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review 2018-01-30 00:20
Occupied by Joss Sheldon
Occupied - Joss Sheldon

While it did take me 3 tries to get into this book, I’m glad I stuck with it. Occupied is a thought-provoking work. The three main characters, Tamsin, Ellie, and Arun, start off as kids, each coming from different backgrounds. As they age, they are pulled apart and their friendships set aside though they do occasionally intersect later in the story. A fourth pivotal character, Charlie, comes into the tale much later.

While this story qualifies as a satire, I did feel that I would have gotten quite a bit more out of it if I was more knowledgeable on Middle East politics (past and present). For the most part, the story stood on it’s own though I admit that I often lost track of which character is a Godly versus a Holy. I had the feeling that the underlying alluded to politics were more important than the story and I really just wanted to be swept up into the tale.

There is a lot of repetition in this book. Lots. That is the main thing that kept me from getting caught up in this book. If the book was 1/3 to 1/2 as long I feel that it would have more of punch, the important scenes would hit harder, and there would be more poignancy to the disturbing bits. All those things exist in the book as it is but you have to wade through the repetition to get to them.

The last fifth of the book was my favorite. It takes us into a near-future view of a consumer driven society. It definitely had that Brave New World vibe which I quite enjoyed. Also, I didn’t feel I had to be knowledgeable about certain politics to get what the story was telling me. This was the most chilling part of the book because there’s a society-encompassing apathy whereas the rest of the book has plenty of emotions flying around as one wrong is done after another, usually in the name of Right.

So, all told, I’m glad I finished it and I can see how fans of the satire genre would be interested in checking this book out. While the repetition and my lack of great knowledge on the politics alluded to made this book a bit of a chore to get through, it did end on a very strong note that resonated with me. 3.5/ 5 stars.

The Narration: Jack Wynters gave a decent performance. He had some accents and some voice range though not all of his characters were distinctly performed. He sounded interested in the story for the entire book never going deadpan bored. The pacing was good and there were no technical issues with the recording. 4/5 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 2018-01-30 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 2018-01-26 23:57
Terror Byte by J. R. Park
Terror Byte - J.R. Park

This story started off promising: sex scene followed by several murders by unknown means. Detective Norton is assigned to look into it and initially he’s stumped. There’s no obvious motive or even murder weapon. Norton is reeling from the death of his girlfriend Mel, so he’s got that beaten down, drown-myself-in-work thing going for him. Norton is what drew me into this story.

Then the mysterious Orchid makes an appearance. She’s got skills and I wasn’t sure Norton would last the entire book. Thankfully, Orchid doesn’t want him dead right away! I went back and forth about Orchid. She’s got this ‘disguise’ and her Evil Mistress name Orchid but then some minor character easily identifies her doing her regular day job. So, not much of a disguise there. She’s fun but turns up too conveniently or gets out of handcuffs too easily. That sort of thing had me roll my eyes a few times.

While the story is indeed fast-paced, I occasionally lost interest in the story. It’s one fight or chase scene or quickie in the office supplies closet after another. There are a few quieter moments, usually when Norton is thinking about his Mel. Those helped balance some of the fast-paced nature of this tale. I did enjoy the scifi techno thriller aspect to the murders even if I found it lacked any substantial detail. The story wasn’t here to show me how such a cyber crime could be possible, but, rather, used the idea as a gimmick to set the stage and occasionally push the plot forward.

The story initially gripped my attention, but then lost it, tried to snatch it back, failed, tried again, gained a bit of interest, and then held it because I knew the ending was nigh. All together, it was OK. 3.5/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Rick Gregory had to pronounce the word ‘whilst’ far too many times in this story. I don’t know why the author used that word so often. Gregory did give it a second syllable nearly every time which I found to be a little jarring. Other than that, Gregory gave a good performance. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. 4/5 stars.

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review 2018-01-26 23:44
The Last Cowboy by John Isaac Jones
The Last Cowboy - John Isaac Jones

This tale starts off in Florida in 2017 but the bulk of the tale is set in 2007 as the main character, J. L., reminisces meeting his current wife. J.L. of 2007 has just been laid off from a Montana ranch but he has a fall back plan which is to go to Argentina and work as a vaquero there. Along the drive to catch the boat to his new life, he meets Karina, who is also making a journey cross country heading to Florida.

While the set up was there for this to be the romantic comedy it claims to be, it fell flat in many ways. The story felt very dated, Karina’s main purpose in the tale was to be the romantic interest, some of the situations just didn’t ring true, and there just wasn’t much humor at all. I’ve listened to several stories by this author and some of them have been top notch. Alas, this is not one of them.

To be up front, contemporary romance isn’t my cup of tea. With that said, I found the little bit of romance we have in this book to be rather stiff and not titillating at all. In fact, when we get near the end of the story (and we know from the beginning that marriage happens), the whole marriage thing felt more like a business arrangement between two people who have a bit of fondness for one another instead of a great sweeping romance. Now, if that was the plot point, I’d be fine with it. But since this is labeled a romance, I want there to be real romance & heat between these characters.

The book is set in 2007 but it really felt more like 1967. I believe J.L. is in his late 20s in 2007 so I expected some modern ways of thinking. He insists on opening doors for the ladies (which isn’t all bad but when added with all the other dated things, it leaves this impression of a cowboy out of time). There’s some arguments about Custer’s last stand and an old Indian show that J. L. catches. Then that restaurant scene where J. L. was the only one to know the Heimlich maneuver. Then that scene where he splashes a little gas on the vehicle carburetor to get it started and the whole car catches on fire and no one has a fire extinguisher or a fire retardant tarp or even thinks to slam the hood down to smoother the flames. I could go on, but I won’t. All together, this didn’t feel like it was set in 2007.

Karina was a problem for me. For much of the story, she could be any woman. She does get a little background here and there but her lines are pretty standard and she makes few (any?) of the plot-relevant decisions in the story. The first night she and J. L. are traveling together, he offers to sleep in the truck and get her a hotel room. But she counters by insisting they just put up a sheet between the beds. The next day, she confesses that she’s always been afraid of men and that she doesn’t know why (so why were you OK sharing a room with a strange man?). Yet she then launches into her upbringing with a father who beat her mother regularly. J. L. then mansplains the psychology of how she’s afraid of men because her father was an abusive spouse. She then has an epiphany in which all that becomes clear to her. Sigh… Really? Later in the story, she faints and has to be carried. Further on, she says nothing would make her happier than to have his babies. Then even later, she wants a daughter so she can teach her how to be a lady, because gender roles…. in 2017…. sigh. Karina was not a worthy character.

During the 2007 trip, these two get into several situations that could have been funny but they are told so seriously that I didn’t find any comedy in them. Indeed, the main characters rarely laugh at their predicament either. There’s not even any slap stick humor. All told, this wasn’t the story I was expecting. 3/5 stars.

The Narration: Richard L. Walton has a very good cowboy voice. I liked his deep voice for J. L. While he gets a B for effort on attempting distinct character voices, he didn’t usually achieve clear, distinct character voices. Sometimes he used a lighter voice for the ladies, but not always and he pretty much only had the 1 female character voice. For the male characters, he relied on attitude and emotions rather than actual different voices, with the exception of doing a deeper voice for a very minor character mentioned by Karina as she went over a memory. His pacing was good. I did notice some background noise (rustling paper?) once or twice. I liked how he handled J. L.’s rudimentary Spanish while being pretty smooth with Karina’s native Spanish. 3/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

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review 2018-01-26 23:04
The 3 H's Trilogy
The 3 H's Trilogy: The Head, the House, and the Hell - Brian Barr,Rick Gregory,Brian Barr
The Head
 
What would you do if you found a lone human head in the yard? You’d probably do something practical, like dial 911 or bury it. What if that head started talking to you and begged not to be left alone? Yep. That’s the situation our heroine Elizabeth finds herself in.
 
This tale is equal parts horror, suspension, love story, and humor. First, it’s a decapitated head named Bill complaining about a headache. Ha! Poor Bill doesn’t have many memories but he does enjoy Elizabeth’s company. As time goes by, Elizabeth comes to care for Bill as well despite Bill’s off-putting odor.
 
Things move along as Bill insists they go in search of his body. More memories come back and Elizabeth is drawn into a twisted paranormal situation. Let’s just say that Bill comes from a messed up family.
 
It was fun and I wasn’t expecting so much humor nor the love story. Also, on a personal note, my husband’s name is Bill and I couldn’t help but picture his head as The Head in this tale. That just added to the enjoyment of this story, not that I want to decapitate the man. Just if he ever ends up in that situation, I’d like to think I would love him all the same. For such a short story, it was full of entertaining surprises.
 
The Narration: Rick Gregory did a great job as Bill the detached head. He fluctuated between serious and caring, pleading and decisive, with ease. His character voices were distinct though I felt that Elizabeth could sound a bit more feminine without sounding slightly cartoony.
 
The House
 
Retired cult buster Daniel Paine often chats with his long dead wife, a woman who he couldn’t save from a cult. Now the ghost of Alexis Bailey haunts him, begging for his help so that she can truly be free of the cult her family built. Daniel may be retired but he’s not useless!
 
It took me a little bit to connect The House with The Head but I was probably a bit slow due to allergy medication. Yep. I’ll go with that. So Bill, the detached head from The Head, is Alexis’s brother. The house at the ending of Book 1, The Head, is the same house referred to in this book, being the Bailey Cult family home.
 
What I loved about this book was that I often wasn’t sure what was Daniel’s reality and what was his hallucinations or products of his schizophrenia. It gave a very supernatural aura to the tale. Also, this story is quite a bit more serious than Book 1. There’s not much humor and no real love story unless you count Daniel talking to his dead wife off and on throughout the story.
 
There’s little glints of the true messy horror that is contained in the Bailey cult house for much of the book, adding to the suspense. Of course, as we near the end of the tale, those glints turn into solid imagery complete with body parts and blood.
 
The Bailey cult was interesting in that they do ancestor worship but in a very unhealthy way. I loved that Daniel used to be an excellent cult buster, world renowned. I think this would be a very rewarding, if tiring, job. I think a whole series could be written about Daniel’s career. (Looks hopefully off to the author).
 
In the end, things don’t go as Daniel thought they would. The House seems to have a spirit all it’s own and that is a malevolent one. I enjoyed Book 1 quite a bit but I enjoy Book 2 a little more. The serious tone coupled with Daniel’s character really reeled me into this tale.
 
The Narration: Rick Gregory is doing this series justice! I really enjoyed his narration. His female voice for Alexis was well done. Daniel has quite the ups and downs emotionally in this story and Gregory did a good job capturing those.
 
The Hell
 
This final installment is quite a bit more serious! Book 1 had some humor and even a touch of romance to it. Book 2 showed us how twisted that romance was but still had some quips and sarcasm here and there. This book is quite a bit darker. We take a walk through the Bailey family tree as we meet Gregory, the grandfather, and he reigns down a type of hell on the occupants of the house. Never fear though! The ladies have been coming up with an escape plan…. of sorts.
 
So eventually we get to meet the paranormal investigators Susie and Mac. They’ve been doing this for some time and both are sensitive to the paranormal. Susie receives a desperate plea from a client to take out the Bailey house. Alas, arson is not in Susie’s skill set and pretty much goes against her morals.
 
But then we meet Mac’s new friend. That’s a game changer for Susie! This story was full of unexpected twists and I was delighted with each one. The ending winds up and up to a fever pitch as evil throws punches at good and good-ish kicks back. Not everyone gets what they want by the end (and that’s great for us rooting for Susie and booing Gregory) but things end on a rather positive note. I wasn’t expecting that but it was nonetheless quite suitable for this trilogy. 5/5 stars.
 
The Narration: Rick Gregory has done a good job narrating this series but I found this book narration could have used just a little polishing. There’s a few mispronounced words and sometimes the pacing is just a little off. Over all though, it’s a good performance. I can tell that Gregory is fully engaged in the story (perhaps because the Big Baddie is named Gregory?). He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were feminine. 4/5 stars.
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