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Hall Ways

Colleyville, TX, US
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  • Spring Thaw: A Chris Matheson Cold Case Mystery Novella and Other Mystery Short Stories

  • By: Lauren Carr
  • Narrated by: Mike Alger
  • Length: 6 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 12
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10

Get your mystery fiction fix with this collection of short stories featuring retired federal agent Chris Matheson; sleuths Mac Faraday, Joshua Thornton, and Cameron Gates; and a rambunctious crime-solving dog named Gnarly. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Spring Thaw

  • By Amy C on 12-07-18

Quick hits of humor, mystery, & a touch of romance

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

Reviewed: 12-10-18

Audio book review. At under two hours listening time, Spring Thaw and Other Mystery Short Stories gives listeners a very satisfying, quick-fix of what author Lauren Carr does so well. Within just a few minutes of starting Spring Thaw, the first story, Carr fully defines a not-so-holy bishop (he’s a jerk), sets the tone for the scene (contentious), and brutally kills-off a character (BAM)! To say I was sucked-in to Spring Thaw is an understatement. Whether they’ve met main character Chris Matheson and crew before or not, readers won’t be able to resist this fully developed mystery packed into a novella.

“Chris cast a glance at the coffee pot; it was only one third full. The way his day was going, it was two thirds empty.”

Back to main character Chris Matheson and crew… Carr’s writing makes you feel like you are at the kitchen table with Chris and Doris, his FABULOUS mother, and part of this family and life. They are my people! If you haven’t read ICE, the first book in the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries, you need to get busy! Spring Thaw, like Ice, is smart, infused with subtle humor, and keeps leading and misleading you along until the big reveal to neatly tie-up the loose ends.

In addition to the two books thus far in the Chris Matheson series, the only other of Carr’s series I have read is Murder by Perfection, one of the Thorny Rose Mystery books. So, Spring Thaw is a great sampler of what readers can expect in the Mac Faraday and Lovers in Crime series. There are a few common denominators in all the short stories (these people are rich, for one), but the real scene-stealer in these is Gnarly the dog. Actually, Gnarly is pretty much the main character in three/four of the seven short stories! His stories are fun little capers full of irony and yes, even a Scooby-Doo line (“I would have gotten away with it if…”) and ending or two. This light-hearted comedy is perfect.

The two Lovers in Crime short stories are surprisingly intricate and complete mysteries for such brief stories. Again, Carr’s writing skills shine as she masterfully and efficiently writes the twists and turns and surprises. Each of the stories involves a wide cast of characters (tip: trust no one), and I was completely caught off guard with the ending of “Beauty to Die For.” WHOA. This and “Countdown to Murder” shows the sparks and connections between MCs, Joshua and Cameron, and make me want to go back to the beginning to see how they met in the first place.

Several of the story lines take place in in Pennsylvania and in/around Pittsburgh, which adds a layer of fun and interest for me since I lived there for seven years. The descriptions of landscape and places is richly written, and even those who aren’t familiar with that part of the world will enjoy it. It’s been more than a few years since I lived there, so it’s possible these things have changed, but my ear did catch some misfit information: one, (sadly) I never once came across a person in Pennsylvania who offered sweet tea, and two, (sadly) Hershey Park (well, the rides anyhow) aren’t open in April. Who knows? Maybe since the ‘80s, circumstances have evolved, but consider this a PSI to avoid a potential Griswold kind of experience.

ABOUT THE AUDIO BOOK: There are some jaunty music snippets that introduce the book and provide segues between the stories, which give the audio a real production feel. Also, there’s a little echo sound-effect to indicate we’re hearing a character’s internal monologue/thoughts – super helpful. Mike Alger is back as narrator, and though his pace is a little slow for me (I swear he could be the Smuckers commercial guy), I left it alone and listened at regular speed. He voices the numerous characters well (Doris is best) and his accents really complement the personalities. There are a few technical issues – places where voices overlap and sound blips that draw the ear. It is a little hard to separate the characters from story to story when listening to the audio book – for example, Mac and Catherine from story two sound like Chris and Doris from story one. The stories are so good that I listened straight through, so from this perspective, it might be better to take a breather between and not listen back-to-back. Overall, it’s a recording well-done.

I highly recommend this set of short stories, which are perfect listening for quick hits of humor and mystery -- with a dash of romance. And with that gorgeous winter-y cover, go ahead and add a print copy to your library to show your shelf some love. I am looking forward to immersing myself into my next adventure from Lauren Carr, and fortunately there are a lot to choose from … decisions, decisions.

Thank you to iRead Book Tours and the author for providing me an audio download in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

  • Max Random and the Zombie 500

  • By: Mark London Williams
  • Narrated by: Luna Cross
  • Length: 6 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 2
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 2

Weeks after watching her principal try to chew up her school teacher, and minutes after she'd just lost her family, 12-year-old Aurora Bonsall begins her odyssey of escape with Max Random in his hand-built go-kart across a ruined map of abandoned studio back lots, wrecked shopping malls, encounters with the not-quite dead in hospitals and the not-quite tame when they meet a feral cat. All while realizing that surviving humans can be far more dangerous than the Nano-Z's taking over the world.   

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Action-packed, adrenaline-filled thrill of a story

  • By Hall Ways on 12-06-18

Action-packed, adrenaline-filled thrill of a story

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

Reviewed: 12-06-18

Audio book review. Max Random and the Zombie 500 is an absolute blast! Aimed at the middle grade audience, it is refreshing for all readers who enjoy the zombie stories but prefer to let their imaginations do most of the work for sketching out the gore factor. That’s not to say the book is watered-down; author Mark London Williams gives plenty of details for readers to immerse themselves in all-things-zombie and his world building is richly written and fabulously done.

“You never think there’s gonna be a last day of tasting ice cream.”

Set in the near future, Max Random and the Zombie 500 paints a realistic picture of how science could go wrong and the devastating, widespread effects when it does. It’s interesting that readers aren’t given a clear villain to blame for the outbreak; rather, there are two explanations circulating among the survivors. Both are plausible, and both are delivered with not-so-subtle social messages, but ultimately, neither root cause matters to those who survive it. These characters aren’t looking to blame – just to live.

“Max talked funny -- like a substitute teacher who overdresses to show how serious they are.”

The characters are excellent, and Williams breathes each of them into full-color life. From the eccentric to the egotistical to the downright evil, there are plenty of people to really…wait for it…sink your teeth into. You’ll eat these people up! (see what I did there?) Main character Max is particularly well done. He carries a bit of emotional baggage and is complex and confusing to others. Readers get a tween’s perspective via main character Aurora, who narrates. She notes Max’s quirks, which adults will recognize as signs of Asberger’s or a high functioning autism of some sort. Despite not having a label for it, at just twelve years old, Aurora is more perceptive, and considerate of Max’s needs than most adults, and she remains a compassionate example of how to treat all living, mostly dead, and dead creatures.

Speaking of those mostly dead creatures: the story hints that maybe these zombies aren’t the mindless, unfeeling, undead that readers are typically shown. And maybe – just maybe – once a zombie doesn’t mean ALWAYS a zombie – a different approach! While the writing is fresh and vibrant, a few misplaced modifiers might catch the listener’s ear, and there is an unnecessary and startling inclusion of a swear word that might bother young readers (or their parents). Additionally, there are times readers are beaten over the head with the obvious, where I wish the author would instead trust his readers to get the point.

Max and the Zombie 500 is an action-packed, adrenaline-filled thrill, right up to the abrupt ending. Don’t worry, though. The conclusion feels more like a chance to catch your breath than an ending, and it clearly indicates there are more adventures to come in this mixed-up, dangerous future world. I will anxiously await the chance to live vicariously through another Max Random story.

ABOUT THE AUDIO NARRATION. Luna Cross does an admirable job with all the characters: young and older, male and female, living and undead, and cats, too! She nails Max’s voice, which underscores his awkward way of interacting with others. Honorable mention for Tilda, too, who couldn’t be more different from Max. To be able to master such a wide range of characters is impressive. It’s a rare thing for me to be able to enjoy an audio book at its regular, intended speed, but Cross’s delivery is just right there. Sometimes the punch of a sentence was lost because of her uneven cadence and where she pauses in her sentences, and there are times when a sudden burst of emotion feels misplaced. However, overall, she is a great choice as the voice of Aurora, and any bumps or inconsistencies are only minor distractions from an enjoyable audio book.

Thank you to Audiobookworm Promotions and the author for providing me an audio download in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

  • Covey Jencks

  • By: Shelton L. Williams
  • Narrated by: Kathy James
  • Length: 6 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 5
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 4
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 4

Covey Jencks grew up in Odessa, Texas. After college, he joined the Army, attended law school, clerked on the Fifth Circuit, and suffered a stint at a DC law firm. He quits a life of white privilege to return home to solve the mysterious 1979 murder of Freddie Johnson, a black employee at Covey’s family business. Her life matters to Covey. For cover, Covey opens a small firm filled with big characters. Eventually another black woman reenters his life to become Covey’s crime-solving partner.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Will Covey's Story Continue?

  • By Christena on 12-07-18

This story packs a (fun) punch!

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

Reviewed: 11-28-18

Audio/Print combo review. My first introduction to COVEY JENCKS was when it was featured on Lone Star Book Blog Tours in April. I was enticed by the premise and hooked after reading all the great LSBBT reviews, so the book was dutifully placed on my ever-toppling to-be-read (ETTBR) pile. There COVEY sat until June, when I read its rave Kirkus review, and I moved it back to the top of my ETTBR pile – then sadly saw it buried along with most of my pleasure reading books. Imagine my thrill when the author requested a new book blog tour to promote the newly released AUDIO BOOK! Hallelujah!

I first read COVEY JENCKS with my ears and heard the story unfold via narration by Kathy James. Initially, it was odd to hear all the front-matter and the table of contents read aloud. Then it threw me for a loop to hear a female voice narrating a book with a primarily male main character and point-of-view. However, I got over that quickly because James’s expression and voicing of main character, Covey, is excellent and ended-up being my favorite voice. And let me tell you, there is a HUGE cast of characters in this book, so voicing them all distinctly is no small task. I toggled back and forth between regular and 1.25x speed, with the former being a bit slow for me but the latter making everyone sound a bit too excited. I am rarely satisfied with the speed of audio recordings, so this is one of those “maybe it’s you, not them” kind of things, I think. My only real gripe is that James’s accent doesn’t sound remotely Texan to this life-long Texan’s ears. That, and her mispronunciation of some words (primarily “Odessa,” a frequently occurring word given it’s the main setting of the story), rubbed my rhubarb a bit, but I do understand there’s a fine line between sounding authentic and ridiculously Texan.

As is often the case when I listen to audio books, I listened while multi-tasking, so I re-played the audio when I got too distracted. But I still felt like I was missing some of the nuances of the story – and the story is so completely fun that I didn’t want to miss a thing. So, I pulled out my print copy and re-read the book. Ka-ching! Best of both worlds and truly, reading with my ears and then my eyes were two completely different experiences.

“Damn, life is infinitely messier than a mystery novel.”

Though the “Cast of Characters” of COVEY JENCKS is read aloud on the audio, having that list in print is very helpful as a reference as the story progresses and the connections between players becomes clearer. And truly, the theme of how people of all walks of life are connected is the crux of the story. Author Shelton Williams makes the people of the story feel achingly real and their lives are vividly described within equally vivid settings from the ‘70s to the ‘90s. I desperately want JayJay to exist in the real world! What a fabulous character with spunk and wit and charm a’plenty. And as if the diverse and fascinating characters aren’t enough, running beneath it all, there are mysteries to be solved, y’all!

Williams’s writing style is super-casual, which makes it feel intimate and like readers are sitting with the characters. That style, the cover, and the book’s formatting, with plenty of white space and large margins, makes it seem fluffy at first glance. But don’t be fooled: Williams’s social commentary, delivered through his characters’ ruminations about life and humanity, pack a punch you don’t want to miss. Plus, there is a significant Afterword that ties the author’s personal experiences to those in the book. Again, Williams is all about the connections, whether you’re six or sixteen hundred miles removed from West, by God, Texas.

For this and others in the grammar police squad, the audio is a good choice because it allows freedom from the typos and errors in the print version; however, the print version provides a richness and depth that is missed in the audio if you aren’t able to fully focus on it. I have no qualms highly recommending either or both formats of COVEY JENCKS, and I anxiously await another installment in the series. (By the way, those final four words are a FABULOUS way to end the story, Mr. Williams!).

Thank you to the author and Lone Star Book Blog Tours for providing me a print copy and an audio download, respectively, (and shoot, I bought the book on Kindle, too!) in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

  • Lost in the Light

  • By: Mary Castillo
  • Narrated by: Mary Castillo
  • Length: 8 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 20
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 19
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 19

Drawn to this tough but tender woman, Vicente materializes out of the butler's pantry and asks her to find his lost love, Anna. Dori wonders if she's not only about to lose her badge, but also her sanity. Dori has always been drawn to the mysterious Queen Anne Edwardian house in her hometown. But after a devastating injury that puts her career on the line, Dori isn't sure if she made the right decision purchasing this rundown old mansion.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Spellbounding

  • By KateB on 12-10-17

Intriguing Story and Author Nails Narration

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

Reviewed: 11-21-18

I really enjoyed this story and the narration, performed by the author, is outstanding. She nails her distinct character personalities and their voices. There are some technical edits that need to be made to the audio file (repeated lines, background noise, etc.), and although they are distracting, the story kept me listening. Time well spent!

  • The Big Inch

  • Misfits and Millionaires, Volume 1
  • By: Kimberly Fish
  • Narrated by: Sydney Young
  • Length: 10 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 14
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 14
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 14

Lane Mercer, sent to Longview, Texas, in July, 1942, is part of a select group of women working undercover for a fledgling federal agency, the Office of Strategic Services. Assigned to protect the man carrying out President Roosevelt's initiative to build the nation's first overland pipeline to hurry East Texas crude to the troops, she discovers there is more to Longview than the dossiers implied. There is intrigue, mayhem, and danger.  

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Texas charm all around!

  • By Kelly Well Read on 11-12-18

Audio is as big a treat as print!

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

Reviewed: 11-13-18

AUDIO BOOK REVIEW. 4.5 Stars. I rarely re-read books. True, it’s mostly a matter of time constraints and finding the time to read a book even once, but it’s also a matter of been there, done that. No matter how much I enjoy a story, I mostly don’t feel the need to re-visit it. Plus, there’s always a stack of new temptations waiting for me in my ever-toppling to-be-read pile. But then, THE BIG INCH was released as an audio book. Since I’d reviewed the print format of The Big Inch (a fan-girling, gushing, rave review found on Hall Ways Blog) for Lone Star Book Blog Tours, I wasn’t scheduled as a reviewer for the audio book tour. But I couldn’t resist, bought myself an audio book copy anyhow, and listened to it the next day…straight through. THE BIG INCH is a wonderful exception to my unwritten rule, and since on my second reading of the book I read with my ears, it was like a whole new story. As if immersing myself in Kimberly Fish’s world isn’t treat enough, listeners are also treated to the professional narrating debut performed by Sydney Young.

“In her world, when trust was broken, it was final.”

When I first read THE BIG INCH (did I mention fan-girling and gushing?), one of the things that I loved was how author Kimberly Fish could say so much by dropping seemingly innocuous one-liners, but which careful readers would notice were loaded with information. Narrator Sydney Young picks-up on these subtleties -- and all the nuances of words spoken -- and expresses them to perfection.

“Living with her memories was no pardon at all.”

Young gets nuance and subtlety: in her delivery of the wide cast of characters, she not only gives each character a unique voice, but through her diction, varied pacing, and inflection, she projects extra layers to the characters’ personalities. The difference between Young’s delivery of main character Lane Mercer’s internal monologue versus her voice in dialogue is the perfect example. Listeners hear the contrast and see that despite Lane’s introspective, observant, and troubled mind, she has a perkier façade for the outside world.

“Though she’d never stepped on a grenade in France, she didn’t trust Texas.”

One of the lovely aspects of Sydney Young’s narration is the authenticity of her southern accent. Certain words (soil and oil, to name two) are thoroughly Texan, others reveal just a trace of the accent, while others have a regional flair to them -- exactly right for the mixture of people from around the state who were coming to Longview during the war.

Technically speaking, the quality of the recording of THE BIG INCH is excellent. There are just a few glitches with uneven sound and one scene that seems spliced, but it’s thoroughly professional and what I would expect in an audio recording. I found listening at regular speed just a little too lazy for my enjoyment, so as is the norm for me with audio books, I increased speed to 1.25x. Sometimes, this was a little too fast (especially with Emily Tescoe’s lines), but it was especially better for listening to Theo’s Boston accent. The faster speed resolved some minor issues with too-long pauses and words with peculiar emphasis placed upon them. However, as Lane gets more emotional towards the end of the story, the faster delivery makes her sound panicked, when in reading the text, Lane seems to keep her cool. Overall, the faster speed is a more natural pace for impatient me, but it isn’t the perfect answer.

As I do with the print version of THE BIG INCH, (refer to fan-girling, gushing, rave review), I highly recommend the audio book version, too. Kimberly Fish and Sydney Young make a terrific team, and I thank them for taking me to a different world for a day. I sincerely hope that there are plans for them to reunite and bring HARMON GENERAL, book two in the Misfits and Millionaires series, to brilliant audio life. You’ve got your first sale right here.

I bought this audio book on my own, without any strings attached. Thank you to Lone Star Book Blog Tours for giving me a bonus spot on the tour where I can voice my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Truth Kills

  • Angelina Bonaparte Mysteries Series, Book 1
  • By: Nanci Rathbun
  • Narrated by: Kieren Calland Metts
  • Length: 9 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 53
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 52
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 52

Angelina Bonaparte is a force to be reckoned with. When her husband cheats on her after 25 years of marriage, she reinvents herself - trading the life of a suburban housewife for a toned body, designer duds, a cherry-red Miata, and a new career as a private investigator. Now a 50-something hottie with a kickass approach to snooping and a knack for disguise, she takes no prisoners. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Enjoy a great Narrator and a great story.

  • By cosmitron on 02-27-18

This story's a blast for readers-of-a-certain-age!

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

Reviewed: 10-17-18

Audio book review. Truth Kills by Nanci Rathbun is a blast! Rathbun’s detailed descriptions of the characters, combined with narrator Kieran Calland Metts’s accents and attitude, bring real pop to this story.

“While on the job, I can look like… the neighborhood old lady gossip. Off the job, I’m a fifty-something hottie. Gravity has taken a small toll, but who notices in candlelight?”

Main character Angelina is super confident yet still has the same concerns of many middle-aged women, including “post-thirty chin hairs,” and vacillates between caring and not caring about what other people think. She’s raised her children and loves her grandchildren, but her life is her own and not about them anymore. And best of all, even at age fifty-something, she’s just getting started and reinventing herself!

I typically avoid reading romances, but Truth Kills is a little different and that romance element, which is not the primary force in the book, worked for me. Truly, it wasn’t much more than a few thoughts and one about-to-get-steamy scene, but it was a natural progression and realistic for how two people of those ages and life experiences would come together. They’ve been there, done that, and know what they want. Plus, I like that it depicts a 50+ protagonist as on fire and shows that there are men in that range looking fabulous, too. Refreshing.

Author Nanci Rathbun writes some fabulously rich characters who will bring forth a wide range of reactions from the readers. She infuses enough humor throughout the story to keep it from feeling too heavy on the procedural side, and she is clever in using literary quotes (ranging from Flaubert to Jenny Joseph’s “I shall wear purple”) to set the tone for each chapter. Rathbun conveniently uses Angelina’s propensity for list making to give readers a nice bring-to-date on all the suspects in the murder case. Though readers might not be surprised by the whodunit part, they likely will be for the why.

“My drug of choice was not only effective, but legal.”

BONUS POINTS AWARDED: As if having a 50ish-year-old main character isn’t enough for me to feel at home (admittedly, I can’t relate to some aspects of her life *cough*), Angelina is also a coffee drinking former librarian! Granted, she doesn’t speak highly of the profession (though she’s clearly proud of the master’s degree), but I won’t hold it against her…unless she bashes it in the next book!

Truth Kills is an entertaining and engaging story with plenty of action but just as much interest coming from the main character’s reactions to her life circumstances. I highly recommend it to fellow readers-of-a-certain-age who will appreciate and chuckle at the perks and pitfalls of mid-life. I have already started listening to the second book in this series, Cash Kills, and it feels good to be back with Angelina again.

ABOUT THE NARRATION: Initially, I thought the book seemed like it was being read to listeners and not performed. However, it soon became apparent that narrator Kieran Calland Metts was establishing the voice of Angelina, who is matter-of-fact and not overly expressive in her voice. This voicing grew on me and ended up being perfect – and I am so glad to see that Metts is back to narrate the next two books in the series. As readers meet more characters, Metts gives each of them enough of an accent that each remains distinct from others without any being over the top. I mostly listened at 1.25 speed, but this was due more to my impatience than anything else.

Thank you to Audiobookworm Promotions and the author for providing me an audio download in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give. This full review and other special features on Hall Ways Blog.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Murder by Perfection

  • A Thorny Rose Mystery, Book 3
  • By: Lauren Carr
  • Narrated by: Mike Alger
  • Length: 8 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 18

Frustrated with their busy schedules, Murphy Thornton and Jessica Faraday attempt to find togetherness by scheduling a weekly date night. The last thing Jessica Faraday expected for her date night was to take a couple’s gourmet cooking course at the Stepford Kitchen Studio, owned by Chef Natalie Stepford--the model of perfection in looks, home, and business. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Awesome Story, Awesome Narration!

  • By Jan M on 09-01-18

Carr is a master at writing mysteries!

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

Reviewed: 10-08-18

MURDER BY PERFECTION is the third book in the Thorny Rose Mysteries, but it’s my first book in the series. The book does stand alone, but I suspect I would have been able to better keep up if I had read any of the prior books. But who am I kidding? Author Lauren Carr is a master at writing multiple story lines, including a giant cast of characters, and so much murder and mayhem that it’s nearly impossible to solve the mysteries. I tried! I failed! Ha!

Speaking of the characters -- with so many characters, I had to take notes to keep track of them -- not ideal when listening to an audio book, and I found that I had to frequently re-play sections when I wasn’t paying close attention. I might have fared better if I’d have been reading with my eyes instead of my ears; however, the characters are richly described and most have some aspect to their personality to make each memorable. And OH! There are characters to love and loathe and everything in between, and some of them have juicy secrets. There’s some seriously great drama going on.

I fear that jumping into the series with MURDER BY PERFECTION may mean some spoilers when (not if) I go back and start with book one. Even so, that’s a risk I am willing to take because I like these characters and the intricate webs Carr weaves within the story. MURDER BY PERFECTION kept teasing me along and guessing with who did what, to whom, and why!

ABOUT THE NARRATION: I first heard Mike Alger when he narrated one of Lauren Carr’s other books, Ice, and I thought his narration was perfect. In MURDER BY PERFECTION, I am not as big a fan. Though some of the male characters were excellent, some were not. And females – particularly when emotional – sounded silly, bordering on laughable. Alger’s pacing and delivery were great, but then around three hours in, he slowed down, so I had to speed-up the audio to 1.25x. I didn’t like the echo-effect that was used for scenes when a character was thinking. It felt cheesy, and then there were some timing issues where the narrator talked-over an echo sequence and words were clipped. I know how good Alger can perform, so seeing his name as narrator won’t deter me from giving him another try.

Thank you to iRead Book Tours and the author for providing me an audio download in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

  • Beneath

  • By: Maureen A. Miller
  • Narrated by: Brandy Skelly
  • Length: 8 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 10
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10

It was Stella Gullaksen's final break before starting her freshman year at college. Joining her best friend Jill and Jill's family aboard the Starkissed, Stella wakes up to a violent storm that capsizes the boat over a hundred miles off the New Jersey shore. As the waves pull her under, Stella knows that she is going to die. Instead, an unusual current drags her deep into the underwater canyons of the Atlantic Ocean. Powerless against the raging waters, she is suddenly sucked into a ventilated cave.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • You never know what is Beneath

  • By Writers and Authors on 10-11-18

Fascinating, mystical world beneath the sea

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

Reviewed: 10-05-18

BENEATH by Maureen Miller immediately caught my attention because of the fabulous cover. (Yeah, I’m like that.) Then I read the premise, and there was no way I was going to pass on reading this one with my ears. The book opens with a boat on the sea being battered in the midst of a vicious storm. Within minutes, the boat and all its passengers are sinking. Readers are put into the mind of main character Stella as she descends to what she thinks is her watery grave. Instead of drowning, she surfaces…beneath the ocean.

What makes BENEATH engaging is author Maureen Miller’s wonderfully descriptive passages of this world and its inhabitants. The world building is slow, and the mystique around everything is fascinating. At times, it feels like those old TV shows about the Bermuda Triangle where viewers are given information that points to both scientific and other-worldly (aliens!) explanations. (YOU be the judge.) Miller’s story leans more to scientific but it stays blurry enough to not be conclusive – which is intriguing.

A large cast of characters allows for several sub-plots to be happening, primarily between the five young (or seemingly young) adults in the story. Again, that mystique surrounds the inhabitants of Jackson Canyon (the name for the underworld village) and everyone seems just a little off – like what you see, which is odd enough, isn’t quite what you get. And there are seeeeeeecrets. The story is told primarily from Stella’s point of view, but there are a few awkward chapters that switch and are told from her friend Jill’s perspective. While that story line is high interest, the switches on audio are a bit jarring because it’s not immediately obvious who’s speaking – perhaps the print version indicates it? I would have preferred either a better balance of the two narrators or it to have stuck with just Stella. (Jill isn’t very likable.)

Normally, I am tolerant of teen-love, insta-love, and all the permutations, but in BENEATH, I have a hard time believing Stella’s thinking early in the story. I mean, she and all her friend’s family nearly drowned to death, her friend’s mom is in a coma, they are in all kinds of danger, but she’s lusting after Colin? Perhaps I am so far removed from my teenage-years that I can’t relate any more, but it doesn’t ring true for Stella’s intelligence or character. In any case, after some time, her thoughts and actions seem more natural, and the unfolding of the teen-love from there is perfect.

Readers will get immersed (see what I did there) in BENEATH and will love the somewhat neatly tied-up, but haunting, conclusion to the book. Be prepared for more than a few things that are never fully explained. I don’t mind because the result is that I have thought about this book a lot well after I finished it, and that community beneath the water feels real. I am not sure if this is the start of a series, but there certainly is potential for it. I would definitely pick up the next book.

ABOUT THE NARRATION. Narrator Brandy Skelly has the perfect voice for the protagonists in this story in this story and does a great job with pacing and nailing teen angst, surliness, and enthusiasm. However, the overall audio production needs some polishing. Skelly mispronounced several words (piqued, tumult, supposedly), and there are chapters that are very breathy and several times I heard the narrator swallow. Additionally, there are some sporadic background sounds that should have been edited out. It’s a bit like reading the last draft that needs just one more pass of the proofreading pen. As usual, I increased the listening speed to 1.25x-1.5x because I am impatient.

Thank you to Audiobookworm Productions and the author for providing me a download of this book in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Ray vs the Meaning of Life

  • By: Michael F Stewart
  • Narrated by: Kevin Clay
  • Length: 7 hrs and 47 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 11
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10

Grandma's last will and testament names Ray to inherit the trailer park. It's a million-dollar estate with one hitch: To prove he's not as aimless as he seems, Ray must discover the meaning of life by the end of the month. (She left the answer in an envelope.) If he fails, the camp goes to his estranged family.  

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • THIS is what a YA book is meant to be!

  • By Hall Ways on 10-01-18

THIS is what a YA book is meant to be!

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

Reviewed: 10-01-18

When this title appeared on my radar, I hesitated to jump on board for a review. I wasn’t sure about the title or the Monty Python-ish cover. Yet, there was something… I thought the premise of Ray Vs the Meaning of Life sounded good, and I was craving a YA book, so I dove in and never came up for air until the book was done. The story, the characters, and the storytelling are all FABULOUS, and the narration is perfection, and I am totally fangirling over this book. This is what a YA book should be – authentic, humorous, and alive with people and places and ideas that stick to the ribs and make the reader want to do better.

“The only thing I know is that caring for a trailer park is not the meaning of life.”

From the opening scene (cue Monty Python again: “I’m not dead yet!”), readers will be laughing at the dark humor of Grandma’s demise. This pivotal event, well…series of events, are what set the stage for the rest of the book as Ray and his family deal with Grandma’s final Will and Testament and required hoop-jumping – namely, Ray must identify the meaning of life to get his substantial inheritance. Granny was no dummy and knew Ray would need some help, and so she spent a sizable chunk of money hiring life-coach guru, Dalen Anders.

“If I see farther than others, it’s only because I stand on the shoulders of those wiser than myself. No teacher relies on what they figure out themselves. Wisdom is wisdom. Second-hand wisdom is like second-hand gold. It holds whatever value is ascribed by its holder.”

Dalen Anders! His lines are some of the cheesiest and most fabulous in the book. Dalen is one of my favorite characters, and it is refreshing that Dalen, as well as other adults in the story, are integral to Ray’s life and his growth. They are all marvelously flawed but realistic characters that enrich the story where so many other YA books omit, downplay the importance of, or represent adults as idiots.

“I wear a clean pair of jean shorts with paint spatter and an unstained but moderately malodorous tee-shirt with a Dalek on the front. Under it are the words You are irrelevant.”

Author Michael F. Stewart has the gift for painting perfect snapshots of life and people in his rich, colorful, and humor-infused descriptions. Stewart is an outstanding storyteller, and at its core, Ray Vs the Meaning of Life is a beautiful story because what happens in Ray’s life is the human experience for all of us. Ray’s quest to find the meaning of life has an impact on everyone else’s lives, and so Grandma’s final directive ends-up helping everyone else figure out what’s important in life, too. What makes the book even more perfect is that once Ray’s eyes are opened to what it means to put others first and give of self, he STILL doesn’t put two and two together. Even though I was disappointed with the big reveal of Grandma’s definition of the meaning of life, it really is the perfect, most realistic ending there could be, and the epilogue left me grinning.

ABOUT THE NARRATION: Kevin Clay NAILS IT. From voicing Grandma (Think Vicki Lawrence’s as Mama from the Carol Burnett show. Hilarious!) to teenager Ray to the backwoods accents of the trailer park residents to the righteousness of Dalen, Clay makes each character unique and memorable. Whether the character is male or female, young or old, his delivery is perfection, and this book is one of the few which doesn't need the listening speed increased. A quick search reveals Clay’s narrated a ton of books – including some by one of my favorite authors, Preston Child – so I am excited to listen to more of his performances.

Thank you to the author and Audiobookworm Productions for providing me an audio download in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Bombshell: An Ava Romantic Mystery

  • What Doesn't Kill You, Book 9
  • By: Pamela Fagan Hutchins
  • Narrated by: Chanté McCormick
  • Length: 9 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 15
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 15
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 15

A musical career in the making. A murdered childhood friend. One chance to catch the killer. Ava dreams of building a better life for her daughter through her island pop songs. Her new temp job leads to a once-in-a-lifetime shot at a record deal, but before she can pack her bags for New York, she discovers a dead body outside her office building. Horrified, Ava recognizes the murdered sex worker as her childhood friend. The single mother finds herself torn between pursuing her life’s passion or justice for her murdered friend. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Enjoyed the Narration

  • By BookLover on 07-13-18

WOWSA! Ava is a whirlwind!

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

Reviewed: 10-01-18

WOWSA. Bombshell is the ninth book in the What Doesn’t Kill You series by Pamela Fagan Hutchins (and the fourth for me), and it’s the first of three books in the Ava stories. Now back to the WOWSA. Ava is a fabulous (and fabulously flawed) character and there is a lot of train wrecks going on to keep you engaged. But be warned: there are graphic scenes that have left scars on my face from the heat! Use headphones!

“Repression is my friend. And no, I don’t let anyone blame women for the bad things men do.”

If you like your characters flawed, then Ava is your gal. In Ava’s world, there are a whirlwind of plots and sub-plots and side-stories galore. Based on the other books I have read in this series (all the Emily books), I think the chaos of lives fully lived must be a trademark of Hutchins’s stories. And let’s face it: the chaos of living is very realistic thing. I mean, who do I know (self included) that doesn’t have a million things happening in her life? A million fires to put out? Doesn’t deal with “when it rains it pours” on a regular basis? No one. That’s why even though Ava is about as different from me as can be, she’s still me in a lot of ways. It makes reading Bombshell feel more personal.

Bombshell is categorized as “romantic mystery,” but I don’t think that’s quite right. While the ending of the book hints at a romance to come, the relationships in Bombshell are far from my definition of romantic. They are more about lust than love and pining for someone other than the person you’re getting nasty with doesn’t qualify as romance. As for the mystery label? Maybe. The murderer is obvious early on; however, another story branches off, and it may or may not be related to the murders, so there is some mystery there and plenty of suspense. An interesting addition to the story is a paranormal element: the influence and ghost of Annalise, who returns from the first books in the series.

Author Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes characters and scenes that feel authentic and jump from the page. Her descriptions of the island of St. Marcus, the island life, and the rich cast of characters put readers right in to the setting. Everything in the story is there for a reason, and that’s one thing I have enjoyed in reading Hutchins’s books. Bombshell is no different, but a scene with an intentional political statement felt awkward and unnecessary (though I did enjoy the jab) plus including a specific current event will date the book.

“I spent an idyllic Saturday with my daughter and parents, and that s--t is hard work.”

I don’t love Ava, but Hutchins made me feel invested in her. I want Ava to do better and be better; I want her to stop sweeping everything aside to deal with later; I want her to take care of her child and her parents. By the end of Bombshell, there are indications some of what I want for Ava might happen, but there is a lot that is unresolved and even unrealistic. Given this is just the first of the three Ava books (Stunner and Knockout are the others), and despite Bombshell ending with a sorta-feel-good scene, there’s no way there aren’t going to be sparks and tension and messes to come that will likely entice me back to the series. (Just with a good set of headphones and a fan.)

ABOUT THE NARRATION. At first, I was thrown by the narration by Chante McCormick. I had expectations of how Ava would sound (based on her appearance in the Emily audio books), so I had to sync with the new voice. As always, I found the pace too slow and I listened at 1.25x and even 1.5x at times. I really enjoyed McCormick’s smooth transitions into the Caribbean patois of Ava and other characters. There wasn’t a clear pattern for when Ava spoke in island voice – sometimes her internal monologue/narration/dialogue was in plain ol’ American English and other times it was island English – but it was always fun to hear and reinforced the setting. There are a few odd pronunciations, but overall, I’d say McCormick was an excellent choice for narrating a complicated person’s life and stories.

Thank you to Audiobookworm Promotions for allowing me to adopt this book for review in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful