Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen (Book Thoughts)

My last read of June was Ashlords by Scott Reintgen! The book was pegged as Scorpio Races meets Red Rising; there are strong Hunger Games vibes too. It was one of the books that I got through ShelfLoveCrate and meant to read as soon as it came out, because hello PHOENIX HORSES, but I was afraid the book wouldn’t live up to the synopsis and be a letdown!

Thankfully that didn’t happen.

My cover is the alternate dust jacket from shelf love crate, this is the originally released cover

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Ashlords
  • Series: Ashlords #1
  • Author: Scott Reintgen
  • Publisher & Release: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2020
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of the books listed above!

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

Red Rising meets The Scorpio Races in this epic fantasy following three phoenix horse riders–skilled at alchemy–who must compete at The Races–the modern spectacle that has replaced warfare within their empire.

Every year since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they’ve raced them. First into battle, then on great hunts, and finally for the pure sport of seeing who rode the fastest. Centuries of blood and fire carved their competition into a more modern spectacle: The Races.

Over the course of a multi-day event, elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion. But the modern version of the sport requires more than good riding. Competitors must be skilled at creating and controlling phoenix horses made of ash and alchemy, which are summoned back to life each sunrise with uniquely crafted powers to cover impossible distances and challenges before bursting into flames at sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to defend their phoenix horse at night. Murder is outlawed, but breaking bones and poisoning ashes? That’s all legal and encouraged.

In this year’s Races, eleven riders will compete, but three of them have more to lose than the rest–a champion’s daughter, a scholarship entrant, and a revolutionary’s son. Who will attain their own dream of glory? Or will they all flame out in defeat?

For a Young Adult book – I loved Ashlords. What more could I want than phoenix horses controlled through alchemy, danger, betrayals, strategy, war, gods, and a race where anything except murder goes.

I almost gave it 5 stars just because it’s so damn refreshing to not have a terrible YA romance involved. Reintgen left romance out and I can only hope that he also left it out of book 2. Hello and thank you authors not every damn book needs romance forced into it.

The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is because the world building was a little confusing at first. We did get the necessary history throughout the book but it first it was a little hard to grasp which faction was which and what their goals are. I also would have like to know what the actual differences were between the Ashlords, longhands, and dividians, whether there were physical differences or what.

I would have loved a deeper dive into the horses themselves and the alchemy parts too.  The Phoenix horses were cool and I liked the horse crazy vibe that Imelda gave off, but some more lore and physiology would be cool. Like if they rebirth every day, how do the riders form lasting bonds? I love the idea though

The races lasted long enough to be satisfying and each character got ample page time to make tough decisions and strategize.  A lot of these books with races or competitions tend to under represent the event itself and I didn’t think that was the case here.

Most of the gods and some of their atrocities were revealed here too – I’m pretty excited to see how that develops in the next book. Reintgen took on a lot here to set up religious and economical power struggles between the factions.  The flavor of rebellion reminded me of Red Rising for sure

Character wise- the book is told through three rotating points of view. I liked all of them well enough. Pippa surprised me as the most dynamic character, she seemed high horsed at first and was narrating herself in second person like she saw her life through a television camera. Adrian was funny, badass, and set in his ways already. He seemed to be a product of his upbringing. Imelda was so naive, she outdanced a lowly country lord and then thought she could take on the rebellion 🤣thankfully she figured out quickly enough that she was in over her head. She kept her head on fairly straight when people started dying in the early skirmishes, so… We will see how she holds up. I would have liked to see her do more in the race though.

Overall, this was a plot and action-heavy book and it moved along fairly quickly. I liked it for those reasons but I would have liked a little bit more world building overall. I definitely adore the fact that there was no real romance. I’m pretty excited for book two which I plan to read either this month or next!

A quick note on the audiobook – I did read about half of the hardcover before switching to audio when my hold came in. Each point of view gets its own voice and I think that they all did a great job.   The audio is about 10 hours long from Recorded Books, narrated by Rebecca Soler, Andrew Eiden, Lauren Fortgang, and Neil Hellegers

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (Book Thoughts)

Continuing my The Dark Tower series read, The Drawing of the Three is even weirder than The Gunslinger! I imagine the conversation when planning this book went something like –

King: I want to write about the gangs of NY and schizophrenics

Tabitha: yeah well you started with a weird horror fantasy western

King: I’ll incorporate interdimensional travel into the story, it’ll be fine

Tabitha: impossible

King: hold my beer

Ha .. ha… Ha… Actually …. KA

Ka?

“Kaka,” Eddie said, and laughed. “Come on Roland. Let’s take a hike”

Alright alright most joking aside, let’s talk a bit about this wonderfully weird book

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Drawing of the Three
  • Series: The Dark Tower #2
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: 1987, I read the Signet edition
  • Length: 463 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for those who can stomach the typical King level of vulgarity 

Here’s the Synopsis:

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland, the last gunslinger, encounters three mysterious doorways on the beach. Each one enters into the life of a different person living in contemporary New York.

Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean and the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.

Once again, Stephen King has masterfully interwoven dark, evocative fantasy and icy realism.

Ah gosh it’s hard to review these kinds of books because I know I’m not adding anything to the Canon, so I just talk about my experience.

The Gunslinger was weird and wild and this book utterly surpassed it in that regard. Roland has parlayed with the man in black, apparently for 10 years, so this installment picks up afterward on the beach with a pile of bones and the remnants of a tarot reading

I still think King just tossed a bunch of random ass ideas together to create Roland’s ka-tet.  Gangs, sure why not.  A crazy schizophrenic lady, sure why not.  Gotta get a serial killer in there too… and the funny thing is that at the end of the day, it worked

The Odette/Detta character annoyed me senseless, probably because of how accurately King portrayed schizophrenia/multiple personality disorder.  Props, props, I just found her to be way too vulgar and had me thinking about excessively vulgar patients I’ve dealt with, and yeah, no thanks. Her back story is great though.

 I loved Eddie, and I’m glad he arrived first in the text. He’s like a lost boy with a rough family history and bad decisions.  The whole storyline with Balazar and the drugs was pretty entertaining, then you toss in the Eddie & Roland dynamic and you get wonderful madness   Roland trying to make sense of NYC was equally amazing, I think King nailed the entire WTF of the experience and created a fully wild novel

Seeing as how Roland had no freaking idea what was going on in the modern world, he took it in incredible stride. Definitely my favorite part was how he kept misinterpreting the words and having to think on his feet

The journey from the terror of the beginning to the camaraderie at the end was a wild one.

What does the lobstrosity say? Well – you should listen to the audio to find out.  I listened to a few hours.  Frank Muller took over this narration (through Simon & Schuster audio) and the whole thing is about 13 hours if you go that route. 

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There are lobstrosity tshirts… That’s all 

The Dark Tower Series reviews:

1 – The Gunslinger 

Categories
audiobooks Suspense Thrillers

The Priest’s Graveyard by Ted Dekker (audio/book review)

I officially no longer have rhyme or reason when picking my next audiobook 😂 

I found The Priest’s Graveyard through a Search for books narrated by Rebecca Soler, who is probably my favorite female narrator.  I have a few books by Dekker but not this one.  I do usually love vigilante thrillers too and Dekker has an absolutely fascinating upbringing and tendency to write on the spiritual side, so, let’s see how this one worked out for me

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Priest’s Graveyard
  • Series: Danny Hansen #1
  • Author: Ted Dekker
  • Publisher & Release: Center Street, 2011
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ if you like psychological and vigilante thrillers that stay fairly clean

On the audio: about 10.5 hours from Hachette audio, narrated by Rebecca Soler and Henry Leyva 

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

Two abandoned souls are on the hunt for one powerful man. Soon, their paths will cross and lead to one twisted fate.

Danny Hansen is a Bosnian immigrant who came to America with hopes of escaping haunted memories of a tragic war that took his mother’s life. Now he’s a priest incensed by the powerful among us who manipulate the law for their own gain, uncaring of the shattered lives they leave behind. It is his duty to show them the error of their ways, even if he must put them in the grave.

Renee Gilmore is the frail and helpless victim of one such powerful man. Having escaped his clutches, she now lives only to satisfy justice by destroying him, regardless of whom she must become in that pursuit.

But when Danny and Renee’s paths become inexorably entangled things go very, very badly and neither of them may make it out of this hunt alive.

So this is a pretty character based thriller, let’s start there. I liked Danny and what he was doing, I liked the brutal backstory of how he got from Bosnia to California and became the man he is today, both priest and calculated killer.  I also liked how Henry Leyva narrated him with the thick but understandable accent 

I even liked Renee at first. She seemed like someone who had made some bad choices and was able to rebound from them. The two characters seemed like a decent team, and of course Rebecca Soler can do no wrong and she was Renee’s voice.

Pause the thought on the characters –

Action wise, this is definitely a suspense novel at times and thriller at others.  Although the book was not exceptionally exciting, it had its moments of action and reckoning that kept me interested through out.

My favorite part was all moral debating that Danny did on how he justifies being a monster.  It was interesting too to see the symbols in names and other small spiritual elements that Dekker out into the story.  He doesn’t preach at all but there’s a small undercurrent of spirituality that would be concurrent with Danny as a priest.

So… How did this go from five stars to three stars? It got predictable. If I can predict something, it’s super predictable.  That isn’t the main issue though.

Towards the end, Dekker completely lost me on the “romantic” element. I’m just absolutely not believing that Danny would fall for an addlepated and traumatized drug addict (in recovery) who is frankly batshit crazy, unless Danny is batshit crazy too. Renee became annoying as hell, jeopardized their missions, put them both in danger, and was just bluntly an idiot.  Danny’s flawed judgement is about as bad as hers is if he wants to “love” her, and Renee literally just falls in with whatever man is in front of her. As soon as Dekker started portraying that idiot (with a long history of bad life decisions) as some kind of precious flower, he lost me.

The Priest’s Graveyard has a good premise, good action, good vigilante debates, and good audio, but it felt short overall for me mostly because of the improbable relationship that formed, even if the premise was an interesting psychological element.

A lot of people really liked this book and I would definitely recommend trying it if you like vigilante books.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Paranormal

The Gunslinger by Stephen King (My Experience)

Go then, there are other worlds than these

Now that I’ve read a few Stephen King books I am aware of a couple of things. He has gone through some significant and very different life stages, and depending on which stage he was in when he wrote a book, it’s going to be a very different reading experience.  His thoughts on this book began in college …..

The Dark Tower series gets a vast amount of praise from readers across all genres and I figured it was about time I check it out.  Number one, The Gunslinger, is short and felt rocky at times, which can be explained by the fact that it was originally 5 short stories!

There are ideas, there are flashbacks, there’s action in the present day, and there’s certainly a lot of room for King to move forward. My main impression is that I don’t think he knew it was going to turn into a giant epic series when he first wrote The Gunslinger. After doing some research I found that after the other books were written King went back and did some serious revising to the first to make it more consistent with the other books, and this is the version I have.  It’s interesting though because you can see where the five stories are and while each has its own individual flavor, they mostly fit well when pieced together to create Roland’s adventures.

And there you have it from Wikipedia. So what are my impressions of the book? I had no idea if I was reading fantasy or dystopia or what.  They should have left the Whelan cover to make it clear at first! You’ve got lowkey demons, a sharpshooter, a talking raven, throwbacks to something like Arthurian times in a castle court, with guns, and an overarching Old West feel.

It’s bizarre and brilliant and I’m keenly interested. I have so many questions about how the world’s fit together, how Jake ended up in this wasteland, how 10 years can pass in a moment, and so many other things! 

If nothing else King has me hooked lined and sunk as far as continuing to read on because I want all the answers. 

I don’t know where this thought fits into the rest of my thoughts but there’s this whole over current of weird hormones and sexy situations haha I think King had some issues to work through at some point, as also indicated by the Bill Hodges trilogy and “honeyboy”🤣

It’s also no secret that Roland is considered a hugely iconic character, so let me look at him quickly.  He’s obviously a badass sharp shooter on one level, but when he talks about his past he seems ancient. How did he get from a beautiful green world of castles and courts to a dystopian desert chasing the Man in Black?  His interactions with Jake Chambers shows that he has never heard of our Earth, even though his world mirrors Earth in many ways.  Roland isn’t fearless, he has deep feelings where the boy is concerned, but he’s also quite singleminded in purpose at this point in the series. 

And if that spiel on time and size at the end doesn’t blow your mind, nothing will 😂

One penultimate note is that Michael Whelan did the original cover! That makes it a legitimate fantasy as far as I’m concerned

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And the last note – it was recommended to me to try the audiobooks because the narrator adds a lot of fantastic personality to the text and I couldn’t agree more.  Most of my King reading has been on audio because of Will Patton narrating quite a few books, but George Guidall   is absolutely phenomenal as well.  Would highly recommend to fans of thrillers and fantasy.

Here’s the Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Gunslinger
  • Series: The Dark Tower, #1
  • Author: Stephen King, narrated by George Guidall
  • Release: Originally 1982, there are so many versions this is confusing to me now
  • Length: approx 7 hours audio, around 280 on page
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ heck yeah to thriller and fantasy, weird western fans

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

The Gunslinger introduces readers to one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations, Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which mirrors our own in frightening ways, Roland tracks The Man in Black, encounters an enticing woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York named Jake.

Categories
audiobooks Dystopian Literary Fiction Science Fiction

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker (Book & Audio Thoughts)

I haven’t read a dystopian in a while and found one that I don’t see talked about a whole lot.  The End of the World Running Club hits all the right points for a dystopian but fell short over all for me and I’m blaming it on 1) the audio and 2) the ending.

When I read these types of books, the primary questions in my mind are “Ok, how far will these characters go to survive, and what keeps them going? What flavor does the ending leave for both humanity and our remaining characters?”

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The End of the World Running Club
  • Series: ” ” #1
  • Author: Adrian J. Walker
  • Publisher & Release: Sourcebooks Landmark, September 3017
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ more for those who want to sample the genre

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Asteroids are striking Earth, the end of the world is near, and Edgar Hill is on the wrong side of the country.

Over five hundred miles of devastated wastelands stretch between him and his family, and every second counts. His only option is to run―or risk losing everything he loves. He’ll have to be ingenious and push himself to the very limit if he wants to see them again. Can he reach them in the race against time, or will the end of the world defeat him?

A dystopian page-turner about the endurance of the human body and spirit―perfect for lovers of apocalyptic science fiction, running books, and anyone who knows that true strength comes from love.

As I said it hits all the points of a good dystopian. There’s a cataclysmic event, despair, survival, hope and hopelessness, the exploration of human nature, an incredible journey, etc. Everything the book should have.  There are helpful friends and harmful scum along the way, complete with all the obstacles you’d expect in a cross country run through a landscape devastated by asteroids.  It also takes place in the UK which is not something that I see so frequently in these types of novels.

That said, I had mixed feelings about where the book ended, and I think a lot of my overall negative feelings are influenced by the fact that the audiobook narrator’s voice got so annoying that I had to close it down and buy the ebook.

I really liked the beginning because Ed, the narrator, started at the end of the story with the description of three graves that he was thinking of digging up to prove his sanity.  Or had he already lost it? He talked about beliefs and it set the book up for the potential to be a mirage.  The whole beginning was absolutely wonderful as the asteroids occurred and then the family was trapped in the cellar. I felt like it went slowly downhill once Ed & Co started the journey.

At the end, again focusing on the graves, Edgar made a big point of bringing into question whether or not the events he told actually happened, versus what he believed. So… I don’t really know what to believe happened at the end and I wasn’t in the mood for that much literary ambiguity in a now open ending. I do think these books need open endings but not necessarily a riddle.

Anyway, I got truly annoyed with the book about the time that Jenny Rae came in. Whether or not my annoyance should give the author more points, I’m not sure. I tend to be super picky with dystopian and this one had a lot of really good elements, and some overdone ones. Like a large, borderline schizophrenic woman that wreaks havoc and is the last person in the world that should be in charge of anything, but would definitely come out on top in the apocalypse.  This is an archetypal dystopian character and I kind of just feel like somebody would have shot her before she came to any kind of power. That whole section was hard, (but heck yeah go Mr Angelbeck!)

Ed’s character arc from inviting the end of the world to running across a continent for his family was lovely.  He’s a morally gray character – as is everyone in a dystopian – and I liked who he became. Harvey, Bryce and Grimes were good characters too but we didn’t get too much of a good look at them. The book took an appropriately deep dive into humanity in general as well as what keeps us going in the dark. Running not so much although there were a few long distance insights and I am in awe that the untrained people ran so far.

I would recommend this one to people wanting to try a dystopian, but probably not hardcore fans of the genre. My favorite one to recommend (after The Road) is A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World. As far as this one, I would read a book version and stay away from the audio. I just did not like the narrator’s voice because he always sounded so happy, regardless of what was going on, and there was an awful lot of loud yelling. The guy also could absolutely not do female voices and eventually I shut it off and bought the ebook, which was a better experience.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

Broken Veil by Jeff Wheeler (Book & Series thoughts)

I think I sat on this review a little bit too long. I wanted to think about the themes and the overall series and not come in on a gut reaction, except now the lines between the books have flared together a bit especially since I binged the last three.

Disclaimer that this post is going to get a little series spoilery because it’s book 5 and I think it requires a little bit of discussion about the series as a whole. Anyway, let’s jump in!

Bookish Quick Facts;

  • Title: Broken Veil
  • Series: Harbinger #5
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, June 2019
  • Length: 346 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ I definitely recommend the series, although I’m not sure that it got stronger as it went

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jeff Wheeler’s epic Harbinger series comes to a breathtaking conclusion as two women are swept into a battle that could destroy two worlds.

Rescued from a world of poverty, Cettie Pratt has avoided a bleak destiny—until now. Deceived and manipulated, she has been groomed for the ultimate betrayal: to destroy her best friend and stop peace from uniting two war-torn worlds. Her path leads her to a mysterious underworld where appearances can be deceiving.

Sera Fitzempress knows the value she has to her enemies. As heir to the empire, she must keep her foes at bay and prevent them from unleashing a being of unspeakable evil upon the world while fighting a brutal war. But her enemies are more cunning than Sera expects, and the key to their plans is none other than her best friend.

Neither woman knows what to believe. Neither one knows if she can trust the other. Both Cettie and Sera have made decisions that have irrevocably changed them. But the decisions they have yet to make will determine the fate of their world…

As I said, I’ve been the last three books in the series so it’s a bit hard for me to remember where one book started and the other ended. Each book does have some time pass between events but for the most part the story picks up where it left off.

Each book in the series has quite a bit of action and it’s hard to say which one was the most action-packed, but I think Broken Veil takes the cake there. We got to see Cettie at the poisoners school, which was one of my favorite parts of the series because after reading Kingfountain I always wondered what exactly happens in those places. It’s a very good example of how different facets of culture and conflict do not necessarily view themselves as evil.  In any other world Cettie would have loved it at the school 

Keeping on the Kingfountain train of thought, I definitely missed something huge by not reading the trilogy focusing on Trynne.  There was a cameo at the end of Broken Veil that featured Owen and Sinia, and I have no idea how the actual heck that happened but I’m curious now.  Apparently Cettie also ended up like Trynne in more ways than one, which brings me back to how Wheeler seems to have rehashed a lot of old ideas in the Harbinger series.

Combining the worlds so much definitely worked though, especially when comparing the religions and showing that even in such a divided culture there is harmony to be found in these things.

Sera and Cettie both spent quite a bit of time walking in Maia’s shoes, Ereshkigal came back, there was the Oathmaiden thing, plus bringing all the old Muirwood lore back – either Wheeler ran out of ideas, or more likely to me he wrote this for the people who probably won’t go back and read Muirwood.

I’ve always thought that he should re-release those books with updated editing so that it’s not embarrassing to recommend them, but I think that this series was a concession to the unlikelihood of that ever happening.  The new series also is about very very early Muirwood.

Okay, let’s get back to talking about Broken Veil. 

I have always respected Wheeler for not being afraid to kill off characters, and as a result we get to hear Adam Creigh as the interlude voice in this edition. Adam won my respect as an honorable and brave figure throughout these books so it was nice to get a look inside his head.  I love the fact that he ended up in a hospital and found fulfillment after all of the things he’s been through in the series

The same for Cettie and Sera, everyone got pretty good resolutions although the book felt unfinished to me.

Now speaking of the end of the book, let’s talk about divine intervention. I don’t mind it in this case because the Medium is kind of the unsung hero of both the Muirwood and Kingfountain trilogies, although in some degree it made the struggles of the characters seem slightly diminished. One could also look at it as multiple tests of faith being rewarded, and a message to Sera about the future of her realm. It was definitely an epic act of divine intervention that resolved the action and it also reminded me a bit of a few passage in Revelations, terribly paraphrased, that talk about moving mountains and islands, raining hailstones, and then calling on these devices for protection and salvation. One other thing to consider is – who is piloting Idumea?

With Ereshkigal coming back and the Mirror Gates closing there is a new world coming for sure.

The two things that really annoyed me were 1) The stupid kidnapping thing. Cettie and Sera took turns being kidnapped throughout the entire series to further the plot. It lost its interest and got old real quick, and by the time that I happened in this book I was just so sick of it. Sera didn’t need to see the things that she saw but at the same time I just wish he had come up with something different.

The second super annoying thing is that for all the fact that Stephen and the Fitzroy’s adopted her, Cettie spent a chunk of this book calling him her “almost brother”.  That’s fine but she had been calling the others mother and father and sister already so it felt very weird for her to start using that language and it stuck out like a sore thumb.

All other things aside, I did absolutely love the entire story and plot line of this final book in the series.  Everyone including Corinne got brought to their knees at one point or another.  The level of intrigue and backstabbing had my head spinning in the best way possible.

I’m finding it hard to bring my thoughts onto paper but overall I would definitely recommend this one if you like strong characters, vivid settings, political intrigue, questions of faith, found family, action, period dramas, redemption arcs.  Overall this was a satisfying ending to the series and that is the important thing.

 I do want to take a minute and mention the audiobook. Kate Rudd narrates most of Wheeler’s books and she is absolutely phenomenal. Her voice does such credit to these characters and events. I switched back and forth between audio and text and always appreciate the fact that Wheeler provides free and/or extremely cheap audiobooks as part of his run on Kindle unlimited.


The Harbinger Series:

Categories
audiobooks Thrillers

The Gatekeeper by James Byrne (ALC/ARC review)

My last read of May was The Gatekeeper by James Byrne! Thanks so much to Minotaur Books for the ARC, and I also received an advanced listening copy so I will be reviewing both here! All opinions are my own!

This is what I like in a summer read – nonstop action, banter, entertaining main characters, over the top fight scenes, a few laughs thrown in, and a plot that is easy enough to follow without burning all the brain cells trying to keep up. Plausible, nah, but entertaining as heck – 100%.

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Gatekeeper
  • Series: ?
  • Author: James Byrne
  • Publisher & Release: Minotaur Books, June-07-2022
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ for anyone who likes thrillers like Evanovich or Orphan X

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

James Byrne’s The Gatekeeper introduces Dez Limerick in the most anticipated new thriller in years.

A highly trained team of mercenaries launches a well-planned, coordinated attack on a well-guarded military contractor – but they didn’t count on one thing, the right man being in the wrong place at the right time.

Desmond Aloysius Limerick (“Dez” to all) is a retired mercenary, and enthusiastic amateur musician, currently in Southern California, enjoying the sun and sitting in on the occasional gig, when the hotel he’s at falls under attack. A skilled team attempts to kidnap the Chief legal counsel of Triton Expeditors, a major military contractor – in fact, Petra Alexandris is the daughter of the CEO – but their meticulously-planned, seamlessly executed scheme runs into the figurative ‘spanner-in-the-works,’ Dez himself.

After foiling the attack, and with nothing better to do, Dez agrees to help Alexandris with another problem she’s having – someone has embezzled more than a billion dollars from her company and left very few tracks behind. But Dez is a gatekeeper – one who opens doors and keeps them open – and this is just a door of another kind. And the door he opens leads to a dangerous conspiracy involving media manipulation, militias, an armed coup, and an attempt to fracture the United States themselves. There’s only one obstacle between the conspirators and success – and that is Dez, The Gatekeeper.

The book introduces Dez in a mercenary operation that is apparently his last.  Retiring to California, he coincidentally ends up in a hotel where he foils a kidnapping plot that is only the tip of the iceberg of issues he is about discover.

The plot is definitely not plausible and at no point did I think that the bad guys were going to win, but it was certainly entertaining to get there. America at this time can definitely relate to white supremacy and big money companies with big egos so I don’t think it’s too far off from reality.  I got immense satisfaction out of Dez making quite a few of these people look like complete idiots.

Dez is never fleshed out but he’s by far the highlight of the book. A tactically well rounded character, he can hack and set traps and fight. He is built like a truck, funny, and absolutely kick ass. I loved his Brit/Scottish accent and all his quirks.

Petra is the female lead, a force of nature as well. I loved seeing her dress down her father and the other power players. There are a few other female characters that are brave and badass too, in unconventional ways. Another favorite side character was a personal assistant named Alonzo!

I think the place where I docked half a star was that some of the descriptions of both Dez and Petra became repetitive without telling us anything new.  I don’t come to thrillers for character development but it would have been good to have some indication of where Dez came from, although I appreciate the mystery as well.

I also had a chance to hear John Keating narrate the audio! I read and listened about 50/50 to review both fairly and I think he did a phenomenal job, especially with Dez and his cutaway “sorry!”. Sometimes accents are hard or make it difficult to understand the narrator but I found key thing to be clear and consistent in all voices. I did have to raise the speed to 1.5 in order to make it sound like a human but I am totally okay with a narrator speaking slowly in order to enunciate.

The end left it open for more Gatekeeper books too so – hopefully! I definitely recommend this one for people who enjoy fast-paced action-packed thrillers that don’t take themselves too seriously!

Categories
audiobooks Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

When You Are Engulfed in Flames (audio thoughts) by David Sedaris

Continuing my simultaneous quests to read outside my lines and pick up random popular authors that I haven’t read yet, I turned to one of the many essay collections by David Sedaris.  This is his sixth, and while I heard that some of the earlier ones were more funny, I thought a “recent” collection might be more pertinent to today’s issues. Whether or not that is true, it was interesting to “throwback” to some of the things happening “back then” without today’s lens!

It is HARD to pick nonfiction these days when there is so much of it out there. I first heard the Sedaris name on Bojack Horseman, as his sister Amy voices a prominent character, and she seems like a hilarious person and decent actress.

Having gone to the Van Gogh exhibit recently and almost purchased a tote with the painting on the cover of When You Are Engulfed in Flames on it, i thought “hey this will be a good place to start”

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
  • Author: David Sedaris
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown & Company – June 2008
  • Length: 336 pages
  • The Audio: self narrated by David Sedaris, 9 hours from Hachette Audio

I think it is a little bit hard to rate humor because everybody has a different sense of humor.  While I have a feeling that Sedaris’ personality won’t go over well with the 2022 “woke” crowd, I personally find him funny and admire the way that he can make everyday embarrassment into something worth reading about.

If you are looking for a lighter read with funny observations about life and personal experiences, Sedaris seems like a regular go-to for many people and I would certainly read & listen to more of his writings.

I laughed the most when Sedaris was *convinced* that his husband wanted a human skeleton for Christmas, when his mother – in – law had a worm in her leg with a penis-shaped head, and, at the many mistakes that happen when the literal translation of languages leaves something to be desired.  This happens a lot between Japanese and English and we see the best of it as Sedaris tries to quit smoking by immersing himself in Japanese culture

There is also some heavier commentary on his early drug and alcohol use, getting out of the closet, and many things that he probably wasn’t laughing at at the time but now can reflect back on and find the story to tell.

The audio is great too, I think he is a great orator and kept it interesting. The live recording portions were of good quality too.  Why was Sedaris sitting mostly naked in a urology waiting room? Well – you’ll have to read to find out

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

The Magician’s Land (Book Thoughts) by Lev Grossman

It didn’t matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home

This series is a modern fantasy favorite of mine. The trilogy only got stronger as it went and I think the ending was perfect.  I don’t know what else I can say after two books – Grossman has an easy to enjoy writing style, complicated character arcs, interesting and master level magic, and a story that just kept building.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magician’s Land
  • Series: The Magicians #3
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, 2014
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for how it ended

Here is the synopsis (spoiler free thankfully): 

Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory—but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.

It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

As a glasses smudging 30something who is still working on career satisfaction and figuring out how to do the life thing, I think Quentin gets super relatable in this book

I love books where the characters are 30 somethings. You never know who’s going to end up married with kids, who is going to flourish or flounder or even end up dead.  The four main characters (and Alice) finally grew into their roles and realize/figure out who they are and what they are capable of.

I liked Quentin as a professor, and how he was able to work with Plum and kind of get her on the right track/guide her through the post Brakebills disaster.  Plum was a good addition to this book – she brought some youth and wit and new blood into the mix.  I actually liked Umber more than Ember and enjoyed those scenes a lot.  All the characters grew up and Quentin found his hope again at the end – what more could we ask for.

I do wish there had been a little more closure for Janet & Elliot, but they will be ok. The kings and queens have a ton of work to do. Their chapters were some of the best in the book.

The Quentin/Alice ending was perfect – the moral is that life goes on. Seeing them content was everything.

Other than the quote up top, here were two others that stuck out to me.  There were tons of funny one liners but hear these:

“Fuck love, fuck marriage, fuck children, fuck fucking itself: this was his romance, this fantasy land at whose helm he sat, steering it on and on into the future, world without end, until he died and tastefully idealized statues were made of him.” – that was Elliot having his moment

“Magic was wild feelings, the kind that escaped out of you and into the world and changed things. There was a lot of skill to it, and a lot of learning, and a lot of work, but that was where the power began: the power to enchant the world.”
– I’m so happy that Q figured things out. Remember that he was always searching for external happiness, never realizing what he held inside? 

I know the trilogy has mixed reviews but I do think that people around my age (30s), the HP generation, will enjoy these books.  Don’t compare the books to anything else, just enjoy the series for what it is.  I know there are tons of changes but I’m interested in finishing the TV show too

**I don’t have much to add about the audiobooks but Mark Bramhall really did a good job bringing the stories and characters to life.  Would definitely recommend for audio fans or if the text seems dry**

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