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Listen Up! Black City Saint & Black City Demon by Richard Knaak

Talk Bubble for IvanaBack in Dec of 2016 and March of 2017, I reviewed two books in a then-new series by Richard Knaak– Black City Saint and Black City Demon. But before I could read Black City Dragon, the third book in the series, I experienced some life and job changes, and my mode of reading went from mainly ebooks to mainly audio. So I was excited to see the two books come out in audio recently. With them, I’m going to launch a new feature called Listen Up! specifically for reviewing audiobooks.

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Link to Goodreads entry for Black City Saint by Richard A. KnaakTitleBlack City Saint
AuthorRichard A. Knaak
SeriesBlack City Saint, Book 01
Publish Date: March 1, 2016, Pyr
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Narrator: Joshua Saxon
Source
: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionFor more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.

Link to Goodreads entry for Black City Demon by Richard A. KnaakTitleBlack City Demon
AuthorRichard A. Knaak
SeriesBlack City Saint, Book 02
Publish Date: March 14, 2017 by Pyr
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Narrator: Joshua Saxon
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Since he became the guardian of the Gate between our world and Feirie sixteen hundred years ago, Nick Medea, once Saint George, has battled to keep the darkest Feirie–the Wyld–from invading the mortal plane. With the dragon an unwilling part of him, Nick maintains balance between realms, often at great cost to him and those nearest to him.

Nick and his ragtag confederates—including the shape-shifter Fetch and Nick’s reincarnated love, Claryce—have battled the Wyld, but not mortals as sinister as the darkest Feirie. Now, with Prohibition in full swing and bootlegger wars embattling Chicago, a murderous evil born of the mortal world has turned its attention to the power of the Gate… and Nick himself.

Nick must turn again to his most untrustworthy ally: the dragon within. Yet even together they may not be enough to face what was once a man… but is now a creature even dragons may fear.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Talk bubble for IvanaInvested Ivana says…

Story: The Black City Saint series is set in Prohibition-Era Chicago, so any fan of that era will find plenty to like. It is an urban fantasy that mixes detective noir, a dash of Christian mythology, and a dark, gritty version of Feirie.

The main character, Nick Medea, is ostensibly a ghost breaker, but the reader sees him more often in his guise as Keeper of the Gate between the mortal world and the world of Feirie. He’s centuries old, a loner, grumpy as hell, and a downright ass sometimes. He has a huge backstory and has collected around himself a cast of very interesting human and non-human characters. His job is to keep the mortal world safe from Feirie incursions, which are sometimes small and sometimes huge.

Nick’s personal conflicts come from his own suspicious nature, his inability to forgive his own murderer, and the reincarnating soul of the love of his life, a princess whom he once rescued and who is now determined to rescue him.

The main book plots and the backstories of the characters are very engaging and leave me wanting to know more. The plot, or maybe the action, can feel a bit complex sometimes. I did find myself re-listening to parts of the story to be clear on what was happening. Overall, though, I found it to be a lot of fun.

You can read my previous review for Black City Saint and Black City Demon to see more of my comments on the story.

Narration: Joshua Saxon narrates with a deep, gritty voice that is perfect for the genre and for Nick Medea. He uses several accents, which helps a lot in differentiating the characters. In fact, in the second book, one of the character voices changes a bit, taking on a more cultured accent and voice than in the first book, which is actually helpful for distinguishing the character, so I appreciate the change.

I do wish his female voices were differentiated a bit more. There are really only two female characters in this story, and while it’s clear Saxon is trying to make their voices distinctive, they weren’t really that different than Nick’s voice. It wasn’t too difficult to tell when these two characters were speaking based on their speech patterns alone, but I did find myself wishing for a bit more vocal variation.

I would say this book is narrated rather than performed, but the narration is good, and I’ll be checking out other books narrated by Saxon.

Book Rating 4 GoodOverall: Overall, I’m very happy with the experience of these audiobooks and would recommend them to fans of the genre. I’m very much looking forward to Black City Dragon coming out in audio.

A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones

Sheriff Sunshine Vicram finds her cup o’ joe more than half full when the small village of Del Sol, New Mexico, becomes the center of national attention for a kidnapper on the loose.

Title:  A Bad Day for Sunshine
Author:  Darynda Jones
Series:  Sunshine Vicrum #1
Publish Date: April 7, 2020
Source: Netgalley – all opinions are my own – no incentive given

Publisher’s Description: Sheriff Sunshine Vicram finds her cup o’ joe more than half full when the small village of Del Sol, New Mexico, becomes the center of national attention for a kidnapper on the loose.

Del Sol, New Mexico is known for three things: its fry-an-egg-on-the-cement summers, its strong cups of coffee—and a nationwide manhunt? Del Sol native Sunshine Vicram has returned to town as the elected sheriff—an election her adorably meddlesome parents entered her in—and she expects her biggest crime wave to involve an elderly flasher named Doug. But a teenage girl is missing, a kidnapper is on the loose, and all of it’s reminding Sunny why she left Del Sol in the first place. Add to that trouble at her daughter’s new school and a kidnapped prized rooster named Puff Daddy, and Sunshine has her hands full.

Enter sexy almost-old-flame Levi Ravinder and a hunky US Marshall, both elevens on a scale of one to blazing inferno, and the normally savvy sheriff is quickly in over her head. Now it’s up to Sunshine to juggle a few good hunky men, a not-so-nice kidnapping miscreant, and Doug the ever-pesky flasher. And they said coming home would be drama-free.

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel. In other words …SPOILERS. *BEWARE*


Nervous Nellie says…

It was good read Darynda Jones again. She has her trademark style from Charlie and incorporates it into Sunshine. There are the hilarious quotes that start the chapter and the snarky responses that are full on Charlie except are now being used as marquee signs about the town.

This story has a little paranormal in it but it could amp up throughout the series, just like with Charlie. There is a smoldering love interest, a quirky best friend, funny parents and a daughter. All the elements that can be mirrored from the Charlie Davidson series. There isn’t any sex in this story, but it is alluded to in conversation. There is no gore, but there is a murder. It’s a long ago murder that needs to be solved, but it’s one that isn’t hard to guess at the conclusion, HOWEVER,  I am sure that it won’t be as cut and dried as I think, which is a thrill.

I felt the story was chaotic and popping up with new characters every other page.  That could be because it’s a new series and the foundation has to be laid.   I enjoyed the back stories to the people of the town and their idiosyncrasies.  Every small town has those citizens that are strange and weird.  Each small town has those cases that just make you want to shake your head and ask, “Seriously?” Being the Sheriff, Sunshine would know them all. Darynda Jones knows how to make loveable characters. I like the way the daughter has got more of a focus, but I also think there is something about her that will bring the paranormal to the forefront. The book is wrapped around a town with key players waiting in the wings for their que.

I am somewhat on fence with this book.  I don’t want to disrespect this title or the author, but it’s hard for me to not make comparisons to her other work. There are a lot of reviews raving about this story, and I don’t debate that it’s good, but the cast has been cast before. It could be that the mix of characters that Darynda uses is her secret recipe and Sunshine Vicrum series will take on a life of it’s own. Here’s to hoping it’ll become it’s own singular style.

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The Dark Communion by Joey Ruff

Swyftt was a copper, a priest, a Night Hunter, a husband, a father. Now he’s just a burnt-out PI.  The only one that anyone can turn to when they encounter the other.

Title: The Dark Communion
Author:  Joey Ruff
Series: The Midnight Defenders #1
Publish Date: March 25, 2020
Source:  received from author – all opinions are my own and I did not receive this book as incentive

Publisher’s Description: When Daddy, Gramps, drunk Uncle Billy…whoever it was, looked at you when you were a little kid, blankets around your neck, trembling in bed, sure-as-shit convinced that there was something out to get you under your box-spring, in your closet, and they told you there wasn’t anything there – that monsters didn’t exist – they were lying to you.

Jono Swyftt knows this because that’s what he does. He kills things. Bad things. Nightmare things: Orcs, trolls, haunts, gnomes…the bloody Easter Bunny.

Swyftt was a copper, a priest, a Night Hunter, a husband, a father. Now he’s just a burnt-out PI with an arsenal of big-ass guns – an unrepentant foul-mouth who keeps everyone at arms length – and yet, whether your problem is a mating orgy of Cyclopes, a murderous imaginary friend, or a strip club full of horny Sirens, everyone from US Senators to Julia Roberts knows he’s the one man to call.

When a high-school student hires him to find a missing autistic boy and a catatonic billionaire runs away from a nursing home, it’s up to Swyftt, his partner, and his ward to piece together the clues and stop the nightmare that’s feeding on the city with an underground ring of serial-kidnapping bums. But that’s what Swyftt does. He’s the very last line of paranormal defense in the greater Seattle area.

And he ain’t bloody cheap.

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel. In other words …SPOILERS. *BEWARE*


Nervous Nellie says…

I would qualify this book as a horror novel. There is no sex. There is a lot of violence and some gore.  It involves missing and murdered children.  There is bad language.  It’s probably not for the faint of heart.

Right out of the chute, I’m going to tell you that I give this book 4 stars.  The premise is horrifying, but when you are looking for a dark thrill, that’s where it’ll lead ya.

Children are missing.  There are no leads for the cops and Jono wants to steer clear of the whole mess.  Why is that? Well, because it’s easier to look the other way and not see what is really there. It’s much easier to not see the child you lost in the faces that are taken…if you don’t look. He’d much rather not think about the things that are out there that could easily fit the criteria of child-nappers.  The horrid and scary things.  The monsters.  To clarify, the things that aren’t human.

Jono has an interesting life set up for himself.  He’s his deceased PI partner’s daughter’s caretaker.  He lives with a rich friend who has been cast away by his own family.  He has a paranormal PI business that is used by the rich and famous as well as those that are regular joes like you and me. He is also haunted by what creatures he’s seen and the mayhem in which these creatures create.

He knows what could be taking these children and in order to stop this…this…thing, he has to find it and put it down.  The only problem with that plan is that he needs more than himself to do it.  There is a non believer in the FBI that is trying her best to pin bad things on Jono.  Oh, and to throw the whole thing into a further uproar? Jono has the gift of Psychometry.  He touches something and can see into it’s past. He has to race time to stop the children from being taken.  He has to convince the cops to keep him out of jail.  He has to convince himself that he can really do some good.

The battle scenes are page turners.  The protagonist isn’t lovable but neither can I find fault in his actions.  He’s not exactly a hero, more like a survivor.  He does what he has to do and the job he has is worse than scary.  Very few will thank him for his work and even less will acknowledge he ever did it in the first place.

It’s a good book.   It’ll suck you in when you give it a try.

Other books similar to this that you may like to try…

 

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The Girl In Red by Christina Henry

Christina Henry’s series of reimagined fairy tales continues with The Girl In Red, a post-apocalyptic version of Little Red Riding Hood.

Title: The Girl In Red
Author: Christina Henry
Publish Date: June 18, 2019 by Berkley
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic fiction
Narrator: January LaVoy
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods…

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

After a deadly virus wipes out most of the population, Red—the only surviving member of her immediate family—travels overland toward her grandmother’s house, hoping Grandma has also has survived. Along the way, she encounters packs of ruthless scavengers, the military, some children, one good person, and a possible mutation to the virus that is even scarier and more deadly than the original strain.

Many characteristics of The Girl In Red are familiar for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly The Walking Dead (but without the zombies). However, there are several novel elements and some really good characterization that keep it from feeling stale. For example, Red has a prosthetic leg. Imagine what it would be like to travel 300 miles overland through wooded areas with a prosthetic leg.

In flashbacks, the reader gets a good feel for Red’s life before the apocalypse and her family’s dynamic. They serve as great contrasts to her post-apocalypse experience and demonstrate her resilience.

There is one element I thought particularly fun. Red attributes her knowledge and preparedness for the apocalypse to her love of post-apocalypse genre fiction and movies. Henry doesn’t make the mistake of making Red unrealistically capable—fiction is just fiction after all. Red makes her fair share of mistakes, but she is slightly more prepared mentally because she has some idea of what to expect in a post-apocalyptic situation. One role that fiction entertainment plays in our world is allowing us to mentally “practice” in situations that we have never encountered in real life. Red’s actions in this book are a great example of this.

In contrast, Shakespeare appears often in this book. Red’s mother is a professor of Shakespeare, and so some of his work is embedded in Red’s mind as well. Through her, the reader gets just a small taste of “Compare and contrast the relevance of literary Shakespeare and genre fiction in today’s world.”

I like it when characters in a book are readers themselves. It’s a nod from authors to their fans, an acknowledgment of shared interest and inclusion in The Club of Readers.

There are actually lots of themes that could be teased out of this book for a discussion: family dynamics, race (Red is mixed-race), physical disabilities, human behavior during crises, skills necessary for survival, the material nature of modern life. But the strongest theme has to be that of resilience and its ability to see you through difficult times.

My one complaint about this book is that there isn’t more. The story is told from Red’s point of view exclusively, and she’s not a major player in the apocalypse event, just a victim of it. But things happen in her world that I want to know more about, such as where the virus comes from and how widespread its effects are. And what about the possible mutation? A want to know a LOT more about that mutation! And, as always, I want to know what happens to Red next, after this book ends.

But that’s not the story Henry is telling, darn it. I completely understand why those things aren’t explained in detail—they aren’t part of Red’s story. But my curiosity doesn’t care; I want to know more.

Despite the fact that this book appears to be a stand-alone and not a full-blown post-apocalyptic series, it is an enjoyable read. I felt very invested in Red and some of the characters she interacts with. January LaVoy’s narration for the audiobook is excellent, which makes it that much more enjoyable. If you can stand the “not-knowing,” aspects of this book, I recommend it highly.

Our reviews in this series…

While not quite a real series, here are the books in Christina Henry’s retold fairy tales so far along with our reviews:

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

Christina Henry continues her series of fairytale-inspired retellings with The Mermaid, the grown-up version of The Little Mermaid for cynical adults.

Title: The Mermaid
Author: Christina Henry
Publish Date: June 19th, 2018 by Berkley
Genre: Historical fantasy
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionOnce there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

The Mermaid is a grittier, and probably more accurate, tale of the famous P.T. Barnum than The Greatest Showman, though he isn’t the main protagonist. The central character is Amelia, a mermaid whose curiosity drove her to land. The first part of her life on land is somewhat idyllic. But the later part is full of heartache.

I am absolutely in love with Henry’s retellings of Alice in Wonderland (Alice and The Red Queen). So I expected a lot from The Mermaid. But, while it was a good story and a great audio performance, the story wasn’t quite as dazzling for me. Amelia, the mermaid, gets screwed over by men, and is even somewhat complicit in her own screwing over, though she finds her own strength in the end. I think it’s just not quite as novel a story as Alice — a woman getting screwed over by men is an all-too-familiar story these days.

In Alice, I also enjoyed seeing all the elements of the original story that Henry reinterpreted in her grittier version. That part was missing in The Mermaid, though not through any fault of Henry’s. I haven’t read the original H.C. Anderson version of The Little Mermaid, so if there were reinterpretations, I wasn’t aware of them. But I suspect there aren’t as many quirky characters and images as in Carroll’s tale.

Despite those subjective observations, there is nothing bad about the book. The story is well-written and interesting. The characters are believable and sympathetic. I’d recommend it to fans of The Greatest Showman who want a better taste of what P.T. Barnum was really like.

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