Fifth Victim by Zoë Sharp

Fifth Victim by Zoë SharpFifth Victim by Zoë Sharp
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Series: Charlie Fox #9
Published by Dreamscape Media on 1/12/12
Genres: Suspense

 

Story: B+
Narration: B-

When Parker Armstrong, head of the Armstrong Meyer close protection agency, is hired by Caroline Willner to provide bodyguard service for her daughter Dina, he assigns the job to Charlotte “Charlie” Fox. Charlie is English and ex-army and after her life was turned upside down and she was court-martialed she parlayed her uncanny marksmanship, hand-to-hand skills, and ability to react instinctively to a threat into a job as a bodyguard with help from her lover Sean Meyer. With Sean out of commission after events that took place in Fourth Day, Charlie is working solo guarding Dina as she flits among the other young people who exist in a bubble of unimaginable wealth on Long Island. Three recent kidnappings have everyone on edge and while Charlie’s job may be prevention, an attack on her principal followed by an attempt on her own life sends her on a desperate race to track and stop the kidnappers.

Zoë Sharp’s books all seem to follow a pattern in terms of how involved I become in them. For the first half, I find myself enjoying the story and interested in the set-up but at somewhere around 50% a switch always seems to get flipped and I enter “go-away-I-don’t-care-if-the-house-is-on-fire / sleep-who-needs-sleep?” territory. This book was no exception and probably qualifies as my favorite in the series. It works as a stand-alone but Charlie has a lot of baggage she’s worked through and has a well-written character arc so I would suggest starting from the beginning of the series if possible. As Charlie follows Dina on her usual circuit of parties and horse-back riding, the two establish an accord. In many ways, Dina is a young woman that reminds Charlie of what her life might have been like if she hadn’t set her sights on joining the army. While I wouldn’t call her feelings toward Dina maternal, in her usual practical manner she tries to guide/advise Dina on a personal level in addition to being on hand to foil an attempted kidnapping. The supporting characters are multi-dimensional, the “whodunit” is somewhat twisty, and the three plot lines (the close protection gig, Charlie’s relationship with Sean, and tying up some loose ends from the previous book) are adroitly woven into a cohesive tale with an ending that wrapped up the main story-line but left me wondering “what happens next!?” The action scenes are tightly paced and realistic (it’s refreshing to hear the terms magazine and round instead of clip and bullet) and the interaction between Parker and Charlie adds a nice bit of tension.

There were two aspects to the narration that I found challenging. In the “it’s not you, it’s me” category is the fact that when a narrator has a very distinctive voice/tone/vocal flutter, I have a difficult time sinking into the narration. I was also distracted by the English and New York accents, in part because up until this installment I’ve read hard-copy and had already created a voice for Charlie in my head and I struggled to reconcile my mental version of Charlie’s Cheshire accent with Justine Eyre’s interpretation. I did, however, reach a point in the narration where my buying into the accents or not became a moot point because what I was sold on was Justine Eyre’s ability to voice the core aspects of Charlie’s personality. Each character was given a unique voice and the pacing of the narration was excellent, particularly during action sequences.

This was a well-paced story with excellent action sequences and well-crafted characters who capture the reader’s interest. The narration is good although I suggest listening to a sample to ensure compatibility with your individual preferences.

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.

Infinite Days – Rebecca Maizel

Infinite Days – Rebecca MaizelInfinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Series: Vampire Queen #1
Published by Tantor Media on 8/25/10
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Book: C+
Narration: B-

I found the premise of this novel to be an interesting take (as over-used a phrase as that is) on vampire mythology and the YA paranormal genre and I wanted to like this book but in the end, I didn’t so much dislike it as it simply left me indifferent. It was a unique premise that ultimately failed me in the execution.

Lenah Beaudonte has been a vampire for just under 600 years and is the queen of the most powerful vampire coven in existence. In Maizel’s mythology, the vampire is a soulless being whose body has been sealed by black magic into an unchanging state. Emotions and senses for a vampire have narrowed down to acute vision, an enhanced sense of smell, and a sort of E.S.P. – all of which aid the vampire in hunting down prey. Their sense of touch is almost non-existent and a vampire’s emotional palette is limited to pain and suffering on a seemingly constant basis. After tiring of a life of endless pain and increasingly reckless behavior, Lenah learns her creator (a vampire named Rhode) has discovered the secret ritual for removing the vampire curse. She coerces him into performing the ritual for her and after a 100-year hibernation Lenah wakes up as a 16 year-old human. Rhode advises her to immerse herself in her reborn human existence and avoid anything that might bring her to the notice of her coven. Thus begins her life as a student at Wickham Boarding School with the requisite boyfriend, best friend, and mean girls included.

My primary frustration with this audiobook was that I didn’t feel enough narrative tension. Although the threat of discovery by Lenah’s coven is a thread introduced early on, it never becomes more than a vague possibility until about two hours before the end. Lenah herself has some interesting characteristics but only in an objective sense. I admired the creepiness factor of Lenah habitually identifying the location and quality of the veins in the people she first meets as a human but only in a . o 0(that was a nice perspective for the author to include) manner rather than being actually creeped out. With little in the way of the vampire mythology or world-building revealed until the end, I had to rely solely on engaging with the characters in the story and I had a distinct lack of empathy, sympathy or connection of any kind with them because with the exception of Lenah, they are almost all cardboard cut-outs with little to no background information or insight into their thoughts or daily life. The only other character with a somewhat fleshed-out background turned out not to be the love interest and faded away for the middle of the story.

Lenah’s relationship with Justin, the hunky and wealthy LaCrosse player that every girl on campus admires, didn’t give me a warm romantic glow or even a hot sexy blaze.  Other than his having three brothers, nice parents, and love of adrenaline, I know nothing about him. I didn’t get any real idea as to what draws him so strongly to Lenah or why a girl/woman with 592 years of life experience is so entranced by this young man/boy.  I know the intent was to make the attraction on Lenah’s part tied in to how Justin has the ability to bring out her human side and the reduction of Lenah’s vampire senses as her humanity asserted itself made for a nice plot construct but the descriptions of the events that trigger these changes (bungee jumping and the single sex scene in the book) didn’t convey a sense of excitement, wonder, or life-changing drama.

I should reiterate that although I mostly have complaints about this book, it isn’t a bad book: It just didn’t reach me on anything other than an analytical level which is not what I look for in my entertainment listening. I did find that the last two hours of the story really picked up the pace and held my interest. Danger, a new location, a bit more emotional insight into Lenah and a greater knowledge of her coven helped engage me but by then it was too late to save my overall impression of the book.

I’ve experienced Justine Eyre’s narration skills previously with Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series and enjoyed it immensely. I initially thought this an odd match between narrator and genre/book and I still feel it was not the ideal casting choice. I’ve always felt that the tenor of Ms. Eyre’s  voice is more suited to mature characters and in one respect that worked surprisingly well for Lenah, given her 500+ years of existence and experience. Where it didn’t succeed for me was in the moments of Lenah’s great life-changing events. The vocal inflections she gives Lenah at each one was more “how odd that happened” rather than conveying any real sense of awe or transformation.  In addition, I often heard a tone of ennui in Lenah’s voice which again, was appropriate for the character given her history but which also aggravated my sense of disconnection with the character. Lenah’s English accent worked well for me although I had an unintentional moment of amusement when Lenah was describing light emanating from her palms. She described it as shining from her very pores which, with the English accent, sounded like “paws” and I found myself wondering when we had switched from vampires to werewolves. Not a bad narration but, to my mind, miscasting.