Novel, Novella, or allegory

Lead Us Not (Unabridged)

Author: Youlanda Brewster Date: 2015 Narrator: Christa Lewis Provider: Youlanda Brewster Running Time: 2 h 22 min Audible Enhanced Audio Eliza heard the words retirement and club followed by gunfire. It was over quickly, and they were gone…with her voice. A pregnant ex-assassin has days to recall a lifetime, retrieve two stolen chips that control the US defense system and save two children from termination by the Club, which trained her. Only she can’t remember the Club, and the children belong to the woman she terminated, and the Club wants them dead.

 

My first issue was to decide if this is a very short novel, a very long short story, or a medium length novella. I do realize that the rules for length or even for what is considered a book don’t really apply to digital publications, and that the appropriate length for a full length novel was determined mostly by marketing departments, but I guess I’m old fashioned about some things. What I *am* sure of is that I would almost never spend an Audible credit on such a short work, and unless there were compelling reasons to do so, would be unlikely to pay cash for it, either.

In addition, this was one of the most well written and most confusing works of fiction I’ve read in a very long time. The author uses language beautifully, can set a mood, describe action, and even create very believable dialog. But I still have no idea what either the club or their adversaries are, or what role they actually play. I could have wished that the author had taken the time and space to provide a stronger foundation, so that we knew, for example, if the Club is a rogue Federal agency, a Terrorist group, or a far less than legal commercial enterprise. Same with the Watchers. Who are they, and for whom do they work?

I found the characters to be more than a little stereotypical, too. The “good ones” were way too saintly, the children too angelic, (not to mention absolutely beautiful), and the villains absolutely and unrelievedly villainous. Even the few who were supposed to be “good guys” in disguise didn’t work well, for me.

The only way I can make this book “work” in my mind is as an allegory, but again, I’m not sure what that allegory would be about. Good and evil? Sin and redemption? Possible, I suppose, but not especially interesting, at least not to this reader.

The narration was extremely professional in every way, and the narrator uses her voice to excellent effect.

I give the narrator 4 stars and the book 3 stars.

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

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The War of Independence revisited

Midnight Riders (Unabridged)

Author: Pete Clark Date: 2015 Narrator: Michael Gilboe Provider: Pete Clark Running Time: 9 h 14 min Audible Enhanced Audio
Synopsis: Everyone has heard of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. However, they have not heard about them this way! The American Founding Fathers had a lot more to deal with at the end of the 18th century than tariffs and tea; avoiding hurled trees from wendigos and gargoyles falling from the sky took a lot of patience. How is Samuel Prescott supposed to hunt the leader of the Rippers when the British keep infringing upon the colonists’ rights?

 

This is a rather unique mixture of history and fantasy, that could have been interesting and extremely funny.  The history is, as far as I can tell, quite accurate, and in the retelling of what actually happened during the Revolutionary war, including many little known facts, the author demonstrates excellent research and/or knowledge and a biting wit that I found delightful.

 

 I found most of the humor heavy handed, the political satire clichéd, and most of the ongoing jokes tiresome.  However, I have always preferred wit to burlesque or slapstick, so others may enjoy this brand of humor.

 

While the writing is competent, the character building is, except in 1 or 2 cases lacking in depth, and the portrayals of famous characters by extravagantly highlighting their known faults overdone to the point that it becomes clichéd and nearly distasteful. 

 

The narrator, however, does an excellent job presenting this material, and I hope that, at some point I can experience his narration of a book I enjoy, because I think he will not disappoint.

 

I give the narrator 4 stars, and the book 3 stars, based mainly on the treatment of historical fact, which I found interesting and of some value.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review via the courtesy of AudioBookBlast dot com.

Karma as currency?

Keys to the Coven (Unabridged)

Author: Vicky Loebel Date: 2013 Narrator: Emily Beresford, Nick Podehl Provider: Pentachronistic Press Running Time: 12 h 49 min Audible Enhanced Audio SYNOPSIS:

The Road to Hell is Paved with Bad Intentions. Get ready for Keys to the Coven, a witty, tightly plotted, (adult) urban-fantasy/romance set in an original universe where karma is power, sex is karma, and it’s not who you know but whose soul you own that matters.*To become a demon, you must die in complete and utter despair. Three hundred years ago, Max passed that test with flying colors and joined the afterlife resolving never again to have innocent blood on his hands. Now Max has been given the job of breaking a young witch’s family curse. But what she doesn’t know, what Max can’t bring himself to tell her, is that completing his mission almost certainly means her death. When Felicity Woodsen inherits her mother’s coven, she learns each firstborn Woodsen daughter must become the consort of an evil-arch demon. Felicity’s only hope is to ally with the mysteriously charming Max. But is saving her body from one demon worth risking her soul with another? Roxashael became a demon when his Roman captors sent his family, one by one to be devoured by lions. The lesson was clear: power is good; lots of power is better. Two-thousand years later, Rocky has power. He’s purchased hundreds of souls, and he’s created the Minsk Homunculus, a magic artifact that, by binding a human witch as his consort, turns him into an arch-demon and places him above the goody-two-shoes laws of karma. Unfortunately, Rocky made a mistake. He fell in love with Felicity’s mother and in a moment of weakness promised to give up his demon-consort charm. Now Felicity’s mother is dead, the Minsk Homunculus is slated for destruction, and Rocky’s power as an arch-demon is about to end. No demon can break a promise. If Rocky refuses to give up the Minsk Homunculus, he’ll become the lowest, most abject slave in Hell. But then, why break promises when they’re so easy to corrupt?**Caution: This book contains violence, strong sexual themes, moderately explicit..

 

There are certain things I look for in fantasy of any sort.  First, the world building has to be careful, consistent, and believable within the context the author has developed.  Since this is an urban fantasy, the fantasy world has to be woven fairly seamlessly into the modern world, and the unfamiliar must meld with the familiar in ways that enhance the story.  The author does this with flying colors.

 

If there is a system of magic, that system must have its own internal rules, and those rules must be obeyed by all magic users, or the magic won’t work, or won’t work correctly.  In other words, the magic system itself must be logical and consistent, and the one that the author has developed is, and its use goes a long way to making this exciting fantasy even more interesting and exciting.

 

The writing is excellent, even when I gritted my teeth at the heroine’s internal dialogs right at the moments of the most pressure, when immediate and decisive actions were required, I understood that what the author was trying to reproduce was the often chaotic mental and emotional activity that takes place in the human mind at moments of crisis.  This happens to all of us, in nanoseconds, usually, but it takes longer to reproduce such internal decision making processes, and I think the author handled this about as well as such things can be managed.

 

The metaphysical concepts explored in this book are interesting, and hang together quite well.  As with any type of good fiction, the author reinterprets familiar concepts in entirely new ways, and then weaves those interpretations into a story that presents a whole new view of demonology, the afterlife, and the interaction of the living and the dead. 

 

The author is equally skilled at character development and presentation. All of his characters are believable, if sometimes not likeable, and all are vibrant and consistent, remaining true to the forces the author has established (both internal and external) that motivate their thoughts, feelings and actions.

The narration is absolutely professional, and enhances the book in every possible way. Since they alternate, determined by who is “telling” the story at the moment, it is essential that the interpretations of the characters be consistent between the 2 voices, and it is, despite that one voice is male and one female. I have seldom seen multiple narration work as well.

I happily give both book and narrators 5 out of 5 stars.

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

Deep sea warfare

Boomer (Unabridged)

Author: Charles D. Taylor Date: 2015 Narrator: David Gilmore Provider: Crossroad Press Running Time: 13 h 16 min Audible Enhanced Audio Twenty years ago, the KGB planted an agent in the American Navy. Today, he is the commander of an American nuclear attack submarine! Wayne Newell is all navy, all American, all traitor. A graduate of the Soviet “charm school”, Newell is captain of the nuclear attack submarine USS Pasadena, now patrolling beneath the Pacific. He’s convinced his crew that the world is at war – and that the Russians have a deadly masking device that makes Soviet submarines sound exactly like the most crucial ships in the American fleet: the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines known as Boomers. The subs that the Pasadena detects may sound American – but they’re the enemy and must be destroyed. The deception has begun…. In a world of darkness, super-sensitive listening devices and nerve-wracking tension, Newell’s crew is being driven to the breaking point: cut off from communications and forced to destroy “enemy” subs in a war they can’t confirm. And while the US Pacific Command scrambles to find out who is attacking their fleet, two American submarines must go to war – against an aggressor who knows their every move, and is rapidly destroying America’s sea-based

strategic nuclear defense.

 

If you enjoy books about the military and the way it functions, specifically about the navy and it’s submarine service, then I think you will enjoy this.  It’s long, and it gets technical, and there are a lot of details which, if carefully read will make the action on which this story hinges and the amazing climax of the book easily comprehensible and even more thrilling than it would be, otherwise.

 

However, this book is far more textured.  It’s not just a military story, or a sea story (much as I love sea stories).  It is, at its heart, about people; what motivates them, how they react, especially under extreme pressure, and where, and how strongly, they place their loyalties.  Part of what makes this book so satisfying is that the author inserts his readers into each wardroom …and by the time the crunch comes, this reader, at least felt less like an observer, but a member of each crew.  I found myself wanting the best for almost each and every character, even though I knew some would have to die, and it helped that I “knew” some of the families, as well.

 

I have read many books about ships and sailors, including submarines and submariners, but it was this book which brought home to me just how isolated, and how fragile, a submarine can be, and the courage it must take to submit oneself to an environment as hostile and dangerous as outer space.

 

Not only do we see the aspects of submarine warfare played out, but we also get to see political strategies and diplomacy on a grand scale, primarily from the viewpoint of the USSR.  Again, the author is wise enough to humanize the players, so these aren’t automatons playing roles but believable characters who must gather information and make decisions in record time that will profoundly affect the entire world.

 

The writing is brisk, detailed, and yet sometimes thoughtful and even poetic.  The author can handle human as well as technical details and interlace them in ways that make this book interesting for both military buffs and those who prefer to read about people and what drives them.

 

The narration was excellent, as well, in all areas.  I did notice, and I am not sure if this is a narrator issue or a technical issue, that when characters were speaking, the voice was louder than when they were thinking.  Sometimes, when a character was becoming introspective, or when something was being described, the volume became so soft that it became distracting.  However, this did not affect my thorough enjoyment of this excellent book.

 

I give both book and narrator 5 out of 5 stars, as I expected to be able to do, having read another of this author’s books.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review via the courtesy of AudioBookBlast dot com.

Life in the Land of Opportunity

Deadly Blessings: An Alex St. James Mystery (Unabridged)

Author: Julie Hyzy Date: 2015 Narrator: Karen Commins Provider: Crossroad Press Running Time: 12 h 06 min Audible Enhanced Audio It’s not often that Alex St. James has a story this tantalizing fall into her lap, only to have it snatched away again. As news researcher at Midwest Focus Television in Chicago, she’d been set to interview a young Polish immigrant woman, pregnant by a Catholic priest. When the woman is found murdered, and Alex tries to investigate, her boss abruptly reassigns her to a fluff piece, so he can give the hot murder story to the station owner’s nephew. But anyone who knows Alex also knows that, like fate, she’ll find a way. Acting without authority and without assistance, she continues to investigate, making some very powerful people in the Chicago Archdiocese uneasy. Suddenly Alex finds herself in the middle of a plot so sinister and far reaching that the very next thing she might hear are her own last rites.

Although this book examines themes that have become popular over the last several years, it does so in interesting ways.  While not a brilliant or unique book, this is a well written, well plotted and engaging mystery.  The characters are nicely developed, an while there is a bit of type casting, that is alleviated by touches that give each character a definite, and believable, personality. 

 

This is not a full out action thriller, but does demonstrate how news stories are investigated, and, when there is action, it can become intense, especially the action just preceding the climax of the book.  The writing is straightforward, but the author also demonstrates  sensitivity and compassion, through her characters’ thoughts and words, that enhance the story and make it a satisfying read.  Perhaps her villains are a bit too simplistic, and a little too villainous, without benefit of qualms or conscience, but then, at least one of them is probably a sociopath, if not a psychopath, so even this works rather well.

 

The narrator did an excellently professional job, and combines a pleasant voice with excellent pacing, shaping enunciation, and can handle foreign accents extremely well. 

 

This is a good, solid mystery, and a very enjoyable read.  I give both book and narrator 4 out of 5 stars.

 

I received this free book in exchange for this unbiased review via the courtesy of AudioBookBlast dot com.

 

 

Constructed plagues

The Chimera Sequence (Unabridged)

Author: Elliott Garber Date: 2015 Narrator: Neil Shah Provider: Osprey Press Running Time: 11 h 13 min Audible Enhanced Audio Cole McBride makes a chilling discovery while investigating a mysterious disease causing the deaths of endangered mountain gorillas in war-torn central Africa. When a humanitarian aid hospital nearby diagnoses a disturbingly similar human case, the former Special Forces veterinarian knows he must figure out how to stop this outbreak from spreading–before it blows up into a global pandemic. Halfway across the continent, a massive cargo ship moves out of Sudan’s largest port. Buried deep within its hold is one container of urgent significance for its buyer in the Persian Gulf. And back in Washington, D.C., the owner of a Lebanese restaurant a stone’s throw from the White House finds a cryptic message in the Drafts folder of his e-mail inbox. It’s one week before Independence Day, and an unpopular president is preparing to host America’s biggest celebration in years. There’s just one small problem: he’s not the only one with plans for the holiday. With the woman he loves sick and close to death, Cole puts his own life on the line in a race against time to discover the truth behind the outbreak’s origin–a truth that will link it to one of humanity’s most ancient plagues and threaten the very heart of America. This is how it happened.

 

This is an extremely intelligent, complicated thriller, which uses, as its main premise the construction and deployment of a lethal chimera virus.  In order to make such a complicated premise work as the moving force behind a thriller, the author has to prepare his ground very carefully, indeed.  It is essential that the reader understand some complex and (to this lay person, at least) almost arcane medical and biological concepts.  I know of very few authors who could pull this off successfully, but this author did, and with style.  Not only did his reasoning read as feasible and logical (which, since I do not have the scientific or medical knowledge to evaluate his theories, I must use as a gauge), but his explanations are understandable, succinct, and never detract from the story being told. 

 

This is not, at least at first a fast moving book, and, I don’t think it should be.  It builds tension, prepares the reader by making the full extent of the threat entirely comprehensible, and sets the stage so well that, by the time the action *really* begins, the author never has to break his stride for explanations.  The reader *knows* what is happening, why, and what will happen if the teams involved aren’t successful.  While there is lots of action throughout the book, the last 2 hours or so are full bore, and very nearly left this reader forgetting to breathe.

 

The writing is straightforward, and the no frills style enhances the story, which really doesn’t *need* any frills.  The writing stands on its own strongly, though, and the character development is fairly amazing, especially considering the large cast of important characters.  Each of them is unique, and, though this cast is International, the characters don’t seem to all come from the same background, with only different accents to differentiate them.  While the author doesn’t spend an inordinate time discussing motivations, those motivations are clear from the bits he does tell us, but even more from the words and actions of the characters, themselves.  The author has learned, and learned well, the “show don’t tell” lesson that sets adequate writing apart from truly good writing.  The author shows us what is going on whenever possible, even by his meticulous (if disturbing) depictions of the progress of the chimera induced disease.

 

The narration was of the same extremely high standard as the book being narrated.  The narrator understood and was entirely comfortable with his material, more than competent in the skills needed to make narration enjoyable, and was able to easily handle accented (from multiple countries) English and foreign words so naturally that the reader almost isn’t aware of their unfamiliarity. 

 

In short, this is an awesome book and an awesome audio production, and I have no reservations in giving both book and narrator 5 stars, and would give more, if I could.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this unbiased review via the courtesy of AudioBookBlast dot com.

What dwells within …

A Murderer’s Heart (Unabridged)

Author: Julie Elizabeth Powell Date: 2015 Narrator: Melanie Fraser Provider: Julie Elizabeth Powell Running Time: 3 h 49 min Audible Enhanced Audio Anne Blake, psychiatrist, is good at her job and believes that even the most sick at heart can be cured…or at least saved enough that they can lead a better life. But maybe she’s wrong? Maybe within a murderer’s heart, evil lurks and nothing can be done except to save yourself?

 

This is a solid, competent book, with some extremely good writing, verging, sometimes on excellent.  The author has a finely honed sense of place, and her descriptions are brief but vivid.  Her use of language is impeccable.

 

Although her characters come across to me as somewhat generic, there are touches of personality that do individualize them, at least to a degree.  For the most part, I did find her female characters almost saccharine, and that overly developed sweetness wasn’t always appropriate.  However, none of her characters was either uninteresting or entirely unbelievable. 

 

Her mystery is very nicely constructed, and though I had narrowed the suspects down to 2, it wasn’t until almost the end of the book that I figured out who the murderer was.  Again, the author fell a little short in my estimation of her villain’s motivation, it was almost stereotypical of such criminals, but again, it was well thought out and well presented.  For me, this author is of interest because I sense a potential in her writing, and think that, when she fully comes into her voice, she will become a very strong voice indeed in the mystery field.  She has the makings of a stellar mystery writer, and I want to be around when she breaks through and creates something brilliant, which I firmly believe she will.

 

The narration was extremely professional and competent in all respects, and, despite the fairly large number of very similar female characters, she was able to give them unique voicing, by making excellent use of inflection, pacing of speech, and expression. 

 

I give both book and author 4 out of 5 stars.

 

I received this book in exchange for this unbiased review, courtesy of AudioBookBlast dot com.