📚 The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

Reviewed Mar. 2020

Narrators: Patti Murin, Jon Root
Length: 7 hours 29 minutes
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio⎮2020

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Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author behind the “joyful, warm, touching” (Jasmine Guillory, New York Times best-selling author) The Unhoneymooners comes a delightfully charming love story about what happens when two assistants tasked with keeping a rocky relationship from explosion start to feel sparks of their own.

Carey Douglas has worked for home remodeling and design gurus Melissa and Rusty Tripp for nearly a decade. A country girl at heart, Carey started in their first store at 16, and - more than anyone would suspect - has helped them build an empire. With a new show and a book about to launch, the Tripps are on the verge of superstardom. There’s only one problem: America’s favorite couple can’t stand each other.

James McCann, MIT graduate and engineering genius, was originally hired as a structural engineer, but the job isn’t all he thought it’d be. The last straw? Both he and Carey must go on book tour with the Tripps and keep the wheels from falling off the proverbial bus.

Unfortunately, neither of them is in any position to quit. Carey needs health insurance, and James has been promised the role of a lifetime if he can just keep the couple on track for a few more weeks. While road-tripping with the Tripps up the West Coast, Carey and James vow to work together to keep their bosses’ secrets hidden, and their own jobs secure. But if they stop playing along - and start playing for keeps - they may have the chance to build something beautiful together.

From the “hilariously zany and heartfelt” (Booklist) Christina Lauren comes a romantic comedy that proves if it’s broke, you might as well fix it.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 3.5 Stars

The Honey-Don't List was a Booktube recommendation. I've heard of Christina Lauren before, but never heard any of their books until this one. The author duo has been on the outskirts of my radar for a couple of years now. I don't have a particular interest in romance, so I've never seriously considered listening to their work before. However, The Honey-Don't List was described as being somewhat 'left of center' from their normal romantic comedy style, so I figured it would be a good place to start.

What really intrigued me, though, was the idea of it being based around a Chip and Joanna Gaines-type couple, complete with their own home design reality television show and brand. I love celebrity gossip as much as anyone, but I'm not especially obsessed with the Gaines. In fact, I've never even seen a complete episode of their show, Fixer-Upper. But being a person living in the world, I have heard of them. Now, what really sold me on listening to The Honey-Don't List was the idea that this fictional couple hates each other behind-the-scenes. I know it's not technically celebrity gossip, but it was salacious enough to pique my interest.

The first disappointment was in discovering that the story is told from the point-of-view of the couple's two assistants, not either of the couple of themselves. I guess that makes sense, given that the couple and their marital woes are basically just used as a plot device for these two assistance falling in love. The wife's assistant is the main character and her love interest is the husband's assistant. They are the couple that we are supposed to become invested in and root for, yada yada. But I didn't connect with either of them. That's the kind of disconnect that happens when you take two secondary characters and shove them into the limelight. The two most interesting characters (the celeb couple) were always held at arms length from the reader. Major bummer.

Now, if Christina Lauren were to come back with a spin off told from either of the celebrity couples POV, I would pick it up in a heartbeat. Despite us never really getting close to them, their characters were pretty well fleshed out. We know their backstory, how they met, how things used to be before they made it big, and where everything started to go all wrong. That is where the story should have been. I wanted a redemption arc for them. Their assistants could have had their own spin off.

Aside from that one hugely disappointing aspect, The Honey-Don't List wasn't terrible. The writing was good, if a little bland. It was extremely easy to listen to while working. But I doubt I'll ever pick up anything else from Christina Lauren, because despite having an incredibly intriguing premise, they failed to do notable anything with it. And if The Honey-Don't List is unlike anything else they've written, I already know the rest of her titles won't be for me.

Narration review: Patti Murin and Jon Root did a perfectly respectable job narrating this audiobook. I'm afraid I can't gush about the narration, because it was more than likely dragged down by my disappointment with the story. Murin and Root did nothing that would prevent me from wanting to hear either of them perform again. In fact, I would welcome the opportunity! This was my first time hearing (or hearing of) either of them and I'm excited to have two new narrators on my radar. If you are a fan of Christina Lauren or HGTV-type celebrities, I bet you'll love The Honey-Don't List. And if you're interested in it, I recommend the audiobook. ♣︎

📚 Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Reviewed Mar. 2020

Narrator: Eileen Stevens, Tristan Morris
Length: 10 hours 32 minutes
Series: Once Upon a Con Series, Book 1
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.⎮2017

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Summary

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad's old costume, Elle's determined to win - unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons - before he was famous. Now they're nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake - until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I discovered Geekerella at the perfect time in my life. I was in the middle of a mild listening slump, having recently heard several great, but intense thrillers. I needed something lighthearted and fun to break that pattern (and destress!). I don't typically hear a lot of Young Adult fiction anymore. After overdosing on it a few years back, I now approach the genre with more caution and moderation. However, it had been a while since I had heard any YA and I thought it just might be the thing to lift my spirits and break my slump.

It also didn't hurt that I'm currently binge watching any and all Star Trek shows on Netflix, as well as the newest addition, Star Trek: Picard. I missed the original (and then five subsequent) Star Trek fan boats, so I'm definitely late to this SciFi party/convention, but I'm trying to make up for that with enthusiasm.

To be clear, Geekerella isn't directly related to the Star Trek fan base, but it's certainly adjacent. Instead of Star Trek, this story follows a lifelong fangirl of "Starfield", a fictional Star Trek-esque show. If it weren't for the frequent Star Trek references, I'd think that Starfield was a thinly veiled disguise for it. Instead, the two exist alongside each other in this fictional world.

I was initially pulled into Geekerella by the SciFi fangirl-ness of it all, but wound up being pleasantly surprised by the Cinderella retelling. I've heard several retellings, but I've never heard one quite like this. If it hadn't incorporated the geek/SciFi/ComiCon elements and had only been marketed as a Cinderella retelling, I probably would have passed on it, since those are a dime a dozen these days.

As with most retellings, you can see the broad strokes drawn from the original fairytale. A "wicked" stepmother, two "evil" stepsisters, a mistreated stepdaughter named Elle, a pumpkin carriage, a fairy godmother, a ball, a prince, and a missing slipper. Ashley Poston checks all of those boxes, but it's in between those broad strokes that she weaves together her own story. The setting is contemporary, the stepmother is a snobby Country club member, the stepsisters are online influencer wannabes, the pumpkin carriage is a food truck, the prince is a teen actor, the fairy godmother is a teal-haired LGBT character (who drives the pumpkin food truck), and the rest is simply magical. Instead of Cinderella trying to get to a ball, our protagonist Elle is trying desperately to get to a SciFi convention.

Above all, Geekerella was just So. Freaking. Cute. The "geekification" of a classic fairytale is something I've never seen done before and I didn't realize how much I was longing for it until hearing Geekerella. I will undoubtedly be continuing on with the series. I believe the next one is a retelling of The Prince and the Pauper centered around a minor Geekerella character. Whatever it is, I'm here for it.

Narration review: Eileen Stevens knocked this audiobook out of the park. She was one of two narrators, with Tristan Morris being her counter, but Stevens' performance is the one that stood out most to me. Her character differentiation was subtle, but effective. I could always understand which of the two stepsisters was speaking, even though they initially appear to be of the same temperament. Even after that was proven to not be the case, the distinction was slightly enhanced, but not overly done. I definitely appreciated the dual narration for the alternating POVs. It added dimension to the story that would not have otherwise been available if reading the traditional format.

Overall, this audiobook was a wonderful listening experience and I recommend it to anyone interested in this title or series. I will certainly be continuing the series on audio. ♣︎

📚 The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Reviewed Mar. 2020

Narrator: Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell
Length: 18 hours 16 minutes
Publisher: Penguin Audio⎮2008

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Summary

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid, Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her 17th white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women - mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 5 Stars

I originally read The Help back around 2010. I had just received a Kindle and was on a major reading binge. Recently, I've decided to revisit the books I read during my Kindle phase (2007-2012), but this time on audio.

I remember enjoying The Help when I first read it, but this time around, I was absolutely blown away by how much I was able to fall in love with it all over again. It was like a brand new story to me. Enough time had passed since my previous experience that I was able to see it with new eyes. The story had obviously not changed, but I clearly had.

This time around, The Help was actually became a comfort listen. That really surprised me, considering the purposefully uncomfortable nature of the story and its overt themes of segregation, racism, classism, and feminism. When I first read it, it was eye-opening. There was this somewhat scary sense of enlightenment. This time around, however, I found myself much more comfortable listening to these themes. This realization caused me to do a lot of reflecting on my own evolution over the past decade, as well as that of society. I've learned that this sort of introspection is necessary for personal growth and the more you do it, the less awkward it becomes.

What I'm saying is that we all have (or should have) these literary wake up calls and The Help was one of mine. It was the first time I had read anything that caused me to step out of my comfort zone and view life from the perspective of someone of a different race than me. Now, I actively seek out these types of works.

The Help is the type of story I could listen to over and over again. It's a true classic. It was my last listen of 2019. At that point, I had given up reaching my goal of 100 audiobooks that year (I was like 12 books behind), but I wanted to hear something enjoyable to end my year on a good note. Ending the decade with The Help felt like coming full circle.

If any of you read The Help when it was first released, I encourage you to revisit this story and note your reactions to it. See if/how they have changed. And I definitely encourage you to listen to the audiobook.

Narration review: Now, what really made this audiobook such a comfort listen was the narration. It was next level. Octavia Spencer, in particular, is such a joy to listen to. I loved her parts of the audiobook. Even though I hadn't seen the movie at that point, I was still able to picture the cast as I listened to the audiobook.

Fantastic writing coupled with perfect narration made for an unforgettable listening experience. I will undoubtedly be revisiting this modern classic several times in the future. It also makes for a great slump-buster! ♣︎

📚 Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball

Reviewed Feb. 2020

Narrator: Lucie Arnaz
Length: 6 hours 46 minutes
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2018

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Summary

THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The one and only autobiography by the iconic Lucille Ball, hailed by TV Guide as the “#1 Greatest TV Star of All Time.”

Love, Lucy is the valentine Lucille Ball left for her fans—a warm, wise, and witty memoir written by Lucy herself. The legendary star of the classic sitcom I Love Lucy was at the pinnacle of her success when she sat down to record the story of her life. No comedienne had made America laugh so hard, no television actress had made the leap from radio and B movies to become one of the world’s best-loved performers. This is her story—in her own words.

The story of the ingenue from Jamestown, New York, determined to go to Broadway, destined to make a big splash, bound to marry her Valentino, Desi Arnaz. In her own inimitable style, she tells of their life together—both storybook and turbulent; intimate memories of their children and friends; wonderful backstage anecdotes; the empire they founded; the dissolution of their marriage. And, with a heartfelt happy ending, her enduring marriage to Gary Morton.

Here is the lost manuscript that her fans and loved ones will treasure. Here is the laughter. Here is the life. Here’s Lucy...

“The comic actress in her own words…intensely moving.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Filled with light and laughter.” —New York Times Book Review

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

If you love Lucy, you'll love Love, Lucy! It's a wonderful snapshot of Hollywood in the golden age. Love, Lucy is the official autobiography of Lucille Ball.

I've always loved Lucy, but I've never known that she had an autobiography. In fact, Love, Lucy was just released on audiobook two years ago. If you didn't know about it either, don't feel bad. Her own children weren't aware that Lucy had written a memoir in 1966 until around 30 years later.

Love, Lucy is an “As told to…” memoir, but don't get hung up on that detail. It sounds exactly like you're hearing these words straight from Lucy. The memoirist did an amazing job of capturing Lucy's spirit and staying true to her. In the forward from Lucie Arnaz, Lucille Ball's daughter, Lucie admits as much, saying that reading the manuscript was like hearing from her mother beyond the grave.

In her memoir, Lucy proves herself to have been a class act. She doesn't skirt around the dames, drink, or divorce, but the memoir doesn't feel sensationalistic or gossipy. Despite an ugly divorce from her ex-husband Desi Arnaz, Lucy doesn't take any low blows at him in the memoir. Apparently one of her reasons for not finishing the memoir in her lifetime was not wanting to hurt Desi. I'm sure her grown children appreciated that decades later when the manuscript was discovered.

This isn't a long audiobook. I was able to breeze through it in a day. Once I began listening, I could not stop. Lucy is just as gripping in an audio memoir as she is on television. Devoted fans of the actress will likely have read this and many other biographies on Ball, but this audiobook is not to be missed. It's the perfect jumping off point for casual fans as well. I'm not sure if I'll ever pick up one of the longer biographies, but if I do, it will be interesting to see how the perspectives differ. Frankly, I'm more interested in picking up Desi Arnaz's memoir to hear his side of the same events.

Narration review: Lucie Arnaz, the grown daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, narrates this audiobook. When I first saw that she was the narrator, I internally groaned a bit, worrying that it was a poor decision. I could not have been more wrong! I had clearly forgotten that Lucie is not only the daughter of two talented actors, but a talented actor herself. Not only was having Lucie Arnaz as narrator a touching decision, but it was a stellar a decision from a performative standpoint as well.

I don't know why am surprised by this, but Lucie is able to impeccably imitate both of her parents voices and accents, as only someone who grew up with them could do. Lucie Arnaz narrating this audiobook turned out to be the next best thing (and nearly as good) as having Lucille Ball read it herself. ♣︎

📚 Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor

Reviewed Jan. 2020

Narrator: James Taylor
Length: 1 hours 33 minutes
Publisher: Audible Original⎮2020

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Summary

"I’m James Taylor and I’m a professional autobiographer. So begins the tender audio memoir Break Shot: My First 21 Years. Through decades of songs by the celebrated folk legend who brought us Fire and Rain and Carolina in My Mind, James Taylor has doled out details of his life in the poetry of his work. Taylor says his early life is the source of many of my songs and Break Shot is a tour of his first 21 years in rich, new detail. Combining storytelling, music and performance, this one-of-a-kind listening experience also features a crop of musical gems, including an unreleased recording of the beloved hymn Jerusalem, selections from his newest release American Standard, as well as new original scoring by Taylor specially recorded for Break Shot and more.

Recorded in his home studio, TheBarn in western Massachusetts, Taylor tells the deeply personal story of his youth, which is entwined with the story of his family. What started as an idyllic tight unit soon became a family sent to different emotional corners – like a break shot in the game of pool, he says, when you slam the cue ball into the fifteen other balls and they all go flying off.

By the time Taylor released his breakout second album in 1970, Sweet Baby James, he had seen the disintegration of his parents’ marriage and his family crumble in the aftermath. He had committed himself twice to a psychiatric hospital, battled depression, a heroin addiction, suffered a relapse, and traveled far away from the wood smoke and moonshine of the North Carolina landscapes in which he came of age. Despite it all, he was also on the cusp of superstardom and on his way to bringing light and joy to millions. He was 21.

In this Audible Original, Taylor lays bare the emotional turmoil he and his family fought through when he was first finding his musical path. At last, he creates an audio memoir illuminating the tenuous first act of a life he’s spent decades learning to fully live. Journey with James Taylor to a time before he became a Grammy Award-winning, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts; as well as one of the best-selling musicians of all time.

Special Note: This title is free to members and free with trial through April 2, 2020.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

As a lifelong North Carolinian, James Taylor has always been on my musical and pop cultural radar. His hit "Carolina in My Mind" is the real state song, ask anyone. I've picked up bits and pieces of his life's story here in there, mostly in behind-the-music tidbits. I don't for right into the non-fiction genre often, but when I do, it's usually about a pop-culture figure of specific interest to me. Given that and my love of music history, it's no surprise that Break Shot was such a hit with me.

Since most of Taylor's songs are autobiographical, some curiosity into his personal life is natural.  James himself points this out in the opening sentence of this Audio memoir. He says, “I’m James Taylor and I'm a professional autobiographer.” And from that moment, the very first sentence, I was hooked. I thought “Huh, I've never thought of it that way, but I guess he's right.” Singer-songwriters divulge so much of their personal lives to us through song. Hearing Break Shot made me realize just how much of a vulnerability that is.

Taylor was one of the first singer songwriters on the scene in the 60s. He credits the Beatles with kickstarting his career and discusses making music and hanging out/doing drugs with them in London. One particular line in the memoir that made me laugh out loud is "I'm sure glad I didn't kill John Lennon that night." I'll leave that with you without context as bait for picking up this Audible Original yourself. It's free to anyone with an Audible membership or free trial until April 2, 2020 (it's $7 otherwise and well worth it).

I've always loved music history and the cool thing about Break Shot is how Taylor tells his story: Through song. I'm not sure why I was so surprised by that, especially because it's how he's always told his story to us. But this seemed different because it was music inserted into an oral story, not the other way around. Taylor would tell us something about his family growing up or an experience from his childhood and then seamlessly flow into the song that was written about that same thing. In most cases, the songs were well-known, but the light in which they were shown was entirely new.

To say that this listening experience was enlightening would be a terrible understatement. Between his anecdotes and his songs, Taylor helps us connect the dots that form his life. Some of the information was familiar, but most of it was not. I remember wondering how I could have practically grown up with this man (pop culturally speaking), yet hardly seem to know him at all. His story was right there in the lyrics of his songs all along, but sometimes when you grow up with something, you never really see/hear it until decades later.

Break Shot clearly states that it's the story of his first 21 years, which makes me wonder if a continuation  is in the works. I sincerely hope so, because my only slight disappointment in this was the lack of mention of singer-songwriter Carly Simon, Taylor's first wife. As a fan of both of them, I was hoping to hear stories of their time together, but Simon was pretty much left out all together since they didn't marry until a few years after the end of Break Shot. So it was a bummer that there was nothing about Carly, or their two children (who must be insanely talented).

Still, the fact that Taylor would open up in this way after refusing so many autobiographical opportunities in the past is a treat. He's an intensely private person, preferring to express himself in song, so the audio platform suited his tale perfectly.

Narration review: James Taylor's voice has always soothed me, usually in song. But this time, however, it was his speaking voice that provided a wonderfully comforting experience. I'm so glad that he voiced this himself. The brief interruptions of song were perfectly timed for maximum poignancy. It added so much to the listening experience and proved that, whether singing or speaking, James Taylor is the ultimate storyteller. ♣︎

📚 The Wives by Tarryn Fischer

Reviewed Jan. 2020

Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Length: 9 hours
Publisher: Harlequin Audio⎮2019

Available purchase options for this title (via affiliate links) are located below. Purchasing through them helps keep The Audiobookworm going. Learn more here.

Summary

Imagine that your husband has two other wives.

You’ve never met the other wives. None of you know each other, and because of this unconventional arrangement, you can see your husband only one day a week. But you love him so much, you don’t care. Or at least that’s what you’ve told yourself.

But one day, while you’re doing laundry, you find a scrap of paper in his pocket - an appointment reminder for a woman named Hannah, and you just know it’s another of the wives.

You thought you were fine with your arrangement, but you can’t help yourself: You track her down, and, under false pretenses, you strike up a friendship. Hannah has no idea who you really are. Then Hannah starts showing up to your coffee dates with telltale bruises, and you realize she’s being abused by her husband. Who, of course, is also your husband. But you’ve never known him to be violent, ever.

Who exactly is your husband, and how far would you go to find the truth? Would you risk your own life?

And who is his mysterious third wife?

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 3.75 Stars

The Wives was a highly anticipated release for me. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the show Big Love and who claims the TLC reality show Sister Wives as a guilty pleasure, I was looking forward to Tarryn Fischer's take on polygamist drama. I actually discovered The Wives (pre-release) by actively searching for 'books like Big Love'.

From the start, The Wives gives it a different spin by keeping all of the wives separate- not just in separate homes, but in separate cities and states. Practically from the first page, Fischer lays out the marital situation, using wife #2 as narrator. Her name is "Thursday" and her husband [Seth] always visits her on Thursdays. He has two other wives, "Monday" and "Tuesday", whom "Thursday" has never met. She does not even know their real names. So far, so good.

I didn't notice it immediately, but Fischer jumps straight into the action and sort of info dumps all of this on us. I think we see Seth and Thursday together one time before the plot kicks in to full gear. There's really no time to settle in to the world and become accustomed to its characters before things start spinning out of control. When I did notice it, I told myself that the author was probably just trying to keep the reader engaged, and would likely flesh things out more later. That was not the case.

It soon became clear that this wasn't the action thriller I have been anticipating, but a psychological thriller. If you browse through my past reviews, you'll notice that the last psychological thriller I read was The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. After finishing that series, I knew that psychological thrillers or, more accurately, unreliable narrators were not for me. I loathe the feeling of not being able to gain purchase within a story. I appreciate that some readers enjoy not having anything to cling to and not knowing what's real and what's not. I can even admit that a little of it can be thrilling, but not nine hours worth. I just don't enjoy feeling constantly lost and disoriented in a story, like being in a blizzard and not being able to see anything around you. That's not my type of thrill.

I much prefer being blindsided. In my mind, the best kind of plot twist is when you feel like you're standing on firm ground and then a rug is ripped out from underneath. But in order for that type of twist to be truly effective, you have to be sure you're standing on firm ground, before realizing you aren't. To me, that's the ultimate dupe. In The Wives, I was never sure who to trust. Therefore, when the plot twist was revealed, it was anti-climactic because I had already been partially expecting it from everyone involved.

I will say that the execution of the plot was engrossing. As I neared the end of the audiobook, I avoided going to bed just so I could hear some sort of resolution. I've never read anything from Tarryn Fischer before, but I do know that she is thought of as a very talented author. I, however, was disappointed with the way The Wives was set up. The plot itself was clever and the conclusion was satisfying, but they were wasted on me because I never really felt invested in the characters or immersed in their lives. I would be willing to give Fischer's writing another chance, just to see if this type of style is typical for her, or if this was a one-off.

Narration review: Lauren Fortgang did a wonderful job narrating The Wives. I always enjoy her performances, although this was the first time I've heard her narrate a thriller. She did an adequate job of providing character distinction, even though it wasn't quite what I'm used to hearing from her in Fantasy titles. The Wives was excellently narrated and produced, so if you are into psychological thrillers, I recommend checking this out on audiobook. ♣︎

📚 You by Caroline Kepnes

Reviewed Jan. 2020

Narrator: Santino Fontana
Length: 11 hours 6 minutes
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio⎮2014

Available purchase options for this title (via affiliate links) are located below. Purchasing through them helps keep The Audiobookworm going. Learn more here.

Summary

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.
There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

You was my first listen of the new year (and new decade). I have a 3-month backlog of reviews to write, but I'm starting with You because it was so captivating. For starters, I haven't seen the Netflix series yet, but I do plan on watching yet very soon, possibly before I begin the sequel. I googled the cast beforehand because I like being able to picture them while I listen.

So, not only was You my first full listen of the new year, but it was my first successful listen as well. My listening habits have been severely disrupted in recent months, so it takes something really gripping to keep my interest these days. I wasn't planning on starting You when I did. I had originally planned on hearing it around Halloween, but that didn't pan out. I impulsively started it three days ago and I immediately knew that it was something I could hear in a day if I wanted to. Not because it was short in length, but because it made me want to sacrifice sleep and shirk work obligations just to keep listening. Luckily for me, You is as easy to listen to as it is captivating, so I was able to listen and work.

You wasn't necessarily a scary story, but it did ultimately have a scary effect on me that drove its raison d'être home better than the story did itself. I was initially wary of admitting this, but after reading others' reviews and realizing that the manipulation of the reader was clearly intentional and nearly universal, I am less so. In You, we are dealing with a socio-pathologically deluded main character. We suspect this going in. His thoughts (which we are privy to) and actions confirm and remind us of this periodically throughout the story. We become so intimately connected with the main character (we are literally inside his head) that it's hard to maintain an objective point-of-view as a reader. There's no distance between the main character and the reader. I don't think it's a stretch to say that it almost feels as if we are one with him- carrying out his heinous actions and all. Kepnes manages to lull the reader into a false sense of security by telling the story from inside the main character's head and practically daring us to sympathize with him.

I'm choosing my words very carefully because I'm hesitant to label this particular main character as a protagonist- a literary role most of us are in the habit of "rooting for", which is something Kepnes exploits here. In You, Joe Goldberg is definitively the main character, he may be the protagonist, but he is definitely not the hero. I often fall into the trap of using these terms interchangeably, but that would not work in this situation. Or rather, it should not, and therein lies the trap that Kepnes so cleverly sets for the reader.

I will admit that more than once while listening to You, I found myself subconsciously sympathizing with Joe, even accidentally rooting for him at times. Of course, as soon as I became aware of this, I was disgusted with myself for repeatedly falling for Kepnes' trap. The human mind has an unfathomable ability to rationalize and we are inside Joe's mind, hearing his most intimate thoughts and all of his seemingly (to him) logical rationalizations. But Joe is an unreliable narrator. I knew that about him, and yet I repeatedly still fell prey to Caroline Kepnes' written manipulations. And the scariest part about all of this is that people like Joe Goldberg exist and they can convince you that they are the good guy, because that's what they honestly believe.

This is a book I will be recommending for years to come. There wasn't a huge twist at the end and it wasn't exactly a pulse-pounder, but any book that can make someone question the inner workings of good, evil, and everything in between is something everyone should read.

Narration review: Let me amend that to "...something everyone should hear", because Santino Fontana gave a phenomenal performance. The characterizations he provided were out of this world. He brought Kepnes' is already vivid writing to life even more. I 10/10 would listen to him again and I'm on my way to google his entire repertoire after posting this review. This is an audiobook worth your time. ♣︎

📚 The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Reviewed Nov. 2019

Narrator: Angela Lin
Length: 3 hours 55 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2012

Available purchase options for this title (via affiliate links) are located below. Purchasing through them helps keep The Audiobookworm going. Learn more here.

Summary

When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai's only possible ally is the emperor's most loyal counselor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape...

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

Like many other reviewers, The Emperor's Soul was my first Brandon Sanderson novel, but I hope it won't be my last. Sanderson is an author that I've always aspired to hear, but whom I've also always been a bit intimidated by. Most of his books are 20+ hours long and although that may not intimidate me in other genres, Epic Fantasy is something I've struggled with for the last couple of years.

I began The Emperor's Soul in August, when I was feeling particularly spontaneous and optimistic. However, I didn't realize that it was basically a spinoff novella from Sanderson's Elantris universe. I saw that this title was significantly shorter than his others and thought it might be a good entry point into Sanderson's work. I'm pleased to say that this tactic worked in initiating me into this world and his writing style.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to not only enjoy The Emperor's Soul, but also follow it. That's been a sticking point for me when listening to epic fantasies in the recent past. Many of them are so dense in their world building that I inevitably become overwhelmed and throw in the towel. But sometimes, I just want to be immersed in another world and this was one of those times when I wasn't just immersed, but completely swept away. If this is what Sanderson is capable of, then sign me up for more!

I would have begun the main series immediately after finishing The Emperor's Soul if not for the fact that I suffered a personal tragedy (my cat died) just after finishing this audiobook which definitely broke me out of its spell and put me off listening to anything for a while. However, I completely intend to return to Sanderson in 2020 and I'm looking forward to it!

Note that The Emperor's Soul is connected to the Elantris universe, but can definitely be heard alone. I don't often make that recommendation, but in this case, I'm comfortable making it out of personal experience. I heard The Emperor's Soul without even realizing it was connected to another series. I'm not sure if there are any cameos from characters seen elsewhere in the main series, but from what I've gleaned from Goodreads, the two are pretty separate, apart from the world they inhabit.

Narration review: From what I recall, Angela Lin provided an excellent listening experience. I remember being particularly pleased with her characterization. There were a number of characters, of all ages and social statuses, and she provided subtle, but distinct vocalizations for each of them. It doesn't look like she has narrated anymore for Sanderson, which is a shame, because I would love to hear her work again. ♣︎

🎁 50 Ways to Worry Less Now by Gigi Langer PhD

Reviewed Oct. 2019

Narrator: Robin Waters
Length: 5 hours 24 minutes
Publisher: Possum Hill Press⎮2019

Available purchase options for this title (via affiliate links) are located below. Purchasing through them helps keep The Audiobookworm going. Learn more here.

Summary

Winner of the 2018 Indie Excellence Award.

Do you want to stop dreading the future or reliving past disappointments?

Thirty years ago, Gigi Langer was a prisoner of her worries who used alcohol, romance, and professional accomplishments to soothe her frayed nerves. When she stopped drinking, she began applying tools from therapy, recovery programs, scientific research, and a variety of philosophical and spiritual teachings to overcome her anxieties and stress.

50 Ways to Worry Less Now offers four life strategies and 50 eclectic tools to dissolve the whispered lies of negative self-talk. Although many books address negative thinking, very few give the listener step-by-step directions on how to defeat it. Others simply advocate a single approach. With candor and humor, Langer describes a wide variety of strategies that helped her, and others, defeat dysfunctional relationships, perfectionism, addiction, and worry about loved ones.

As an award-winning writer and professor, Langer skillfully shares compelling stories and exercises that empower listeners to:

  • Manage life's most difficult challenges with calm wisdom
  • Create relationships that blossom and thrive
  • Fulfill your dreams without limitations
  • Serve others in their personal growth

Regardless of the situation, you'll be able to gain peace, clarity, and wisdom.

"Langer’s frank and empathetic tone will comfort readers, as will the practical steps she teaches.” (Publishers Weekly)

This audiobook was graciously gifted to me by its author, Gigi Langer, in exchange for a review containing my honest thoughts and opinions. Thanks, Gigi!

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

I requested a review copy of 50 Ways to Worry Less Now during a particularly stressful and anxiety ridden time in my life. By the end of the first chapter, I had already recommended it to three people. There aren't many times when I will actually stop a book to call someone and recommend they hear it, but this book was definitely worth it.

In fairness, I haven't heard many personal development/self-help audiobooks, but not for lack of trying. They always put me off for some reason or another. With 50 ways, I found myself thinking "Yes!" more times than I can count. I felt like Gigi Langer was speaking directly to me and only me. Moreover, it was like she already knew me. I talk a lot about relating to fictional characters and connecting with them personally, but this was the first time a nonfiction book has created this sort of connection. It was almost eerie.

What struck me first was the amount of professionalism with which 50 Ways is written. Because of my background in psychology, I'm wary of most psychologically-based texts and given the number of pop psychology works (i.e. anything written by a "life coach"), I'd begun to avoid this type of book entirely. But I knew right away that 50 Ways was different and not just because I had already researched Dr. Langer's credentials. It quickly became apparent that Langer knew exactly what she was saying, not only because she had studied it, but also because she had lived it.

I was particularly moved by the efficacy of Langer's self-disclosure. Knowing how and when to disclose personal experiences is an important part of being a therapist. When done properly, it can be an incredibly effective technique within the therapeutic relationship. Langer struck a wonderful balance by disclosing relevant and appropriate information about her past, especially regarding substance abuse, personal relationships, and previous therapeutic experiences (from both sides of "the couch"). This decreased the amount of anxiety I was feeling regarding vulnerability and simultaneously forged a bond between Langer and I (or the audiobook and I). I was simply amazed at the efficacy of this approach conducted via audiobook.

It was a warm, enlightening, and engaging experience. Listening to 50 Ways to Worry Less Now was not a passive activity. Dr. Langer makes a concerted effort to actively engage the listener by asking thought-provoking questions and especially by including a PDF work book with the audiobook. Throughout the audiobook, the listener must reference the PDF workbook and perform coordinating tasks for each chapter. This makes it impossible to zone out while listening and forces the listener to take an active part in the experience. However, it also makes it impossible to listen while driving. This wasn't a drawback for me, but I know that a lot of listeners like to multitask, so it's just something to keep in mind.

I also appreciated that Langer made an effort to provide a spiritually inclusive experience. Something else that usually puts me off of personal development books is the inevitable inclusion of spirituality and/or religion, to varying degrees. To Langer's credit, she allows the listener to insert the name of their preferred deity (or "positive power") and doesn't overtly lean toward any certain religion. She does, however, take for granted that the listener has a preferred deity/"positive power". This was a moderately-sized hang up for me while listening to this audiobook, because I am not a spiritual person. I have no deity, nor do I want one, yet the majority of exercises in this audiobook seemed to hinge on the listener relying on their "positive power". For the first few exercises that called for a positive power, high thought "Well, I guess this one isn't for me". But after a while of sitting them out, I decided to jokingly adopt Elvis as my "positive power" just so I could participate to a fuller degree. This got a little funny when I came to parts about "letting your positive power guide you". I realize that I am in the minority here, so this hangup wouldn't (and didn't) prevent me from recommending 50 ways to anyone else.

50 Ways to Worry Less Now and Dr. Langer helped me through a tremendously difficult time in my life. It gave me a number of useful tools that I have begun to implement in my day-to-day life. This audiobook has become the newest addition in my "mental health toolbox" and I will no doubt be putting it to use again in the future.

Narration review: Robin Waters was the absolute perfect person to narrate this audiobook. Her soothing and reassuring tone had an instantaneous calming effect on me and provided an immediate inner stillness. More than that, her narration was perfectly paste to allow for the absorption of the material. The content of this audiobook is something that should be pondered and reflected upon. Waters facilitated such reflection and added a great deal to the overall listening experience. ♣︎

📚 Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

Reviewed Oct. 2019

Narrator: Stephanie Willis, Bethany Lind, Nicholas Techosky
Length: 11 hours 46 minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2019

Available purchase options for this title (via affiliate links) are located below. Purchasing through them helps keep The Audiobookworm going. Learn more here.

Summary

"Listeners will be transported to the small Southern town of Wicklow by the drawls and laid-back pacing of the narrators.... This is a beautiful story of family, love, and forgiveness." (AudioFile Magazine, Earphones Award winner)

Heather Webber's Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm.

Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 5 Stars

I discovered Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe back in August, but made myself hold off on listening to it until October. Boy, am I glad I waited! This was the perfect type of book to start off my October. It's not scary, or even spooky, but it still put me in the mood for magic.

Magical Realism is a tough sub genre to grasp, at least it is for me. I always seem to enjoy it, but for some reason, my mind wants to firmly put it in either a Fantasy or Fiction box, when it's really neither... or both...? I'm still not sure. What I do know is that Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe just became one of my favorite listens of 2019 and maybe ever.

Forgive the confused introduction, but one thing I'm sure of is how much I enjoyed this book. It was slow, sweet, and smooth. Oh, and there was some magic. But not "in your face" magic, more like peripheral magic. It was just there on the outer edge of the story, subtly pulling the strings, without having to be the main focus. There wasn't an intricate system of magic, with rules and lore. In truth, we never really learned much about it. You would think that would be frustrating, but it really wasn't. Everything was character driven and the ending tied up the character plots so nicely, that I couldn't possibly be left feeling unsatisfied.

There was a lot of genre crossing happening in Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe. There was family tension, drama, a little bit of mystery, a dash of romance, some humor, and it all worked together magnificently. I enjoyed each of the POV characters nearly equally, only preferring Anna Kate somewhat because of her ties to The Blackbird Café and its unique charm and mysticism. In a rare occurrence, none of the characters really got on my nerves either. They were all written with such finesse that even those with potentially abrasive personalities (i.e. curmudgeons and busybodies) came across as lovable and well intentioned.

The audiobook was less than 12 hours long, but I'll admit that it did feel longer than that, although not necessarily in a bad way. This is an extremely slow paced book and that worked in favor of the setting. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is set in the small town of Wicklow, Alabama. Over the course of the story, Wicklow almost takes on its own personality as if it were a character. Let me tell you, I love it when places become "characters", especially small towns. I know that this wasn't a cozy mystery, but it sure was cozy. I reveled in the slow pacing of this book as one would wallow in a comfortable bed.

This was my introduction to Heather Webber, but I'm hoping it won't be the last I hear from her. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is one of those books that makes me wish I could wipe my memory of all traces of it, just so I could listen to it again for the first time. There's a reason I haven't seen any negative reviews of it. Sometimes, just sometimes, a book lives up to the hype.

Narration review: Stephanie Willis, Bethany Lind, and Nicholas Techosky narrated this audiobook to perfection. Techosky read a much smaller role, so I didn't hear from him as much, but his performance earned no complaints. Willis and Lind where the stars. They were absolute stars! Both women went above and beyond to help endear me to each of their characters, imbuing them with subtle traces of personality that reached beyond the pages.

I was especially impressed with Bethany Lind's southern accent. I can be rather picky when it comes to southern accents, but Lind's sounded so genuine, I am wondering if it was authentic. She did something I've never heard another narrator portraying a southern accent do, even though I hear it daily in North Carolina. She appropriately pronounced the word "oil". I can't speak for the entire southern United States, but where I'm from, this word is often pronounced in a way that sounds like "ull". As soon as I heard that from Lind, I knew I would jump in front of a moving train from her. ♣︎