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Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley
Inside a Silver Box

nrlymrtl, April 19, 2015

Ronnie Bottoms and Lorraine Fell crash together in just the right place to activate the Silver Box, a box that the Laz (an alien race) placed on the Earth long before humans and which contains & constrains the last of a most powerful and destructive sentient force. Together, they struggle to contain what they inadvertently have set loose in order to save the entire planet.

I don’t like this book and I really did want to like this book. It is my first Walter Mosley book and I have heard great things about his work. HighBridge Audio is a quality publisher and the narrator, Dion Graham, is awesome. The cover art is intriguing. The story itself was a clash of themes and ideas that never melded into a coherent plot line. Quite frankly, I was bored with it.

First, Ronnie is a serial mugger and rapist. He has been in and out of prison much of his adult life. He ‘meets’ Lorraine in a New York City park when he attempts to mug and rape her. She fights back and he reacts harshly, killing her. This all happens in an area that is full of small boulders and large rocks and is right over the resting place of the Silver Box. Once Lorraine is dead, the Silver Box preserves her consciousness and this allows her to take over other bodies and eventually get Ronnie to return to the scene of the crime. At that point, using the power of the Silver Box, he has the greatest orgasmic experience of his life in bringing Lorraine’s dead, bloated corpse back to life, and in fine shape.

So we get all that very early on in the book. Ronnie and Lorraine have now become our heroes set on saving the Earth. They have been set upon a quest and given special powers. And they decide they need to visit family, friends, and folks from their past in order to hash some stuff out. Uh… wasn’t there a time limit for their quest? I kept waiting for the story to veer back towards the cool scifi part that involves aliens and saving the Earth. That is almost completely sidelined until the very end, which is hugely anticlimactic and not satisfying at all.

Next, Ronnie is now one of our heroes. Mr. Serial Rapist is going to save the Earth. He has completely turned over a new leaf (in record time from one scene to the next) and now sees that all those horrible things he did were wrong. He no longer has all the anger and hunger inside. So he digs up an old teacher to chat about the old days, stumbles into an old girlfriend, and crashes at Lorraine’s swanky uptown penthouse, complete with weekly maid service. He never visits his victims to redress his past ill deeds. I had a hard time routing for him because of his past bad behavior and also because he is not being very proactive in saving the world.

Lorraine wasn’t much better. She comes from a privileged family and she has to struggle with realizing that turning your head and looking the other way is wrong, especially when you have the power and money to make a difference. She has a shouting match with her parents, who threaten to stop making payments on her penthouse. So, Lorraine doesn’t work and isn’t paying for her upkeep at all, and that doesn’t change by the end of the book. I found her character to be boring because her circumstances didn’t change, so her behavior didn’t have to change much either.

Lastly, there is sex, and then there isn’t. Ronnie initially attempts to rape Lorraine, and once she returns to the land of the living, she has some choice words to say to him about that. But then they get super powers and there are 2 scenes in the book where they kind of have sex. And yet they think of each other as akin to siblings since the Silver Box changed them. So that added a yuck factor to their sexytimes, plus that whole attempted rape thing starting off their acquaintance.

So with all that, I had this feeling that perhaps the author was attempting to mash together opposing themes that would intentionally make the reader uncomfortable. Yes, I left this book feeling like I had been put through some kind of social experiment and then tossed out the back door with my meager compensation for my time ��" the pleasure of writing up this review.

The Narration: While I didn’t care for this book, Dion Graham was an amazing narrator. His voice is deep and smooth and a joy to listen to. He had dialects for the various New Yorkers and a range of male and female voices. The audio production was excellent.
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High Midnight by Rob Mosca
High Midnight

nrlymrtl, April 19, 2015

What do psychotic clowns, cryptid chimeras, drunk sheriffs, Russian novel reading monkeys, ghostly lovers, and zombies have in common? Not much beyond this book. Set in modern day, Unity, Texas is a place to the unwanted, drunk, and those not wanting to be found to disappear. Laredo Beaumont, the sheriff, takes his job seriously, especially the napping and drinking part. At least, until the day a murder of clowns shows up.

This is one of the oddest books I have ever read. I knew it was a mishmash of genres and plot devices going into it, but the various elements pulled in was beyond expectations. And the author made it all work beautifully. I was constantly entertained, usually surprised, and left wanting more. I hear rumors there is a second book in the making and I have my fingers crossed that is true.

The book starts off with psychotic clowns. Admittedly, it does jump around quickly from clown to clown, and often with swift punches of flashbacks showing a little bit of why that clown is now with a sadistic gaggle of clowns on a near deserted highway. Don’t be put off by this because the point of view settles down after that and gives a good story, with a few flashbacks here and there. The viewpoints do change throughout the tale, but we get to spend enough time with each character that the reader has time to connect with them.

I found Unity to be a fascinating town, especially all the problems they have with the cryptids such as the chupacabra and jackalope chimeras. The biologist in me wanted to do a summer study course in Unity. The half with the common sense knew we would have to get lost in a desert teeming with the shuffling undead. The zombies don’t feature heavily in this book, but do have a little key part to play.

Laredo and Sally Mae were my two favorite characters, one being a drunk authority figure and the other a ghostly bordello lass. They both kick ass in their own ways. And there is one sex scene. It is smoking hot, literally. There are flames involved. And a luchadero mask. Haha! Hooray for Mexican wrestling! That little detail gave me a good laugh, and yet, it really worked with the character.

Yes, there is a deputy sheriff. His name is Cicero, a chimpanzee. He wields knives and reads dreary Russian literature. Periodically, he smashes up the one and only bar, which is owned by the mayor of the town. She doesn’t appreciate such antics; hence, he has a job and has to keep it to work off his binges. Toss in the clowns (like Kiss me Kate) and some other town characters (the mayor’s bathrobe attired husband) and you have a very eclectic cast.

The plot was pretty straight forward. The clowns have been gallivanting about the country side looking for a specific person, someone they feel they need to payback (like by breaking said person’s kneecaps). In Unity, the sheriff struggles with the big question: why am I here? While he wrestles with that, all these other characters are just going about their lives, until some clowns with questionable makeup skills arrive in town. Really, the plot gave this backbone for all these character to play together on. I am fine with that because it was damn entertaining!

Narration: Bernard Setaro Clark was a good fit for this book. He had a variety of voices (and you definitely needed that for this book). His female voices were totally believable. Luckily, we weren’t treated to any monkey screeches. He had no hesitancy with the evil clowns or the love scene.
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The Rise of Zenobia by Jd Smith

nrlymrtl, April 19, 2015

Zabdas tells us his story, that which is closely entwined with his relative, Zenobia. Palmyra, the jewel of Syria, is ruled by Odenanthus, a client king of the Roman empire. While he guards the frontier from the Persians, Rome refuses to send additional aid. Zenobia and her father, Julius Zenobius, feel it is time for Syria to stand on it’s own.

This is an exceptionally engaging historical fiction. Zabdas’s story was exciting, full of his own plight (going from slave to warrior), strained family relations, and the politics between Rome and Palmyra. His tale is told in a back and forth manner, his present day where he is a grandfather and a respected, aged warrior, and his past told through a memoir he is writing and his granddaughter is reading. I found it fascinating to see the young, unsure Zabdas versus the confident, aged warrior.

Before reading this book, I knew little of the Palmyrene Empire (I could spell it and I knew Palmyra was Syrian) and even less about Zenobia. I had no problems getting caught up in the story and learning as I went. The reader does not have to be versed in the times or area to follow this tale. It was delightfully educational.

Zabdas’s uncle, Julius is an interesting figure, being polite and gentile but also knowing when to be a bit cutthroat. He also has his fair share of secrets. So does his daughter, Zenobia. She is regal in her bearing, but also strong-willed. Various male leaders have a hard time tossing her out of meetings without looking the fool. She keeps her personal political agenda close to her chest until near the end of the book. Since we don’t get to spend time in her head, we must guess her motives, as Zabdas does.

I enjoyed every minute of this book and had a hard time putting it down, like for a few hours of necessary sleep. I am very much hoping Book 2 comes to audio.

The Narration: Paul Hodgson was the perfect fit for Zabdas. He did a great job switching back and forth from the unsure youthful Zabdas to the seasoned war veteran Zabdas. There are only a handful of female characters in this book, it being of a small cast. Hodgson had a nice female voice, but I found that all the ladies sounded alike. If two were talking together, I had to pay close attention most of the time to follow who was talking. Hodgson had a variety of accents that added to the over all flavor of the book.
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Doctor Death: A Madeleine Karno Mystery by Lene Kaaberbol
Doctor Death: A Madeleine Karno Mystery

nrlymrtl, April 19, 2015

Set in the 1890s France, Madeleine Karno is at the center of this mystery. Her father, Dr. Albert Karno, is a forensic doctor who has been asked to do a brief examination of the body of a young lady found dead at the door of her family’s home. A mystery begins to unfold involving mites, hounds, a convent, and several more bodies.

I really enjoyed this book, though I did leave it having a few minor questions unanswered; I wished they had been wrapped up of a certainty in the epilogue. Nearly the entire story is told through Madeleine’s eyes, with a few letters and journal entries filling in the rest. Madeleine is a wonderful character to spend time with ��" she has her own motives, pushes against societal norms in order to get to the truth, and isn’t squeamish around blood. While France has started accepting women to universities, it is still highly unusual for a woman to be assisting in detective work or forensic examination.

The author does a very good job of mixing suspense, action, parasitology, 1890s medicine, and convent life in this mystery. I was never bored with this tale. There was family intrigue, convent intrigue, and then other bits and pieces that on the surface didn’t seem connected. Indeed, we had more than one suspect for the murderer and with each body, the connections became harder to see. I really liked that this book kept me guessing until nearly the end.

There is some sex. One scene is described after the fact by one of the participants. It was a pretty robust scene. Then there is one character that has an embarrassing medical condition in which he gets a involuntary erection whenever he has any strong emotion, like social anxiety. There is also one body that is found in a rather compromising position. So, this book is not a cozy mystery or a light read. Be prepared to dig in and enjoy!

As much as I enjoyed this book, the tale left some questions unanswered at the end. Some of these are just follow up to minor characters of the ‘what happened next?’ variety. For instance, I would like to know what happened with the father and brother of the first body. Other questions were related to solving the mystery. Don’t worry! We find out who did the deeds in the end. But I wanted to know more about how they were done. There are questions I have about how certain marks on Body #2 and I was unclear about the mite species.

Anyway, over all a decent read if you can let these smaller questions go unanswered. I still really enjoyed this book and will be looking up more of Kaaberbol’s work.

The Narration: Nicola Barber is one of my favorite narrators and she does not disappoint in this book. As usual, she had an excellent voice for our lead character, Madeleine, along with a lovely array of male and female voices for the rest of the cast.
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The Vampire Dancer Saga: Part 3 by Shalimar Ali

nrlymrtl, April 19, 2015

Note: Even though this is Book 3 in the series, it works OK as a stand alone.

Told in a series of short scenes, ancient queens and vampires compete and couple in the past, just as their dopplegangers do the same in our time. From Cleopatra to Dracula, belly dancing to the grind, ancient witch Queen Salome to modern day witch Grany Rosa Smith, this tale is anything but traditional.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. It does skip around quickly, so you have to pay close attention. There is also a large cast of characters, so you never have time to get attached to any one character. Instead, you simply have to sit back and enjoy the experience, like watching an hour of 80s music videos. Not every video has to make 100% sense, and they don’t have to necessarily relate to one another, and you certainly don’t get to know the individual band members from the one video they feature in within that hour.

The over all experience was definitely different. I wouldn’t have thought to pair vampires and belly dancing, both of which can be sexy things. I liked that we had more female roles than male roles (something that is still hard to find in today’s literature). However, I didn’t like that at least half of these ladies were in direct competition with each of for a man. Sigh. So cliche.

Still, it was an interesting experience and for an hour’s entertainment, you could do far worse.

The Narration: Fatimah Halim and J. Lyle were excellent narrators. For having to switch characters, locations, and times so often they did a very nice job. I really liked Halim’s rich, full voice that made me think of comfort food and curvy sexy women all at once. J. Lyle had to pull off some accents while sounding like he had pointy teeth, which he did very well.
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