capture the heart of any age. 5/5 stars.

The illustrations are beautifully done, as with Book 1, even with the change in illustrators. The cover illustration didn’t pull me in as much as Book 1 simply because it has so much pink. I can clearly see the artistry in the cover despite the pink and I knew the story would be worthy. The interior illustrations use the full palette and don’t rely heavily on pink. Once again, I love that there’s a fanciful map at the beginning. The illustrations near the end of the tale, when kids are encouraged to hunt out their own magical woods, were my favorites. It’s great that kids of different walks of life are included, such as the kid in the wheelchair. 5/5 stars.

Narration: Derek Murray gives a superb performance. He nails the rhythm perfectly. He has distinct voices for all the characters and his faerie queen voice is feminine. Murray’s Scottish accent adds to the book since it’s set in the Hebrides. 5/5 stars.

Howl of the Lambergoon by Anthony Spaeth

Howl of the Lambergoon - Anthony Spaeth

I had the pleasure to review the audiobook for Audio Book Reviewer and you can catch my review over there. Derek Murray gives a marvelous performance for the narration of the audiobook. Here is an additional review of the paper version.

This story is just as enchanting the second time through and just a bit more engrossing with all of these luscious illustrations. The characters come to life so quickly and it was easy to put myself in their shoes. The tale holds adventure, mystery, and a quest of sorts. The physical book has a simple but well done map to go along with the story, which is set in the Hebrides. A touch of history and myth curl their way throughout this engaging story. I love Aud’s hairstyle in the illustrations and the lambergoon is a treat to behold!

Told in rhyme, it’s easy to fall into the near sing-song pacing. The charm continues to grow with each passing page. I can see how kids would be easily caught up in this story with all the fun, silly words (like lambergoon). In fact, I bought a copy for my niece. At this rate, she’ll be reading before she’s out of the womb!

This is easily one of my favorite tales of the year, despite most of my reading being dark fantasy, epic scifi, and murder mystery. 6/5 stars.

Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Hell Divers (Hell Divers Trilogy Book 1) - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

I’ve listened to this book twice and it was great both times through. The first go drew me in with this airship and the hell divers and the destroyed land beneath them. The second pass let me appreciate the characters more. Xavier (X to most) and his sorta adopted kid Tin are both great characters. Both have a lot on their shoulders and both save their little society in their own ways.

The setting really captured my imagination. Yes, this is post-apocalyptic fiction, but in this world, the apocalypse came a bit further along the human timeline. Even the remnants of the technology that was once available is just beyond what we have now. The Hell Divers jump to gather much needed supplies for their airship, keeping it in the air, away from the worst of the radiation for generations now. But stuff is breaking down, supplies are limited, and the situation becomes more and more desperate.

I did get a little chuckle over Hades being what once was Chicago. All those deadly lightning storms! And the monsters dubbed the Sirens! I’m a huge Dresden Files fan and I can just see Harry Dresden rolling over in his grave that Chicago has fallen to lightning and monsters!

Even with everything being in a desperate state, politics still plays a role in the management of the ship. So true. I can see why the rebels demand more meds and more food but their efforts end in a body count and could have easily ended them all! The captain was put in a very tough situation. She couldn’t let this minor rebellion grow but any body count earns her a bit more hatred from part of the population. Captain Ash earned my respect with her actions during this crisis.

I loved that the ladies were part of every aspect of this story. They were in the military management of the airship. They were Hell Divers. They were teachers, cooks, kids, drug addicted desperate people, etc. For a military post-apocalyptic scifi, this was a very important aspect for me and Smith met the challenge! Yay! It’s only practical to have women be on an equal footing at the end of the world.

The action never stops with this book. There were so many moments where I thought for sure this character or that was toast! I was on the edge of my seat the first time I read it. On the second pass, you could still catch me nibbling my fingernails as I relived this scene or that. This was a very enjoyable book! 5/5 stars.

The Narration: R. C. Bray is a delight to listen to. His deep voice for X is perfect. His female voices sounded feminine and his little kid voices were realistic. He makes a great Tin as well as a great Captain Ash. The pacing is perfect and he performs those emotional scenes perfectly. 5/5 stars

Ghosts by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Ghosts - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

With the way Book 1 ended, I had to jump right into Book 2. Set 10 years later, the book keeps us in suspense as to what ultimately happened to X from Book 1. While that question was in the back of my mind, I got caught up with Tin, who’s real name is Michael Everhart. He’s now a young man, considered a full experienced adult in this post-apocalyptic society. The Hive airship is still flying. Yet things haven’t been all rosy these past years. It’s been one emergency after another. Captain Leon Jordan handles some of these emergencies well and others not so much. As the pressure builds, he makes more and more mistakes.

Once again, the action keeps this book moving along at a swift clip. I worried over this character or that one and was on the edge of my seat for the entire book. Michael is a great character to follow. He’s become a Hell Diver (like his dad and like X).  I was glad to see that Layla was still a significant part of Michael’s life. I love that they work as a team and there’s no ridiculous chauvinistic chivalry from Michael and no fainting flower silliness from Layla. These two are a great hero duo.

There’s a canine companion, Miles, in this book which makes life bearable for a certain character. Yay! Of course, there were several times where I worried about the dog’s safety. No fears! The dog makes it through this book.

Captain Jordan is not a good person. I think he once was, but the constant pressure since he assumed control (after Cpt. Ash succumbed to cancer) has brought out the worst traits in the man. I think Katrina, who was once X’s lover, has tried her best to keep Jordan level-headed. I knew Jordan had gone to the dark side when he removed the ship’s historical artwork from the hallways. Bad move!

Hell Diver Magnolia is back in this book but early on I worried if she would make it through this book alive! Her accident acts as a catalyst for Michael and his Hell Divers to break some rules. She’s got some of the best lines in the book.

All told, this is a worthy sequel to Book 1. I found it just as enthralling. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: R. C. Bray continues to do this series justice. I liked his grown up voices for Tin (Michael) and Layla, who were kids in Book 1. He had the perfect voice for jerk captain Jordan as well. His female characters sounded feminine and each character had a unique voice. The pacing was perfect as well. 5/5 stars.

Deliverance (Hell Divers 2) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Deliverance - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

X is my hero! Well, perhaps Miles (his bioengineered dog) is my first hero and X is a close second. I have totally binged read this series. I already have Book 4 on pre-order too. The pace is swift, the setting gripping, and the characters engaging. This series has been one of my favorite stories I’ve listened to this year and one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories of all time. Book 1 was great and Smith has managed to carry that awesomeness throughout the series.

Team Raptor, lead by Hell Diver Michael Everhart, spends some quality time on Earth rather than up in The Hive airship. Captain Jordan has rocked off his hinges and Team Raptor was in danger of being exterminated. Now Michael knows that X survived the ending of Book 1, even left a recorded radio message that Jordan was aware of, and now Michael needs  to find out if X is still alive. Plus, things in the air aren’t going well. The inhabitants of The Hive will need an earthly home sooner rather than later.

Through X, we get to learn more about the remnants of humans and their tech. One of the things I have really enjoyed about this series is that the apocalypse happened further down the timeline so the tech is more advanced than what we have now, but considered remnants by X and the other airship humans. There’s bioengineered animals, and cryogenics, and some AI. This really gives it a near-future scifi feeling as well as being post-apocalyptic.

Katrina has done her best to smooth things out with Captain Jordan but he’s gone too far on too many things. She can no longer keep him stable and reasonable. He’s dead set on keeping The Hive in the air no matter the costs; he’s willing to ignore any facts to the contrary. Katrina has to make some hard decisions in this book and I admired her for that.

Team Raptor (Michael, Layla, Magnolia, and Roger) come across more dangers than just the Sirens and radiation. As they explore the surface, they discover aggressive plants and evidence that the humans in the sky aren’t the only ones that have survived this long. Once again, Magnolia and her smart mouth was one of my favorite characters.

The action propels the story forward and before I knew it, I was done. Now I had to wait for Book 4. The sweet torture! Good thing I can go back and re-read the series before Book 4 comes out. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: R. C. Bray is excellent to listen to in this series. He’s aged and rasped up X’s voice so it’s perfect. I love his smart mouth for Magnolia and his angry, frustrated voice for Captain Jordan. There’s some emotional moments in this tale and Bray captures those perfectly. 5/5 stars.

Trackers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Trackers - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

My addiction to Smith’s works continues. I tore through his Hell Divers series (which I totally loved) and then jumped into this series. Finally, I’m writing reviews.

This post-apocalyptic series is set in modern times, mostly set in Estes Park, Colorado (which is an easy day’s drive north of me). In this scenario, EMPs are set off in key points of the USA, shutting down our electric grid and wreaking havoc. The North Koreans have nearly paralyzed the US government! Even as people start to grasp what has happened, the hits keep coming for Washington DC.

I became attached the Estes Park characters much quicker than I did with the Washington DC characters. I did like the alternating view points. Sam ‘Raven’ Spears (retired Marine) and his dog Creek are my favorite characters hands down. Sam has been a bit of a loaf in Estes Park but now with this nationwide emergency he has a chance to really make a difference. Also, this is a murder mystery story and Raven gets caught up in that too since he and Creek are excellent trackers. Raven’s sister Sandra, who works as a nurse at the hospital, and her daughter (Allie) become caught up in this mystery too.

The reaction of the average citizen was very realistic. Sure, a lot of stuff has stopped working, there looks to have been a bomb off on the horizon (maybe a nuclear bomb), but some things still work and surely the government will be by any time to set things right, right? Some people were more skeptical, some caught on quicker, some didn’t wait to find out one way or another, etc. It was a great mix of believable responses.

I was a little surprised by the ladies. I’m coming to this series from Hell Divers where the ladies do everything the men do; gender equality is a given not a ‘check the box’ thing. So here we have several well made female characters that are competent in their given jobs and yet none of them are in the thick of it. They generally don’t handle weapons and they certainly don’t go out on missions to scout, track, or rescue. I was left wanting more from the ladies.

While Raven works with police chief Colton on tracking down a killer, Nathan Sardetti goes on a rescue mission near Estes Park. His handicapped nephew, Ty, was at a special camp when all hell broke lose. Nathan’s sister, Senator Charlize Montgomery (who’s a retired fighter pilot), was in DC when things headed south. She’s recovering from serious injuries and can’t join in the search herself. Her body guard, Big Al Randall, do their best to rejoin the remnants of the US government.

Unfortunately, there’s a group of white supremacists (Sons of Liberty) in the area near Estes Park and they would be quite happy to have some important captives. I loved hating on their leader, Fenix. He was so hate worthy but also calm, collected, smart. He makes a worthy foe for both Nathan and Raven.

The murder mystery, the believability of the EMP attack and response, and the bits of Sioux & Cherokee believes all worked well for me. The tame ladies left me wanting a bit more. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Bronson Pinchot gave a pretty good performance. There was this side character that was written as very loud and a bit rude and Pinchot did that voice well but sometimes I had to turn the volume down a little. I liked his voice for Raven and he also made a great Colton. His voice for Charlize Montgomery was feminine and carried her strength as well. His voice for President Diego was a little too much Texas politician for me, but that also made it distinct. 4.5/5 stars.

The Hunted, Trackers 2 by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Trackers 2: The Hunted (Trackers series, Book 2) - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

In this sequel, Ty really stood out for me. He’s a kid in a wheelchair being held captive by the leader of white supremacist group lead by General Fenix. His mom, who is somewhere on the east coast, is a Senator and Fenix wants to use Ty to get much needed supplies plus weapons. Ty shows great courage in this book and he’s the character that stands out to me.

Of course Raven Spears and his dog Creek still steal the show. In Book 1, there was a serial killer to hunt down. Having helped out with that, Nathan Sardetti can now rely on Raven to help him rescue Ty and possibly kill Fenix. They make a really good team.

Martha is one of the many refugees that end up in Estes Park. She’s a doctor but she’s also pretty banged up herself. I really liked this minor story line because it brought up a lot of great points about such a calamity. Can Estes Park afford to take in refugees? They have very limited medical supplies and food. Winter is coming. If the refugees don’t bring valuable skills or supplies, should Estes Park take them in? Very realistic to have these tough questions come up.

Meanwhile, over on the east coast, President Diego and what’s left of the government have come to terms with the fact that much of the chain of command is gone. Now Senator Charlize Montgomery, Ty’s mom, has been made Secretary of Defense. Her body guard, Big Al, continues to be a pillar of strength as she gets further along in recovering from her severe injuries sustained in Book 1.

The ladies still have rather limited roles in this series and that surprises me. Having enjoyed the Hell Divers series, I really hoped the ladies would break out of their shells here in Book 2 of this series. Charlize can be excused because of her injuries. I did hope that Raven’s sister Sandra, who is a competent nurse at the Estes Park hospital, would have something bigger to do. Mayor Andrews of Estes Park doesn’t seem to fully grasp how tough their situation is. Police chief Colton has one female officer on staff, Lindsey Plymouth, but she doesn’t get much page time in this story.

Once again, I loved hating on Fenix. He’s crafty and has the luck of the devil himself! He poses a big threat to Estes Park but he’s not going to be taken down easy!

I was pretty sad to have to say goodbye to one of my favorite characters. The action was well mixed with quieter moments. I love seeing how Raven’s character is growing, becoming more confident and trusted by the people of Estes Park. 4.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Bronson Pinchot continues to do well for this series. His female voices are feminine and he has pretty good little kid voices. I really liked his voice for Ty. His voice for President Diego is still a touch over done for me but I can live with it. Pinchot’s pacing is good and there’s no technical issues with this recording. 4.75/5 stars.

The Storm, Trackers 3 by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

The Storm - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

I have just flown through these first 3 books in this series. For the characters, these events all take place in the space of a few weeks. Ty is now safely with his mom, Secretary of Defense Charlize Montgomery, in a secure facility in Florida where there’s still electricity and communications with the outside world. Raven Spears continues to work with police chief Colton in Estes Park, Colorado. The white supremacist leader, Fenix, is still out there and still a threat.

One of my favorite story lines in this book is where Big Al, Charlize’s body guard, is given the chance to go find and rescue his sister. She’s his twin and his last remaining family. Al lost his wife and kids in the initial strikes and he can’t let his sister go. Turns out she’s got a drug problem and that opens a little can of worms; how to justify the man power & supplies & risk to locate her and bring her back to the secure facility? All sorts of great questions came up as we followed Big Al on his personal mission. They go through gang-controlled streets, bump into an abandoned kid with a LotR complex, and then have to see about a drugged out sister. Who is worthy of the very limited help available? People like Charlize and President Diego have to the make those calls on a big picture level. Big Al has to make those decisions in the moment on the ground on a smaller scale.

Meanwhile, in Estes Park, roving bands of violent looters become an issue. Some of these looters are drug addicted. Redford’s gang is the most troublesome of these looters because they are organized. The body count rises and police chief Marcus Colton is pulling his hair out trying to keep Estes Park safe. Mayor Andrews and her lackeys aren’t helping matters. A schism has developed between these two groups, but both want the best for Estes Park. I was very pleased to see that police detective Lindsey Plymouth had a bigger role in this book. Raven’s attempts at flirtation were a secondary thing but provided some much needed humor for the story.

Colton knows that Estes Park needs allies. Between Niles Redford’s gang, General Dan Felix (leader of the white supremacist group Sons of Liberty), and the influx of refugees, Estes Park could easily be over run. Lindsey and Raven are sent to Storm Mountain to meet with the local preppers group led by John Kirkus. Colton believes he can make a good alliance with Sheriff Thompson of Fort Collins. There is more than one betrayal and I was shocked and a little distraught over how things turned out for some of my favorite characters. Estes Park is in so much trouble!

I’ve really gotten attached to this story despite the ladies having a backseat to the men. Charlize, a retired fighter pilot, hasn’t gotten into the pilot’s seat yet. Lindsey shows promise but hasn’t gone out hunting or scouting or tracking solo like the men do. Raven’s sister Sandra is still a competent nurse at the hospital but doesn’t do much other than patch Raven up. Martha, a minor character from Book 2, is a doctor but hasn’t done much other than bleed a lot. I just need a bit more from the ladies to make this series rock. After all, Colorado is known for it’s hardy, independent, capable women. 4.75/5 stars.

The Narration: Bronson Pinchot continues to give a great voice for Raven and for Colton. His voice for President Diego continues to grate a bit. Pinchot’s female voices are feminine and his kid voices work well too. His calm creepy voices also work really well for our multiple bad guys. 4.75/5 stars.

The Damned, Trackers 4 by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

The Damned - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Raven and his dog Creek continue to be the heroes of this story. So man big things happen in this book! I can’t believe it’s the end of the series!

Book 3 left us with several betrayals fresh on our hearts, Creek injured, police chief Colton held captive, and Estes Park in dire straights. Colton was very sad to be betrayed by Sheriff Thompson over in Fort Collins. Storm Mountain with Kikus’s preppers turned out to be a wash as well. Then there’s the internal strife of Estes Park that could end the town. Dan Fenix, the white supremacist, is still out there too.

Meanwhile, the US government has a big offer to consider: China will provide all sorts of assistance but that means thousands of Chinese on USA soil, including Chinese troops to protect the Chinese work forces that will be rebuilding the electric grid. President Diego takes in advice from his cabinet, but most have mixed feelings on the matter. Of course, it will be tough to get the entire population of the USA informed and keep Chinese work forces from being attacked.

Big Al Randall, Senator Charlize Montgomery’s body guard, set off to find & rescue his sister in Book 3. Now he’s got to get her back to good. Charlize has a lot of mixed feelings about the Chinese. She knows the USA needs sizable assistance and the quicker electricity can be restored, the fewer US citizens will die. She’s stuck in a tough position of supporting President Diego but also remaining suspicious.

Back in Estes Park, Sandra (Raven’s sister) and Allie (Sandra’s daughter) continue to play support roles for Raven. Sandra’s still a competent nurse at the hospital and now one of the more senior medical care providers in the area. Colton spends some quality time thinking about his wife, Kelly, and their daughter, Risa, while he’s an uncooperative guest of Sheriff Thompson. Lindsey Plymouth has been promoted to captain of the police force though she’s not at all happy at how that came about.

This final installment in this series (really? final?) is full of action. There are many desperate moments where the good guys risk it all to bring home another good guy or end a bad guy permanently. I really wanted to see Sheriff Thompson ended. He was such a bad guy! Dan Fenix is a bad guy too but he has this messed up ideal (white supremacy) pushing him along (not that that’s OK). Thompson just seems to be in it for the chaos and the blood and the personal gain.

The ending had some very touching scenes and we lost another loved character. I really hope we get more about these characters eventually. I think I saw something about a possible spinoff series. I hope so! The ladies still have more to offer to this series instead of being left behind most of the time. 4.75/5 stars.

The Narration: Bronson Pinchot has does a really good job with this series including this book. His female characters are feminine. I did have a little trouble discerning the difference between Sheriff Thompson and Dan Felix; Pinchot’s voices for them were very close and I often got a little confused over who was talking. The pacing was good and there were no issues with the recording. 4.75/5 stars.

The Secret Chord by Kathryn Guare

The Secret Chord: The Virtuosic Spy - Book 2 - Kathryn Guare

I was really excited to dig into this book because Book 1 was so good. This story had it’s charms as well but I did enjoy the first book more. Our hero, Conor McBride, is in dire need of some serious rest and relaxation. He goes to great pains to walk away from the espionage business that entangled him and his brother in Book 1. A fancy but quiet Vermont Bed & Breakfast needs an experienced dairy farmer and that’s right up Conor’s alley.

At the B&B, he meets Kate (the owner) and Abigail (the motherly demanding chef). Kate is a painter who’s currently suffering from artist’s block. She sits in front of her canvas day in and day out not painting because she lacks that spark. She does have a good sense of humor and can be stubborn and decisive. Sometimes I liked her and sometimes I rolled my eyes at her. She’s initially a little prickly with Conor, assuming that Conor has assumed she’s incompetent at farm work. Kate says she’s good with the tractor but we never see her doing any farm work, so I have my doubts.

Kate is directly tied to my one complaint for this book. I don’t mind a little romance with my espionage thriller, but I do mind characters being idiots and Kate was often an idiot and it usually was because of the romance. She is idiotically jealous over something Conor mumbles in his sleep. In another incident, she feels that Conor needs to ask her forgiveness and I felt she was being high handed, needy, and immature. Finally, there’s this end stage of the spy operation and Kate insists on going along with no spy training. This was such a bad idea but she bullies her way into it, endangering everyone. I really dislike it when stories use this particular ploy to make room for drama later on. So, yeah, I wanted to like Kate but I felt that she was mostly useless and at times detrimental to the other characters.

I loved that Conor played his violin for Kate. They chat about art in general and her artist’s block. Conor makes a comment along the line that Kate is making it all about herself instead of the art – and that sums up Kate perfectly. She’s not a bad person but she is self-centered.

Along this same line, I have to say that the ladies in this book are all comforters or love interests. Kate and Abigail and Yvonne (I think I have her name right) are well written but I wanted more from the women in general. It’s the modern age and lady spies have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It would nice to see that reflected here.

Setting that aside, it was great to have Frank Murdoch and Sedgewick back in the game. Conor thought he had been clever, had left his old life behind, but he’s also new to all this spy business. So he’s not too surprised when Murdoch reaches out and has an assignment for him. There’s some unfinished business with Vasily Draganov, the big baddie from Book 1. Conor is still mourning his brother Thomas and his mother Brigid and the loss of the family farm. I could easily see how torn Conor was – go after this man or put it all behind him and try to heal.

At the end of Book 1, I wasn’t sure how much to trust Sedgewick and Murdoch but now there is a true bond among the three men. They each go through this new crisis and come out knowing each other better. Sedgewick is still a bit paranoid and rougher around the edges and Murdoch is still all proper English (doing his best to hide his heritage).

There’s plenty of double crossing and double agents stuff going on. It’s clear by the end of Book 1 that one of the good guys was feeding intel to one of the bad guys. Now in this book, that gets dealt with and wrapped up. Also, there’s a lingering string back to Thomas and to Conor’s farm caretaker (no longer employed since he sold the place) Phillip. I was delightfully surprised with the big reveal on that and also on how it got handled.

All told, 4/5 stars. If the next book comes to audiobook land, I will give it a listen because I think Kate can grow and become useful.

The Narration: Wayne Farrell was great! He has a light Irish accent for Conor that is just perfect. He also does a good job with the female voices. I loved his voice for Sedgewick, especially when Sedgewick was being rude or was in the grip of malaria or alcohol. He also had a good kid voice for the young lad. 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 Kathryn Guare. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

The Lover's Portrait by Jennifer Alderson

The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery - Jennifer S. Alderson

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

I love a good art mystery, where the main character has to dig into the history of an art piece and try to figure out motivations of potential owners. Zelda Richardson has the passion for the job. She was bored sick of her office computer job in Big City, USA and ran off to the Netherlands to study art, working on her master’s degree. I really wanted to like Zelda and eventually I came to care about her in the way I would care about a young niece. She has the appreciation for Dutch art and the dedication to research but she’s not the sharpest pencil in the pack. The clues to the mystery were well laid out and Zelda sometimes took forever to put them together.

Because of that, this cozy murder mystery read more like a kid’s mystery novel. So maybe it’s not so much Zelda but rather how the mystery itself unfolded. I really felt that Zelda acted younger than a woman in her late 20s or early 30s and her slowness in piecing together the clues really added to this. Once I cheated and adjusted Zelda’s age to 15, I liked her more and I enjoyed the tale more.

Most of the story is set in Amsterdam and there were a few scenes sprinkled throughout the story that do well in reminding us of the setting. However, for most of the book, the tale could be set almost anywhere. A few Dutch touches here and there would have added to the atmosphere.

There are two women who claim rightful ownership of a newly recovered portrait called Irises. Rita Brower hails from Missouri (I think) and is friendly. She lived in Amsterdam as a kid and has many fond memories of the place. Karen O’Neil comes in hitting heavy with a pushy attorney, threatening to go to the press with her sob story. I liked that it wasn’t immediately clear which woman had the best case of ownership though Zelda had a clear liking for Rita while her co-worker Huub Konjin clearly favored Karen with all her legal documentation. Her boss Bernice remained professional throughout the entire mess, requiring her employees to look into both cases diligently.

The research pulls in Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WWII and their persecution of homosexuals. I felt Zelda had a very simple take on this: if character X was a homosexual, there’s no way character X could have children. That’s just silly. Plenty of homosexuals and bisexuals have had kids. This argument of Zelda’s was a very weak one but a lot of emphasis was placed on it, making it a weak point in the plot.

Later on, Zelda talks her friend Friedrich into helping her spy on one of the claimants. However, she’s then dumb enough to play this illegal recording for her boss and Huub. Obviously, that doesn’t go well and I was sure Zelda would face charges. Zelda was completely surprised at how things went and I felt this added to the overall feeling that Zelda was more a 15 year old than a 25 year old.

As the story winds up for the big finale, which was easy to predict well before we got there, I was rooting for Zelda. She may be a bit dense but I didn’t want her dead and I did want her to find the big stash of lost art. Since things had been so cozy and rather PG, I wasn’t worried for Zelda’s safety even when she was held at gun point. I did wonder about that one scene where the Bad Guy has to hold her at gun point and pick a lock at the same time….. hmmm…. it usually takes 2 hands to pick a lock. Zelda didn’t take advantage of that moment but she comes up swinging later once she’s worked out that she’s dead if she doesn’t do something.

Over all, it was a fun cozy listen with good pacing. 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Carol Purdom has a very pleasant voice to listen to. She makes a decent Zelda and a really great Rita (Missouri accent). She does well as the slightly outraged Karen too. I was expecting the Dutch characters to have Dutch accents, but they didn’t. They usually sounded a bit formal or stilted but not with Dutch accents. There’s a few lines of German here and there and Perdom’s German pronunciation needs some polishing. She was really good with the emotions, especially Zelda’s. 3.5/5 stars.

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