Book Review: Beneath by Maureen A. Miller

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Title: Beneath
Series: Beneath, Book 1
Author: Maureen A. Miller
Narrator: Brandy Skelly
Publisher: Maureen A. Miller
Publication Date: August 17, 2018

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Beneath
Beneath, Book 1
Maureen A. Miller
Narrated by Brandy Skelly
Maureen A. Miller, August 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

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. One by one, Jill and her family also emerge in the sunken cavern. With only a faulty diving flashlight to keep oblivion at bay, Stella and her best friend’s brother Colin search the cave in hope of finding a way back to the surface. What they discover, however, is that they are not alone. There are other survivors in this subterranean grotto – survivors spanning decades of maritime disasters.

Will this discovery prove salvation, or have they all been condemned to the same fate? A grim finale at the bottom of the sea? On an alliance forged by friendship and attraction, Stella and Colin battle to escape the danger that lies beneath.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Bermuda Triangle; is the phenomenon pure fantasy or science fiction or perhaps even real? No one has the definitive answer but there is no question that a lot of boats and planes have been found on the bottom of the Atlantic and disappearances continue to happen. The premise that Ms. Miller suggests in Beneath is not all that bizarre considering the oddities of the Triangle, is it?

Now, just suppose such a thing happened to you and you found yourself in a vast undersea cave system with other people who had been “saved” over a period of many years. You’d be filled with questions as are Stella and Jill’s brother, Colin, and no one would be surprised when they act on their curiosity, going in search of answers. They find some of those answers, leading to even more, but perhaps the biggest is, are they condemned to remain here until…

Stella is a likeable character—as is Colin but he’s less vibrant—and I had no trouble believing in her personality, her attitudes and her determination to brave the unknown. I’m glad, actually, that her story isn’t over yet and that a sequel is coming.

Brandy Skelly brought Stella to life for me even though there were moments when her narration wasn’t entirely successful. Between Ms. Miller’s intriguing story and Ms. Skelly’s telling of that story, Beneath is a tale worth hearing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

 

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About the Author

USA TODAY bestselling author, Maureen A. Miller worked in the software industry for fifteen years. She crawled around plant floors in a hard hat and safety glasses hooking up computers to behemoth manufacturing machines. The job required extensive travel. The best form of escapism during those lengthy airport layovers became writing.

Maureen’s first novel, WIDOW’S TALE, earned her a Golden Heart nomination in Romantic Suspense. After that she became hooked to the genre. In fact, she was so hooked she is the founder of the JUST ROMANTIC SUSPENSE website.

Recently, Maureen branched out into the Young Adult Science Fiction market with the popular BEYOND Series. To her it was still Romantic Suspense…just on another planet!

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About the Narrator

Brandy Skelly studied theatre in college, and even participated in storytelling festivals when she was growing up. She’s a practicing attorney, and loves to participate in ACX projects to keep her creative side happy and fulfilled. She can perform fiction and non-fiction, in neutral-American or Southern-American accents.

Brandy lives in North Carolina with her husband, toddler, and pound puppy. She has a soft spot for romance and she loves a good laugh!

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Book Review: Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton

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Title: Mourning Dove
Author: Claire Fullerton
Narrator: Claire Fullerton
Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
Publication Date: June 25, 2018

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Mourning Dove
Claire Fullerton
Narrated by Claire Fullerton
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, June 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

The heart has a home when it has an ally. If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, 18 months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s 10th birthday.

Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold.

Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world, as they find their way to belonging. But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?

Mourning Dove is a compelling Southern family tale that, by turns, had me smile, tear up, laugh out loud, even get irritated with certain characters’ inflexibility, especially Posey and her husband, the Colonel, step-father to Millie and Finley. If things didn’t go exactly the way they expected, there would be hell to pay and life was frequently uncomfortable for the children.

As Millie and Finley grew up, they learned not only how to live with the rules of the household but also found their own way. The two are devoted to each other whether together or apart and they truly depend on each other through all the joys and despair of life. Still, family and friends are caught very much by surprise when a terrible thing happens even though they knew a darkness was brewing.

A couple of things pulled me out of the story occasionally. I’m a born and bred Southerner and some of the author’s pronunciations were different from mine; for instance, she would say “in-TRIC-a-cies” while I say “IN-tric-a-cies” and “de-COR-ous” while I say “DEC-or-ous”. Also, as a Mary Baldwin alumna, I know that it did not change its designation to University from College until 2016, many years after the time period of this story. I also have never heard of the bride’s family being responsible for hosting the wedding rehearsal dinner, especially back then. All that aside, I really did enjoy hearing about places, mannerisms and Southern culture so similar to my own upbringing. Although I managed to talk my parents out of doing the whole debutante thing, I did spend several years in cotillion 😉

I don’t always think an author narrating her own book is a good idea but Ms. Fullerton does bring the characters and the ambience to life, especially because Millie is telling the story. This is a deeply thoughtful look at the South of the 70’s and 80’s and is a true evocation of a time and place that was quite unique. Well done!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

About the Author/Narrator

Claire Fullerton grew up in Memphis, TN and now lives in Malibu, CA. She is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set in Connemara, Ireland, where she once lived. Dancing to an Irish Reel is a finalist in the 2016 Kindle Book Review Awards, and a 2016 Readers’ Favorite. Claire is the author of A Portal in Time, a paranormal mystery that unfolds in two time periods, set on California’s hauntingly beautiful Monterey Peninsula, in a village called Carmel-by-the-Sea. Both of Claire’s novels are published by Vinspire Publishing. Her third novel, Mourning Dove, is a Southern family saga, published in June, 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. She is one of four contributors to the book, Southern Seasons, with her novella, “Through an Autumn Window”, to be published in November 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire is represented by Julie Gwinn, of The Seymour Literary Agency, and can be found on WordPress, Twitter (cfullerton3) Goodreads, Instagram ( cffullerton) as well as the website under her name.

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Book Review: Gone to Ground by Rachel Amphlett

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Title: Gone to Ground
Series: A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #6
Author: Rachel Amphlett
Narrator: Alison Campbell
Publisher: Saxon Publishing
Publication Date: July 4, 2018

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Gone to Ground
A Detective Kay Hunter Novel #6
Rachel Amphlett
Narrated by Alison Campbell
Saxon Publishing, July 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

While attending a crime scene on the outskirts of Maidstone, DI Kay Hunter makes a shocking discovery.

The victim has been brutally cut to pieces, his identity unknown.

When more body parts start turning up in the Kentish countryside, Kay realises the disturbing truth – a serial killer is at large and must be stopped at all costs.

With no motive for the murders and a killer who has gone undetected until now, Kay and her team of detectives must work fast to calm a terrified local population and a scornful media.

When a third victim is found, her investigation grows even more complicated.

As she begins to expose a dark underbelly to the county town, Kay and her team are pulled into a web of jealousy and intrigue that, if left unchecked, will soon claim another life.

Once again, Rachel Amphlett has delivered a terrific British police procedural and visiting again with Detective Inspector Kay Hunter and the people she cares about was well worth the wait for this episode.

Dead bodies are never pleasant to see, of course, but the level of brutality in first one killing and then more is beyond what some of Kay’s homicide team have ever seen. There’s no question they’re dealing with a serial killer but this kind of violence usually means there’s something personal going on and, yet, these victims seem to have no connections with each other. Each facet of the investigation leads to more questions and, if there’s any common thread, it may be a resort hotel that specializes in business team-building activities. Still, Kay and her colleagues are on a rollercoaster and the last nugget of information is a stomach-churning bombshell.

On the personal front, Kay’s veterinarian husband, Adam, who brings patients home frequently, is now tending a sweet little goat who has all the annoying habits of, well, a goat, but Kay still prefers her over the snake Adam brought home one time. It’s also nice to see Kay and Adam socializing with her colleagues and doing their best not to talk shop if only for an hour or two. Barnes, in particular, becomes more fleshed out in this book and I like him even more than I already did while criminalist Harriet is becoming more and more vivid in my mind.

Alison Campbell has become one of those narrators who, in my opinion, live and breathe the main character and she quite simply nails not only Kay’s persona but also does a wonderful job with the other characters. It’s not easy for a narrator to do opposite gender voices but Ms. Campbell does men really well and all her voices are distinct from one another.

Great stories, wonderful narration, characters that have become friends—what more could I want? I do hope there will be many more books to come.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

About the Author

Before turning to writing, Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC, and worked in publishing as a sub-editor and editorial assistant.

She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel cites her writing influences as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Ludlum. She’s also a huge fan of Peter James, Val McDermid, Robert Crais, Stuart MacBride, and many more.

She’s a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series contracted to Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

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Book Review: Uncanny Valley by C.A. Gray

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Title: Uncanny Valley
Series: Uncanny Valley #1
Author: C.A. Gray
Narrator: Melissa Williams
Publisher: Wanderlust Publishing
Publication Date: March 27, 2018

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Uncanny Valley
Uncanny Valley #1
C.A. Gray
Narrated by Melissa Williams
Wanderlust Publishing, March 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

Rebecca Cordeaux knows exactly what her future will hold: she will marry Andy, her crush of the last five years. Once Andy is ready to settle down, she’s sure he will discover that she is his soulmate. After several small parts on stage, Rebecca knows she can become a renowned actress. Her writing also shows promise as a future author. Robots perform most human jobs that can be automated, leaving many free to pursue their personal creative interests.

But Rebecca’s mother Karen fears the new world of robots, and insists her brilliant daughter join a university research team, studying the hazards of a complete robotic economy. Rebecca’s father Quentin was obsessed with the subject to a degree that even her mother considered absurd, prior to his untimely death. So long as she can reserve enough of her time to pursue her true passions on the side, Rebecca half-heartedly agrees to join the research team, if only to please her widowed mother. There she joins a post-doc named Liam, whose conspiracy theories rival even those of her late father.

Liam is convinced that world Republic leader William Halpert’s worldwide challenge for researchers to develop synthetic creativity will lead not to the promised utopia, in which every kind of human suffering has been eradicated, but rather to an apocalypse. Rebecca, whose best friend is her own companion bot Madeline, writes Liam off as a bot-hating conspiracy theorist, just like her father was…until she learns that her father’s death might not have been due to mere happenstance.

With Liam’s help, Rebecca learns of an underground organization known as The Renegades, where Quentin Cordeaux was considered a legend. While Liam attempts to stop Halpert’s challenge if he can, Rebecca tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to her father. Did he and many of his contemporaries die for something they knew? Who is the mysterious informant who calls himself John Doe, and only seems to want to drive her out of harm’s way? And if Halpert’s challenge is answered, will it usher in a brave new chapter in humanity’s history… or were Quentin Cordeaux’s dire predictions right all along?

I won’t take any time re-hashing the core storyline since the publisher’s description is very thorough, almost too much so. Instead, I’ll focus on what I liked and didn’t like and, this being science fiction, my first thoughts have to be about worldbuilding.

Any speculative fiction needs a strong sense of when, where and how and I have to say there’s a lack here. Certain cities are named occasionally, like Dublin and Geneva, but I got no real sense of when this was taking place or how society had arrived at a bot-driven existence. As a result, I couldn’t get a grasp of how long the bots had been so prevalent nor how long a few conspiracy theorists had been working to stop further development.

The primary characters, on the other hand, were quite well-drawn and I felt I knew them well. That doesn’t mean I liked them all and, in fact, one of the romantic leads plucked my last nerve with his controlling ways although I also saw his good points. The bad guys, Halpert in particular, were appropriately callous and remote and, as for Rebecca, this was a girl I understood. She’s young enough to be starry-eyed about a guy, smart enough to get involved with some serious research and education, well-rounded enough to have other interests and attached enough to her mother to want to please her. In short, she’s a normal young woman.

Narrator Melissa Williams does a credible job with a pleasing tone, good pacing and clear enunciation but I don’t hear much vocal distinction between the characters. Still, I enjoy listening to her.

All that said, my favorite character of all is Madeline, a very small personal bot. Madeline is a pure delight and a great friend to Rebecca even while she’s just shy of having true emotions. This little mechanical creature is involved in the heavy-duty cliffhanger at the end and she’s the reason I’m going to have to read the next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

About the Author

By day, C.A. Gray is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) with a primary care practice in Tucson, AZ, and she writes medical books under her real name (Dr. Lauren Deville). She lives with her husband, with whom she maintains a facetiously contentious movie review blog, and travels as often as they can get away. When not writing or seeing patients, she does yoga, drinks red wine while eating dark chocolate, and consumes audiobooks like there’s no tomorrow!

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About the Narrator

Melissa lives with her family, including two dogs and a cat, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado.

After having a corporate job for most of her life, and as a self-proclaimed introvert, she decided to leave corporate America to work from home. Voice overs had always tugged at her heart as something she would like to explore, so she attended some classes and landed with a company that taught her how to break in to the industry.

Loving to read, she explored the fast growing world of audiobooks and fell in love with it. She has ten audiobooks under her belt and is currently working on the 11th. Understanding that she should always be learning how to improve her skills, she is currently working with Sean Pratt.

When not talking to herself in a padded room, she can be found walking her dog, singing or fishing the Arkansas River.

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Book Review: The Culling by Ramona Finn

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Title: The Culling
Series: The Culling Trilogy, Book 1
Author: Ramona Finn
Narrator: Stacey Glemboski
Publisher: Relay Publishing
Publication Date: March 21, 2018

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The Culling
The Culling Trilogy, Book 1
Ramona Finn
Narrated by Stacey Glemboski
Relay Publishing, March 2018
DownloadedUnabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

In a solar system where The Authority decides who lives and who dies, only one of their own executioners can stop them.

Glade Io is a trained killer. Marked at a young age as an individual with violent tendencies, she was taken from her family and groomed to be a Datapoint—a biotech-enabled analyst who carries out the Culling. She is designed to identify and destroy any potential humans that threaten the colonies: those marked as lawbreakers, unproductive or sick. But when she’s kidnapped by rogue colonists known as the Ferrymen, everything Glade thinks she knows about the colonies, and The Authority that runs them, collapses into doubt.

Pulled between two opposing sides, and with her family’s lives hanging in the balance, Glade is unsure of who to trust—and time is running out.

Now, this is a dystopian concept that I haven’t run into before and fresh ideas are always welcome. Much of the tale’s plot and the behavior of the characters is similar to many other books but that all supports the central theme, that sociopathic tendencies can be harnessed to do the bidding of an evil government without a care or concern.

Glade is one of those sociopaths and, after being snatched from her mother and younger sisters as a young girl, she has been melded, in a manner of speaking, with a biotech system so that she is able to locate and assess candidates for culling and then carry out the procedure. What it boils down to is Glade is judge, jury and executioner; she murders people with the approval of the seven-person Authority and, because she’s a sociopath, she feels no remorse or reluctance whatsoever.

Except when she remembers that her own father was culled and she’s never understood why.

Things could have gone along this way for years but Glade and another Datapoint are taken captive by a band of resisters known as the Ferrymen and their leader, Kupier, begins to have a small effect on Glade and on her perspective. For the first time in her life, she has niggling questions about what she does and why and about the Authority. Back on the space station, she has a different view of herself and her fellow Datapoints, especially Dahn, and begins to fear one of the Authority, Jan Ernst Haven.

Even with the similarities to other dystopian stories, I came to really like these characters (my favorite may be Kupier’s kid brother) and some of the details of their world but there are still missing pieces. For instance, I want to know much more about how Earth came to be uninhabitable, how the people became space colonizers and why the Authority turned into such a force for evil. Perhaps more will be revealed in the next book.

Narrator Stacey Glemboski does a nice job with clear tones and good pacing. She has to work with a bit of a hindrance in that the point of view and even the setting frequently change without warning and it can be momentarily difficult to make the transition as a listener/reader but Ms. Glemboski eases the pain with her quite believable and effective voice characrterizations. I’ll gladly listen to more books she does.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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About the Author

Ramona Finn writes about courageous characters who fight to live in broken, dystopian worlds. She believes a person’s true character is often revealed in times of crisis, and there is no greater crisis than the worlds that she drops her characters into!

She grew up sitting cross-legged on her town’s library floor–completely engrossed in science fiction books. It was always the futuristic world or the universe-on-the-brink-of-extinction plotlines that drew her in, but it was the brave characters who chose to fight back that kept her turning the pages.

Her books create deep, intricate worlds with bold characters determined to fight for their survival in their dystopian worlds–with a little help from their friends. And, of course, romance is never out of the question ;).

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About the Narrator

Stacey is an accomplished audiobook narrator and voice actor who has recorded books for many best-selling authors. Many of her favorite books have been for kids and teens, but all genres of narration appeal to her. For Stacey, narration is about having fun breathing life into characters and getting as lost as possible in the story she’s telling. Outside the studio, Stacey is an avid tennis player and fitness enthusiast. She enjoys dog walks, paddle boarding, and most any outdoor activities.

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Book Review: The Tribulations of August Barton by Jennifer LeBlanc

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Book Review: Call to Arms by Rachel Amphlett

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