Audio book challenge 2011

Superheroes and zombies!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Jay Snyder and Khristine Hvam
Running Time: 11 hrs and 32 minutes

Two years ago zombies overran the Earth and society as we know it collapsed. Now, a couple of thousand survivors are holed up in a fortress called the Mount which they have built from a former film studio on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The Mount is lead and protected by a small group of superheroes. St. George is strong, very durable, can fly, and breathe out fire and smoke. He used to be called the Mighty Dragon and he was one of the most famous heroes before the collapse. Stealth is a mysterious woman who can fight really well, move silently, and turns herself invisible in her suit. She’s also a great strategist. Then there’s Zzzap who can change into pure energy form. In his human form, he’s in a wheelchair and he doesn’t get a miracle cure. Also, when he’s in his energy form, he uses up his own energy reserves which are limited. Danielle is a scientist who was working on a battle armor called Cerberus. Now, she’s using it to keep others, and herself, safe. However, Cerberus isn’t as flexible as the Iron Man armor; it takes about an hour for Danielle to get into and other of it, and that was a great touch of realism.

The book starts with a humorous episode where St. George gets a haircut, which isn’t easy because of his almost indestructible state, and the population celebrates USA’s Independence Day. It downplays the horror aspects of the situation.

Then a small group led by St. George and Cerberus heads out to LA to gather any possible supplies. To my surprise, only a few of the local Marines are in the group. They shoot down any zombies that gets too close and continue their ongoing competition in who can kill the most famous people. This again downplays the horror.

Some of the people at the Mount are expecting the rest of surviving humanity to rescue them. Some are convinced that they are the last survivors. However, when a drone plane flies over the Mount, both groups are surprised, some pleasantly and others not so much. St. George sends Zzzap to investigate and he confirm that the drone belongs to a group of US soldier. However, after two years of isolation, can the groups trust each other?

There are a lot of different people at the Mount. Some of them are ordinary people but there is a Marine base, too. Apparently a gang, the Seventeens, started the zombie apocalypse and some of the gang members are now in the Mount but they aren’t exactly trusted. Christian was a member of the local government and she resents the power that the superheroes have. She’s agitating for an election. I was expecting her to have a more prominent role but she didn’t. I can’t help but to think that the heroes should have giving her a role in the new governing structure.

There are a lot of pop culture references in the story. For example, one of the buildings in the Mount is called the Roddenberry, Zzzap laments that he’s never going to know how Lost ends, and when the scavengers are given armor, they say they should be in the Lord of the Rings. Yes, it’s cheesy but I liked it.

The characterization is surprisingly good. The people have come somewhat used to the situation and are using humor to make things bearable. However, Danielle has been so traumatized that she doesn’t feel safe outside the Cerberus armor and refers to herself as “tiny, helpless woman”. She’s a scientist and an engineer, just like Tony Stark. St. George is a clear analog to Superman and Stealth is an analog to Batman. Apparently, they are romantically involved, sort of, but Stealth keeps St. George, and everyone, at an arm’s length. There are also several super soldiers who are trying to do the right thing. I was delighted that the female character aren’t shown just as accessories or possible romances to the males or as hostages. Stealth uses a suit that covers her up completely and the Cerberus armor isn’t gendered (no pointy breasts here!). Even though Stealth is quite underpowered compared to St. Gorge and Zzzap, she’s competent and more than holds her own in a fight.

Most humans aren’t comfortable calling the undead zombies, so they are often called “ex-humans” or exes.

Some of the heroes got their powers accidentally, much like most of the heroes in the DC universe. However, most of the secondary super powered characters are soldiers who got the powers through a US government program. The zombiefication seems to be a virus that is spread through biting.

The chapters have been divided between “Now” and “Then”. The Now chapters follow St. George and his group in third person. The “Then” chapters each have a different narrator and some of them are set in the time before the zombie apocalypse and some after it but before “Now”. These chapters are in first person. They showcase characters who are in the current storyline but don’t get a POV which is a great way to give more insight into them and getting a bit more sympathetic POV to characters who aren’t sympathetic in the other story line. Near the end of the book, we get POV chapters from the villains, too. This structure worked really well for me.

The audio book has two narrators: Jay Snyder is what I’d say the dominant narrator; he narrates the Now chapters, no matter if the POV character is male or female, and the various male characters’ dialogue. Khristine Hvam narrates female dialogue except in “Then” chapters which are narrated by a female character. Then Hvam narrates the chapter except for male dialogue which Snyder narrates. I’ve listened to both of them with other books and I liked them. However, I was really impressed how well they worked together. I haven’t listened before an audiobook with two narrators but at least here it worked really well for me.

The Audible book has a bonus short story at the end which runs about an hour. Codependent is about Holly who is surviving alone among the ex-humans. Then she meets up with another woman who claims not have been infected with the zombie virus. For me, this story was more horrific than the main story. The zombies, called junkies this time, seem to be somewhat different than in the main story. For example, they can speak a little and fight amongst themselves over food.

Oh, I’ve just realized that this was the second book in the series. Well, I’m certainly getting the first one!

I had so much work this week that I didn’t have the time to write the Wednesday review or even read much. Since I’m self-employed, that’s a good thing, but it’s a bit stressful to do 12-14 hour work days, especially when it’s so hot. And now, on a Saturday, it’s raining, of course…

A stand-alone thriller about international spies.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Kate Reading
Running Time: 14 hours, 43 minutes

A group of very wealthy men control the legendary Library of Gold which the rest of the world knows as Ivan the Terrible’s lost library. Now, one of the priceless books have been stolen and the men want it back.

Eva Blake is an expert on old and rare books, just like her husband was. Unfortunately, he died in a car accident and Eva was convicted of killing him because all evidence said that she was driving, even though her memories are different. At the start of the book, she’s waiting to hear from her lawyer and then we jump to two years later.

Tucker Anderson is an old spy and a CIA agent. His old friend and former spy, Jonathan Rider, tells Tucker that he has stumbled onto something that has to do with the Library of Gold and Islamist terrorists. But before Jonathan can tell more, he’s shot to death. Jonathan’s son Judd wants in on the investigation and a chance to avenge his father.

Eva has been in prison and Tucker gets her free because he needs her expertize to find the Library of Gold. She agrees, of course, and flies to London to a conference with a lot of old friends, whom she’s going to see for the first time since her conviction.

The plot is fast-paced and the point-of-view characters change quickly. In addition to Eva, Judd, and Tucker, the are many other point-of-view characters, most of them the bad guys: the main enforcer, Preston, for the man who is the leader of the group of men who hold the Library, the leader himself, and later terrorists. At the start of the book Tucker is the POV character for several chapters, but later he becomes a secondary character. The scenes change quickly: the plot moves from US to London to Istanbul and I rather enjoyed the international feel.

Eva isn’t the nerdy book lover that the beginning sets her out to be. Her time in prison has hardener her but she was also a rebel when she was a teenager and picked up skills like pick pocketing and lock picking. She’s also an expert in karate. She’s started to accept that her memories of the evening when Charles died maybe different than the reality and she’s trying to accept that she was responsible for his death. However, this is quickly turned into it’s head.

Judd is a former military intelligence agent and has retired from the army. He doesn’t yet know what he would want to with himself. When his father is killed, it’s easy for him to concentrate on finding his killer. He’s seen a lot of violence and is sick of it.

The villains are rich and self-important people who are, alas, very believable, but not very interesting. The enforcer is cold-blooded and has no problem killing people he’s worked with a minute ago, which made him chilling.

Many of the characters are book collectors or readers and I can certainly relate to that. 🙂 I also really liked the short historical stories about spies around the world and throughout the ages. On the other hand, I don’t really like books where terrorists are the enemy, so for me the book wasn’t as interesting as it could have been. Also, the characters were a bit remote. My favorite characters were a gay couple, who, for once!, weren’t youngsters or in a courtship phase. A university professor and his partner were middle-aged and in a solid relationship.

The book has a fascinating epilogue where the author talks about her research into the library.

I liked Kate Reading’s narration. She seems to be a no-nonsense reader and she didn’t try to do accents too much. Her Italian characters have more a sing-song quality than an accent.

The Boss is back!

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Jennifer Van Dyck
Running Time: 10 hours, 33 minutes

The story starts in other time and place. The good ship Ivoire is under attack from several enemy ships and Captain “Coop” Cooper has to make the decision to use his Anacopa drive which can fold space. Unfortunately, the drive is damaged at just the moment when it’s used.

After the events in “Diving into the Wreck” Boss has created a large company which is tracking down Stealth Tech which is very dangerous to everyone else except a small group of people who have the genetic marker to survive it. So far, the tech has always been found inside the ancient Dignity Vessels, huge space crafts. Boss wants to keep the tech out of the hands of the biggest government around, the Empire, in order to keep the balance of power.

Even though Boss is a loner by nature, she now has a lot of employees and she has to start trusting them. One of her people has noticed the city of Vaychen which is at least five thousand years ago and is convinced that they will find Stealth Tech in the caves below the city. Boss isn’t convinced but agrees to the mission and leads it herself. She’s very uncomfortable on ground and leading a group people who are mostly strangers to her. The people she calls the Six are the six other individuals who have the genetic marker to survive the Stealth Tech. Unfortunately for Boss, they don’t have much experience in exploration.

The locals don’t make matters any easier. The people of Vaychen are insular to the point of xenophobia; they don’t trust outsiders and try their best to limit the outsiders’ moments. Also, while they welcome tourists and make things easy for touring groups, they don’t like anyone snooping into their business. They don’t let anyone into the caves without six local guides. And they’re very patriarchal to the point that Boss has to appoint one of her male employees as a liaison between her and the guides.

Once the team starts to work in the caves, they make a startling discovery: a sleek Dignity Vessel appears. Boss and her crew are frantic to conceal this from the local government and to explore it themselves.

The Dignity Vessel is, of course, Coop’s ship. The crew are startled to find themselves in an abandoned outpost with strange people and they start to investigate the place and the people.

The two crews couldn’t be more different: Boss’ team has archeologists and scientists and space explorers who are at odds with the own government (and each other) while Coop’s crew is military. Yet, they both trust their leaders. Coop and Boss are startlingly similar: both are cautious and think about their crew first. In the past, Boss has acted impulsively and others had paid the price. Now, she forces herself to be careful. Coop and his crew are also investigating things but are more limited because they don’t want to reveal themselves to the strange people.

This time the story is slower and suspenseful. I was delighted to find out that Coop’s first contact team is linguists! They don’t have any instant translating machines so they have to painstakingly gather linguistics’ data and extrapolate from there. This makes the tale slower but the focus isn’t on fast-pace but the slow revealing of secrets and discovery of what has happened. Well, some people might find it slow but I found it fascinating. While Boss’s (and Coop’s) team is underground doing the legwork, the rest of her people are above ground researching the city’s history.

However, the story depends a lot on the background information that is found in the first book, so I recommend reading that first.

The cast of characters is pretty large with both teams and the locals. There are two point-of-view characters: the Boss who narrates in first person and present tense and Coop’s story is told in third person and in the normal past tense

The universe doesn’t seem to have any aliens. Instead there are several cultures of humans who have colonized various planets thousands of years ago. There’s a reference to a myth about Earth.

The ending is left open for the next book (yay!) but it’s not really a cliffhanger.

Van Dyck’s narration is good. She uses a slower tone, a deeper voice, and an accent for the locals which I found appropriate; all the local characters are male and it’s mentioned in the text that they have an accent.

The first book in the mystery series starring Inspector Monk set in the Victorian times.

Publication year: 1990
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Davina Porter
Running Time: 13 hours, 23 minutes

A man wakes up in a hospital but he has no idea who he is. He’s told that he had an accident and has been in the hospital for a while. He doesn’t remember anything about himself nor about his history. Then one of the detectives from his precinct come to visit him and tells him that he’s Inspector William Monk, a very good policeman.

Monk is released from the hospital and goes to his apartment and starts to go through his life. He finds out that he doesn’t really like himself: he seems to be a lonely man, devoted only to his job. The one one who writes to him is his sister and he doesn’t even return her letters. He’s given some weeks sick leave which he spends with his sister. However, his memory doesn’t return.

Then, he has to get back to work. He doesn’t tell anyone about his amnesia and just works as best he can. He takes over a high-profile case about brutally murdered Jocelyn Gray, who is a gentleman and a wounded Crimean War hero.

The story is set in the Victorian times and explores the differences between classes. During his case, Monk has to interview the victim’s family who are very condescending to him, to the extent that they tell Monk what and who he should investigate because, of course, the murderer has to be some insane lower class man. Monk has to also move among the poor and he’s appalled by the their conditions.

Monk’s amnesia is very selective: he has only lost memories about this adult life. Some of his childhood memories come back to him early on. He’s seem to be somewhat different person without his memories; he criticizes his own life and even his goals. Before, he seemed to want to elevate himself into the higher classes. While waiting for that, he puts his money into clothing and his time knowing about the nobility. Now, he finds that depressing. He also feels lonely and seeks out other people’s approval which he probably didn’t care for before. I find it a bit strange that his personality had changed that much.

The other point-of-view character is Hester Latterly who was a nurse in the Crimean War. She had to come home and take care of her relatives because her father killed himself and her mother died of grief a few weeks afterwards. However, Hester refused to believe that her father would have killed himself and asked Monk to look at the case. She’s a tough and independent woman, and she finds it hard to change back to a demure middle-class woman looking for a husband after her gruesome time in the war. Monk tries very hard not to be attracted to her.

The pace of the book is slow with Monk trying to gather information about his life and about his case, and with Hester trying to get her life back into order.

The cast of characters is pretty varied. Monk has a superior who loaths him and he’s assigned a younger detective as a partner. He has to interview both titled people and boys sweeping the streets. Hestia brings in the point-of-view of the women at the time.

I enjoyed Davina Porter’s narration. She has somewhat different voice for every character and Monk’s inner thoughts. She has a clear voice and is easy to listen to.

The first book in the Vampire Assassin series set in fantasy Venice.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Dan John Miller
Running Time: 12 hours, 41 minutes

The story starts with a young man chained in the dark without any knowledge of who he is and why he’s chained. Then, we’re thrust in the middle of Venice intrigue.

This Venice is a powerful city-state ruled by the descendants of Marco Polo. However, a half-wit Duke, Marco IV, sits on the throne currently, so the people around him have to do the actual ruling. Venice even has an official Regent, Marco’s uncle Alonzo la Millione, although Marco’s widowed mother Alexa has almost as much unofficial power.

Marco’s cousin, the 15 year old Giulietta is ordered into a political marriage against her will. In desperation, she runs away. However, Atilo Il Mauros is hot on her heels on the streets of Venice. He’s the head of the Assassini brotherhood and loyal only to the Duke. Atilo shadows Guilietta until dusk. Then he has to protect her from the powerful werewolves, called the krieghund, who are trying to kill Guilietta. Atilo manages to get her back home but not before most of his assassins are killed.

Later, Venice custom officers are inspecting a ship and find a strange boy chained there. The boy manages to escape. He doesn’t remember much but light hurts his eyes and water makes him sick. He encounters a young witch who allows him to drink her blood which revives him somewhat. Later, Atilo meets the boy, who is calling himself Tycho, and drafts him into services as an apprentice assassin.

Meanwhile, supposed foreign agents have kidnapped Lady Giuliette. The poor girl knows that she’s just a pawn and nobody would look for her, so she steals a very valuable item. Soon, all of Venice is in uproar about the kidnapping and very unpleasant things start to happen to foreign residents.

This is just the bare bones of the start of the complex plot with a large cast of characters, lots of scheming, and a couple of romances, too. I must admit that the audio book isn’t the best format for the book unless you are able to focus on listening all the time. I usually do something else while listening, so I wasn’t. Maybe that’s why there are a couple of plot point that were really mystifying to me.

Right at the start, Atilo is following Giuliette. At any point before sundown he could have just appeared and whisked her away back home. Instead, he waits for her to apparently change her mind and return on her own. Which she doesn’t do and isn’t likely to. So, Atilo just follows her until sundown and the werewolves come out and massacre his followers. The thing is that apparently Atilo knew that the werewolves were in town and that his followers didn’t have a chance against them. So, this makes Atilo pretty… stupid? Incompetent? Suicidal except with other people’s lives rather than his own? Unbalanced? I don’t know but it sure isn’t flattering. Also, this makes Giuliette seem very stupid and incompetent, too. So right at the start two POV characters are acting stupidly.

Next up is Atilo’s romantic choices. He’s supposedly in love with lady Desdaio who is not only young and beautiful but also a rich heiress. So, other men are trying to get her, too. However, Desdaio is in love with Atilo and agrees to be engaged with him. However, instead of marrying her as soon as he can, he… puts it off. He’s too busy with work, with prostitutes, and having affairs with married women. What? Then he mopes around when other men are interested in Desdaio. What, again? What was he waiting for? Desdaio to become frustrated and marrying someone else? Atilo is very ambitious, has good connections, and is a schemer to boot. He’s also a moor and lots of people view him unfavorably because of that. Surely, it would have been advantageous for him to marry a rich, beautiful, Christian heiress instead of dallying around. Seems weird to me.

Otherwise, the plot moves along quickly with short chapters and quick POV changes. Tycho’s past is revealed slowly as he starts to remember more about it. He’s not a typical vampire; he can move about during the day although the light hurts his eyes, and he can eat and drink normally. He’s perhaps the most interesting character. Giuliette perhaps grows most during the book. At the start, she’s a beaten down girl even though she comes from a powerful family. But her family has made it clear that her only value is in the marriage she will make; that she herself is worthless.

Unfortunately for me, all of the characters are quite gray; they’re selfish and scheming so it’s hard to root for any of them. They’re also horribly misogynistic which is, of course, consistent with the historical aspect but was tiresome to me after a while.

The book has a lot of details about living in 15th century Venice, both for the poor and the rich. Tycho and a couple of other POV characters move among the poor and a couple of street urchins play a significant role in the book. Even in the glittering La Serenissima, life is brutal and often short for the poor and even for rich women. I was particularly fascinated by the description of a prison where the prisoners were forced to work to keep themselves alive, so they didn’t have time to plot escape.

Oh, and the family of la Millione, the descendants of Marco Polo, are imaginary. As far as I can tell, Polo didn’t hold much political power in Venice. During the time of the book, Venice was ruled by competent, if not liked, Doge Michele Steno.

Miller is a good reader. He’s careful when pronouncing the Italian names and I liked his voice. The only thing I didn’t really care for were his voices for women which sounded absurdly high and breathless.

The third in the Weather Warden series about weather controlling Joanne Balwin.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Dina Perlman
Running Time: 9 hours, 34 minutes

The former Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin and her Djinn lover David are trying to sort out the mess they were left with in the previous book. The world’s most powerful Djinn, Jonathan, is in the hands of a petulant teenage boy, Kevin, and they are wrecking havoc. They are in Las Vegas and Jonathan is keep the city off limits from Wardens and the other Djinn. Unfortunately, he’s doing it by manipulating weather and creating earthquakes. Jo and David have been driving around Las Vegas for a few weeks trying to get in but without any success. Kevin has also stolen the powers of Lewis who is one of Jo’s oldest friends and is now near death because of the power loss.

However, the Weather Wardens want Jo to back off. She really has no choice but to agree and the Wardens even take away David’s bottle from her. Then, one of Jo’s friends betrays her horribly. She’s shot and transported to Las Vegas where she’s resuscitated back to life. That’s pretty crappy way to get into the city but things turn only to worse when she finds out that another group (of old men) is really interested in her: the Ma’at are a group who are convinced that the Wardens are corrupt and it’s now up to them to start controlling not only the weather but the Djinn as well.

There’s an additional story which starts as a side plot when Joanne thinks back on one of her earlier jobs six years ago. She was sent to Las Vegas to investigate a fellow Warden who was suspected of misusing his powers. She thought that it would be an easy job but of course, it wasn’t. First, the male Warden tries to sidetrack her by seducing her and when that doesn’t work, he simply won’t see her. That didn’t stop Jo, of course. This story first ties up thematically with the rest of the book; it shows how a corrupted Warden works and shows also that Jo is familiar with the concept of less than innocent Wardens. The story turns really dark, later, and ties in with the main plot, too. I wasn’t really thrilled with some of the things that happened in it.

I really like Jo and David. They’re a good couple despite the fact that they still have the annoying habit of not telling important things to each other. They say things like “Trust me” and then they do things that the other person really should have been told about beforehand. Also, David does something which really, really should have been discussed beforehand!

Jo is a stubborn and contrary person. Luckily for her, she tends to be right most of the time. Considering all of the hard and awful stuff Jo goes through, she has to be tough, though. People around her seem have the tendency to betray her and she can’t really trust even David.

I’ve gotten used to David as the unshakably loyal lover. Of course, when Jo has David’s bottle, he can’t be anything else since a Djinn has to obey his or her owner. And of course, when you start to think about that power dynamic, it is, or can be, horrible. So much power of the one you love. And yet, can you trust anyone else with your lover’s bottle? Would you want to? Jo and David are really sweet together so I couldn’t see that Jo would mistreat her power. However, she is uncomfortable with it and so are some of the other characters around them.

Most of the characters from the previous books return, even one whom I didn’t expect to see anymore. I was delighted and horrified by the character’s transformation. Jo’s old friend and crush Lewis has always seem to be a really good guy but here we find out that he has a real bad side, too. On the other hand, Jo’s sort-of enemy and a hard ass Warden Marion Bearheart is revealed to have a surprising past which made her a more sympathetic character. We’re also introduced to a lot of new characters. Most of them seem to be people who believe they are doing good but aren’t too squeamish about their methods. I tend to like them, because they can be more complex than other villains, not to mention having redemption potential.

The pace is very fast and Jo doesn’t really get a breather at all.

Oh, and once again, lots of stuff is unresolved at the end as usual for a series with a continuous storyline. I’m dying to know what happens to David and the others next!

I really enjoyed Perlman’s reading. For me, her voice just clicked with Joanne’s inner voice, somehow. She reads often with a chatty style which is perfect for the writing style for Joanne’s thoughts. She doesn’t really do different voices.

Publication year: 1991
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Hilary Neville
Running Time: 9 hours, 30 minutes

The story starts with quite an exciting scene where Gabriel Jones and his best friend Caleb have just found an alchemist’s laboratory and his skeleton. They take the skeleton and other items with them. Then one of the workmen is murdered and the alchemist’s notebook is missing.

Gabriel has the paranormal ability to hunt; his senses become sharper and he can read violent memories off things. He’s afraid that this ability makes him less a modern man and more a throw-back to a less civilized era. His father is a member of the Arcane Society and is pressuring Gabriel into marrying a woman who has paranormal abilities of her own, so that they are likely to have children who will have psychic abilities.

Then we’re introduced to the other main character: Miss Venetia Milton who’s trying to support her family. Her father died a while back and left his family with a secret that could destroy them and without any inheritance. However, Venetia is an accomplished photographer and so she’s trying to support her younger sister and brother, and her maiden aunt with her work. To her delight, she got a very well paying job photographing the Arcane Society’s relics. There she met Gabriel Jones. On her final day on the job, she decides to seduce Gabriel. Because Venetia is old for an unmarried woman and has to support her family, she thinks she’s never going to marry but she wants to know what intimacy between men and women is like. Gabriel has already been attracted to Venetia and they spend a passionate night together.

However, later they notice that burglars are prowling around the secluded house. Gabriel sends Venetia away promising that he will contact her later. But a week later, Venetia and her family read in a newspaper that the Society’s house had been burned down and Gabriel has died.

So, Venetia decides that she has to concentrate on her career. She decides to move to London and set a photography shop with the money she got from her earlier commission. She and her family agree that in order to be a respectable woman, Venetia has to appear to be a widow. She decides to use Gabriel’s last name. Mrs. Jones becomes quite a fashionable photographer but then Gabriel appear again, very much alive and tells Venetia that she and her family are in danger.

The story is set in the late Victorian times. Mostly, the Victorian morals comes out when they limit the choices of Venetia and other women. While it would be immodest for an unmarried woman to have a career, it’s apparently okay for a widow. Also, Venetia and Gabriel are often alone together, which I thought was a big no-no for Victorians since they aren’t married.

Venetia is a capable and determined young woman. After her father left her destitute, she’s very reluctant to trust anyone outside her family, even Gabriel. She never intended to have a relationship with him after the one night but when Gabriel says that he’ll find her again, she believes him. And when he’s declared dead, her trust is again broken. So, when he turns up alive, she has no intention of trusting him again. She has the ability to see other people’s auras and see their nature it the auras. She’s never told about it to anyone outside her family.

Gabriel is very focused on his hunt for the burglars’ employer. Even though he falls madly in love with Venetia, he doesn’t even consider how Venetia would feel when he’s declared dead. In fact, Gabriel is very annoyed when he finds out that Venetia has taken the name as Mrs. Jones. While Venetia though that the surname is general enough not to attract attention, Gabriel feels that it’s a clear path to him. So, he decides to protect Venetia and her family while hunting for the mystery man.

I found Gabriel to be quite modern. Most Victorian men would probably not tolerate a woman posing as their widow and less an upper-class woman who had a career of her own. Yet, Gabriel does expect Venetia to toss her career aside, when Gabriel thinks that the situation is too dangerous for her.

I quite enjoyed Venetia’s family. Her sixteen-year old sister Amelia is helping her with the photography and is quite level-headed. Their younger brother Edward is just ten years old. He’s already good at keeping secrets although he’s a bit lonely because his sisters are afraid that he will say something accidentally so he’s not allowed to play with others much. Their aunt Beatrice is adamant at keeping everything respectable. I found it a bit strange that she isn’t working. It’s mentioned at the start that she’s a retired governess. Surely, she could have returned to work instead of relying on a 26-year old niece to feed her?

The Arcane Society itself seems to be a plot device. The only things we know about it, is that the members are very exclusive and secretive, and that they research all things outside normal, such as alchemy and people’s paranormal abilities, and the members collect items connected to the paranormal world. Membership seems to be hereditary only. On the other hand, Gabriel seems to have no problems talking about the Society not only to Venetia but to everyone in her family. Also, it’s said that the Society has some influence among the Victorian society at large.

There are small things in the story that made it more appealing to me such as the Janus Club which I thought would have been quite a logical thought but I really doubt that anything like that really existed. Venetia had some interesting friends, too.

Second Sight is a quick and entertaining adventure story. The romance is the second major storyline but some romance readers apparently find some things about it unsatisfying such as, that we never see Gabriel and Venetia meeting for the first time; they’ve already worked with each other for a few weeks when the story starts.

Neville is a good narrator. However, her voices for the characters aren’t very different from each other so it’s more a reading than a performance.

The recording was apparently made for cassettes because there are mentions of sides at regular intervals (Second Sight by Amanda Quick, side 1, Second Sight by Amanda Quick, side 2, etc).

First in Phryne Fisher mystery series set in the 1920s.

Publication year: 1991
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel
Running Time: 5 hours, 50 minutes

The story starts in a party in London where a necklace is stolen and Phyrne quickly deduces who did it. One of the guests is so impressed with her wit that he invites her to lunch. The elderly Colonel and his wife are worried about their daughter Lydia; it’s possible that their son-in-law is poisoning the poor girl. Phryne agrees to investigate, although only if the parents don’t interfere. So, she travels to Melbourne prepared to insinuate herself in the local high society.

On the way there, she meets up with an old friend, a Scottish Dr. Elizabeth McMillan. Soon enough, she makes lots of other friends as well. She investigates Lydia and finds her tiresome and clingy. Phryne and McMillan both become also entangled with exposing a local illegal abortionist who rapes girls before butchering them. Several girls have already died.

The book has several plots and view-point-characters. Phryne is the most prominent of the POV characters. There are also Albert, Bert, Johnson, a cabbie who first drives Phryne and McMillan from the harbor to the hotel. Later, a man dumps a bleeding girl into her taxi. It turns out that that man was the illegal abortionist and police can’t do much about him. So, Bert rallies the local communist society to look for the Butcher. Alice Greenham is the bleeding girl and we follow her recovery.

The characters are great! Phryne herself is quite unorthodox character. Even though her father currently has a title and lands in England, Phryne and her family were the poor relations for a long time. So, she knows all about living in poverty and tries to help the poor people around her. At the same time, she enjoys having money and using it. She’s also not sure what she would like to do with the rest of her life. She enjoys driving fast cars and flying fast planes.

One of the first things Phryne does, when she comes to Melbourne, is to help Dorothy who is almost desperate enough to commit murder. Dorothy, Dot, was fired from her previous post as a maid because she refused the advances to her employer’s son. Without money or recommendations, her future is bleak. However, Phryne hires her as her maid and personal secretary, and buys her some new clothes, too.

Dr. McMillan is another unorthodox woman. She’s had to fight to be able to train as a surgeon. She’s employed at the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and it’s still rare for a woman to get a job as a Doctor. She sees daily the abuses that women have to endure and she’s not afraid to speak her mind about it. She also wears trousers which horrifies some people.

There are also Russian dancers and Phryne is rather taken with one of them.

The book has two main plots which move in quite different social classes and Phryne investigates them both. The abortionist targets, of course, poor women and some of her victims are prostitutes. Meanwhile Phryne’s other investigation moves among the high society and cocaine use.

The writing style is quite humorous, even tough the subject matter is often grim. For example: “She had put on her lounging robe of a dramatic Oriental pattern of green and gold, an outfit not to be sprung suddenly on invalids and those of nervous tendencies, and she was rather glad that there was no-one on deck to be astonished.”

Daniel is a great reader. Her pace is unhurried and she even makes a slight Scottish accent for Dr. McMillan. Luckily, she doesn’t use a broad Australian accent for anyone or I might not have understood a lot.

This is the first audiobook from the batch I bought from Audible at a discount.
The first book in a science fiction series about John O’Ryan.

Publication year: 1992
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Stefan Rudnicki
Running Time: 11 hours, 31 minutes

John O’Ryan is an extraordinary man: he can learn in just a few minutes things that take others a lifetime to learn, he can control every part of his body consciously down to the molecular level, control his heartbeat and breathing, and he can use all of his brain. Yet, he works in an ordinary office and doesn’t have any real friends. One day, he’s sitting in a restaurant and sees three people. One is a young, beautiful woman and he falls in love with her. The second is a handsome, golden haired man, and the third is a muscular man who seems threatening. Then, someone throws in a grenade and O’Ryan saves the woman by throwing himself on top of her.

She still has to go to hospital and O’Ryan follows her. The woman, Aretha, claims that O’Ryan has a mission and it has something to do with her and the two men. Aretha says that she will help O’Ryan to remember. However, a nurse shoos him away and O’Ryan has to leave. He thinks about his past and present, and realizes that his life doesn’t feel like his own. He also feels that if he tries to find out about his past, his life will be in danger. But he has to know.

When O’Ryan tries to find Aretha again, she has checked out with the strange, threatening man. O’Ryan manages to track them down just in time to witness how the man kills Aretha. O’Ryan swears to avenger her. He’s able to track down the handsome man from the restaurant who tells him something that should be startling but which O’Ryan feels is true.

O’Ryan is really Orion, a hunter from 15,000 years in the future. His mission is to kill the mysterious threatening man, Ahriman, who killed Aretha. If Orion doesn’t succeed in killing Ahriman, all of human race will die.

This is an epic story. When Orion dies, he moves to another point in history where he can confront his nemesis again. Every time Orion’s woman is by his side, but each time she’s a contemporary woman who doesn’t know Orion or his mission. Her name also changes every time.

Orion, his woman, Ahriman, and the handsome man called Ohrmuzd are the main cast. The other characters change when Orion moves to a different time period.

When the story starts, the setting feels like a contemporary one. However, there are some clues that the technology is more advanced than ours; O’Ryan has a phone with a small video screen and holograms are used, even if they’re not common.

Then Orion jumps back in time to the Mongols, then to Stone Age, and then further back still. We get only small glimpses of each culture. Between each time period, there’s an interlude where two god-like people talk and we get to know more about the world and the motivations about some people. I don’t know much about the Mongols but what we see seems pretty accurate to me: patriarchal horse people who conquered China and are trying to expand further.

I had some issues with the portrayal of Stone Age, though. Of course, we can’t really know what went on then and probably different tribes had different customs. However, I found their treatment of women to be peculiar, or perhaps Orion’s conclusions. He observes that the small tribe he attaches himself to has very small number of children, most of them teenaged boys. So, he draws the conclusion that girl children are mostly killed at birth so that they aren’t producing more kids than the tribe can support. Also, women past childbearing age are killed, too. So… a woman is only good for breeding? She can’t, for example, hunt or gather food, or be a healer or priestess or make clothing or cook or know a lot of stuff when she’s older? Oh, wait, yes she can! Orion’s woman in this age is a healer and a priestess! She’ also a grown woman with a partner (the chief, of course) but no kids! She doesn’t have an apprentice, so if/when she’s killed the tribe will not have a healer anymore. Also, only women cook. Something here doesn’t add up… Also, if people are starving, it’s possible that the kids die young because of the environment, without any help from their parents, or that the women aren’t fertile or can’t carry to term. Some number of women are also going to die in childbirth. So, I don’t think the tribesmen need to especially kill girls. I also thought that small tribes wanted to expand. Isn’t population control is a far more modern concept? I thought that killing girls has more to do with dowries than limiting the number of babies.

Also, this tribe just hunts. They don’t gather food at all which seems very strange.

I also had some problems with Orion’s woman. For example, she and Orion don’t meet for the first time in this book at all. When we readers meet her for the first time, she already knows Orion who has only lost his memory. Later, she either is a contemporary woman who doesn’t know him or, in the last part, they already know and love each other. However, my biggest problem was that when the time period changes so did her personality. During modern times, she’s some what confident at first but succumbs rather easily to Ahriman’s threats. During the Mongolian times, she’s a healer who meekly follows Orion even though she doesn’t know him at all. During the Stone Age, she’s the chief’s woman who enjoys hunting and fighting. Later, she’s a warrior woman. So, who is this person Orion is supposed to love? Clearly, their love can’t be based on personality or shared experiences. So what is it based on? I have no idea. But it’s likely that I’m over thinking this.

Otherwise, this is a quick-paced adventure romp. Orion does think about time travel and the implications of everything he does but it’s overshadowed by his need to kill Ahriman.

Rudnicki is a good reader and he makes different voices for different characters. He’s pace is unhurried.

The next book in the series is set in the Trojan war!

The first in the urban fantasy series about antiques dealer Kira Solomon.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Allyson Johnson
Running Time: 9 hours, 6 minutes

Kira Solomon never knew her parents. She grew up in an orphanage but was adopted by a nice family. However, when Kira’s powers manifested when she was 12, her parents can’t raise her anymore. They brought her to Balm who is the mysterious leader of the Gilead Commission which protects the world from the Fallen and the demons. Kira grows up in the Commission and becomes one of their best Shadowchasers.

When Kira touches an object, she can read its history and possible magical power, but when she touches a human with her bare hands, she will suck the life right out of him or her. Thanks to the Commission’s training, she’s also an expert fighter. She can fight with any weapon but her favorite is her Light Blade because she can channel her power through it. By day, she’s a freelance antique’s dealer and by night she hunts demons. Oh, and she’s black.

Antiques dealer Bernie Comstock is one of Kira’s closest friends and also her mentor. He has found an intriguing dagger and brings it to Kira so that she can find out if it’s a genuine Egyptian artifact. After Bernie leaves the dagger to Kira, she finds out that the dagger is genuinely over four thousand years old and very powerful. Also, the dagger’s original owner is alive and looking for it.

Then, Bernie is killed. Kira uses her powers on Bernie’s blood and finds out that a powerful demon is after the dagger. She swears to avenge his death. She’s also upset because she though that Bernie knew nothing about magic or her life as a Shadowchaser. Now, she finds out that Bernie had been her handler and employed by the Commission.

Khefar is four thousand years old Nubian warrior and he wants his dagger back. He’s immortal after a fashion and he’s been fighting the darkness for a long time. He’s finally close to atoning for his deeds and finding rest. But in order to do that, he has to get his dagger back and get back to work. His guide is a wraith called Nansi.

As an Indiana Jones fan, I loved the concept of the book. However, Shadow Blade isn’t really similar to the movies. The people stay in the same area instead of traveling all of the world, raiding tombs. But, there’s plenty of excitement in the book. There are some pretty intense fight scenes between Kira and demons, especially near the end. There are also some secrets and mysteries to discover.

Kira herself is a typical tough gal UF heroine. She dislikes her closest supervisor who tries to limit Kira’s actions and tie her more to a desk than a motorcycle. However, I liked it that her powers have personal drawbacks. She can’t eat food that is made by anyone else and is a strict vegetarian. Since she can’t touch another person, she’s had only one lover in her life and they had just one weekend when her lover gave her a potion that neutralized her powers. (Although, I found it really hard to believe that Kira never wondered where that potion had come from or tried to get more herself.) When Kira notices that she can touch Khefar without killing him, she’s naturally drawn to him.

She’s somewhat worried about the state of her soul because battling Shadow creatures puts her near magics which can corrupt her.

Khefar has surprisingly modern attitudes but of course, he’s lived through history and has had to change with the times. He’s atoning for the horrible things he’s done in the past. Before he became immortal, he had wife and kids, but has no problems having a relationship now. Also, when he dies, there are certain conditions that have to be fulfilled or he dies forever which makes the process more interesting and might make a good plot twist in a sequel.

Their relationship starts perhaps a bit too quickly but at least Khefar isn’t an arrogant asshole.

I really liked the supporting cast. Kira’s best friend, Wynne Marlowe, is a metalworker and a witch. She and her husband are Kira’s backup, too, and they know about the Commission even though they aren’t on the Commission’s payroll. Khefar’s guide Nansi is a fun character who looks like an old black man. He likes to cook and party, and seems to have an agenda of his own. Then there’s the psychic vampire Dimaas (spelling?) who owns the bar DMZ where people, and creatures, both from the side of Light and Shadow can party together. Normal humans can also interact with non-humans there. Dimaas is one of Kira’s information sources and a shameless flirt. Kira’s foster mother Balm is a mysterious figure. She doesn’t tell anyone about her past, or even her real name, and Kira is determined to find out who Balm is. However, it’s clear that Balm cares for Kira deeply.

There’s a lot of Egyptian mythology in the book. Kira follows Ma’at: she prays to her and has her altar in her house. Khefer is the follower of the goddess Isis. I love Egyptian mythology.

The world has at least two types of magic: Light Magic which the good people use and Shadow Magic which apparently smells of chaos and evil. Normal people can’t sense magic at all. The Fallen don’t have their own bodies but instead need a human host. However, they have half-breed demons and Shadow Magic workers on their side.

Johnson is a good reader. She uses different voices with different characters. However, her reading pace is unhurried which might make some listeners impatient. To my surprise, it made me pay more attention to the reading (I usually do other things while listening a audio book so sometimes I get distracted). With Nansi and some other characters, she uses a little bit of slang (which I presume is in written in) and a intonations that I associate with black people. (I don’t live in English speaking country, so I don’t have much personal experience with spoken English.)

All in all, this was a entertaining read and I will be getting the sequel where we’ll hopefully get an established couple

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