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review 2018-01-30 00:15
The Elf and the Princess by Ann Del C. Dye
The Elf and The Princess: The Silent Warrior Trilogy, Book 1 - Anna del C. Dye,Anna del C. Dye,George Tintura

I started this book with high hopes. I liked the book blurb description and was up for an Elven adventure. However, this story fell a little short. The beginning was easy to start with but then the timeline jumps around a bit and I had trouble following who did what when. Now, if you get past that, the story settles on 16 year old Princess Adren.

Initially, I really liked her character. Her mother dies shortly after we meet her and Adren’s kingdom is in ruins. I worried she wouldn’t be able to save herself let alone her kingdom! But she has been taking sword-fighting lessons from a master, Donian. Now he was a fun character! I loved his harsh nature and no-nonsense training. He’s merciless in her training and she picks up the art quickly. Now, I did find it a bit too convenient that she mastered sword training so quickly, but it’s necessary for the story to progress.

Adren must venture out on a quest to find allies but her little world is one where women are kept safe and secure and don’t learn to fight with swords and gallivant around the countryside. Initially, I found her solution to this problem endearing, because who wouldn’t want to put on a mask and pretend to be someone else, especially if you have to kill anyone? Still, I was a little dismayed that in this fictional world, ladies in general have very little to do with the plot.

Adren hasn’t spent any time with elves and now that she’s met some, she’s fascinated by them. Here’s another part of the story that didn’t work so well for me. We know that she was raised with stories about elves and there’s obviously contact and trade between humans and elves, and yet dear little Adren is totally blank on Elvish factoids. Really? Sigh… So I felt that contradicted what we learned earlier. Then when she learns why her ears are the shape they are…. well, it was just a lot of drama for no reason.
Still, there’s plenty of action and armor and sword fighting and heroes. I liked all those bits. Then we have the love story. Adren loves a certain person and then yet another person is falling in love with Adren (unbeknownst to her). Again, I felt the love story was a whole lot of drama for very little entertainment. Also, the wrap up to that romance in this book was a little cliched and I expected that twist well before it was revealed.

All together, the tale held potential to be a fun high adventure but fell short with some inconcise writing and over-done drama. 3/5 stars.

The Narration: George Tintura did an OK job with this narration. He sounded interested in the story all the way through the book. He does make an effort to do accents and keep character voices distinct but they kind of go in and out. His grumpy voice for Donian is pretty good and most of the time, he does a believable 16 year old Princess Adren. He also makes a believable snobbish elf. 4/5 stars.

➜ Susan received a free copy of this book from the author. Her opinions are 100% my own.

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review 2018-01-30 00:08
The Ruby Brooch by Katherine Lowry Logan
The Ruby Brooch - Katherine Lowry Logan

I was pretty excited to dive into this time travel novel because I played way too much Oregon Trail as a kid and this book is set in the mid-1800s along the Oregon Trail. Kit MacKlenna is a modern day paramedic living on her ancestral horse ranch. Yet she has questions about her heritage and a small package left to her tempts her into the past to discover her true roots. I really liked that she knowingly traveled to the past. She plans well, studying up on the time period and packing certain supplies. Now I will say that I was a little surprised by how many modern things she decided to take with her (flashlights, IVs, pregnancy tests, etc.) and I did worry that would lead to many, many questions for her later. Also, she chose to take her dog and cat along for the trip as well. While I do like having furry companions in any story, I did find this an odd choice and I deeply worried the pets were going to be Red Shirts for drama down the road.

Then we’re off into the semi-civilized lands of Missouri. She knows that it will be hard to get a place on a wagon train as a single woman so she’s hoping to find a group that will accept her. She’s capable of seeing to her own food, camping gear, and animals so it’s really a matter of bending the social norms of the time. At first, the mid-1800s characters held to their social morays but as the story progresses, I did notice that there were sometimes unlikely reactions to Kit’s modern attitudes. Those little breaks in character took me out of the story from time to time and I wish that Kit had to work harder to either hide her modern ways or win others over to her ways quietly.

There is a strong romantic element to this book. I did like Cullen though I found the insta-luv between him and Kit to be rather convenient. Cullen is an interesting character but once he becomes involved with Kit they had this silly emotional roller coaster. Flirting, fighting, showing off to one another, ignoring each other, kissing, making up, etc. I was much more interested in the historical elements of this story but, alas, those were rather lacking once the tale was set up and off and running. This is a romance story first and foremost and a historical fiction second.

Despite the silly romance, Kit is a woman who does get stuff done. She’s a good shot, knows how to ride well, and has her medical skills. She’s also skilled at sketching. So she has a lot going for her if she can just wrangle in her emotions and stay focused. This mystery about her true relatives eats away at her throughout the story. While I can understand how that mystery can drive a person, I did feel she was a bit too needy at times, forgetting all the good things her upbringing modern Kentucky did have. I can’t help comparing The Ruby Brooch to other time travel books by the likes of Diana Gabaldon and Connie Willis. This book isn’t on the same level as those works. It’s more romance than historical fiction.

Some of the other interesting characters include Braham McCabe, who adds a bit of comedy here and there.The Barrett Family was very good to Kit and I feel I got to know Mrs. Barrett and Frances the best among them. Elliot Fraser is Kit’s godfather in modern Kentucky and he provides wisdom and safe household to return to if needed. All told, 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Teri Schnaubelt was awesome as the narrator. I really liked her variety of accents and the range of voices she had for men and women. Kit cried so much in this book (a little too much for me) but Teri did a great job with all the emotions. Schnaubelt sounded engaged throughout the story and all her character voices were distinct. There were no technical issues with this recording. 5/5 stars.

➜ Susan received a free copy of this book from the narrator. Her opinions are 100% my own.

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review 2018-01-30 00:01
Leonardo the Florentine by Catherine McGrew Jaime
Leonardo the Florentine - Catherine McGrew Jaime

What little I knew of Leonardo da Vinci before listening to this book was about his later years. Leonardo the Florentinedoes a great job of showing us who Leonardo was as a boy, teen, and young man. At an age we would today consider far to young to be off on your own, Leonardo apprenticed at Master Verrochio’s art workshop in Florence. The story excels at describing not only the work done at the workshop but the various architecture, pageantry, and statues around Florence. Leonardo was exposed to quite the variety of art forms and media during his formative years. Even though he was much older that the typical novice, he possessed a deep interest and no little amount of natural skill. Verrochio noted that and encouraged Leonardo to take on greater and greater challenges.

There’s a bit of intrigue tossed into the tale. Leonardo was alive during the time of the Medicis and the politics of the time often involved battles and small wars up and down the length of Italy. Leonardo isn’t interested in politics and hopes to never get caught up in a war, but there is this mystery concerning the Pitti Palace that threatens to suck Leonardo and his friends into intrigue. While I would have enjoyed the book a little more if this aspect of the story had more of a presence, I still enjoyed Leonardo uncovering information one clue at a time.

This is a family-friendly version of Leonardo’s younger years. There’s no gore or love story or even harsh words. All the characters are polite to each other, even the gruff ones. While I can appreciate that the focus of the story is giving us a good outline of young Leonardo’s life, it did come off as a little to tidied up. The 1470s were definitely harsher than our modern era with flush toilets, antibiotics, and the UN. A little grit would have given a more believable flavor to the story. Leonardo comes off as naive throughout the entire tale; as a kid and even teen, this would have probably worked but as he enters his young adult years, having lived without family and earning his keep from a young age, the naivety didn’t work so well.

While there are a handful of women mentioned, there are no female characters. There were obviously women in the 1470s in Florence and most likely there were some women in Leonardo’s life even if they were relegated to the roles of someone’s wife or housekeeper or cook or such. I would have appreciated even a token try at gender balancing this tale.
Leonardo the Florentine is a good source of information about Leonardo’s young years, if not detailed. I learned that Leonardo had no formal schooling (even by standards of the day) and had to learn Latin mostly on his own. This single skill opened a world of knowledge to Leonardo. His status as a student and worker at Verrochio’s workshop opened doors for him that would have remained closed otherwise due to his birth status. Prior to listening to this book, I did not know that Leonardo had such a strained relationship with his parents. Nuggets of info like these are revealed throughout the story in interesting ways. By the end, I felt I knew young Leonardo as a possible friend instead of some wise old man high up on a pedestal. 4/5 stars


The Narration: David Winograd did a pretty good job with this story. His Italian and Latin pronunciations of names and certain words sounded accurate to me. His voice as young, naive Leonardo was well done. There were a few places throughout the story where there were some odd pauses in the middle of sentences. All his character voices were distinct. 4.5/5 stars.

➜ This audiobook was received at no-cost from Audiobookworm Promotions. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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review 2018-01-27 00:21
The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe
The Woman in the Camphor Trunk - Jennifer Kincheloe

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

I didn’t realize how much I missed Anna Blanc until I returned to her world of early 1900s Los Angeles. She’s such a charming character having a kind of innocence but also a deep determination once she’s decided on a course of action. I love how she can judge certain traits about a person while also finding the person as a whole to be worthy. Some would say that her current circumstances are all her own making as she could have lived a life of indulgence and pampering, but doing so would have meant giving up her freedom in nearly everything. Besides, living on a police matron’s salary lets her eat decently (if you count whiskey, kippers, and cracker jacks as wholesome food).

Joe Singer is also a favorite character. While he often has to rescue Anna from one situation or another, he is usually returned the kindness when Anna has to rescue him (though that can put a rub on his male ego). It’s obvious he’s madly in love with Anna but he’s also hurt that she isn’t willing to set aside her independence and become his obedient stay-at-home wife. I expect that eventually Anna will cure him of such expectations but until then I greatly look forward to the back and forth, the give and take between these two.

Wolfe surprised me in this book. He’s always so obvious about how he wouldn’t mind making some time with Anna in the police stables. He definitely has a misogynistic streak and is borderline lewd at times with his blatant comeons. Still, there are some moments in this story where he shines and I very much look forward to seeing what the author has in store for him.

The plot delves into Los Angeles’s Chinatown. It’s a seedy, run down section of the town full of tasty food and crime. Anna can’t resist going again and again despite everyone warning her not to. She’s afforded some protection simply because she is a White woman and Chinatown doesn’t want to be turned upside down by the police in the event of something unfortunate happening to a White woman in Chinatown…. which is exactly what has happened to the mystery woman in the camphor trunk. Joe knows that this crime is a match waiting to strike so he and Anna do all they can to solve the murder before it makes news. However, most of Chinatown is not willing to help, with the exception of Mr. Jones who acts as translator for the two (though Joe knows some basic Chinese phrases).

Missionary work was big at the time and could be a blessing and a curse. Several missionary ladies have been providing English lessons to those in Chinatown, along with their spiritual guidance. Add all this to an underlying war brewing between the Tongs, and Chinatown is a hotbed of impending violence. Anna doesn’t care. Sigh…. Joe, I really feel for you. Keeping Anna safe is a full-time job.

Humor and danger intertwine in this tale to make a delightful murder mystery. The historical setting provides a backdrop of sexism and racism all while being very interesting. Anna is the shinning star of the show, often providing a bit of humor as folks are a little shocked by how she deals with various situations. I really enjoyed Book 1 in this series and Book 2 does not disappoint, holding to the high standard previously set by The Secret Life of Anna Blanc. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Moira Quirk continues to do this series justice. Her voice as Anna Blanc is spot on. Her masculine voices for the men are believable and her Chinese accents are well done. There’s a variety of emotions in this story, especially for Anna, and Quirk performs them all well. Joe Singer’s emotions are also on display even if he is trying to hold back and I appreciated Quirk ability to get across nuanced scenes. 5/5 stars.

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

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review 2018-01-27 00:10
Dark Retreat by Grace Hamilton
Dark Retreat (EMP Lodge Series Book 1) - Grace Hamilton

There was much I liked about this book. First, the world as we know it is no longer there with all it’s technology and governments and such. While everyone believes that a large powerful EMP is the reason, the details are left sketchy, which I found very believable in this new world of limited communications. While folks begin to explore and rely on herbal medicines, they also concede that they can’t cure everything and diagnosing without medical tests is very challenging. The stage is set well and now we just need a good plot and some interesting characters.

I liked Megan at first. She’s determined to find safety for her daughter and she stumbles upon a remote cabin. Pretty soon, she meets the family that lives there: Wyatt, his brother Chase, Chase’s wife Willow, the men’s mother Rosie, Willow’s young son, and also someone’s neighbor Albert. There’s also the guard dog, Duke. Each character brings some skill to the table and I was pleased that Megan was able to pull her weight from the beginning with her hunting and snaring skills.

Now I did get a little tired of Wyatt man-splaining so many things to Megan. Yes, he’s got skills she needs to learn and she’s a willing student, but after the first round or two, I really felt it was venturing into the ‘pat you on the head, you’re such a good student’ realm. We’re often shown, step-by-step, how Wyatt makes a water filter or a food dryer but when it comes Megan’s skills, we’re just told and it’s very brief. So I would have liked some balance there.

Meanwhile, the plot thickens as a shifty character enters the story: Kyle. He’s out for trouble and we know it from the start. Too bad these well meaning preppers want to think the best of everyone. I liked that Kyle brought so much tension and danger to the story. It’s not just about surviving the elements; it’s also about surviving other people.

Megan’s character does get a little whiny later on. She’s got big trust issues and those push her into making some silly and possibly deadly decisions. If I knew more about her background, this might have come off better but as it is, it felt mostly like drama for drama’s sake. Toss in the near insta-love and you have some cookie cutter plot mechanisms in play. Wyatt was falling for Megan by Day 2 and I felt, at that point, it was more about loneliness and perhaps lust than about love. It’s OK for characters to acknowledge that. Still, I was happy with how their friendship deepened towards the end of the book.

Setting aside my quibbles, I felt the pacing of the story was good. I was never bored and I liked that even as they solve one problem, or are planning for a future harsh winter or such, a new problem crops up. There’s also the varying personalities that everyone has to get along with. The setting/world building is what shined in this book for me. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Andrew Tell did an excellent job with this narration. At first, I was a little concerned because our primary character is Megan and I wasn’t sure Tell could pull off a female voice for the majority of the book. He did just fine as Megan. In fact, all his female voices were feminine and each was distinct from the other. I did sometimes confuse Wyatt’s and Chase’s voices, but they are brothers and needed to sound similar. Tell makes a great grumpy Albert. 4.5/5 stars.

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

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