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review 2019-06-14 23:33
It's Murder My Son by Lauren Carr (new audiobook version)
It's Murder, My Son - Lauren Carr

I had the pleasure of listening to and reviewing this book some years ago. And now it’s back with a new audiobook addition, this time narrated by Mike Alger (instead of Janean Jorgenson). It was so good to pick this book up again. The Mac Faraday mysteries are my favorites by Lauren Carr and I love this opening tale that introduces us to Mac, Gnarly, and Archie.

Mac Faraday receives the best news of his life on the toughest day he’s had yet. Just finalizing his messy divorce, he learns that his deceased birth mother who put him up for adoption has left him a fortune. Now Faraday has moved to Spencer Manor in an effort to connect with the mother he never knew. But murder lurks just around the corner and Mac puts his DC detective skills to use.

I’ve been listening to several Lauren Carr books recently and I love that they can be explored as stand alones. It was great to go back to Book 1 and see how things got started for Mac, how he met Archie, learned about his mom, and adopted Gnarly dog. While this isn’t my favorite book of the series, it’s a solid start to an entertaining murder mystery series.

Set in Spencer, Maryland, the Spencer Manor sits next to the lake in a gated community that harbors many secrets. Mac is new to wealth and he finds it takes some skills to navigate this new economic reality he’s landed in. It’s good that Archie is there to help him fit in. She was Robin Spencer’s assistant and lives in the guest cottage.

A few months before Mac moved in, a neighbor in the area was strangled to death. Katrina was a very charming woman who had a stalker. Of course, the husband Chad has to be cleared first but after 3 months, there are few clues to David (the local police officer) to continue on with the investigation.

I really enjoyed learning about David in this book. He’s Mac’s younger half-brother. The two have never met and it’s a bit awkward. Toss in David’s current problems with his boss, Chief of Police Roy Phillips, and David’s got a few reasons to be angry. Things get even more aggravating for the two experienced investigators when Phillips brings in his ‘expert’, a crime fiction author. Awkward, indeed!

Gnarly was the star of the show once again. He has his own insecurities and is something of a klepto. Mac has to learn about this the hard way and Archie does her best to keep Gnarly out of trouble. Of course, that all goes out the window when Gnarly turns up with a human skull. Good boy! Er… maybe not. Where did you get that? No! You can’t eat it! Here! Have my breakfast instead.

There are lots of characters in this novel and I sometimes had trouble keeping up with all of them. I think it could have been slimmed down a bit and the plot would have been less tangled. I also would have liked a bit more Archie. I feel she’s underutilized even though I know she comes into her own later in the series. Still, it’s an entertaining read and I’m glad I skipped back to this book to see how things got started for Mac. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Mike Alger is at his best as Mac Faraday. I don’t think I could picture  any other voice for Mac. Over all, this is one of his better performances. I like his voice for David as he does a great job of making him sound related to Mac but also younger. His voice for Archie is also well done. The pacing is perfect & there’s no issues with the technical recording. If anything, Alger could have a little more variation in voices. 4.5/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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review 2019-06-14 21:19
Crimes Past by Lauren Carr
Crimes Past - Lauren Carr

Note: While this is #13 in the Mac Faraday series, it works fine as a stand alone novel.

Mac Faraday is back in excellent style! This story captures all the thing I like about this series. Faraday has an old case that has haunted him, but also has new dead bodies to investigate. There’s a lot of great characters, and some humor too. Plus there’s Gnarly, my favorite doggie sleuth.

The plot itself was fun. An old case of two dead cops continues to bother Faraday to present day. A wedding (Gina is the daughter of one of the cold case dead cops) is just days away and all the people who were present for the old case will be on scene to wish the bride and groom a happy marriage. Amidst all the last minute preparations, Faraday starts hunting around for new and lost clues on the old case. Alas, he soon has to switch his attentions to the new case involving a dead friend. The plot made me think of those Agatha Christie books where the crime solver gets all the suspects into 1 room at the end of the story to do the big reveal. Lots of tension, lots of motives, more than one crime going on.

Gnarly himself has his own mystery to solve, with the help of his humans of course. There’s a pesky neighbor who has it in for, well, anyone. She’s a hateful person. But perhaps there’s more than a little dog hate going on in that house and Gnarly is determined to bring the truth to light. Quite frankly, she reminds me of a neighbor we once had here in real life and it was a little vicarious of me to take so much delight in this character’s downfall.

Speaking of characters, the extended Faraday clan has a new and unexpected member. I wonder what Carr will do with this person (Gabriel) in the future. I know it’s turned one parent’s life on their ear, giving them some new perspective. Then there’s David’s new dog, Storm, who doesn’t act very dog like in general (which gave me a laugh).

The pool of suspects had all sorts of characters. Some of them were quite angry and rather dislikeable but others were sweet as pie. Yet all had something to hide or feel at least a little guilty over. The ending had a few little twists I wasn’t expecting. The story kept me engaged the entire time. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Mike Alger gives a great performance as Mac Faraday. It’s like visiting an old friend when I listen to his narration of this series. I like his voices for David, and this teen age boy, and one of Mac’s old friends (Louis Gannon). His female voices are feminine but he has a limited number of female voices, so they are quickly recycled in a book such as this that has many ladies. His pacing is perfect & there are no technical issues with the recording. 4.5/5 stars.

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review 2015-12-10 05:58
A Beautiful Friendship (audiobook) by David Weber, narrated by Khristine Hvam
A Beautiful Friendship - Khristine Hvam,David Weber

Twelve-year-old Stephanie isn't happy that her family has been relocated to the planet Sphinx. It's a dangerous and fairly recently colonized place, so her parents don't feel comfortable about letting her run around on her own all the time. In order to keep her occupied, Stephanie's mother gives her a mystery to solve: missing celery. Greenhouses and gardens all over Sphinx keep getting small amounts of celery stolen from them, and no one's been able to figure out who's been doing it. Stephanie's investigation leads to the discovery of a whole new sentient species, beings she ends up calling “treecats.” She forms an empathic bond with one particular treecat, Climbs Quickly, and becomes a fierce protector of her new friend and his clan.

I'm a fan of “telepathic/empathic animal companion” fantasy and sci-fi. I figured I knew what to expect from this book. Stephanie would go exploring, find and bond with a treecat, and eventually be in a position to save treecats from some sort of danger (which she inadvertently put them in, something I managed to guess only halfway through). And I suppose that's how this story went, but the execution was incredibly boring.

It took a while for Stephanie and Climbs Quickly to meet, but I didn't mind that so much. Since I had never read any of Weber's other Honorverse books, I was happy for whatever background info I could get before the story picked up steam. I loved the scene in the forest, when Stephanie and Climbs Quickly met for the second time and fought side-by-side, and I was looking forward to seeing their bond develop.

That was where things started to go bad, for me. The story skipped forward two years. Repeated references were made to an event in which some treecats were killed and many more were saved, but that event was never shown. A bit of googling tells me that it probably happened in a short story that can be found in the Worlds of Honor anthology, which is good to know, but I still felt cheated as I was listening to A Beautiful Friendship and wondering why this interesting and important event was being completely skipped over.

The book went on and on about things I had trouble caring about, like the specifics of settlement arrangements on Sphinx, background information about several new adult characters, and Stephanie's shooting practice. What I wanted were more adventures and a closer exploration of the deepening bond between Stephanie and Climbs Quickly, not great gobs of exposition. The one thing that kept portions of this book from becoming an absolute snooze-fest was Khristine Hvam's narration – she was pleasant to listen to and did a good job voicing the various characters, although I thought some of her treecat voices were almost cartoonish.

Everywhere I've looked, this book is categorized as YA. However, even if I hadn't already known that most of Weber's books were written for adults, I would have been able to guess it from the way this was written. Adult POVs were used far more often than in most modern YA books, and most of Stephanie's adventures felt either overly brief or very carefully managed by the adults around her.

All in all, A Beautiful Friendship was a bit disappointing, but I still wouldn't mind trying the next book. However, I find that I'm looking forward to Weber's Honorverse books for adults far more than I am the next book in this series.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2014-07-20 05:01
Protector of the Small: First Test by Tamora Pierce
First Test - Tamora Pierce

I almost burst into tears when I finished this book. My reaction took me by surprise because I've read First Test at least four or five times. It shouldn't still affect me like this, but it does. It's a fairly simple story, but I love it so very much, and I adore Kel.

The only thing I can recall being interested in when I was younger that was "for boys only" was comics. There was this comic shop right near my high school that I used to go to during my lunch period. It had a fabulous bargain section, perfect for someone just starting out and still trying to figure out their tastes. I'd buy something every week or two and put up with the grumpy guy who owned the place. Except I eventually figured out he wasn't grumpy with everyone, just me. He was nice and helpful towards adults and teenage boys, while I got lectured about the way I touched the comics, or about being in the store too long without buying something. After a while, I stopped buying individual comics and just read graphic novels, which I could get at bookstores or libraries. No more grumpy comic shop guy.

Kel dealt with a lot more than just lectures. After Alanna the Lioness became the first female knight (by spending several years pretending to be a boy), it was proclaimed that girls could become pages. Ten years later, Keladry of Mindelan became the first girl to request to become a page. Her request was granted, but, to satisfy Lord Wyldon, the hidebound training master, she was put on probation for a year.

Like I said, this story was pretty simple. There were no “dark political intrigue” subplots, just “can Kel make it through her training and be accepted back next year?” She had an uphill battle. The boys wrecked her room, hardly anyone wanted to be her sponsor, and bullies picked on her whenever the teachers weren't looking. No one expected her to be around next year.

Kel was quite possibly the most mature 10-year-old ever, stoically putting up with a certain level of treatment and fighting back when her sense of justice demanded it and the rules permitted it (sort of). She had spent six years of her life living in the Yamani Islands (the fantasy equivalent of Japan?) with her parents and had picked up the Yamani custom of hiding her feelings and controlling her emotions. She had also had a little bit of weapons training, because even the most timid of Yamani court ladies got such training.

Kel was probably the most perfect possible first official female page, but she wasn't disgustingly so. She'd get frustrated from time to time, and her brutal schedule and the bullying she had to endure meant she couldn't always finish all her coursework. Her prior weapons training sometimes meant she had habits she needed to unlearn when learning to use similar but differently handled weapons.

I enjoyed Kel's growing friendships with the various other pages, and I liked Neal, her sponsor. As a fan of fantasy animal companions, Kel's little flock of sparrows and grumpy Peachblossom made me happy. Kel wasn't magically gifted herself (which I actually kind of liked), but some of the other characters were. Bonedancer, a living archaeopteryx skeleton, Numair, a mage, and Daine, a Wildmage, all made appearances.

The only way my copy of this book is ever leaving my possession is if I one day gift it to one of my nieces or it falls apart.

Extras:

A map of the kingdom of Tortall, a "cast of characters" section, and a glossary.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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