A matter of vengence

The Final Dawn (Unabridged)

Author: Alice Catherine Carter Date: 2015 Narrator: Melanie Fraser Provider: Alice Catherine Carter Running Time: 2 h 05 min Audible Enhanced Audio In Joseph Stalin’s early 1930s Russia, an entire class of people were at risk of exploitation. Valeyria and Alexei Yolkin were members of one such family. It was a freezing day when the first Yolkin siblings turned on another. With the young children listening in fear below in the darkness, they heard their uncle Eduard giving orders to kill their mother and father. The only girl, Valeyria, aged just seven, had a sudden desire for revenge, it consumed her. She hated her uncle Eduard and she wanted him to die – by her hands, if she could. But would her thirst for revenge lead her to her final dawn and cloud her judgment? Will she take it too far and turn on those she is supposed to love?

 

It is easy to write about books I love, because I can enthuse and blatantly gush.  It is easy to write about books I really dislike, because I can get very specific concerning the things that bothered me.  But …what about a book that falls somewhere in between?  This is such a story …so, let me begin with the things I liked and even admired.

 

This is a debut novel, and, as a first effort, is extremely respectable!  For one thing, the premise of the story is excellent, and founded strongly in events that did occur during the October Revolution.  (coincidentally, I read this book shortly after finishing a nonfiction of that revolution and its effects on Russia.) 

 

The writing is excellent, and, upon occasion, close to brilliant.  The author is an accomplished wordsmith, and if she seemed to be trying a bit too hard on occasion, that will work itself out with practice ..and I hope we will see many more examples of that “practice”!  Her presentations of settings and action scenes are particularly good.

 

Now, for the things that didn’t please this reader quite as much.  The first rule I learned when trying to write was : “show, don’t tell”.  The authors tells us too much, and shows us too little.  I would have been happier if this book had been 5 times as long as it was (it came close to being a longish novella), and would have enjoyed watching he r construct her main characters bit by careful bit.  I know she can, because on those occasions when she does *show* motivation through action, she does so spectacularly.  I am thinking specifically of the scene in which Valeria (a driven character if there ever was one!) is introduced to the art of hunting.  That scene was absolutely stunning in every respect, which makes me have high expectations of this author.

 

The other thing that bothered me is that much of this book takes place during WWII in Russia.  True, I don’t think the Germans invaded Moscow, though they came close, and true, the war wasn’t the real theme of this book, but for me, it was like the elephant in the living room that everyone is trying to ignore.  I would have been satisfied with passing mentions …references to troop trains, or the Battle of Leningrad …just for the sake of grounding the story in its context.  Nothing happens in a vacuum, after all, and surely all of Russia, even the elite, were  affected by those events, even if only peripherally. 

The narrator has an extremely competent style, and a voice that is delightfully easy to listen to. (It does help that I love listening to a cultured British accent).  Her pacing and phrasing were excellent.  However, her Russian accents (though probably fairly accurate) were almost too much, too strong.  There were times, In fact, when the accent got in the way of understanding the text.  Just a subtle hint of an accent would have been enough, especially since most of the characters are Russian.  I’ve seen narrators who imply accents in very subtle ways, so that the reader recognizes them, but they never  really interfere with the book.

 

All in all, I am happy to have found this author, and very much look forward to seeing what she will do next.  In fact, I rather think she will become a very strong voice in the world of historical fiction.  I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, and the narrator as well ..and hope to give far more with the next books!

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from AudioBookBlast.com

 

 

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How low can you go?

No Motive for Murder (Unabridged)

Author: Doug Hantke Date: 2015 Narrator: George Kuch Provider: Doug Hantke Running Time: 6 h 53 min Psychologist Gary Schaade started receiving tapes and letters from potential killers soon after releasing his best-selling book, Psyche of a Serial Killer. When Gary received a tape at his office, he was sure it is another entertaining attempt to scare him and his wife. This tape was different: a confession to prove his theory. Gary always theorized that the deadliest of serial killers were ones without motive. As more tapes arrive, it becomes obvious that Gary may finally have the confession he’s needed to prove it. But how far will he go? When the murders get more personal, Gary will have a difficult choice to make. Will he sacrifice the lives of those close to him to further his career? Is it truly possible to have No Motive for Murder?

 

This was an extremely interesting, if not altogether satisfying, book.  The basic idea that the most frightening type of serial killer is one who has no driving motivation or traceable patterns makes it a study in the darkest and most terrible aspect of human potential.  I do not doubt that such killers exist, and have had successful long term “careers” and *that* could give one nightmares for years.

 

While I don’t have to like, or be sympathetic to characters in a book, the characters have to “feel” lifelike to me.  This is difficult to explain.  Their actions must seem as though they spring from the character traits the author provides, and the character must be consistent, even in his/her insanity, (if applicable).  I need to get a sense of “personhood”, and I didn’t, quite, in this book.  It was more like watching animations of character types move around the story, and this despite all the explanations of motivation provided.  Of course, considering that I considered most of the characters absolutely despicable made this impression almost a good thing …because, to be blunt, I wouldn’t have wanted to interact with most of the characters in this book.  That, however, is OK, because I think I understood what the author was trying to demonstrate ..the depths to which strong motivations such as greed and depravity can cause a person to devolve into something sub-human.

 

So, in that respect, this book was successful, though I did find it odd that people kept killing one another, seemingly without interference from law enforcement.  I also found the idea that this psychologist could do what he did, and even hope to get away with it without consequences unbelievable.  In short, he became what he studied, and the book left me with the impression he would be able to keep his freedom, his practice, and his reputation.

 

Did I like this book?  Well, no …not much, but that isn’t the book’s fault.  It has more to do with my own makeup.  I did, however, find it instructive and interesting as a study in depravity.

 

The narrator did a truly excellent job.  His phrasing, pacing and expression were all appropriate, and he delineated each character so well, that I knew who was speaking, even when the text wasn’t specific.  I give this book 3 stars, and the narrator 5.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from AudioBookBlast.com

lethal innocence

Predatory Instinct (Unabridged)

Author: Michael McBride Date: 2015 Narrator: Scott Thomas Provider: Michael McBride Running Time: 8 h 57 min Audible Enhanced Audio The fossilized remains of a previously unclassified hominin species are discovered in the Altai Mountains, prompting teams of scientists from around the globe to converge upon this isolated region of Siberia in search of further evidence to corroborate the revolutionary theory that a third protohuman ancestor coexisted with Neanderthals and primitive Homo sapiens. What awaits them is anything but extinct. FBI Special Agent Grey Porter leads the investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the appearance of a factory trawler of Russian origin off of the Washington Coast. He finds 12 bodies, all of them exsanguinated through ferocious bite wounds on their necks. According to the manifest, there should have been only 11. Whatever killed them is no longer onboard. Elena Sturm of the Seattle PD is assigned to patrol the waterfront renovation project on Salmon Bay. While rousting the homeless from the underground warrens of the massive construction site, she stumbles upon the corpse of a man whose wounds are identical to those of the victims aboard the ghost ship. Something has cut a bloody swath across the Pacific.

 

When I first began this book, I thought I was going to get yet another “crazy man tries to take over the country” story with stock characters, and a feisty but cute cop.  I was wrong on all counts, and very happy about that!

 

OK, some of those elements are there …there is definitely a crazy warrior all set to take over the country (on his way to taking over the world), but …the author rearranges him quite a bit, especially where motivations are involved, so he become extremely interesting as things progress.  There is a feisty cute cop, too …who also happens to be a budding crime scene investigator, and is sensitive and compassionate to boot.  Watching her was a treat, because she could be forceful, kind, unpredictable, subtle and forthright, in turns …or occasionally all at once.  Her co-hero wasn’t at all a stock character, but a marvelous FBI rebel, willing to endanger his career for …the monster.

 

Yes, there is a monster, and it does all the stuff monsters do, with lots of blood and gore …but there is a surprise there that sets this book apart, and moves it out of being at all trite.  Granted, the premise stretches my suspension of disbelief almost to the breaking point …but almost is the operative word, because that premise isn’t quite impossible, either. 

 

I did have some issues with the narrator.  There is a part of a ship called a gunwale …and it is pronounced GUNNEL.  There were a couple of other mispronunciations, but that one occurred enough times that I noticed, and gritted my teeth each time.  Also, at one point the author misread a simple word, and that should have been edited and corrected.  While the mistakes weren’t major, I am used to an extremely high quality of production from books from Audible.com, so yes, I have very high expectations, there.

 

Still, all in all, I’m glad to have read this essentially excellent book, and would give the book 4.9 out of 5 stars.  I can’t be as generous with the narrator …even the little things are important, so 3 stars, there.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from AudioBookBlast.com.

The worst road trip EVER

Heaven, Hell, or Houston (Unabridged)

Author: Thom Erb Narrator: Doug Miller Provider: Third Bay Studios After a less than successful stint as the Governor’s security detail, the volatile, alcoholic Texas Ranger Jay McCutcheon wants nothing more than to get home to his wife and baby and save his marriage. He thinks the only thing standing between him and his family is five hundred rain-soaked miles of dark pavement. But he’s dead wrong. Isandro Dianira has just broken out of prison. He’s been possessed by an evil voice that has spoken to him since childhood. With his gang-banger thugs, he leaves a bloody trail on his way to Mexico. Before leaving the country, he needs to kill McCutcheon, the pig that put him in the pen. As the two men unknowingly race toward each other, a powerful rainstorm is heading westward, and along with it, a zombie virus that’s causing the dead to rise. Stacy-Jo, a street-tough teenage girl from New York is about to get in some serious trouble, when she meets McCutcheon, who winds up saving her hide from a nasty situation. Together, they hit the road and wind up at a roadside diner, where brutal violence will unfold and the undead will feed.

 

I don’t usually read Zombie books, as I consider them to be nothing more than barely animated mindless corpses who shuffle around, rotting, and do nothing but eat.  However, the author gave his zombies something that made them more unique and interesting, so I was willing to set aside my dislike of the …um …things for the sake of the story.

 

The truly excellence in this book, though, lies in the characters.  The main character is masterfully drawn, and about as real as a character in a book can get.  I know I’ve “connected” with a character when I find myself wanting to alternately hug him and bang his head against the wall for being just …obtuse, and acting stupid.  I spent the entire book on that particular swing …but in the end, I just wanted to hug him.  The other main characters are nicely drawn too, even the convict and his crew.  I admit to finding the convict’s psychopathy a bit trite, as it has been somewhat overused, but it worked, at least most of the time.  While I could *NOT* empathize with him, I could understand him somewhat, and wonder what he might have been without the condition from which he suffered.  The other significant characters were believable, often charming, and sympathetic, and I enjoyed reading about them and routing for them …unsuccessfully in many cases. 

 

The narrator was excellent, and very nearly superb.  Not only was his phrasing and shaping perfect, but his Texan was spot on …and he understood that people from Texas don’t talk as fast as say, people from NYC …so he got the drawl just right, too, which isn’t all that usual in professional narrators.  His Hispanics weren’t cartoon character Mexicans, either, and he obviously new, or spent time learning, how to pronounce Spanish words, because he did so naturally and easily.

 

Though not my normal reading fare, this was a good book, and well written, so I give it 4 out of 5 stars, and the narrator a full 5 stars.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from AudioBookBlast.com.

When species collide

The Blood of Brothers (Unabridged)

Author: Domino Finn Narrator: Jason Jewett Provider: Blood & Treasure Running Time: 12 h 04 min Intense and clever. Like Sons of Anarchy with werewolves.” – Phillip Tomasso, best-selling author of the Vaccination Trilogy. Diego de la Torre is officially an outlaw now, a full-fledged member of The Seventh Sons Motorcycle Club. The werewolf MC runs the wild lands of Sycamore with ease. At least until a dead body shows up and points to them as the culprits. Detective Maxim Dwyer presses the Seventh Sons hard, but there are other guns in play. California bikers look to expand their drug trade. A mercenary outfit seeks revenge. Top that with an overbearing FBI agent who undermines local police, and both detective and outlaw have their hands full. Brothers or not, Sycamore’s about to get a whole lot bloodier.

 

This is a mystery/thriller/fantasy, involving cops, motor cycle gangs, Native Americans, and … werewolves.  I like the trend I have seen over the last few years to treat such groups as werewolves not as monsters or aberrations, but as one of the many species with which humans share the planet, and with whom they must live.  Sometimes when species meet, there are mutual benefits, and things go well, sometimes not.   But in such books as this, humanity must come to understand that they might not be the entirely dominant species on the planet.  I have also seen werewolves interpreted in many ways, and while, of course, there are certain elements that are common to all of them, each interpretation also has its own unique spin.  The author presents this species very well, and even provides an acceptable, if not entirely believable, rationale for their existence.

 

The plotting in this book is very tight, and the story moves along, sometimes at breakneck speed, which is very appropriate for this story.  I have to also admit that the author writes awesome fight scenes, those involving guns and those involving fists.  The characters are well done, too, and there are no totally “good” guys and no totally “bad guys”.  Each person is a mix, just as are we all, and clearly driven by their own motivations and agenda, as people (or werewolves) must be, so these characters ring true for me.

 

The writing is strong, straightforward and brisk, and while the author shows the emotions of his characters, he never dwells on them overmuch, which wouldn’t work for this story.  Even though it is a action packed thriller/mystery, it has, at its heart, some very serious observations about the nature of families, tied by blood, culture, occupation …or species, and what happens when those ties are strained by guilt, grief and ambition.

 

The narrator was excellent, with excellent pacing, phrasing, and expression.  Each character had his or her own unique “presence”, so that it would have been easy to know, without having to be told, who is speaking at any given time.  He also manages a Mexican accented English with finesse.

 

All in all, this was a very satisfying read, and I give both book and author 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend this book for those who aren’t put off by graphic descriptions of violence.

 

I received a free copy of this book from AudioBookBlast.com in exchange for this unbiased review.

The ravages of war

Strategos (Unabridged)

Author: Gordon Doherty Date: 2015 Narrator: Nigel Carrington Running Time: 12 h 26 min When the falcon has flown, the mountain lion will charge from the east, and all Byzantium will quake. Only one man can save the empire … the Haga! 1046 AD. The Byzantine Empire teeters on full-blown war with the Seljuk Sultanate. In the borderlands of Eastern Anatolia, a land riven with bloodshed and doubt, young Apion’s life is shattered in one swift and brutal Seljuk night raid. Only the benevolence of Mansur, a Seljuk farmer, offers him a second chance of happiness. Yet a hunger for revenge burns in Apion’s soul, and he is drawn down a dark path that leads him right into the heart of a conflict that will echo through the ages

This is a multi-layered novel set in the borderlands of the Byzantine Empire (a modern appellation, since the Byzantines, although by this time thoroughly Greek, considered themselves the  true Roman Empire …and honored those ancient Western roots, in nostalgia if not practice.  Although I know far less about this place and time than I do others, the history seems impeccably accurate, and the depth and specificity of detail lead me to believe that this book was thoroughly and intelligently researched.

 

I’ll admit to having a bit of a hard time reading it, had to read it in bits …but not because it was boring or uninteresting, or sloppily written.  Just the opposite is true, actually.  It was almost too detailed, too rich …to absorbing, and I found that I couldn’t just read it …I had to stop, assimilate, consider, and let my mind range through its reactions to each of the multiple layers.

 

First, there is the setting.  It is so vividly portrayed and placed in its time, that I responded to it with all senses.  I could *feel* the grit and the heat.  I could *hear* the battle horns, the shouts, and the other terrible noises of war.  I could *smell* the warm bread and the less pleasant scents of any Medieval city ..and the stench of the battlefields.  I could *taste* the drink made from almonds and yogurt and honey, and the wine, and the honey cakes, and I could *touch* everything.  In other words, this setting is a sensual feast, and a banquet of rich experiences, indeed.

 

Then there are the characters.  Each of them, on both sides of this terrible centuries long conflict  is not just well drawn, but intensely human, even the villains and the bit players.  I found myself identifying with some, aching for them and caring about them, and absolutely hating others, wanting to see them be served a very large helping of very hot vengeance.  Even the minor characters, many of who one sees in books about armies, are unique enough not to be one dimensional stock characters.  There is the grouch, who has served so long he is cynical, impatient with new recruits and churlish …until is fighting back to back with one of them.  There is the drunkard, whose main source of enjoyment involves strong drink and compliant ladies …until the enemy stands in his way, for example.

 

Then, there is something else.  This is a brutal tale about a truly brutal time, and it impacted me on all levels, because the brutality wasn’t just physical, but emotional an spiritual as well.  This land …this cradle of civilization has been a war zone for thousands of years …and the issues fought over are little different today than they were at the time of Christ, or even long before.  Such constant upheaval, especially where diametrically opposed peoples, such as Byzantine Christians and passionate Islamic adherents met, created (and still create) upheavals of every sort, from clashing armies to devastated families and destroyed psyches and beleaguered souls.  All of that is in this book, too …and I found myself considering how complex we are, how our beliefs affect us, and how, sometimes, we have to make choices that wrench us to the very essence of our being.  Almost every major character in this book made such choices, and those choices had severe repercussions on every character.

 

No, this isn’t an easy book to read.  It confronts the brutality of war and the brutality of man directly, and without flinching ..but it does so so very skillfully that, like a cobra readying for a strike, the reader is fascinated, and cannot step away …and in my opinion, should not, because these things are also a part of what we are.

 

The narrator was absolutely perfect for this book.  He read with expression an skill, and had absolutely NO problem with the many specialized words and names to be found here.  In addition, he just has the “right” voice for this book, and helps bring it into even more vibrant life, at least for me.

 

I’m not fond of rating books, but I will be giving this book and this narrator 5, and would give more, if I could.  Did I “like” it? No …but I found it one of those book experiences that will stay with me for a *very* long time, and it has, via its excellence, had a profound effect on me, so I value it, highly.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from AudioBookBlast.com.

 

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Sin City SIN

Repeat Offender: Sin City’s Most Prolific Criminal and the Cop Who Caught Him (Unabridged) ________________________________________

Author: Bradley Nickell, Warren Jamison

Narrator:

Kevin Pierce

Millions in stolen property, revolting sex crimes, and murder-for-hire were all in the mix for a Las Vegas police detective, as he toiled to take Sin City’s most prolific criminal off the streets for good. Detective Bradley Nickell brings you the inside scoop on the investigation, arrest, and conviction of the most prolific repeat offender Las Vegas has ever known. Daimon Monroe looked like an average guy, raising a family with his diffident schoolteacher girlfriend. But just below the surface, he was an accomplished thief with an uncontrollable lust for excess. His criminal mind had no bounds – he was capable of anything given the proper circumstances. You will be revolted by Monroe’s amassed wealth through thievery; his plots to kill Detective Nickell, a judge, and a prosecutor; and the physical and sexual abuse to which Monroe subjected his daughters.

While this is categorized as a true crime book (which it certainly is), it also has some of the aspects of a memoir.  The author gives the facts of the case, and the events surrounding the investigation and trial objectively, but this is also a personal story, and the author also gives his own feelings and thought processes.  In many ways, this personal touch makes this very interesting book unique.  Granted, I would have preferred the story without the editorial comments, especially those involving the author’s religious beliefs, but, this is in the nature of a memoir …and these comments were seldom distracting.

The narrator was just about perfect for this book, and did an excellent job in all aspects of narration.  His presentation was well paced, and with enough emotion to keep the book from becoming  as dry as, say, a police report.  I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars, and the narrator 5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review from audioBookBlast.com

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