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ROBERT B. PARKER’S KICKBACK by Ace Atkins, narrated by Joe Mantegna, is the 43rd novel in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. People of a certain age may remember the old detective TV show Spenser for Hire starring Robert Ulrich. Having watched the show as a child I never knew that the show was based on Parkers wildly popular detective novels. Parker died in 2010 yet his novels live on and the torch is carried, quite successfully in my opinion, by Ace Atkins.

Robert B Parkers KickbackI first came to know of Robert B Parker and Spenser by recommendation of The Dresden Files author Jim Butcher during a book signing where he was asked about his favorite books. I love The Dresden Files so I figured I’d give it a go and I’m glad I did. I am always excited to hop in the back seat with Spenser and see how things go down this next time around. ROBERT B. PARKER’S KICKBACK was a bit darker than any of the previous installments. Atkins had me wondering how much he will be willing to deviate in the future from the more lightly toned works Parker started us on.

ROBERT B. PARKER’S KICKBACK takes Spenser through a quagmire surrounding a cash for kids scheme and the dirty judges running the show. We also get a few POV interludes from the perspective of “The Boy” who has been arrested at the start of the novel, gets processed, and sent to juvenile detention. This is where the grim part of the tale lies. In the past Parker steered clear of depicting sexual assaults “on screen” and in ROBERT B. PARKER’S KICKBACK things get pretty real. If you have issues with triggers you may want to skip over these interludes and stick to Spenser’s POV.

Spenser continues to be one of my favorite characters. Always upstanding and stalwart, yet he makes the hard decisions when needed. He has been nearly ageless although Atkins shakes this up a bit in ROBERT B. PARKER’S KICKBACK and Spenser has recently had knee surgery thanks to an off camera injury from a brawl that could have gone better. Susan, Spenser’s long time girlfriend was rather muted this time around. In previous novels Spenser relies on her advice often and this time around she is seldom on screen. Hawk, Spenser’s best friend, continues to be the classy badass. I appreciated that Vinnie Morris, another long acquaintance of Spenser’s, still held a grudge from the last novel as well.

Ace Atkins does a fine job walking in Robert B. Parkers shoes. This may be appalling to other Parker constant readers, and to Atkins credit, overall I doubt I would have noticed the change in author after Parkers passing aside perhaps of noting the novel length increasing. The darker turn of events in ROBERT B. PARKER’S KICKBACK perhaps would have tipped me off.  I am curious to see what lies ahead for Spenser.

Joe Mantegna’s narration remains on point. I started Spenser with Michael Prichard narrating the early books. When Mantegna came aboard at first it was an unwelcome change but he is the man these days and does solid voices for everyone. I didn’t know this before since I only watched Spenser for Hire when I was a kid but Mantegna has played Spenser on the small screen multiple times. I need to check those out.

In summary, It’s Spenser. If you love a good detective story where a smartass tough guy bumps into everyone and everything until he gets to the root of a problem then you are set. I’ll pickup Spenser #44 when it hits the shelves whenever that may be.


ANDREW DORAN AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS: THE ADVENTURES OF ANDREW DORAN, VOLUME 3 by Matthew Davenport, Narrated by Shaun Toole is the third installment in Davenport ‘s Doran series. Shaun Toole returns to narrate as we follow Doran and company once again taking on those rascally Nazis and cultists. Please note the review must contain some spoilers for THE STATEMENT OF ANDREW DORAN so please go and read that first before proceeding.Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness

I enjoyed THE STATEMENT OF ANDREW DORAN. Therefore, when Davenport contacted me asking if I would like to review volume three I was quick to say yes.   Similar to Davenports last book ANDREW DORAN AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is a romp across the globe, chasing after dangerous knowledge in order to keep it from the Nazi’s and save the world. If you’ve listened to STATEMENT you know that repeated use of magic will inevitably cause insanity for anyone who dips their toes in the black art. Doran has passed this point and his insanity as coalesced in the form of Olivia who resides within his mind as a sort of multiple personality or psychosis. I was completely blindsided by the direction Davenport went with Olivia. I’m unsure at this point if that story arc is complete but if so then hats off to the author for completely destroying my expectation in what was to happen. Surprise is good!

There is some shifting of roles among Doran’s friends in MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS and without spoiling too much I am excited to see where things are going. Even though we are only essentially two books into the adventure (the first being a story of the young Doran) I feared things would quickly go stale and predictable for Doran and his team but luckily Davenport has already shaken that up with the addition of Nancy Dyer to the team. Nancy is a real woman (so far, ha!), to interact with Doran and she seems pretty smart and more or less able to keep up.

Davenports writing is improving. The prose felt tighter this time around although there are a few spots of clunky text which could have used with extra revision. For example there are places where Doran will internally expound on an idea only to repeat it aloud again or have a colleague say the same thing which could be done away with to keep things flowing. This quibble notwithstanding the pacing of the story is good and the action excellent.

I confess I was less pleased with Shaun Toole’s voice work for most other characters in the book. I simply don’t hear French when he narrates Leo’s dialogue and at one point the text calls for a character to demonstrate “southern charm” and the result is not on point. Again, I think Toole’s voice for Doran is absolutely perfect. I only hope he can continue to work more on the accents for other characters in future installments.

Overall I am very pleased that Davenport asked me to review ANDREW DORAN AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS: THE ADVENTURES OF ANDREW DORAN, VOLUME 3. I still feel like Andrew Doran is a fun mix of Spenser, Indiana Jones, and Dirk Pitt.  With the addition of the Lovecraftian influence this series is a hoot. I only see this series getting better and better.


THE ABYSS BEYOND DREAMS by Peter F. Hamilton, narrated by John Lee, is the latest scifi/space opera installation Hamilton’s ongoing Commonwealth series.Abyss

ABYSS shares the same universe as Hamilton’s other Commonwealth novels and there is some back story and lore that you may or may not be aware of depending on if you have dipped your toe in his books before. Regardless I think you could easily jump into ABYSS and enjoy it all the same.   We got to see some old friends although my personal favorite, Paula Myo, is only on screen for a heartbeat. Set before the events in his Void Trilogy ABYSS brings us back inside the mysterious void in the center of the galaxy and takes place in the distant 34th century. The initial events in ABYSS opens to us outside the void and are a wrapper for the primary story which progresses once we arrive inside the void.   In ABYSS we are on the planet Bienvenido rather than Makkathran which we knew from The Void trilogy. Most modern technologies and electronics do not function inside the void leaving us with a world seemingly around Victorian England levels of technology with a touch of the old west. Luckily for the people of Bienvenido they have telekinesis and a level of telepathy to help them along.

The story begins with the alien Species which guards the perimeter of the void, the Raiel, appealing to Nigel Sheldon to venture into the void in order to destroy it before it can grow and engulf more of the galaxy. Nigel agrees, clones himself, and sends the clone in. Once inside we are introduced to Slvasta who is a member of Bienvenido’s regimental army charged with the defense of the planet from the Fallers, an alien threat which besets the planet by dropping eggs on the world and when a person is lured into contact is essentially body snatched and becomes a Faller.

We follow Slvasta in his campaign against the Fallers and eventually meet up with Nigel in his quest to figure out what is going on inside the void and ultimately to attempt to fulfill the mission tasked by the Raiel.

We mostly tag along with Slvasta for the bulk of the novel. Slvasta’s squad, early in the story, had a less than optimal encounter with a Faller force which sets him on his path for vengeance and to cleanse the world of the Faller threat. It must be said that it comes to a point where his single mindedness is offputting.   There is however some plot devices Hamilton uses that could indicate that some of this may not be the characters fault but I was never sure.

Another protagonist we get inside the void is Kysandra. Kysandra is a young farm girl about to be forced to marry the local town mob boss’s fat son in order to pay off her widowed mother’s debts and provide a secure future for them both.   At this point all I will say is Kysandra becomes very interesting and I just want to say I enjoyed her growth and arc very much.

I also liked Nigel in ABYSS although he was pretty much always in control and was never under threat or real conflict. I would have liked him to have some sort of foil at any point but perhaps that will come in THE NIGHT WITHOUT STARS.

On the subject of John Lee, I am a huge fan.  He is absolutely unique in narration here in ABYSS is fantastic.  I could go on and on about his cadence and precision in his work.  I can’t think of anything I’ve listened to with him at the helm that was not enjoyed.  I recall there was an uproar when he sat in for Roy Dotrice for the original A FEAST FOR CROWS audiobook.  Frankly, while Dotrice is a master craftsman in his own right,  I liked Lee’s work best.

I’m a big fan of Hamilton’s work and was very happy to get to visit again in the commonwealth and a peek once again inside the void. Hamiltons worldbuilding is so very dense yet it does not hinder the story and he parcels out the tidbits of how life works inside the void and out as well just so as to keep things moving. The technology is fascinating as well which very much helps my immersion in the world.  I’m super pumped for THE NIGHT WITHOUT STARS to see how things continue to play out. And here’s to hoping for some more Paula Myo or maybe even a visit from THE CAT.

THE STATEMENT OF ANDREW DORAN by Matthew Davenport – Audiobook Review

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was given the book for free with the understanding I would provide an honest review.

THE STATEMENT OF ANDREW DORAN by Matthew Davenport is a Lovecraftian horror novel set during World War II. We get an array of monsters, zombies, and Nazi’s (oh my!). Clocking in at six hours STATEMENT had a good pulp serial feel to it. We have some action and it always felt like Professor Doran was in the right place at the right time in order to find himself in a bit of a pickle. Being Lovecraftian in nature I was ready for some flat out insanity and wasn’t disappointed. Grim and gruesome, fun was had by all.

I co51HXKQExIcL._SL300_nfess I found myself lost in the plot more than once. The quick pace of the storyline means you can’t read or listen with your mind on your dinner.   The crux of the story is Professor Doran’s chasing a copy of the Necronomicon, which is a magical book of great power. Along the way Doran is joined by French femme fatale Olivia and her French Resistance cohort with the aim of getting into German occupied France and ultimately recovering the Necronomicon from the Nazi’s.

I liked the character of Doran. He reminded me of a mashup of Indiana Jones, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, and the indomitable Robert E. Parker’s Spenser which is a series I adore.   In the Lovecraft works I have read, which is not complete, often the main character is fainting or otherwise succumbing to the surrounding insanity whereas Doran keeps his feet and moves ever on. Doran’s a man’s man and that is a good thing in this story’s setting.   I must say most other characters seem a bit flat and undeveloped however in a short serial perhaps this will be rectified in future installments so I forgive it here.

Davenport’s prose is sparing and workmanlike. Being a shorter piece there isn’t much world building and I suppose that can be expected and forgiveable as today’s readers are likely well acquainted with the WWII setting from the great quantity of other media on the subjet. The action is well written and we get some nice ghastly sights to take in.

I must say that the audiobook narration by Shaun Toole was not without issue. Toole’s passive observer narration was quite good however his character voice work felt like it could use some work. His female voices were particularly jarring and foreign accent’s sounded off to my ear.   With some work on those areas I think he could have a great future in narration.

With good action, creepy settings, and a main character with some guts I enjoyed my time with Professor Andrew Doran and would gladly pickup a sequel.


GEMINI CELL by Myke Cole – Audiobook Review

GEMINI CELL by Myke Cole and narrated By Korey Jackson is Cole’s prequel to his Shadow Ops series which is military urban fantasy.   If you relish the thought of a zombie navy seal performing a tactical assault with some superhuman feats of strength, intrigue, and a pinch of gore for added pizzazz then look no further.   And if that’s not enough Cole has cleverly camouflaged the book so you’d never suspect it’s really… a love story.17888374

I’ve listened to all the previous Shadow Ops installments so I was ready for the thick helping of military life, well explained jargon, and of course combat Cole delivers. The listener is given a window into the orderly chaos that is military service and the consequences to that service member and their loved ones.   The angle Cole takes with the book keeps the story fresh. The pace is quick and the action set pieces kept me wanting to see what was going to happen next. In fact, I listened to this in entirety in one go.

The Shadow Ops series are particularly special as the author gives us a fresh take on the modern profession of arms. It’s worth noting in GEMINI the magic is primarily on display in the form of resurrection, enhanced strength, and body morphing. You won’t see teleporting, fireballs, or accelerated entropy here although some of it is referenced.

Our primary protagonist is US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer. Schweitzer’s team is dispatched on an operation aboard a cargo ship where they find frozen bodies being transported for yet unknown reasons. Despite a hiccup or two the operation is a success and Schweitzer goes home to his wife and kid. During the night Schweitzer’s home is attacked and he and his family are gunned down apparently in retribution for the earlier operation. Schweitzer wakes to find his soul sharing his now decomposing body with a bloodthirsty and powerful magical spirit and together they can really kick some ass, if they can get along. I’m a fan of the pursuit of right and justice in a story so this was up my alley as Schweitzer battles the demon forced to share his resurrected corpse.

Again, GEMINI CELL is a love story in its bones. We follow Schweitzer in his journey to discover who killed both himself and his family. Unbeknownst to Schweitzer, his wife and son did not die during the attack. Schweitzer’s wife Sarah, like her husband, has a spine of steel. The Navy has told her that her husband died during the attack but she doesn’t buy it. Sarah has to work through her grief and figure out why she refuses to accept her husband’s death. There’s also a subplot involving Schweitzer’s best friend and his relationship to Sarah and her son now that Schweitzer is dead. If I had read this paragraph before picking up the audiobook I would have groaned loudly but Cole keeps things moving well enough that the action and pace didn’t suffer from the mushy-feely stuff.

Schweitzer is the apotheosis of military excellence. The man’s got fantastic physical condition, keen mind, granite integrity, and an indomitable spirit. Anyone who follows Myke Cole on twitter knows he is not-so-secretly Captain America. Cole is passionate about the military and it shines through perfectly in Schweitzer. Schweitzer is also a sufferer of PTSD and Cole gives us a glimpse how some service members are able to cope with the disease. Cole tackles the character of Sarah very well. She’s no shrinking violet which I suppose is expected since it likely takes a person of considerable mettle to tame a Navy SEAL.

Korey Jackson narrated all of the previous Shadow Ops audiobooks and his delivery is firm and voice well suited for the military tone. There are some spots where I felt the narration could have benefited from more takes or perhaps better editing but overall I appreciate his work here. Cole’s dialogue flows smoothly and there are moments of prose that are quite elegant. Cole maintains the intrigue of Schweitzer’s situation versus his family’s survival just long enough so there was no shouting at the characters to ‘get on with it’.

I enjoyed GEMINI CELL by Myke Cole. The quick action and deep love between Sarah and Schweitzer pulled the story along for a fun read. I’m ready for JAVELIN RAIN.


THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey – Audiobook Review

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey and Narrated by Finty Williams is a horror novel with a new (to me at least) slant on the ever popular zombie apocalypse.  This time around we are met with a civilian medical research team located in a protected military outpost attempting to find a cure for the fungal pathogen responsible for the zombie outbreak.THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS

GIRL is a beautiful and touching piece with bits of horrific imagery for flair. One of our protagonist’s, the young Melanie’s desperate longing to be loved by her teacher Ms. Justineau is simply heart wrenching.  Likewise Ms. Justineau’s compassion for her class was spot on for her character. Aside from Dr. Caldwell all the characters took on real depth. Caldwell’s single-mindedness, however, is very much in character so I don’t believe this is a flaw in writing or editing.

The tale takes us on a journey from the remote outpost to Beacon, which is the major city/base for humanity in England. Along the way we see the small group wrestle with their own flaws and try to survive, pressing-on in hopes of Dr Caldwell finding a way to cure the plague. This is a tale of attempted redemption or reconciliation and I felt like a commentary on what it means to be human, and to love.

I very much liked Ms. Justineau’s character. As someone who often thinks I’m missing out by not raising a child, Justineau’s commitment to Melanie’s safety touched home. Also Ms. Justineau showed some satisfying bad-assery at times, although she did get to the point of being a flat out bully. Again, I didn’t care much for Dr. Caldwell. Her focus on finding a cure led to some pretty nasty things and I think this speaks to what it would mean to leave humanity behind while trying to save it. There are times I think her aim was simply selfish glory rather than good intentions.

I’m not a deep thinker so I bet there is lots of commentary going on here that I am overlooking. Perhaps something said about the mentality of survivalists, on display here as The Junkers, and where that could lead should the real world take that turn for the worse.

M.R. Carey’s writing came across in the narration as very fluid and natural. All the dialogue seemed on point and no filler content to speak of nor overdone world building. There were times where Dr. Caldwell sounded like a broken record and Ms. Justineau as well but again I think that speaks more towards their characters commitment to their individual causes than an oversight in editing or revision by the author.  The reader/listener is presented with some pretty ghastly sites and the overall tone of the story feels very real. Finty Williams’s clean and crisp narration lends to this well.

Overall I felt THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was a delight. When I understood it was a zombie novel I expected a horrific-action-romp, not to *feel*. I don’t have children, and likely never will, but if I did I would want them to be like Melanie… except maybe not the whole wanting-to-eat-my-face thing.