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Ronald Shaw

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Tallow Jones, Blood Trail: An Urban Fantasy Detective Novel  audiobook cover art
  • Tallow Jones, Blood Trail: An Urban Fantasy Detective Novel
  • Wizard of Mysteries, Book 2
  • By: Trevor H. Cooley
  • Narrated by: TJ Clark

You Can't Go Home Again

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-12-19

First of all, it must be said that although this book and this series are good enough story-wise to stand on their own, this book series is a branch off (or continuation) of the Bowl of Souls series by the same author. As such it contains many strange and wondrous things that may leave the audience scratching their heads, if they, like me have never read the prior series and thus have little to no context or reference for many of the creatures, concepts, and social structure that the book presents. In that way however the audience can greatly empathize with the supporting characters who know nothing of the trials and tribulations of the main character, nor how skilled nor important he is in and to the other world and the people that come from there.

At one point in the book the main character makes a self deprecating comment that he sometimes slips into a droning, sleep-inducing tone of an academic lecturer without realizing it. Unfortunately, the narrator also seems to slip into this tone several times as he is explaining creatures or locations. Conversely the narrator can change voices well enough to showcase the different characters.

In this installment, the audience can see two contradicting sides of Tallow, one as he tries to return to a 'normal life' and the other as he is frustrated with those around him, who not only do not know what is going on, nor how to handle it, but also they do not believe that he does know what is going on and either how to handle it, or at least can come up with a reasonable plan for handling it. Further in the few instances when his friends and family do encounter someone who knows of Tallow's prestige, the do not believe them either, nor do they understand the awe or derision that Tallow is met with by those in the know. Through the course of the book however they begin to see the true skill and character of Tallow. It will be interesting to see how the character's reputation and perceived skill continue to grow.

Freehaven Online: Dragonsbane audiobook cover art

Social Gaming Changes Lives

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-19-19

First of all, it has taken me nearly a year to write this review, mainly because I did not want to relive the VERY accurate emotions that the characters and themes made me look at. Even while listening, I had to stop to regain my composure several times. The book itself examines many things with a great deal of nuance and evocative character choices. However there are three main themes in particular.

1) What do you do with the online social media and game accounts of a friend or family member who has died? What happens to all of their friends and "community building" efforts, and in the case of gaming, the assets that they collected?

2) How does Virtual Reality change both gaming and the real world?

3) Are there people who would choose to escape into the game if they could, leaving "real life" and all of it's hardships for a reality where they can be what they always dreamed of? What reasons would drive a person to want to escape so badly? Are those reasons good enough?

The narrator is fantastic, although she does not rely on a varied vocal cast as some narrators do, she never the less makes each character distinct and her rhythm and cadence are such that immersion into the book becomes easy.

Like most LitRPGs this book focuses on gamer culture and terminology, as such gamers reading / listening will find many familiar and perhaps funny references, locations, and stereotypes. However this author's writing style is fluid enough and explanatory enough that non-gamer listeners will not feel excluded or like they're missing something. Thankfully, at least in my opinion, this book, unlike many LitRPGs does not over-focus on the game interface and the minutia of using game abilities and leveling up. Some readers find such things informative, but for me they are immersion breaking when interjected too often. Despite, or perhaps because of the truly excruciating levels of pain that this book inspires, it is amazing for its detail, story, and narration and I can't wait to get the next one.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Keeping Hope Alive audiobook cover art

It's in the Little Things

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-13-19

I read this book some months ago, unfortunately however it took me a while to get to this review. Yet many of the scenes and details of the book are still vivid in my mind, especially the ones that I missed, that is how powerful this book is. The author uses many themes such as family cohesion, family dysfunction, extreme mental health conditions and recovery to both obscure and support the main story.

The narrator does well with keeping up with both the varied cast, and the quick changes that the author employs. Sometimes the pace is so rapid that voice nuance becomes a necessity for the listener to understand the emotions of each character.

One needs to pay careful attention with this book. The author is a master at laying out key details and then hiding them by distracting the reader with quick scene and pace changes. I was pleasantly shocked that it took me all the way until 'the reveal' to realize the answers to the questions of the main story were all given long before that point and that I had missed them (usually I can figure out such puzzles near the beginning such that most modern mystery books are somewhat boring to me). Thus only a careful reader can spot the hidden clues before the end. Further, the ending itself has such a twist that the reader (at least myself) will be begging for more.

Playing With You audiobook cover art

A New Start?

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-29-19

This book includes threads of many common themes: Trying to leave the past behind, trying to start in a new place or start-up a new place, new relationships, rivalries, and obsession. The unexpected views and approaches that the characters take with these themes makes the story fresh and surprising.

The narrator is put to the test with this book, being a male voice and having to deal with several intense, emotional, and nuanced conversations between two of the female main characters is difficult, but as always this narrator's performance shows many varied voices and is excellent.

This book being the 5th book in the series was my first introduction to it. However, even though many of the characters have history, the focus of this book makes it easy to read as a stand alone and may inspire me to investigate the series further

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

The Tree of Penance audiobook cover art

History is a Circle

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-22-19

What happens when the world falls apart? In view of cataclysmic events, does society hold? When the conveniences of infrastructure breaks down, how long can order last? These are the questions that the author asks in this book. When law and order are no longer commonplace, new versions of society emerge, or perhaps it is more accurate to say, older ones.

The narrator's performance as always is high quality. His ability to switch easily between the distinct voices in his vocal cast is amazing. This is more-so true when conversations are rapid-paced as when in battle or crisis. Since this book has many characters involved in both, his talents are well used.

At the time that I started reading this book, I had recently finished an anthology of classic westerns. I was both surprised and pleased when I started seeing parallels in the laws, the societal models and standards, and the ways justice is meted out. It is ingenious how the author injects classic western themes in a future setting as a kind of reversion back to simpler times and ways. The parallels were thoroughly enjoyable to contemplate.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Riders of the Tumbling K audiobook cover art

This is How a Cowboy Dies

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-19

Many have said Louis L'Amour is one of the best "Old West" writers of all time. Not having sampled his work before this I cannot say yes or no to that opinion. This book gives 4 short stories of a common theme. The hard work of honest newcomers and frontier makers. In contrast there is the greed of land thieves first as individuals and small groups, then as corporations as they seek to take over what others have made thrive. The stories are well written and sure to please any fans of the genre.

The narrator does well with the period authentic slang and style of speaking that L'Amour was famous for using. His voice cast does not vary as much as other narrators I have heard but he still changes up enough to tell differences in speakers.

Who Is Sarah Lawson? audiobook cover art

How Well do People Know Each Other?

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-19

The book itself was very well written in that it had you second, third, and fourth, guessing about the truth of the story, and just when you think you have all the webs untangled, the author throws in a new wrinkle. It is a psychological rollercoaster that depends mor on true mystery and bafflement more than suspense or violence. Even the ending did not turn out like I thought it would.

The narrator does well although her voice is a bit suprising to the unworldly like me. Where I was expecting a stereotypical high british accent, the nerator's is more commonplace, although that faded to insignificance as I begin to puzzle over the story.

A few things that made this book less enjoyable for me were the fact that if you are not familiar with the current modern jargon and slang of England you might have to look a few things up like I did. Also most glaringly, there was a large section of the audiobook which repeated itself word for word. At first I thought this might be an error in the download, but the story flow afterward seemed unaffected (like I hadn't missed anything by a section being overwritten) so I began to believe that the repeat section was a different character viewing the same events...however if this was true, I must have missed the listener's que that this was a different character. Overall if you like stories that will keep you guessing, this book does that extremely well.

Circles in Hell, Books 1-4 audiobook cover art

Hell is What We Make it

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-05-19

Warning, if you are offended by religious (both good and evil) or historical figures being portrayed in ways other than their accepted roles, then this book collection is not for you! As the name implies this collection of books is set in a loose interpretation of the circles of hell with some interaction with the gates of heaven, where key decisions about a soul's destination are made. The author has the audience view this satirical version of hell through the eyes of one Steve Minion a poor soul doomed to both an ironic name and the impossible job of being the apartment superintendent or 'Mr. fix it' for all of hell. The narrator does an excellent job of switching between the forlorn-ness of Steve, the deviousness of the 'dark one' himself, and every growly or flamboyant demon or demoness in between.

In the first book we see a day in the life of Steve which includes mostly impossible tasks, futility and forlorn-ness along with the fears and futile struggles of everyone around him. However we also see how easily Steve can make friends when misery loves company, and the lengths he must go to to keep these friendships safe.

In book two Steve is assigned another impossible task, saddled with unlikely companions and told he must fix a problem that no one can explain or identify the source of. In the course of his preparations we see the power of words used carelessly, unlikely help from even more unlikely places, and a display of Steve's one and only superpower.

In book three Steve is thrown into a race against time mystery against a villain so foul, it has other denizens of hell cowering in fear at the mention of it's name. Steve has been lucky so far but even 'he' might not be able to claim victory on this one.

In book four we see the consequences of Steve's confrontation with the villain. Further Steve must once again do the impossible as all the resources of hell come bearing down upon him.

Having all of these books in one collection saves the audience several yards of fingernail biting as they await the release of the next book. Unfortunately this 4 book set does not include book 5, so nail-biting still ensues.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Thrust Under audiobook cover art

Be careful who you wish for

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-24-18

There's that classic plot device where someone shows up that you want to avoid. So, you grab onto the nearest stranger and hope for the best. The unfortunate tragedy or comedy ensues when that nearest stranger happens to be the one person you were despising, dredging, hoping for, praying for, or some combination of the above. In any case, this makes them worse than the person that you originally wanted to avoid. Then throwing the fact that they are a close competitor and things seem to go from bad to worse. However, as with most fiction worse is not yet begun to describe the depths to which this new situation can sink.

The narrator does a fantastic job as her voice is naturally situated in such a way that it can go from growling or broody male, to high-pitched and hyperactive best female friend, with all the throaty and lusty transitions in between.

Thankfully, unlike most romances, have biological scenes which most of them seem to think a necessity of a good romance novel are less frequent in this story and therefore do not overpower the main plot or leave it as an afterthought. There is even, some hints at unresolved issues or an open and the ending which could leave room for a continuation or sequel which I would be happy to read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Respawn: An Epic Fantasy LitRPG audiobook cover art

Hard Restart at Level 1

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-23-18

Any player of Massively Multiplayer Online Role – Playing games is familiar with the heartrending premise of the story. Whether they have started a brand-new character or have restarted a long-standing existing character at level 1, such players are painfully familiar with reacquainting the existing player character community with themselves. This arduous process is bittersweet as many people may know your character or of it by reputation and yet be unfamiliar with your current characters' circumstances. If this kind of thing is indeed familiar to the listener they will be comfortable (or uncomfortable) with this book, as this is the experience of the main character with the added classic fantasy twist of being spirited away from Earth by unknown means.

The "why me?" trademark voice of the narrator is well-suited to this book, as while the main character must present an outwardly stoic and even fear inspiring presence, his internal monologues can often seem like the shrunken complaints of someone who is just tired of really really bad day. As always, this narrator, through the use of his extensive vocal cast has no trouble in character differentiation and making sure that the audience knows who is speaking and when.

This is one book that I've already started listening to again, because unlike other examples of the genre, this book only brings in the immersion breaking "game mechanics" menus when it is necessary for explanation purposes and does not overuse them to try to make the point of the character being trapped in a game world. I am eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series and hope that it continues with the same narrator.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful