Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Deadlocked by Charlaine HarrisDeadlocked by Charlaine Harris
Narrator: Johanna Parker
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #12
Published by Recorded Books on 5/1/12
Genres: Fantasy

Story: C+
Narration: A-

Quick Review:

The title of this entry in the Sookie Stackhouse series sums up my feelings. Although I liked it better than the previous book, I get the feeling these books have become a bit deadlocked on moving forward. I keep waiting for an exciting plot, further world development, and/or a character arc explosion and Ms. Harris seems to just be waiting with the pacing. It was a pleasant listen and Johanna Parker’s voice now completely embodies these characters for me but it lacked the excitement and rapidly changing events that hooked me on this series originally.

The Plot:

Publisher’s Summary:

“With Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), in town, it’s the worst possible time for a body to show up in Eric Northman’s front yard—especially the body of a woman whose blood he just drank.

Now, it’s up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl’s fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who’s out to make Sookie’s world come crashing down.”

My Thoughts:

The story begins with a pretty interesting little mystery: who is behind the attempt to set up Eric for murder and are they also trying to break up Eric and Sookie and why? Although that question was answered, it felt like the book started off well, took a detour in the middle to follow Sookie around as she dealt with her friends and relatives and normal life, and then picked up again near the end as the mystery reached a resolution. Sookie’s love for Eric, while still steady, seems to be losing a bit of its shine as she is faced again and again with his practical decision making and the violence that surrounds him. Sookie herself is becoming hardened and throughout this book she just seems tired of all the things going on in her life. That made it hard for me to not feel tired of the slow progression of this story. Her job at Merlotte’s is back to its usual routine although she has a little more decision making power and responsibility because of her loan to Sam.

Sookie’s fairy relatives Claude and Dermot are still living with her and it’s on this front that the second piece of conflict in the story begins. With the closing of the portals to Faery, the otherworldly employees of Hooligans strip club are getting restless and when Claude abandons them to go back into Faery with Niall (fairy prince and Sookie’s great-grandfather) in an effort to investigate who cursed Dermot years ago, their unrest increases. Several are drawn to Sookie’s house and begin hunting in her woods while Dermot tries to manage the business and employees in Claude’s absence.

While that plot bubbles away on the back burner, the Queen of Louisiana pays Sookie a visit to size up the competition for Eric’s hand. A quick encounter and Sookie is back to her everyday routine. There’s some progress in the peripheral characters as babies are born and marriages are announced. I was expecting the visit from Felipe de Castro to turn into a critical event as Eric and Sookie dealt with the repercussions of killing his regent, Victor, but that never materialized and Felipe mostly seemed to fade away. If this all sounds a bit disjointed, it’s just symptomatic of a book that never seemed to really hit its stride with any of the plot threads until the very end, when it was too late to effectively capture my interest. I’ve gradually been losing my interest in this series and was almost ready to give up after the last book so I wasn’t crushed by the recent announcement that the final book will be released next year. I’ll be buying it but just to see how the whole story wraps up for these characters that I’ve followed along with for years.

The Narration:

Johanna Parker brings the expected performance to this installment of the series, which is to say – a very good one. She seems to effortlessly capture the voices and personalities of the large cast of characters and transitions with ease between the varied accents, cadences, inflections, and male/female pitch changes without ever leaving the listener behind or confused. The narration unfailingly provides a moment-by-moment sense of “the here and now” and it’s easy to sink into Sookie’s experiences because of that.

Caleb by Sarah McCarty

Caleb by Sarah McCartyCaleb by Sarah McCarty
Narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Series: Shadow Wranglers #1
Published by Tantor Media on 9/27/11
Genres: Paranormal, Romance

Full disclosure: DNF (50%)
Book: D+
Narration: B

I’ve read another book by this writer
Full of cowboys and writing that seemed tighter
“Pretty good” was my thought
“With a decent enough plot”
“I’ll try again if I want something lighter”

Since audio is surely my bent
And I had credits that languished unspent
I thought to try something new…
I should have checked a review
I’m disgruntled and now need to vent

The cowboys in this one are all vampire
And the heroine is set to expire
Killed by the hero
When his willpower hit zero
And his brothers to save him did conspire

The brothers have the last name of Johnson
(If that’s meant to be a pun it’s a bad one)
With the quantity of sex
And all this biting of pecs
I keep looking for a plot but there is none

Allie only drinks life’s blood from Caleb
“I’m a damn vegetarian” – there’s the rub
So she drinks then they screw
And finally when they’re through
I start rethinking my rating of “Jacob”

Here I pause in plot summary of prose
Every scene has him slicing her clothes!
She never gets nicked
It’s just threads that get picked
She’ll run out and what if it snows!?

I take issue with a lack of continuity
And am finding a lot of incongruity
In the kitchen! Now the bed!
But perhaps I misread
‘Cause it happened with total ambiguity

Then there’s part where the words were unclear
His cock seemed to speak (made me sneer)
He’s quite jealous, growls of “mine”
. o O(It gets old) – yes, I whine.
Must PNR to this line all adhere?

But the part that made me frown in disgust?
He chided her for not restraining her bust
His brothers were riled
So he acted like a child
And accused her of rousing their lust

I can say I liked the narration
With pauses of just right duration
It couldn’t save the prose
But hey that’s how it goes
Some books just can’t buy salvation

In closing I’m forced to admit
To this audio I couldn’t commit
I got half-way through
But that horse threw a shoe
It and I as a match were unfit

Angels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon Shinn

Angels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon ShinnAngels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, Sharon Shinn
Narrator: Coleen Marlo, Justine Eyre, Renee Raudman
Published by Tantor Media on 10/4/11
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

This audio collection of novellas was a resounding success for me, even though it does not include one of the stories (Meljean Brook’s Ascension) found in the text version. That’s quite a coup considering I usually avoid short-story collections like the plague. All three novellas were very entertaining and the narrations ranged from good to very good.

 

Angel’s Wolf – Nalini Singh

Story: B-
Narration: B

The vampire Noel is sent to Louisiana by Raphael, the Archangel of New York. Nimra is the angel who holds Louisiana. Noel was brutally assaulted while working for Raphael and he assumes he has been sent to Louisiana because he is damaged goods. In reality, Nimra requested assistance after an attempt on her life that could only have come from within her court. The two seek the traitor and find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other along the way.

An entertaining novella set in the world of the Guild Hunter series, Angel’s Wolf is an enjoyable romance with a dash of intrigue. I was slightly disappointed at the overall construction of the character of Nimra because I felt there was a lack of consistency between her softer personality and the entire construction of angelic nature that Nalini Singh has developed but it did remain true the male/female dynamics that play out in this series. I actually enjoyed this story more than I did the last two full-length novels in the Guild Hunter world.

I’ve always thought Justine Eyre’s unique sound was ideally suited to giving voice to the tough guild hunters and remote and often cruel immortals who populate Singh’s world and she doesn’t disappoint with this novella. I initially stumbled over Nimra’s accent but ended up being swept into the story. The delivery of some unexpectedly subtle emotional cues capped off a strong narration.

 

Alphas: Origins – Ilona Andrews

Story: B+
Narration: B+

Karina is chaperoning a school field trip when she pulls off at a motel for a pit-stop. When she and her daughter are attacked before they can leave, she is “rescued” by a frightening creature and the group of men who accompany him. She is forced to make a bargain to save herself and her daughter and agrees to be a blood “donor” for Lucas, the creature who rescued her.

Sound like a semi-typical vampire or werewolf PNR-type story? Yeah, not so much and I’m glad of it because I really enjoyed this one. A heroine who makes realistic decisions in a fantastical situation, totally unsexy blood drinking, interesting power dynamics, intriguing semi-sci-fi world-building, a hero whose actions are understandable but not necessarily appealing, and some engaging psychological musings made this a world and characters I would love to read more of.

True confession moment: I’ve listened to Renee Raudman’s narration before (primarily with Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series) and in the back of my mind I’d think . o 0 (it’s OK but not at all my preferred style).  The fact that I would then go on to listen to the next in the series always puzzled me (I can be a bit slow). With her narration of this novella, I found myself having an entirely different experience. While not dissimilar to her presentation style in other audiobooks, it did come across to me as slightly more subdued and I think that made the difference. It also allowed me to finally identify why I could categorize Ms. Raudman in the “not for me” category but still listen or re-listen to books narrated by her: Renee Raudman simply excels at bringing the listener along on the journey of discovery. I become utterly convinced that events are happening as she reads them and neither she nor I have any idea of the outcome; we discover it together. Combine some well-portrayed humor and emotional content with that particular skill and I enjoyed this audio-novella tremendously. Clearly I need to rethink my categorization of this narrator.

 

Nocturne – Sharon Shinn

Story: B
Narration: B-

Moriah is a woman with secrets but when she encounters Corban, a blind angel, she is unwillingly drawn into helping him. Corban has spent the last two years angry, bitter, and in isolation after a tragic accident took his sight and his faith. When Moriah pushes her way into his life, he is forced to put aside his resentment and start living again.

I really like Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series and I enjoyed this chance to venture back into that world and spend some time with the well-rounded and realistic characters that people it. The romance is a slow-build and it’s really the character development and push-pull interaction between Moriah and Corban that draws and holds my interest.

While I find her voice very appealing, Ms. Marlo either has or employs a very distinct cadence and I found the primary barrier to my being fully immersed in the story the fact that both the narrative and every character had that speech pattern, which inhibits my ability to perceive a realistic differentiation between characters, despite very clear pitch differences. With that said, the narration was still good and there’s such a lovely sense of realism when Moriah voices her amusement that I found myself smiling in response, not just hearing the humor being voiced but feeling it as well.

Bonds of Justice by Nalini Singh

Bonds of Justice by Nalini SinghBonds of Justice by Nalini Singh
Narrator: Angela Dawe
Series: Psy-Changeling #8
Published by Tantor Media on 9/20/11
Genres: Paranormal, Romance

Story: B+
Narration: B+

Sophia Russo is a J- Psy (Justice) who has the ability to pull memories from people and project them to others. Max Shannon is a New York cop with a high case solve rate and natural mental shields that make him impervious to Psy mental manipulation. The two have crossed paths before but when they are both assigned to assist Psy Councilor Nikita Duncan in tracking down a killer in her organization, they are forced to confront the attraction between them. Both have emerged from very difficult childhoods with scars but both have also developed a tremendous inner strength and as they learn to open up to one another I found myself completely drawn in to the developing relationship between the two. The romance is nicely woven between the dual investigations taking place and, perhaps because it is a Psy/Human pairing rather than Psy/Changeling, has a very different feel than previous books in this series.

The romance angle and the threats to Councilor Duncan are only a part of the story. There is also a serial killer who is toying with Sophia and Max as he taunts both them and the justice system with offers to reveal where he has buried his past victims. Also in the mix is Sophia’s degenerating psychic shields (common to J – Psy, who tend to burn out early and need frequent “rehabilitation”), the ongoing political upheaval in the Psy Council, and a minor story-line regarding Max’s brother.

This is book eight in the Psy/Changeling series and it was a turning point for me in a couple of different ways. My initial enjoyment of this series had started to fade by book six but book eight really renewed my interest and started developing more over-arching series plot points.  Having read the entire series in paperback, I went to the audiobooks for a “re-read” and found that even some of the books I didn’t like as well as others took on new life and new enjoyment in audio form. I loved the first two audiobooks and liked the third but I had some issues with pauses in the narration in books four through seven. With book eight, I think Angela Dawe turns in her best narration of the series. Of course, this happens to be my second favorite book in this series so that helps too.

This book is also where I came to really appreciate the way that Nalini Singh juggles multiple suspense story lines, the political sub-plots, the primary romance, hints for future plot lines, and catching us up (briefly) with characters from previous books. There is a very seamless flow to the story lines and they all pull together nicely. This book also gave me some needed insight into Nikita’s feelings towards Sascha and this was the first time Kaleb Krychek hit my radar as a possible lead character for a later book.

Max and Sophia’s primary focus is the case they are working and there is a bit less (which isn’t to imply it’s not prevalent still) romance/sex in this one. That worked to solve one issue that I noticed after listening to the audiobooks in such close temporal proximity to one another – there is quite a bit of repetition in the phrasing used during the sex scenes.

Since I listened to this book on vacation, I had a lot of time to consider the narration of this book, especially since there seems to be a very distinct division in opinion regarding that. Plus, lots of driving time with my brain in neutral leads to lengthy reviews so….

I have enjoyed the narration for this series but, in part, I chalked that up to a preference for (or at least not a dislike of) more subdued narration. With this book I started to analyze other reasons I might find the audiobooks so successful at delivering the story and as I listened to Bonds of Justice, I realized that to make the Psy interesting to listen to, they have to be given a blunted affect, not the blank affect they are described as having. It would provide too great a contrast if the non-Psy characters were given dramatic voices so structurally, the narration is pretty well thought out. In addition, as we catch up with Lucas and Sascha in little snippets in this book, the growing increase in emotion in Sascha’s voice is rather delightful to hear.

I also found myself interested to note another characteristic of Angela Dawe’s narration. I could invariably tell when the sentence following a spoken line of dialogue was going to refer to the character’s voice as husky, or strained, or generally altered in some manner because the voice that was delivered was so distinctive in that characteristic. I actually found myself mentally composing that descriptive sentence each time the line of dialogue was ending. That seems a no-brainer because shouldn’t all dialogue be delivered with textual accuracy?  But it was so very ear-catching in this series. I think this is a reflection not just of a very tight adherence to textual voice descriptions but the fact that all other dialogue was managed primarily through a narrower than anticipated range of modulation and a more steady cadence of speech than normal, which I suspect has the effect of leaving some listeners unmoved by the narration.

My only qualm with the narration of this book is that at times, I found myself confusing Max and Sophia’s voices at the start of quiet dialogue between the two. This is because Sophia is given a slightly husky voice in a lower register but I really liked her voice so my ability to be confused is a minor quibble.

This was a very good audiobook and on the whole, I would recommend the series (excluding Mine To Posses) in audio format for a first read or a re-read.

Audiobook Review Speed Dating – September 2011

Damien DamienJacquelyn Frank; Narrator: Xe Sands;
Length: 11 hrs 4 mins
Tantor Media, Inc. 2011
WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

 

Speed dating notes:

“Oooh, this one is a hunk of hotness and he sure knows how to show a girl a good time. Take him home for the night but not to meet Mom. He won’t be good for a long term relationship”

Story: C+
Narration: B+

The Vampire Prince Damien has seen and done it all but when he rescues Lycanthrope Princess Syreena from the series-wide nemesis, sparks fly and his life becomes interesting again. Syreena has lived a constricted life as her sister’s heir and giving in to her attraction to Damien will have repercussion not just for the lycanthropes but for the entire Nightwalker world. A shift away from demons as the central characters keeps this fourth book in the series relatively fresh and lots of steam and very good narration by Xe Sands make up for phrasing and sentence structure that’s more convoluted than necessary.

 

Blaze of Memory Blaze of MemoryNalini Singh; Narrator: Angela Dawe
Tantor Media, Inc. 2011
Length: 11 hrs 25 mins
WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

 

Speed dating notes:

“Oh, honey. I’ve seen you here six times before tonight. I really think we’d be compatible but those unexpected pauses when you speak that started showing up with your fourth outing make me worry for your health. And now you’re yawning while talking to me? No wonder you’re looking for a match; someone needs to vet you before you leave the house.”

Story: B+
Narration: D+

When a Psy with amnesia is dropped on Dev Santos’ door, he suspects she’s a Trojan horse meant to destroy the Shine organization but distrust soon turns to passion. Will they win the race against the clock to solve the mystery of her past? I liked the story a lot and congratulations on being the first PNR to make me cry but my mad love for this audiobook series has waned as strange pauses in Angela Dawe’s narration started showing up, ruining what is otherwise enjoyable storytelling.

 

Flowers for Her Grave Flowers for Her GraveJudy Clemens; Narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Length: 8 hrs 55 mins
Blackstone Audio, Inc. 2011
WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

 

Speed dating notes:

“Not my usual type but there is just something about you…I can’t take my eyes off you. I forget about you between date nights but when I know you are going to show up I practically stalk you. Your tragic history and struggle to overcome your emotional scars keep me coming back. If we do hook up, though, you’re going to have to get rid of your buddy, Death”

Story: B
Narration: B+

Casey Maldonado is a woman on the run from her past. This third series installment finds Casey in Florida and assuming a new identity as fitness instructor Daisy Gray. As Casey slowly starts to heal from the death of her family, her relationship with her constant companion – Death – has altered. Still a contentious one, Casey and Death are now interacting more like friends rather than adversaries. Solving the mysterious death of a resident of the Flamingo apartments pulls Casey into a twisty mass of blackmail, jealousy, and secrets. I really enjoy this series although this book less so than the previous two. The theme of health/exercise/maintaining outward appearances was over-emphasized and struck a discordant note for a book where the motivations for the central mystery had nothing to do with that. Casey is a very sympathetic character and Death makes for an amusing diversion. I am glad to see Casey starting to heal and the ending makes me oh so anxious for book four. The narration has done nothing but improve as the series continues, especially in the delivery of male voices, and I enjoyed Tavia Gilbert’s delivery.