Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Stars Above (Book Thoughts) by Marissa Meyer

I’m definitely glad that I started reading the short stories, novellas, and other extra content included in my favorite series.

I enjoyed this short story collection that wraps up The Lunar Chronicles. It gave each main character a true origin story, or something else that pertains to their personas. Lastly it let us know what the characters have been doing since the series ended and showed what their future looks like going forward. I think it was a really satisfying end to the reading experience.

The biggest surprise to me was that this is 400 pages long, because it felt so much shorter. The audiobook was also a lot shorter than what 400 pages would normally be, at only 9:27 not including the preview of Heartless

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Stars Above
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles # 4.5
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release: Feiwel & Friends, February 2016
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of the series

Let me say two spoiler free lines about each story!

The Keeper – about Michelle Benoit and how she eventually ended up with a very charred charge.  Scarlet has a cameo

Glitches – from the end of the prior story: how Cinder was met by her new family, and incidentally how she discovered her mechanical prowess.  I like this little glimpse of their early family life

The Queen’s Army – how Wolf became Alpha Kessley.  This one showed me something about Scarlet that I missed, or misunderstood while reading 😳

Carswell’s Guide – super cute mechanical kitty and a bunch of scheming by our favorite captain

After Sunshine Passes By – this was probably my least favorite, about Cress and when Sybil Meara put her on the satellite

The Princess and the Guard – Winter’s decision to no longer use her Gift, and what that decline looked like.  It was a nice glimpse into her and Jacin’s childhood friendship

The Little Android – one very brave, very boy crazy little Android that definitely does not have a defective personality chip.  Loosely based on The Little Mermaid, it also showed the first time that Iko and Cinder met and I loved it

The Mechanic – super cute story from Kai’s point of view

Something Old, Something New (or Stars Above) 😁

All in all, I definitely think that if you read the series you need to read this too. The final story is absolutely everything needed to put a big beautiful bow on the series

And of course on audio, once again Rebecca Soler brings the entire cast to life. Bubbly hyper excitable Iko and floaty Winter were my favorite voices in the series.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

The Magicians (thoughts & response to random criticism) by Lev Grossman

After being 50/50 amused and concerned by all the hatred towards this book (oh GoodReads, LOL) I decided to point my review and thoughts towards responding to some of the popular criticism.

Like it’s truly vitriolic and I don’t get it

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magicians
  • Series: The Magicians, #1
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2009
  • Length: 416 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for adult reader fans of antiheroes and magic

Here is the synopsis via goodreads:

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

My overall reaction to this book is positive. I think the three main points of contention are 1) unfair comparison – people read blurbs and then can’t reconcile when a book doesn’t deliver to expectation, 2) people seem to miss the fact that they aren’t supposed to like the characters where this is a more theme focused book, and 3) people saw the TV show, which is pretty vastly different, first, and think it’s better

So – the book asks two main questions.  What if Harry Potter and Narnia were real – what would it look like in the real world? What does the quest for happiness look like?

For me, the only real glitch was right at the start, and I’m going to take a moment for one of my infamous @OneReadingNurse medical rant/explanations: So the book takes place in America, in New York State. A body was found, very dead already, and an EMT came to the scene, performed a “lazy effort” resuscitation, and intubated the corpse. Ok 😂 first off in New York, EMTs can NOT intubate. Second: No one would have intubated an already clearly dead person anyway. Third, even if a qualified person was present they wouldn’t intubate in a “lazy effort” aka “slow code” – So I had a good laugh at the start but then thankfully Grossman stayed away from medical things and just tells a story

Ok down to business!

In response to Quentin being insufferable: yes! Some of the best characters are! The thing is that he isn’t supposed to be liked and I personally love complicated characters. Logically Quentin should be very happy with his life, he has everything he could have ever wanted. At the end of the “Graduation” chapter his own discontent finally dawns on him, although he hasn’t yet figured out that happiness is an internal factor. He reminds me of the characters like Martin Eden, Holden Caulfield, Scrooge. Quentin expects to have happiness presented to them on a silver platter once he reaches certain goals, places, people, things, yet he doesn’t quite realize that it’s an internal factor. That is actually a common human struggle in real life, among teens and adults alike, so I’m really mystified at the hate towards him.

Again, that sequence at the end of the graduation chapter where Quentin says that he got everything he’s ever wanted, and happiness is a fleeting thing, and It’s a terrible thing to know? That proves that he is self aware and not even slightly one dimensional.  There is a sequence of events in Fillory where Q sees the actual result of his wildest dreams, and there he truly learns the price of escapism.

For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever –Alice

Which brings me to my next point: the language. I graduated in 06 and was in college in 09, and this book really truly threw me back to those years. The kids I was familiar with in high school and college talked and acted pretty similarly to these characters, except with marginally less alcohol. We swore, we made fun of each other, we handled it, and we didn’t get hyperoffended by everything. I’m pretty sure hormonal teenage boys still notice boobs on women before much else. Has that changed since 2009? I REALLY  doubt it. People can be on their high horses all they want but this these characters actually feel real to me, very much unlike what I read in contemporary novels these days.

Are you kidding? That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog.

Onwards! Let’s talk about the plot and magic

The magical test and the magic in general are also fairly interesting, and I like the parts that happen at the school quite a bit. It’s almost a relief to have the years summarized as they were, as I frankly don’t need to know every nuance of what happened as the characters develop relationships and memorize spells ad nauseum forever.

The part taking place in Fillory does seem like a fairly direct knockoff of Narnia, but …. Now bear with me …. Authors rip off published works all the time, in “retellings”, so really how is this any different? Heck someone just ripped off Little Women and it was so similar the author didn’t even bother changing the character names.

That said – how do you really think these people would feel being dropped into Fillory as they were? I freaking loved Josh, thinking the dryad was hot, and also the scene with the giant molten man where everything went to hell and Josh just commented on his balls 😂

There were darker themes too! The Fillory undertones of betrayal, death of the Old Gods, becoming a monster, set ups and more betrayals, and even the clocks? Action and consequence? This isn’t light subject matter! What about Elliot finally admitting that Fillory saved his life?

Now he had answers, but they weren’t doing what answers were supposed to do: they weren’t making things simpler or easier. They weren’t helping.

These characters all came from homes where they weren’t getting a ton of guidance and oversight, some of them were outright rejected. With how smart they all were, it isn’t hard to believe that they were turning to alcohol and drugs and other unsavory practices!

Plus the magic itself – heartbreaking at the end but cool.  Think of magic in a contemporary light, people just figuring it out as they go, sometimes accidentally doing something truly huge?  I think Grossman nailed it

I think overall it was interesting, engaging, and followed relatable aspects of life (such as searching for and misunderstanding happiness), teenage and college relationships, oddball groups of friends, even lost love is included and found family.

Oh gosh the story about Alice’s brother, and then Alice 😦

I will also add that Mark Bramhall does a heck of a audio narration. Honestly I think my favorite voice is that of Josh Hoberman, especially when he bounded off yelling *AND III F*CKED YOURRR MOTHERRRR* like I was howling laughing. The narration really is epic.

Long story short: definitely read this one

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Winter (book thoughts) by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles was a refreshing and binge worthy reading experience.  I am getting so sick of YA books with terrible language, dumb characters, s*x scenes that aren’t at all appropriate for the advertised age range…

Then I read this series! Whew. I binged all 5 books and also checked out the short story collection.  Zero swears that I recall, innocent romance that’s appropriate for both age and situation, and, even the gore was pretty well contained.  The battle scenes and fighting were exciting and delivered shocks without going to extreme.

So yes I 100% confidently recommend The Lunar Chronicles for both teens and adults looking for a fun, futuristic battle for Earth and beyond.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the final book in the series – Winter

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Winter
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles, #4
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release: Feiwel & Friends, November 2015
  • Length: 832 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Here is the summary:

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

We got a glimpse of the title character, Princess Winter, at the end of Cress, and also got some of her back story in Fairest. At first I wasn’t sure about her, since she is frankly nuts, but once we start learning more about the lunar sickness and how Winter refused to be like the rest of the lunar court, aka fake and using their glamours for ill, she becomes a much more likeable character.  Yes she is flaky but also strong enough to defy Levana for so long, and she is definitely not stupid.  Her strength comes out pretty evenly with the crazy and it’s an endearing combination.

Winter was a well loved princess who was prettier than a bouquet of roses and crazier than a headless chicken.

Also for some reason I thought that, due to the pets and the palace guard, that this would be an Aladdin theme … but it was definitely, very loosely, Snow White.

But anyway, the gang is back and there is more banter, more adventure, more kidnappings of Kai, and thankfully some hard won victories for the Rampion crew.

I like that the war and occupation of Luna wasn’t easy.  There were tons of civilian casualties, injuries and near deaths for the crew, trauma and everything else you’d expect from a war.   Parts of it felt a little Hunger Games ish with the gang going to different sectors to recruit people to overwhelm the Capitol.  Also reminiscent were the questions of sanity and PTSD after the conflicts and terrible things that were both done and witnessed.

I also liked how the main points of Fairest were recapped incase anyone hadn’t read it, although I still think that book enhanced the overall reading experience.

Best side character award definitely goes to Konn Torin in this one.  He turned the tide and came through in huge but subtle ways.  Everything would have been lost without him.  Bonus points to Alpha Strom too, that whole sequence with the wolf soldiers was something else.

I still think Scarlet is the most useless of the group.  It was great to see Cress really come out of her shell (pun intended) and be a hero! I have had some Cress coasters forever and it’s good to know what they mean finally.  Iko was another superstar throughout this one.

Meyer didn’t shy away from emphasizing either how brutal the Lunar regime was in itself.  As she really showed how the elite kept the outer sectors in poverty and submission it was the perfect grounds for a revolution.  There were those individual instances too like with Maha Kesley.  Everyone in the crew lost someone precious to them during the series.

One last thing to hit on the setting – I thought it was great to finally see all of Luna.  A lot of the history was finally given too, or at least enough to provide a background without bogging the story down.

The spot where the setting hit me the hardest was when Cinder hit the edge of the dome in the middle of the lake – and the crater was hundreds of feet below on the other side.  From that imagery to that of the Lunar palace I think Winter really tied things together well.

In a nutshell: four (five because honestly, let’s count Iko) unique main characters.  Banter and snark for days.  Adventure, plotting, war, rebellion. Heroes and villains. Dashing captains (haha had to mention Thorne somewhere). Happy endings.  Age appropriate content!  What’s not to love about this series?

Quick notes on the audio: this is obviously a pretty long audio, around 24hours.  Rebecca Soler made her first obvious OOPS in this one but considering it was the first noticeable one in 5 books, I was very impressed overall!  I think she added a lot to the book by voicing and interpreting Winter and the others how she did.  Definitely 100% recommend

Categories
audiobooks Author Interviews & Guest Posts

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Benjamin Fife!

Hello friends! I certainly didn’t expect to take the entire month of December off from the Sunday Brunch Series, but life happens. Brunch is back in the new year!

Episode 17 is something a bit different, for the first time I am chatting with a professional audiobook narrator! Thank you so much to Benjamin Fife for offering to feature!

I am seriously visually impaired and 100% passionate that audiobooks ARE books! I am so excited to bring you guys this interview, read on to learn all about what it took to become a narrator, his favorite characters, and honestly more interesting sounding bookish recommendations than I have ever seen in one place before!

Here he is!


🥞Welcome to the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your background?

🎤 I took drama in High School from a very good teacher. We studied dialects, the international phonetic alphabet, 12 guideposts for actors, studied motivations for characters and so on.  At the time, it was an easy A, and I had fun with it.  Sometimes at the time and often in the years between then & when I started actually narrating, I tended to think I wasted my time with it and probably should have taken a foreign language instead. I DO still wish I had auditioned for more plays when I was in HS & college, but at the time I was fully immersed in Band Geek life (I was basically the head band geek at my HS).  I kept using the skills I learned in drama as my partner and I started having kids & I began reading aloud to them.  for a decade and a half at least, we’ve read nightly to our family & I gradually would do more characterization & performance instead of just “reading.” And the nightly family read, combined with a commute to my dayjob regularly listening to audiobooks, I became more and more interested in narrating professionally myself

🥞Could you tell everyone a bit about how you became a professional narrator? What does the career path look like for anyone that might be interested?

🎤 About 4 years ago, my wife found the ACX website & with that, I had a new passion that overtook my interest in anything else.   For a lot more on this – check out the blog post.

https://www.bennyfifeaudio.com/post/an-unedited-and-mostly-transparent-account-of-becoming-a-successful-audiobook-narrator-part-i

{{This is a great post detailing how he got started and how ACX works – I had never heard of it before.  I definitely recommend any authors trying to have an audiobook made to check it out too, as well as interested readers}}

🥞What traits or aspects of an audiobook do you think makes a listening experience truly special?

🎤 An audiobook is an incredibly intimate experience.  I think of it as a partnership between the author, the narrator, and the listener and each is an essential part.  The idea – author; the performace – narrator; the imagination – listener.

I love narrating also for the emotional catharsis.  When you read a book, yes, you can have a unique imagination, but having it performed for you is like an individual play in your mind and performance is definitely the key.  Nothing makes me happier than when an author listens to my performance and is moved to tears, other than perhaps if a listener feels the same way

🥞Do you have a favorite genre or accent to narrate?

🎤 Fantasy and Scifi without a doubt.  Especially stories that explore the human condition in the tradition of Asimov.  I also adore classics.  My bestselling series combines a few of these and I love coming back to again and again.  Jane Austen’s Dragons by Maria Grace.  9 books so far and counting.  And an enormous little name drop twice in book 8 to let you know there’s definitely more coming.  Last year I also had the pleasure of narrating Ebenezer: The True Life Story of Ebenezer Scrooge by Douglas Bass.  A Christmas Carol is my favorite book of all time, Dickens is my favorite deceased author, and Doug did a great job expanding A Christmas Carol to something more like Great Expectations or David Copperfield.  I’m planning on eventually doing my own recordings of the complete works of Dickens, and this was a good primer. Doug’s version is 17 hours versus A Christmas Carol’s normal 3.

So along with that – I enjoy narrating in accents of the British Isles.  That was what I studied in HS & have held onto most – And yes, I realize I’m not perfect in my accents.  I’ve lived all but 2 years of my life in Idaho, USA. But when you get into accents of the UK, there are such a glut of variations.  I kind of have my own idiosyncrasies I’ve adopted for my basic “brit” narration, and then branch off from there for various characters.  But I love doing & learning all kinds of different accents. Mountain Folk by John Hood presented more in one book last year than I’ve ever done. (Think American Revolutionary war plus Myth Folk).  Various Brit accents, German, Indigenous American, southern us, and so on.  It was a fun challenge and a fun book.  I’m currently recording Ark of the Apocalypse by Tobin Marks and it features a lot of Russian accents, among others.

🥞Is there a standout favorite character that you have ever voiced? If so, what made them special to you?

🎤 Probably Brant from Jenelle Schmidt’s Minstrel’s Song series.  (Starting with King’s Warrior.)  He’s essentially the Ben Hur of the series.  Lots of depth to his character and some surprising and an abundance of tragedy and drama in his life.  Also the only series I’ve narrated that I read the whole thing outloud to my kids as well.  If you like LOTR, Lloyd Alexander, or C.S. Lewis, I think you’ll like that.

🥞Do you do any writing yourself or are you more of a reader?

🎤 I’ve mainly blogged so far – but I have several stories that have been floating around in my head for some time.  I’m committing to writing 30 minutes a day this year. (My answering these questions qualifies for today).  I have a nonfiction book I’ve outlined and a book I’m hoping to co-write with Maria Grace that will fit in her Jane Austen’s Dragons universe – but branch out considerably.    I work with some authors who put out an amazing amount of material and I have no idea how they do.  Ask me in a year & we’ll see how my 30 min commitment changed things for me. Hopefully I’ll have something to show for it.

🥞How do you feel about brunch? Any favorite brunch foods?

🎤 Considering my prime recording time is 10 PM to 2 AM, my breakfast probably qualifies as brunch.  I love a lot of breakfast foods.  Give me a good omelette any day.  Danish Delight is a dessert / breakfast / brunch food I think I’ve had just a handful of times in my life and its to die for.  My mom made it once, maybe twice when I was very young.  I never stopped asking her for it after that, but never got it again.  about 10 years ago, my wife surprised me with it on my birthday and she did it a couple more times after that…. I should learn to make it myself probably.

Also… I make a mean oatmeal for our family very often. Add a tablespoon of butter (or more) to the water while boiling, a pinch of salt and somewhere between a dash to a tablespoon of cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and poppy seeds.  Serve with honey and raisins, or craisins, or whatever other fruit you want.  My kids love it.  So do I. Ready in 10 minutes, cheap, nutritious and delicious.

🥞As someone who is pretty severely visually impaired, I tend to be passionate that AUDIOBOOKS ARE BOOKS!!!  Do you have any thoughts or input on this debate in the reading community?

🎤 People who don’t think Audiobooks are books are being snobs. Plain and simple. I may garner slightly more information reading the physical book (or ebook – which is also a book), but I am able to consume & process so many more books because of audiobooks.  Dickens had characters who learned via audiobooks! (Our Mutual Friend (which I first listened to because of Person of Interest, but that’s another story entirely).  Cyrano de Bergerac presented the idea of Audiobooks in L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (“Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon” in 1657!  (Also known as A Voyage to the Moon – which the famous old silent movie was based on). I don’t take issue with anyone who has a hard time focusing on audiobooks.  Different people learn differently, but the material is the same whether you’re reading the symbols on the page or someone else is presenting them in the sounds that are also symbols for ideas.

🥞Here is the quick round of rapid-fire bookish questions! Do you have a favorite literary character of all time? Favorite book that your always recommend? Favorite author? Feel free to include audio recs!

🎤 Ebenezer Scrooge

And There Was Light by Jacques Lusseyran

Dead – Charles Dickens

Living – Timothy Zahn

Indie that I’ve narrated for – Gonna be hard to really pick, so I’m going for a 3 way tie so far – Maria Grace, Jenelle Schmidt, and C.D. Tavenor.  I’ve also narrated more for each of them than almost anyone else. More than a million words between the three of them.

Indie that I haven’t narrated for: Carol Beth Anderson.  I love her Magic Eaters series. And she does a pretty darn good job narrating it herself.

🥞Thank you so much for taking the time to interview!


Here is his website and social media links!

https://www.bennyfifeaudio.com/  for audio samples, blog posts, and more!

On Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/fife_benjamin

On Soundcloud:

https://m.soundcloud.com/user-29643215

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Fairest (book & audio review) by Marissa Meyer

It’s been a rough week here, I keep looking around for or reaching over to pet the dog and she’s not there. The absolute worst

I haven’t gotten much reading done but have been listening to an audio while I can’t sleep. Eventually I will finish Winter. 

Fairest is the first book I read in 2022, the shorter Lunar Chronicles book that falls in between Cress and Winter.  I absolutely 100% recommend reading Fairest in that order with the rest of the series, as it gives a lot of background into Levana’s story, what happened to Cinder, the story with Winter and Jacin, the plague origins, and so many other things.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Fairest
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles 3.5
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release: Feiwel & Friends, January 2015
  • Length: 226 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for anyone reading the series

Here is the synopsis:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall.
Who is the Fairest of them all?

Pure evil has a name, hides behind a mask of deceit, and uses her “glamour” to gain power. But who is Queen Levana? Long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress in The Lunar Chronicles, Levana lived a very different story―a story that has never been told . . . until now.

New York Times –bestselling author Marissa Meyer reveals the story behind her fascinating villain in Fairest, an unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death

I think this provided a lot of the insight I was looking for into the Lunar world.  What is life like for the royalty, what are their expectations, what is society like, etc.

Levana iss more than a bit crazy as an adult and I liked her backstory. Sbe was influenced by early mind control and torture by her older sister, Cinder’s mother, which damages the mind of young children.  At least it was written that mind control is bad for the toddlers.  Also she was probably a little psychotic to begin with, AND just had terrible influence from Channary all along

That said – I don’t think this book was written to garner sympathy so much as tell the back story.  Other than the initial incident and bullying from her sister, Levana made her own choices and did a lot of really sick and questionable things

She’s a heck of a villain, kind of reminds of Joker in that she is just completely criminally insane by the time Winter occurs

Meyer also answered questions I had – like – how does the queen have a black step daughter? What was under the glamour? Who was Cinder’s mom? What about the plague origins? Heck even about Sybil Meara and the Lunar court.

I would love to know why Channary was as rotten as she was, but there were a few allusions to how the girls grew up fairly unsupervised and all of the Lunar royalty and their children tend to be absolutely terrible. As evidenced by the 8 year old boy torturing Scarlet at the end of Cinder

I definitely think this is good to read in between Cress and Winter, because now we know about the queen and even Jacin, and everything makes a little more sense to me

It’s definitely enhancing the reading experience for me in book 4.

Quick notes on the audio: Rebecca Soler definitely gives another awesome performance here.  She hasn’t missed a beat through 4 books now. From Macmillan audio, including the hour ish long preview of Winter, the length is 6h and 32 minutes.  I loved how creepy and murderous she made Channary sound saying “Come heeeeere baby sister” and in contrast, how Levana had to deal with things.  Definitely highly recommend as both a book or audio

Categories
Adventure audiobooks Crime Thrillers

Dark Horse (ALC Review) by Gregg Hurwitz

I have to say that as someone who can’t always read a lot of pages due to my eye problems and resulting headaches, that audiobooks are a lifesaver.

Thank you so much to Macmillan Audio for reaching out to offer my first Advanced Listening Copy! I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Scott Brick narrate Dark Horse by Gregg Hurwitz. I have not read or listened to anything else in this series of books, and while I didn’t feel lost at all, I do think a bit of knowledge of the background characters and events might add to overall enjoyment.

***on that note – I don’t know how long it is going to last but the first two books in the series are free to read/listen with kindle unlimited at the time that I wrote this post!!

AUDIO-Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dark Horse
  • Series: Orphan X, #7
  • Author: Gregg Hurwitz
  • Narrator: Scott Brick
  • Publisher & Release: Macmillan Audio (Minotaur Books) 02/08/22
  • Length: 14h30m (432 pages)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of vigilante justice, spy thrillers, action novels, and a bit of snarky banter

Here is the synopsis:

Gregg Hurwitz’s New York Times bestselling series returns when Orphan X faces his most challenging mission ever in Dark Horse.

Evan Smoak is a man with many identities and a challenging past. As Orphan X, he was a government assassin for the off-the-books Orphan Program. After he broke with the Program, he adopted a new name and a new mission–The Nowhere Man, helping the most desperate in their times of trouble. Having just survived an attack on his life and the complete devastation of his base of operations, as well as his complicated (and deepening) relationship with his neighbor Mia Hall, Evan isn’t interested in taking on a new mission. But one finds him anyway.

Aragon Urrea is a kingpin of a major drug-dealing operation in South Texas. He’s also the patron of the local area–supplying employment in legitimate operations, providing help to the helpless, rough justice to the downtrodden, and a future to a people normally with little hope. He’s complicated–a not completely good man, who does bad things for often good reasons. However, for all his money and power, he is helpless when one of the most vicious cartels kidnaps his innocent eighteen year old daughter, spiriting her away into the armored complex that is their headquarters in Mexico. With no other way to rescue his daughter, he turns to The Nowhere Man.

Now not only must Evan figure out how to get into the impregnable fortress of a heavily armed, deeply paranoid cartel leader, but he must decide if he should help a very bad man–no matter how just the cause.

So I want to focus more on the audio, since I am reviewing an ALC! Scott Brick is probably, as far as I know, one of the most prodigious narrators out there, I mean he read the Foundation universe by Asimov, Dune, at least some of the Lee Child books, some Erik Larsson, among other things.. and I think this is another amazing performance by him.

He has to voice cartel drug leaders, sicarios, Evan Smoak of course, teenage girls, and pretty much everything in between, and I don’t think he faltered once.  My favorite character was the weapon aficionado named Tommy –  the way Brick had him saying “MonGOlian CLLUSter-forNIcation” had he cracking up.  I think he’s a master, really.

About the book itself – so as I said I have not read any of the Orphan X books, but Hurwitz does a good job recapping who is who and bringing first time readers up on current events.  Obviously there is a bit of a storyline from book to book but it can be read as a standalone for sure.

There was good action throughout the book, good pacing, and a surprising amount of introspection from various characters as well.  I liked Smoak as a main character, the OCD was something a little different and I loved what he did at the end of the book.  Josephine was his little found-family-co-orphan and computer hacker. I liked her too. I want to go back and find the rest of her story, and that of her dog…named Dog!  It seemed like Tommy the weapons guy was featured in the prior book as well so I do definitely want to go back and read the series.

There are many things I could quote too to show the humor included throughout the book, but I will wait until a finished copy is out.  I did like the themes here of starting to trust people, self reflection, honesty with peers, and the whole debate of the morally gray, vs just evil drug lord.  The comparison of their parenting and values was actually pretty interesting and made Evan think about his own life quite a bit.

Anyway – I would definitely recommend this audiobook, the book itself, and potentially the series for fans of vigilante type novels, action books, with hints of romance and humor and found family elements as well.  It was overall good narration and good writing!

…and … there is a lion

 

Categories
audiobooks Paranormal Suspense Thrillers

End of Watch (book & audio thoughts) by Stephen King

I know there’s not much that I can add to the King review canon, but here are my thoughts on End of Watch! I fully recommend this series and book to anyone looking for unlikely heroes, great character arcs, and low-key creepy vibes that increase in this final book.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: End of Watch
  • Series: Bill Hodges Trilogy, #3
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: Scribner, June 2016
  • Pages: 448
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yess for thriller and mystery, paranormal fans

Here’s the synopsis:

The spectacular finale to the New York Times best-selling trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes (winner of the Edgar Award) and Finders Keepers

2017 Audie Award Finalist for Fiction and Best Male Narrator

In End of Watch, the diabolical “Mercedes Killer” drives his enemies to suicide, and if Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney don’t figure out a way to stop him, they’ll be victims themselves.

In Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, something has awakened. Something evil. Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of the Mercedes Massacre, where eight people were killed and many more were badly injured, has been in the clinic for five years, in a vegetative state. According to his doctors, anything approaching a complete recovery is unlikely. But behind the drool and stare, Brady is awake and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.

Retired police detective Bill Hodges, the unlikely hero of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, now runs an investigation agency with his partner, Holly Gibney – the woman who delivered the blow to Hartsfield’s head that put him in the brain injury ward. When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk as well as those of Bill’s heroic young friend, Jerome Robinson, and his teenage sister, Barbara. Brady Hartsfield is back and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends but on an entire city.

In End of Watch, Stephen King brings the Hodges trilogy to a sublimely terrifying conclusion, combining the detective fiction of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers with the heart-pounding supernatural suspense that has been his best-selling trademark. The result is an unnerving look at human vulnerability and chilling suspense. No one does it better than King.

This is a really satisfying end to the trilogy.  It can stand on it’s own but I highly recommend reading them all, and in order, or the audio books are absolutely phenomenal as well (but you all know I just LOVE Will Patton).

Brady Hartsfield is back, and King finally found a way to weave the supernatural / paranormal into this one.  He does so in an utterly creepy way too, with Brady developing telekinesis due to experimental drugs and using it to orchestrate mayhem and suicide through handheld game consuls.  Brady really isn’t as smart as he thinks he is though, some of his mishaps had me laughing.

The title tells the reader what’s coming at the end, and it’s revealed pretty early on. That storyline is definitely sad as hell but it also lets Holly and Jerome shine on a new level.  One of my favorite aspects of the trilogy has been these unlikely heroes with their unlikely friendship, and Bill Hodges being the elderly, unlikely hero that holds them together.  All three had the chance to shine in this King left us no doubt that Holly’s gonna be ok.

Exciting, tense, sad, hopeful, fast paced – are all good describing words for this one.  I liked the pacing and how it kept connecting back to prior books.  King wrote a lovely authors note at the end about suicide prevention too that would lift anyone’s spirits after the ending.  I have also enjoyed the picnic scenes at the end of each book and was glad that End of Watch included one as well.  It gave the characters some final emotional closure

What I really want is a Holly and Pete spinoff book or series – I know that If It Bleeds is at least a short story but I hope he writes more.

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes: 

Things can get better, and if you give them a chance, they usually do.

One foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel

It’s about how some people carelessly squander what others would sell their souls to have: a healthy, pain-free body. And why? Because they’re too blind, too emotionally scarred, or too self-involved to see past the earth’s dark curve to the next sunrise. Which always comes, if one continues to draw breath

And the funniest one …. “Darker than a woodchuck’s asshole”

I definitely highly recommend this series on both book or audio format if you are looking for a great detective, suspense, thriller series.  Will Patton, as always, adds something special to the narration and will creep you out even harder singing the fishing hole song!

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Cinder (Book & Audiobook) by Marissa Meyers

I have been mostly mood reading this month, and I ended up finally grabbing Cinder by Marissa Meyers.  I am so late to the party with these older books. I have been seeing them everywhere for years and I guess late is better than never?

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Cinder
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release:  Feiwel & Friends, January 2012
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes for fans of fairy tale retellings, YA, sci-fi, fast paced books, snarky princes, and villains 

Here is the synopsis:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

So I finally, finally started The Lunar Chronicles. I saw a lot of criticism for the poor world building but honestly, I don’t come to fairy tales and fairy tale retellings for world building and I think it would have slowed the book down immensely had Meyer taken the time to explain how Earth got to cyborgs, spaceships, and magical terrorists from the moon.

That said, oh my god, Cinderella with cyborgs

This book was fun! Don’t read into it too much – Cinder is a cyborg with a vicious step mother and one out of two step sisters is also a jerk. She loses a foot instead of a slipper. The handsome prince, Kai, is snarky and funny.  The book really does stay fairly true to Cinderella too but there are enough twists and turns and terrible things, as well as a vastly different ending, that I never felt too bored or too able to predict the story.  Minus the big twist – that one I got straightaway.

There are darker themes of oppression and war, plague, medical testing and death too.  In 2021 I don’t really want to read about death plagues and quarantine, but in 2012 I think this would have been an amazing book for me.  I liked that the Meyer took those darker turns too though, she’s not shy, and I just LOVED who ended up being the silent hero at the end. 

Happily ever after? No, not quite, Cinder is going to have to work for it

I liked Cinder, Iko, and Kai as characters, and the doctor too.  There is plenty of banter and snark for days.  The series villains are introduced – the Lunar Queen has mind control capabilities and is hellbent on war with Earthz whether or not she caves prince Kai into marriage.  I assume we are done with the stepmother but gosh did I want to smack that woman.

I docked one star because a tad bit more micro world building wouldn’t have hurt the plot.

What I really don’t like are the new cartoon covers, but I love the old ones.

For fans of: YA sci-fi, romance, retellings, fast paced books, and everything above.

A brief note on the audio: at slightly over 10 hours, narrated by one of my favorites, Rebecca Soler – this is a highly recommended audio from me. Rebecca is great at the robotic voices. Soler is probably a name recognized by most since her repertoire is insane, may be recognize her from the narration of the Caraval series, Seafire, Ashlords, some James Patterson books, and so many more including Renegades and Heartless, also by Meyer. By Macmillan audio

Categories
audiobooks Mysteries Suspense Thrillers

Finders Keepers (book thoughts) by Stephen King

Continuing my binge of the Bill Hodges Trilogy, I think Finders Keepers had a lot of great points and quotes and characters. It didn’t quite hold up to Mr. Mercedes but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the sequel, especially to literature and book lovers.  Probably the thing that surprised me the most is how this could read as a standalone

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Finders Keepers
  • Series: Bill Hodges Trilogy, #2
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: Scriber, June 2015
  • Length: 448 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for the book itself, 5 for the audio experience

Here is the blurb:

A masterful, intensely suspenseful novel about a reader whose obsession with a reclusive writer goes far too far—a book about the power of storytelling, starring the same trio of unlikely and winning heroes King introduced in Mr. Mercedes.

“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.

Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.

Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever.

Finders Keepers is a love letter to being a Reader. The way King describes that feeling of finding the book that made you realize you were a Reader. I will just quote it:

For readers, one of life’s most electrifying discoveries is that they are readers—not just capable of doing it (which Morris already knew), but in love with it. Hopelessly. Head over heels. The first book that does that is never forgotten, and each page seems to bring a fresh revelation, one that burns and exalts: Yes! That’s how it is! Yes! I saw that, too! And, of course, That’s what I think! That’s what I FEEL!

“Shit don’t mean shit” and the birthday f*cc quotes are obviously meant to be quotable too, and I loved the book for those one-liners.  The Jerome and Holly scene at the end with the t-shirt was one of my favorites.

Another thing I really liked was how Morris and Peter were really quite a bit alike. Throughout the book King drew parallels between them.  (Morris was a bit like Annie from Misery but he was a whole different take on the theme of obsession). The interesting part was seeing which direction Pete would go.  At the end when Pete kind of broke away and realized that, thankfully, they weren’t alike at heart, it was a nice thought in stark contrast to the horror happening in the background at the end of the book.

Pacing and suspense wise – the first third was a little weird and slow for me since I expected to see Bill and the screw sooner, but it took until the second 3rd of the book. There was plenty of suspense, action, brutality, and gore, and of course the Happy Slapper is back.  With that real sense of danger and suspense it was hard to put the book down.  I feel like King has thoughts on people who’s butt fat you can carve with a hatchet 😂😂

Anyway, what I didn’t like so much was how long it took to get Hodges and the crew involved. Jerome and Holly having bigger roles was awesome, but leaving them out of the first third of the book seemed odd.  It helped the book as a standalone though because even with all the Mercedes tie-ins, there was a new set of characters, new crime, new mystery, etc.  Enough background to get by easily.

Also at least as of yet, I’m not into the tiny supernatural bit poking it’s head out at the end! This has been a pretty straightforward and amazing mystery / thriller series so far, it seems like bringing in a supernatural element is unnecessary? Maybe not. I think I’m just going to binge the series and start End of Watch next.

(P.S. I have already started it and the supernatural aspect is the crown ruler of WEIRD, but I’m on board)

I’m also going to guess that King doesn’t know anything about legal proceedings and doesn’t feel like researching it, because I would have really liked to know about Pete’s legal fallout at the end, if there was any.  He kind of ignores that after book one as well.

My last random thought it about how not only did the book focus on literature affecting people differently, and how readers vary, but about discussing books too.  Ricky the teacher and his whole “this is stupid” speech had me howling but he was so right

About the audio-

Will Patton obviously also rocked it again, although probably for the first time ever I didn’t like how he did a voice – Tina’s. It didn’t help that she was annoying anyway (oh stfu we get it, Pete might be mad), but WP sounded a lot lile Jim Dale trying to do a whiny teenage female. Besides that, the man could sell me a reading of the dictionary.

I say it again that you want the tone, the snark, the snide of the killer, even Holly’s clipped words, I think Patton stands alone at the top of male audio narrators.  Finders Keepers earned him an Audie nominee for best solo male, and I *think* he won it for End of Watch finally.  At 13 hours and change and with a 4.5 rating on Scribd, I’m glad to see others agree!

Long story short:  love love love these characters and their story arc and this trilogy so far.

Categories
audiobooks Crime Fiction Thrillers

Mr. Mercedes (Book Thoughts & Audio) by Stephen King

I am finally adding King into my backlog book rotation.  I find it utterly embarrassing, as a reader, that I haven’t read many of his books.  I thought they were all horror but he has branched out into many other genres including serial killers, thrillers, and cops, which is where Mr. Mercedes falls in.

I would also listen to anything Will Patton narrates, including the Bible, dictionary, or cereal box, although he truly delivers another WOW performance in the audiobook

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Mr. Mercedes
  • Series: Bill Hodges Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: Scribner, June 2014
  • Length: 448 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: I am starting to think King is a must read author e

Here is the synopsis:

WINNER OF THE EDGAR AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
#1 New York Times bestseller! In a mega-stakes, high-suspense race against time, three of the most unlikely and winning heroes Stephen King has ever created try to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands.

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartsfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again. Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable

I always love the “unlikely heroes” theme and this book just nailed it so hard.  Bill Hodges is one level of personal hell away from eating his father’s gun when the killer that got away decided to contact him.

Teaming up with his computer savvy lawn trimmer, Jerome, and eventually the psychologically challenged cousin of a victim, Bill goes off the legal path to nail the bastard.

What a ride!  The chapters from the killers point of view were some mix of disturbing, funny, and just WRONG.  He was not the most interesting serial killer, but sometimes I think it’s more about the circumstances and delivery than creating anything other than a deeply traumatized, crazy dude bent on inflicting harm.  Not to say Hartsfield isn’t interesting but I certainly wasn’t rooting for him, he just seemed predictable.

Either predictable or Hodges was just that good!  Their dynamic over the chat room communications was fun to read

Not a book for the faint of heart or easily upset, but totally worth it.  Am I going to hell for laughing at the dog having the only Black name in Jerome’s family? Maybe, but I loved the family dynamic and also the found family one.  Give me ALL the unlikely allies stories

As with the other King books, Mr Mercedes is extremely well written as well. I like how he really gets into both the det-ret and the killer’s heads. I also love how Will Patton brings out all the inflections and nuances of the story in the audio. Whatever tone the author is going for, Patton amplifies it to perfection. I won’t hesitate to recommend anything he narrates, and I am thanking whoever pushed for the Patton and King combination because it’s unbelievably good.

All things considered: yes there is violence, gore, racism, and incest, but if you want a really memorable story I feel like these things can become part of a well done plot. I like my thrillers memorable and ya don’t get that when all the hard things are sugar coated

All the stars for this first installment of the Bill Hodges Trilogy

A brief note on the audio: Narrated by Will Patton, an Audie award finalist for this performance, released in 2014 by Simon & Schuster audio. 14 hours and change,