Monday, April 29, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Frozen Shroud

The Frozen Shroud
The Lake District Mysteries, #6 
Author: Martin Edwards 
Narrator: John Lee
Unabridged, Length 8.5 hrs
Publisher: Blackstone Audio 2013

Publisher's Summary
Death has come twice to Ravenbank, a remote community in England’s Lake District, each time on Halloween. Just before the First World War, a young woman’s corpse was found, with a makeshift shroud frozen to her battered face. Her ghost—the Faceless Woman—is said to walk through Ravenbank on Halloween. Five years ago, another woman, Shenagh Moss, was murdered, and again her face was covered to hide her injuries.
Daniel Kind, a specialist in the history of murder, becomes fascinated by the old cases and wonders whether the obvious suspects really did commit the crimes. He spends Halloween at a party in Ravenbank—only to find death returning to this beautiful but isolated spot. Once more, the victim is a woman; once more her damaged face is shrouded from view.

My Thoughts:
The Frozen Shroud has some of the things I like in a mystery.  It's set in England, there are murders to be solved and a narrator who is one of my favorites.  But it did not live up to my expectations. 
The second and third murders were interesting but similarities seemed contrived.  The ghost story could have been interesting but the ghost never showed up except in conversations. Maybe it was because most of the story was told through conversations.  For instance, when murder historian Daniel Kind made a startling discovery, we don't know what it is until he's talking with DCI Hannah Scarlett.  John Lee gave a flawless performance but even with his expertise, there were so many characters I occasionally lost track of who was speaking.  It's entirely possible that I would have liked The Frozen Shroud more if I had read the series from the beginning.  However, I did enjoy trying to figure out who the murderer was in all three cases.  I like it when the solution isn't so obvious and no matter which person I suspect, I get it wrong.  It had enough plot twists and red herrings to keep me listening to the end.   I give it 3 stars.

Review copy provided by Blackstone Audio. 


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Audiobook review: The Racketeer

The Racketeer by John Grisham
Narrated by J. D. Jackson
Length: 12 hours and 45 minutes
Release Date: 10-23-12
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publisher's Summary
Given the importance of what they do, and the controversies that often surround them, and the violent people they sometimes confront, it is remarkable that in the history of this country only four active federal judges have been murdered.

Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five.

Who is the Racketeer? And what does he have to do with the judge's untimely demise? His name, for the moment, is Malcolm Bannister. Job status? Former attorney. Current residence? The Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

On paper, Malcolm's situation isn't looking too good these days, but he's got an ace up his sleeve: He knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and he knows why. The judge's body was found in his remote lakeside cabin. There was no forced entry, no struggle, just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied.

What was in the safe? The FBI would love to know. And Malcolm Bannister would love to tell them. But everything has a price - especially information as explosive as the sequence of events that led to Judge Fawcett's death. And the Racketeer wasn't born yesterday....
Nothing is as it seems and everything's fair game in this wickedly clever new novel from John Grisham, the undisputed master of the legal thriller.

My Thoughts:
This is my least favorite book by John Grisham (unless he writes one that is worse).  The critics seemed to be impressed but I was not.  Grisham is one of my favorite authors but if The Racketeer was the first book I had read by him, I might not have ever read another.  I’ve read some and listened to others but I’ve always been able to get into the story right away.  I found myself washing dishes without my mp3 player when I first started listening to The Racketeer.  I kept wondering when the story would start.  It wasn’t until about the middle that I was driving on a familiar road and made a wrong turn because I was so tuned in.  When Vanessa joins Malcolm the story really gets interesting.  Malcolm is using Rule 35 to get himself out of prison and Vanessa is helping him.  I was pretty sure that Malcolm/Max was in cahoots with (no, not telling - you’ll have to read it to see if you think the same.)  I just had to let the story unfold.  Their plan went along without any hitches except maybe when Vanessa had to get naked or Max was slowed down by a traffic jam.  At times I found myself rooting for Max and his friends to succeed and other times I wondered why he deserved success.  He sure didn’t subscribe to the golden rule.  
The narrator, J.D. Jackson, has a wonderfully smooth voice but he read so slowly that I might have had a better experience with the print version.  I would not avoid another audiobook narrated by him but I won't add him to my list of favorite narrators.  
I sort of wish I’d waited on the list at my local library instead of spending my Audible credit on it. 

Audiobook Review: The Artful Egg

The Artful Egg
Arthur: James McClure
Narrator: Steven Crossley
Unabridged Length 10 hrs 7 min.
Publisher: AudioGo Ltd
Release Date 2/12/13

Publishers Summary:
 Naomi Stride was a wealthy woman, and her death has left several people richer--none more so than her twenty-six-year-old son Theo, with whom she had long had bitter differences over money. She was also a controversial woman, a writer whose novels had been banned in South Africa. But was it for money, politics, or some other unknown reason that she was killed? And why was her naked corpse strewn with flowers and herbs? These are the questions South African Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and his Zulu partner, Mickey Zondi, must answer. But this task becomes much more difficult when Kramer is unexpectedly taken off the case. Ordered by his superiors to discreetly "wrap up" a fatal accident that could be embarrassing for the South African police, he is plunged into a second investigation, and (fighting to keep it free of political whitewash) he and Zondi find themselves moving inexorably toward a haunting and horrifying climax.

My Thoughts:
The Artful Egg has everything I like in a mystery.  It has an entertaining plot, plenty of laughs, engaging characters and a talented narrator to make them come alive.  The setting is a fictional South African town during the apartheid era.  Naomi Stride's books were banned because of her sympathy for the non-white population. She was wealthy so she could have been murdered for political reasons or for her money.  I enjoyed the investigation procedure and interaction between Tromp Kramer and Mickey Zondi so much that I didn't even try to figure out who the murderer was.  At times Kramer was called a kaffir lover and Zondi was not allowed into certain places, but their relationship was one of respect and teamwork.  I was delighted to find that there are more Kramer and Zondi mysteries to discover.   This was the 7th in the series.   My favorite character in The Artful Egg is the Indian postman Ramjut Pillay who found Stride's body.   One of the funniest scenes is when he is in a mental hospital under an assumed name, sans trousers, trying to prove he isn't a Jew.  The doctor denies calling him a Jew and says he is missing the point.  Ramjut insists that the doctor take a look at his point. "It is entirely uncircumscribed."  (It's funnier in Ramjut's voice.)  Steven Crossley performed all the voices brilliantly but showed his genius with Ramjut.   I loved The Artful Egg and give it 5 stars.

Review copy provided by AudioGo. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Audiobook Review: Frank Sinatra in a Blender

Frank Sinatra in a Blender
Author: Matthew McBride
Narrator: Keith Szarabajka 
Length 5.5 hrs Unabridged 
Publisher: Blackstone Audio 2013

Publisher's Summary:
Nick Valentine has problems. He’s a drunken ex-cop who lives in his shabby office, hangs out at strip clubs, and has only one real friend—Frank Sinatra. But he’s one of the best private investigators in Saint Louis. So when an inept crew robs a credit union, only Valentine can figure out who made off with the millions—because sometimes solving a crime takes a hard guy who’s not afraid to work outside the law. Valentine swerves through the underbelly of Saint Louis looking for answers, and with every law he breaks, every drink he takes, and every OxyContin he snorts, he lurches closer to finding the truth—or floating facedown in the Missouri River.
Brutally funny and wild, this no-holds-barred crime novel reads like Elmore Leonard on meth: crazy 
and addictive—you’ll want more.

My Thoughts:
Frank Sinatra is a cute little yorkie.  What kind of monster would put him in a blender? He's also a funny little cuss and the best (or only) friend of Nick Valentine, hard drinking private eye who likes his OxyContin (preferring it crushed for snorting) and various other drugs.  It's usual for Nick to go into one of his strip joint hangouts and order several mixed drinks with a couple of beer chasers and that's just the first round.  He always travels with a spare beer cooler in his trunk but no spare tire. He has recently quit drinking coffee because he gave up cigarettes. He couldn't drink coffee with out smoking so had to give up both.  Nick was on the police force until his drinking got him kicked out.  He is helping his former chief with the investigation of a credit union robbery.  Money is stolen and then stolen againTorture and murders happen and Nick is hot on the case.  One of the funniest scenes is when Nick and a cop are searching a murder scene.  Nick can't resist drinking wine from the refrigerator and leaves a door unlocked so he can sneak back to steal more wine and use the toilet.  I enjoyed Matthew McBride's warped sense of humor so much I immediately listened to the novel again.  But it wasn't just the story and dark humor that made me enjoy Frank Sinatra in a Blender so much.  I loved hearing it read by Keith Szarabajka. There couldn't be a more perfect narrator for this novel.  He is a true voice artist.  I felt like I was hearing a whole cast of characters - Telly, English Sid, Johnny No Nuts, Big Tony, Amish Ron, Doyle, Nick Valentine, and yes, even Frank Sinatra. 

If you have no tolerance for profanity and an aversion to gore, it's best to pass on this one.  But if you like over-the-top characters and wicked humor, you will laugh all the way through it.  The pace was so fast that at times I had to rewind to see if I had missed something and the gore was almost too much but the laughs were worth it.  I give it 4.5 stars.

Review copy provided by Blackstone Audio.  



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Audiobook Review: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey 
Author: Wendy Wax
Narrator: Orlagh Cassidy 
Length: 10 hours & 24 minutes
Release Date 4-2-13
Publisher: Penguin Audio

Publisher's Summary:
 When the concierge of The Alexander, a historic Atlanta apartment building, invites his fellow residents to join him for weekly screenings of Downton Abbey, four very different people find themselves connecting with the addictive drama, and - even more unexpectedly - with one another....
Samantha Davis married young and for the wrong reason: the security of old Atlanta money - for herself and for her orphaned brother and sister. She never expected her marriage to be complicated by love and compromised by a shattering family betrayal.
Claire Walker is now an empty nester and struggling author who left her home in the suburbs for the old-world charm of The Alexander, and for a new and productive life. But she soon wonders if clinging to old dreams can be more destructive than having no dreams at all.
And then there's Brooke MacKenzie, a woman in constant battle with her faithless ex-husband. She's just starting to realize that it's time to take a deep breath and come to terms with the fact that her life is not the fairy tale she thought it would be.
For Samantha, Claire, Brooke - and Edward, who arranges the weekly gatherings - it will be a season of surprises as they forge a bond that will sustain them through some of life's hardest moments - all of it reflected in the unfolding drama, comedy, and convergent lives of Downton Abbey.
©2013 Wendy Wax (P)2013 Penguin Audio

My Thoughts:
I'm a  devoted Downton Abbey fan and this title grabbed me right away.  I was quickly drawn into the lives of these women who become friends while meeting with others in their apartment building to watch Downton Abbey.  The weekly screening was organized by Edward Parker, the building's British concierge, to help the residents get to know one another and to give him a taste of home.  I was listening to the first part of the book while grocery shopping when I learned that Edward was serving popcorn and wine for the first screening.  There must have been a subliminal message because I later found myself sitting in my favorite chair way past my bedtime, eating popcorn, drinking wine and listening to the residents discuss Downton Abbey.  I liked the descriptions of  British treats for other sessions, such as mini shepherd's pies, mini bangers and mash and a drink called shandy, a mixture of beer and lemonade that I'd like to sample.  It was interesting to see the developing friendship of the three women who seemed to have little in common.  I can't say I had a favorite among the women but Claire's inability to write after she had arranged her life so that she could be a full-time author was most interesting to me.  I empathized with Samantha and Brooke but I felt Claire's panic at not being able to begin working on her new book.  And when she had her impromptu book signing, I would have loved to hear her read an excerpt from one of her novels.  My favorite character was Edward Parker.  As concierge, he learns things about the residents they wouldn't want known but he is very discreet.  He has a side business called Private Butler.  I kept thinking that stories about him and his business would make a great series, maybe narrated by John Lee or Jim Broadbent. 

Orlagh Cassidy has a wonderful voice and her performance is flawless.  I thought she handled the Britsh accents well and also the soft southern voices of the women.  She is one of my favorite narrators.

Even if you aren't a Downton Abbey fan, you might want to be after reading While We Were Watching Downton Abbey.  It kept me interested until the satisfying end.  I give it 4.5 stars.

Review copy provided by Penguin Audio.