Omens by Kelley Armstrong

Omens by Kelley ArmstrongOmens by Kelley Armstrong
Narrator: Carine Montbertrand, Mozhan Marno
Series: Cainsville #1
Published by Penguin Audio on 8/20/13
Genres: Urban Fantasy

 

Story: B+
Narration: B+

Publisher’s Blurb:

Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.

Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

Quick Review:

I really enjoyed this audiobook – not in the “jump up and down when you finish it and shout about it from the rooftops” way but in that calmer “why are these characters still running around in my brain a week later? I think I better listen to it again and hey, it was just as good the second time” kind of way. There was one particular shift (to my mind) in how things developed that left me momentarily adrift but the writing is solid, the characters are interesting, the story is nicely layered, and I sense there’s a lot more to look forward to in this series. The narration was very good and the primary narrator excelled at chewing the syntax in a way that completely individualized all the characters and allowed me to immediately sink into the audio experience.

My Thoughts:

In the early minutes of the story, we find Olivia Taylor Jones at a dinner party with her fiancé. Clearly wealthy, educated, privileged and seeming to have it all, I wasn’t sure what was going to be of interest in her storyline but in no time at all I was hooked by the both the construction of her character and the way in which the events leading up to her adoption were gradually uncovered. Symptomatic of how involved I became in the story and how complete of a character Liv seemed to me: I have never in my life wanted so badly to crawl into an audiobook and chastise a group of people in defense of the protagonist as I did while listening to this one. Early on, Liv is beset by the press while at her mother’s house and I was absolutely infuriated by their behavior. Then I reminded myself they were fictional characters and felt a little silly… but they were obnoxious!

As Liv begins digging into her biological parents’ background, she ends up forming a working relationship with her mother’s ex-lawyer, Gabriel Walsh. He’s an interesting character in that I found him very likable but he’s also completely self-interested. As more of his background is revealed, that becomes understandable but the portion of character arc (or perhaps it’s just reveal) that takes place over the course of the book is tantalizing. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Liv and Gabriel. I don’t know if there will end up being romantic elements there but if so, we’re in for a very slow build-up to it. I think that’s part of why these characters are sticking around in my head: just like real people, they had a life before each other, they have separate interests when they’re together, and they have an organic push/pull relationship that could go anywhere or nowhere. It isn’t that other books I’ve read don’t have fully-formed characters, it’s just that there are often far too many parallelisms in their personalities, mythos, or experiences to make them completely realistic.

There were a lot of structural things I liked about this book: the slow reveal about Cainsville and its origins, the mechanics of how Liv ended up there, the introduction of supporting characters with enough background to make them interesting and well-integrated to the story but not distracting, the gradual peeling back of layers regarding Liv’s seemingly supernatural abilities (although that was a very low key aspect to the story and it felt more normal than paranormal overall), the plotting decision to address just one of the three murders Liv’s biological parents were accused of as the main investigation in the book, and more. The point at which I hit a wall, though, was rather abrupt.

The events that led Liv to Cainsville felt like Tetris pieces falling into place and many of the events that took place there also gave the impression of things clicking into place; even though I couldn’t see the overall design, I liked how it was shaping up. As the action started rising and we hit the climax of the core story/investigation that drove the book forward, it was like I’d been watching red and blue blocks falling neatly into place but the picture that was suddenly revealed when it was over was flowing lines painted in various yellows (this analogy would work better if there were more than three primary colors because I don’t want to imply the resolution was monochromatic) and the disconnect in how it resolved vs. how it started building was problematic for me because it didn’t feel like a plot twist, it felt like the story going off the tracks a bit. I liked both parts/concepts on their own, they just seemed like slightly different stories to me. One positive aspect to that, however, is that I still have a sense of a vast number of stories and underlying mythologies that are yet to be explored.

There are books that strike you as wildly inventive or incredibly fast-paced and exciting and it’s pretty easy for me, when I finish one of those, to point out all the showy bits that made it a great book. Then there are books that just seem layered or dense (not in a lit-fic-y way) or that leave you with an emotionally tangible sense of the characters that lingers as if they were real people and had infinite future possibilities for their lives. Omens falls into the latter category for me and I often find it difficult to rate or review books like that because my logical brain is telling me . o 0(Where are the elegant turns of phrases that merit a high rating? The wildly inventive world-building? What about that slap-in-the-face to your expectations in the last 1/8th of the book?) while the other side of my brain is mooning around about . o 0(Those reporters were so effin’ obnoxious. Don’t they know they can’t do that?! I hope Liv and Gabriel hook up; he’s adorable in an oddly semi-sociopathic way. I bet when he falls for her he’s going down hard. Do you think Peter is a [redacted]? What’s up with Liv and those creepy omens?) Sometimes that’s an artifact from listening to the audiobook version: a well narrated book puts real voices to the characters and I engage with the text on a deeper level. Sometimes there’s something in the story or character that resonates with my personal experience and adds depth to my read. In this case, I think those were factors but all-in-all it’s just a well-written book with a lot of detail woven in and I’m really looking forward to the next one.

The Narration:

This was a dual narration with Carine Montbertrand performing the majority of the story from the first person perspective of Liv and Mozhan Marno delivering short segments interspersed throughout from multiple characters’ perspectives. Both narrators delivered strong performances.

I really liked the way Ms. Montbertrand chewed over the syntax and committed all her energy to each sentence without sounding artificial or too dramatic. She does one of my favorite narrative things: leverages the timing in sentence and individual word delivery in a very natural way. She weights some words with preceding or following pauses (not obnoxiously long ones – realistic ones you would do yourself when speaking) and doesn’t deliver each word with metronomic pacing but draws some out for emphasis. As a related performance trait, she individualizes characters by giving them differing phrasing styles or cadences. When that kind of real-life conversational feel to a story is combined with strong character differentiation and backed by an emotionally invested performance, my opinion on whether the voice sounds age-appropriate or is, in and of itself, aurally pleasing becomes almost irrelevant. Although the emotional content throughout was conveyed nicely, the character of Rose has some zinger lines and I particularly enjoyed the way the humor was delivered with delightful matter-of-factness.

The short third person sections assigned to Ms. Marno contributed to the overall strong narration. She has a very pleasing timbre to her voice and her character differentiation and pacing is very good. I think I would have been equally satisfied with either narrator as the primary.

Although I was happy with both narrators, I am curious about the production decision to a) use two narrators and b) select women for both narrators. The primary narrator should obviously be a woman since it’s Olivia’s first person perspective but the alternating third person viewpoints vary between women and men and include a bit of Gabriel’s perspective which, I would think, would be better served by contrasting Liv’s portions with a male voice. In addition, there’s a section of the third person narration where Olivia speaks and the difference in voices for the same person is jarring. Of note, the alternating perspective contains the only description of Olivia’s voice (contralto) and that’s what we get. I have zero musical/vocal experience but I’m pretty sure the primary narration doesn’t give her a contralto voice. While that has nothing to do with the overall quality of the narration, it was one of those discrepancies that was oddly jarring for a moment when it came up.

A few other niggling issues were present. In particular, I was struck by was how audible the narrators’ breaths were…for both narrators. That seemed particularly odd to me and makes me wonder how much of that was an editing decision to leave natural (non-character) breaths in. I also noticed several sections with a lot of thuds – as if the microphone was being bumped – and there were some pronunciations that struck me as inaccurate such as “eschew” as “as KEW” (yes, that’s technically third in the M-W list of pronunciations but I’m making an argument against using less common pronunciations when it’s a homophone with another word), “femoral” as “FEE moral” and “sociopathy” as  “socio PATHY.”

None of the negatives listed above were particularly detracting to the performance but they were momentarily distracting. Overall, the quality of the performances make audio the way to go with this one.

Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks

Tempting Danger by Eileen WilksTempting Danger by Eileen Wilks
Narrator: Full Cast
Series: World of the Lupi #1
Published by GraphicAudio on 6/1/2013
Genres: Romance, Urban Fantasy

 

Book: B
Performance: B

The Plot:

A bold new world where the magical and mundane co-exist in an uneasy alliance–and a cop balanced on her own knife-edged struggle is their only hope against a cold-blooded killer.

Lily Yu is a San Diego police detective investigating a series of grisly murders that appear to be the work of a werewolf. To hunt down the killer, she must infiltrate the clans. Only one man can help her–a were named Rule Turner, a prince of the lupi, whose charismatic presence disturbs Lily. Rule has his own reasons for helping the investigation–reasons he doesn’t want to share with Lily. Logic and honor demand she keep her distance, but the attraction between them is immediate and devastating-and beyond human reason. Now, in a race to fend off evil, Lily finds herself in uncharted territory, tested as never before, and at her back a man who she’s not sure she can trust.

This review contains spoilers only to the extent of what you would find if you read the blurbs for the next books in the series.

My Thoughts:

Listening to this graphic audio production was something of an experiment for me: in the past I’ve stayed away from any and all full-cast productions – especially those with sound-effects – because I dislike them…except, it would seem, for when I don’t. *sheepish look*

Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks was a book I had read before and I enjoy the World of the Lupi series. It’s one of the few series I read whose main couple are married for most of the books and, like J.D. Robb’s Eve and Roarke, the conflict that drives the stories is primarily external with a nice splash of realistic relationship issues here and there. Re-listening to Lily’s introduction to Rule over the murder investigation that kicks off the story was almost like experiencing the book for the first time because of the style of the production.

One of the things I like about the world that Wilks has created is that even after working my way through a glutted market of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal books containing werewolves and demons and their own mythology, it still manages to seem fresh. Part of that is because the books have a solid real-world feel in terms of the dynamics of character relationships, Lily’s police job and the procedural elements in play, and the political machinations that take place and when the more fantastic elements are layered over that foundation, it makes for solid and relatable world-building. This series also manages to take my least favorite PNR thematic element – fated mates – and make it not just palatable but an integral and enjoyable part of the series. It helps that the characters act rationally about it and there’s no “I must treat you badly because I can’t resist you” dynamic in play.

Structurally, the murder mystery is the primary focal point although Rule and Lily’s growing relationship adds a nice romantic element as well. Between the two primary protagonists, we get alternating views and I really like that split perspective. The peripheral characters are very well drawn and one of the areas in which Wilks excels in this series is integrating a large cast of characters and seamlessly weaving in multiple story-lines without confusing the reader.

The prejudice the lupi experience and the ways in which that complicates Lily’s investigation, the lupi hierarchy, family conflicts between Rule and his brothers and father, the resentment Lily experiences from some of her fellow police officers, the spiritual divide between Lily and Rule, the construct of magic systems and who has which abilities… there were just a lot of elements that blended together nicely to make this well-rounded story and I recommend it.

The Performance:

My initial thought was that the casting for this audiobook was excellent and while that is undoubtedly true, the vocal skills of each voice actor were uniformly strong, so credit where credit’s due. From the perspective of getting to hear realistic dialogue, well-delivered emotional content, and strong performances, I was entirely pleased. I did have to adjust to Lily’s voice. Her character was delivered well but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. Her voice was strong, tough, and typically West/Mid-west in inflection and intonation and I think I was expecting her Chinese mother and grandmother to have had more influence on her inflections. I don’t have any text-based reason for the disconnect, just my mental expectations as a reader. Rule, Cullen, Lily’s grandmother…well, the rest of the cast, really, completely met my expectations vocally.

There’s a pretty broad cast of characters who get more page time than might be expected and the full-cast production works well to highlight that. That’s definitely one thing a full-cast production has going for it: the ability to present the listener with perfect voices regardless of age, gender, background, etc. I’ll still never like music underlying the voices in my audiobooks and during kissing scenes the heavy breathing was little loud and the smacking sounds were annoying (if I never again hear the sound effect of someone slurping coffee, it will be too soon) but those ended up being minor quibbles because I enjoyed this production to a surprising degree and immediately moved on to the second one.

I was intrigued by several aspects of the production. I don’t know that I would call it abridged so much as I would call it an adaptation. Having read the book, I had it on hand to compare to the performance and while certain things were omitted, it was more along the lines of descriptions of things that were given voice through sound effects. I was more surprised by the way dialogue was altered slightly with similar wording inserted in place of what was actually written – almost as a person might accidentally do while reading aloud. The story remains wholly intact, though.

Overall an enjoyable audiobook that, if you’re like me and tend to avoid audio dramas, just might change your mind on that. One thing that really assisted me in making a decision about whether or not to buy this audio was the fact that GraphicAudio has an extended sample available on SoundCloud so I’m linking to it here:

 

 

Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

Loyalty by Ingrid ThoftLoyalty by Ingrid Thoft
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Published by Penguin Audio on 6/18/13
Genres: Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
three-stars

Story: C+
Narration: B+

Quick Review:

A feisty PI, dysfunctional family dynamics, good narration by Rebecca Soler, and a plot that moves along nicely make this a decent, if not groundbreaking, listen.

The Plot:

Josefina “Fina” Ludlow quit law school and became an investigator in her family’s law firm. The firm focuses on personal injury claims and has made its fair share of enemies in the police department so when Fina’s brother, Rand, becomes a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, not only will Fina have to untangle a web of family secrets, she’ll have to do it while racing to beat a hostile police detective to the truth.

My Thoughts:

Loyalty is constructed of two different story-lines that eventually converge into one. The astute listener (which was not me, in this case) will quickly see at what point they are likely to intersect but the story is engaging and well-paced enough to keep both the clue-solver and the clueless listener involved.

Fina’s father and her three brothers are all lawyers in the family firm but Fina flunked out of law school. In punishment, her father set her to working her way through various jobs at the firm and she found her place (and a mentor and true father-figure) with the firm’s private investigator. She lives at her (deceased) grandmother’s condo and splits her affections between her friend (with benefits) and massage therapist, Milloy, and her friend (with benefits) and inside source at the cop shop, Christian. She maintains contacts in various professions and social strata of Boston – including among the criminal element – and utilizes them when working a case. As she leverages some of them, it becomes clear that Fina’s investigation is seriously irritating someone because they keep trying to kill her or beat her up.

I like a tough PI protagonist as much as the next reader but the combination here struck me as somewhat awkward at times. Sure, Fina was more than willing to take a swing at a bad guy but she spent a lot of time collecting bruises from being run off the road or punched in the face to discourage her investigation. Then, when she confronts some of her more questionable contacts face-to-face (where her primary threats seem to be “I have a gun” or “don’t make me come back here a second time”) she strikes fear into their hearts? I felt that was more “tell” than a pattern of “show” in terms of how tough Fina is.

Fina loves her family but her father is forceful and controlling and she struggles to balance her desire to please him with how she wants to live her life and what she thinks is right. This sets up a nice internal conflict for Fina to accompany the external conflict of the search for her missing sister-in-law, although I would have enjoyed a deeper look into the dynamics there. The steps Fina goes through to track down her sister seemed logical and grounded, in contrast to many mysteries that rely too heavily on coincidence. Boston is the setting for the story but my sense of the city as a character came strictly from the accents used in the narration rather than atmospheric descriptions in the text.

I was slightly bothered by the fact that most of the adversaries Fina encountered in her investigation were categorized as physically unattractive: possessing cleavage that probably had to be “excavated for crumbs” at the end of the day (Lt. Pitney), or fat (multiple characters) and balding (Mark), or egregiously unfashionably dressed (multiple)  in contrast to the Ludlow’s fashionable attire and Fina’s beauty, rapid metabolism, and athletic nature. It’s a simplified bad guy vs. good guy shorthand characterization that limited the dimensions of the story for me.

It took a while for the story to get going, not because it was poorly paced but because none of the characters are particularly likable so I needed a better understanding of what their motivations were and how the plot pieces were going to start to twining together before I could sink into the story. The plot winds up to a very strong climax and Fina’s internal conflict as she finally uncovers all the components of her sister-in-law’s disappearance and how her family will be affected was particularly engaging.

The Narration:

I’ve enjoyed Rebecca Soler’s performances in the past (most notable with Cinder) and this audiobook was no exception. She does an excellent job encapsulating Fina’s personality and easily transitions between characters with distinctive changes in tone, accent, and pitch. The accents were well done: typical American, Boston-specific accents used intermittently (among the characters, not within the same character), light Hispanic, and a couple of nicely done mild Southern drawls. She conveys the bored teenager with aplomb while moving into the domineering patriarch with equal skill. Her pacing was good and overall, the production was very clean.

It didn’t get a perfect grade from me because a) I’m starting to prefer slightly more natural-sounding narrative and b) the reactive nature of the dialogue between characters, while good, still felt somewhat as if each character was recorded in their entirety and then another had all their lines recorded and… you get the point. This was certainly not the case but that impression was caused by every character having very smooth and consistent pacing in their dialogue with no breaks or leveraging of pauses to really humanize and individualize the characters as well as the presence of an almost metronomic regularity in conversational “call and response.” Overall, it was still a good narration that should suit any listener.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Penguin Audio via the audiobookjukebox.com Solid Gold Reviewer program.

three-stars

Going Public…in Shorts – with Guest Xe Sands

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As part of the June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) celebration this year, not only am I hosting today’s Going Public… in Shorts! blog hop, I also had a chance to sit down for a recorded (virtual) chat with narrator Xe Sands to talk about reviewing, being reviewed,  and a bunch of other stuff including questions sent our way by you. First, a bit about the terrific Going Public… in Shorts! project:

 

June is Audiobook month (JIAM 2013). The audiobook community is giving back by teaming with the Going Public Project and offering a serialized audio story collection. All proceeds will go to Reach Out and Read, a literacy advocacy organization. Throughout June, one to two stories will be released each day on the Going Public blog and on author/book blogs. The story will be free (online only – no downloads) for one week. In collaboration with Blackstone Audio, all the stories will be available for download via Downpour. The full compilation will be ready June 30th. The full schedule of the story release dates and narrators can be found at Going Public.

 

Are you ready for 59 (!) minutes of narrator/reviewer chat? We’re talking about narrators approaching reviewers about constructive criticism, how an author/narrator/small publisher can get their audiobooks into the hands (ears) of reviewers, how narrators handle singing in an audiobook (and what is with music in audiobooks?!), who is responsible for editing and error checking and why the producer or director isn’t mentioned in reviews, thoughts on switching narrators mid-series and a whole lot more. For your convenience, comment flags are placed at each question or topic change. You can also access this chat directly on SoundCloud.

 

 

Congratulations to question contributor Mitzi, who won her choice of a gift of any Audible.com audiobook or a downloadable copy of the Going Public… in Shorts! compilation. E-mail me at oddiophile@theoddiophile.com or I’ll be in touch.

 

Now it’s time for Xe Sands’ reading of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and the bonus author commentary “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper.” The audio will be freely available online for a week but please consider supporting Reach Out and Read by purchasing a downloadable copy from Downpour.com or you can buy the complete Going Public…in Shorts! compilation.

 

 

Xe Sands

Xe Sands is a multiple AudioFile Earphones Award winner known for her authentic characterizations and intimate delivery. She has more than a decade of experience bringing stories to life through narration, performance, and visual art, including recordings of Magnificence by Lydia Millet, The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro, and Is This Tomorrow, by Caroline Leavitt. Sands has also been recognized for her engaging romance narrations, and was named Most Impressive Narrator Discovery for titles such as Catch of the Day, by Kristan Higgins, and On Thin Ice, by Anne Stuart.

 

Don’t forget, it’s a blog hop!

There’s a bonus Going Public… in Shorts entry today with Kyle Munley at Emily’s Reading Room

Yesterday, Amy Rubinate was at Miss Susie’s Reading & Observations and tomorrow, John McLain will be at Narrator Reviews

 

Engineering and Mastering for Going Public… in Shorts! are provided by Jeffrey Kafer and SpringBrook Audio. Graphic design provided by f power design and published by Blackstone Audio. Project coordination and executive production by Xe Sands

 

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

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Denizens of the Interwebz! (Or at least those of you who found your way to this post.) Question-Mark-NaughtHave you ever wanted to ask an audiobook narrator a question? Have you ever wanted to ask an audiobook reviewer a question? Now is your chance. Friday, June 28th is my day to host the fabulous Going Public… in Shorts! project. I’ll be highlighting the entry by Xe Sands, the project’s mastermind, but before you listen to her recording of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, you can listen to us as we sit down to chat about anything and everything, starting with a knock-down drag-out… er, recorded conversation… about reviewing and being reviewed.

If you’d like to throw a question or topic into the mix, send it our way by 1:00 pm Pacific time (GMT -7) on Wednesday, June 26th.  Post it in the comments below, e-mail it to me at Oddiophile@theoddiophile.com, DM me on Twitter (@Oddiophile) or somehow make your curiosity known. We’ll pick from your responses and fire-up a conversation about those topics. If we select your question/topic to chat about, you’ll be eligible to win either a copy (digital download) of the Going Public…in Shorts! compilation or be gifted an Audible.com audiobook of your choice (region restrictions may apply). We’ll draw one random winner on 6/28/13.

“Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the…” audiobook questions!