📚 A Million Junes by Emily Henry

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Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrators: Julia Whelan
Length: 10 hours 30 minutes
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2017

SynopsisRomeo and Juliet meets One Hundred Years of Solitude in Emily Henry’s brilliant follow-up to The Love That Split the World, about the daughter and son of two long-feuding families who fall in love while trying to uncover the truth about the strange magic and harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations.

June O’Donnell – aka Junior, aka Jack, aka Jonathan O’Donnell IV, aka the first female O’Donnell firstborn – has always been haunted by her family’s mythic but complicated legacy. As she prepares to begin her final year of high school, June is itching to leave behind her ghosts in Five Fingers, Michigan, and travel the world.

And then, just like it always happens to the O’Donnells, a painful glimmer from her past returns to mess everything up.

Enter Saul Angert, the eldest son of Eli Angert, aka June’s late father’s mortal enemy, back in town from a prestigious writing program to care for his ailing father. June can’t seem to avoid Saul, whose very presence makes her ache with grief over her father, and soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic, and strangely tender boy whom she was born to loathe.

When June and Saul accidentally stumble into a bit of the forest magic, they are allowed a glimpse into the past at the fateful, horrible moment that started all the trouble between their families. Now June doesn’t know if this new discovery means she should hate the Angerts even more or if it’s finally time for her – and all of the O’Donnells before her – to let go.


4.75★ AudiobookA Million Junes was a really magical story. I don’t hear a lot of magical realism, so it sort of took me by surprise. By nature, it had this “one foot in the real world and another foot in a fantasy world” vibe that was both eerie and beautiful.

I found it extremely easy to suspend my disbelief for A Million Junes. It was also an incredibly easy listen. I credit Emily Henry’s poetic, yet still down to earth, writing style. It suited the genre perfectly. It wasn’t magical in a fairytale sort of way, per se. It was more like a daydream when your physical body is one place, but your mind is worlds away and you’re aware of both at the same time. Or like that in between place when you’re just waking up in the morning, but not yet fully awake, just hovering somewhere above total consciousness. Yeah, A Million Junes is just like that and it was an amazing experience.

There was also this Romeo and Juliet thing going on that worked better than I would have thought. Don’t get me wrong, that angle is still completely overplayed, but Henry managed to make it work surprisingly well. The rest of the story was fresh enough to keep an old angle from going stale.

The multigenerational aspect of the story was something I thought could have been played up a bit more. I loved Junior and the fact that she is a she, despite being named Jack O’Donnell IV (how very Rory Gilmore of her). But I wish the story had been broken up a little more, possibly with multiple POVs. Still, the incorporation of the wisps was a unique way to give us and the main character first-hand insight into the past, albeit in an indirect nature.

The only thing that slightly bothered me about A Million Junes was that, by the end, it began to feel like it was dragging on and becoming repetitive. Henry could have ended it an hour sooner without any loss of quality. With that said, I still absolutely adore A Million Junes and Emily Henry’s writing. My fingers are still crossed that The Love That Split the World will be available as an audiobook soon. I’ve had my eye on it for a while because of its intriguing premise, and now that I know how much I love Emily Henry’s writing style, I’m even more eager to get my ears on it!

Narration review: Julia Whelan is an amazing narrator. We all know this, don’t we? At this point, after hearing so many of her titles, I’ve come to think of her amazingness as more of a fact than an opinion. I’ve picked up countless of her titles just because they were her titles. Her narration can raise even mediocre storytelling to epic heights.

Needless to say, her performance in A Million Junes did not disappoint. This was an incredible experience on audiobook and I definitely recommend the audio version in order to capture the full impact of it. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

📚 Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

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The Belgariad, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrator: Cameron Beierle
Length: 10 hrs and 28 mins
Publisher: Books In Motion⎮2007

Synopsis: Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil god Torak sought dominion and drove men and gods to war. But Belgrath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe. That was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the man without a shadow had haunted him for years. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved, but did not truly know.
For yet a little while, his dreams of innocence remained safe, untroubled by knowledge of his strange heritage. For a little while… thus begins The Belgariad, an epic fantasy of immense scope set against a history of 7,000 years. It tells of the struggles between ancient gods and mighty Kings, and of men in strange lands facing fated events, all bound by a prophecy that must be fulfilled.

Fantasy fan? Listen to more in the Belgariad series, and its sequel, David Eddings’ Malloreon series.


Guest Reviewer Susan⎮Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings is a classic in the epic fantasy realm. I read them as a kid but only recently have enjoyed the first in the series as an audiobook. Here is my review.

While the premise to Pawn of Prophecy is pretty basic (ancient evil is awakening and a Chosen One may be our only salvation), I still enjoyed it. I read this series as a kid and only recently have discovered them as audiobooks. As an adult, I find that I have a more critical eye. However, I still found myself enjoying this book. Perhaps part of that is nostalgia but I think the characters hold up well even if the plot is pretty much boiler plate.

I really enjoyed Silk for his wit. He pokes fun at other characters but also has quieter moments where he teaches Garion something useful or playful moments when he’s getting up to some mischief. Garion’s Aunt Pol (Polgara) is also a favorite. I love how she insists on keeping Garion clean, presentable, and well fed. She’s the care giver in the group but she’s also one of the sternest characters. She will suffer no foolishness on her watch!

There’s this one scene that really stood out for me because Silk was poking fun at certain social norms. At a big meeting of the nations’s leaders, there are some women present. Some nations expect their ladies to stay pregnant and in the house while other nations have greater equality. Silk pokes fun at the former while praising the later. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps the author was making a little fun of earlier epic fantasy works where the ladies are relegated to minor roles of providing love, comfort, and babies. It’s scenes like this that rekindled my love for this series.

Garion himself is an OK character though I expect I will once again fall in love with his character later in the series. Right now, he really is a bit of a pawn. People want to control him because he could be The One. Yep, the bad guys want him and the good guys in the know want to keep him safe. While that is all pretty standard for several epic fantasies, I still found my self holding my breath during fight scenes or when a bad guy was skulking around.

All told, this was a story that stood the test of time and I’m glad that I have reacquainted myself with it. 4/5 stars

The Narration: Cameron Beierle did an amazing job with his narration. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. I especially love how he managed Silk’s role. Silk speaks multiple languages and likes to go about in disguise, including disguising his voice. I liked his grumpy Belgariad and stern Pol as well. All around, an excellent performance. 5/5 stars

 

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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

The Folk of the Air, Book 1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrators: Caitlin Kelly
Length: 12 hours 36 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio⎮2018

SynopsisBy number-one New York Times best-selling author Holly Black, the first book in a stunning new series about a mortal girl who finds herself caught in a web of royal faerie intrigue.

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him – and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.


5★ Audiobook⎮I enjoyed every single second of this audiobook. From start to finish, The Cruel Prince was the kind of wild ride I’ve come to expect from Holly Black. Just thinking back on it makes my head want to explode. My tiny human brain can’t handle all of the faerie awesomeness. Even while listening to it, I couldn’t string together in the right words to describe the amazingness of what I was hearing.

The Cruel Prince was easily the best audiobook I’ve heard in a very long time. It was the last thing I heard before falling asleep at night and the first thing I turned on in the morning. I didn’t want it to end.

Story-wise, I was riveted. The atmospheric setting was highly reminiscent of The Darkest Part of the Forest, but better because almost all of it took place in the faerie world. Before hearing The Cruel Prince, The Darkest Part of the Forest had been my favorite tale from Holly Black. I’ve heard several other of her titles, but this was better than them all. Holly Black obviously knows that she excels at writing faerie stories. She’s also creative enough to be able to stick with the subject without giving the impression of stagnation.

While I prefer the plot of The Cruel Prince, I do think there were a few things Black did better in The Darkest Part of the Forest. When reviewing The Darkest Part of the Forest, I praised Black’s ability to create such a multi-dimensional main character in Hazel. Hazel was an ordinary teenage girl during the day and a Fae warrior at night. By contrast, The Cruel Prince’s protagonist Jude felt more one dimensional. In The Cruel Prince, it seemed as though Black split the characteristics of Hazel into two separate characters, the twins Jude and Taryn. I believe doing so flattened each twin into a less dynamic and less interesting YA trope. I disliked Taryn, tolerated Jude, and adored Hazel.

Taryn was the most stereotypical of the sisters and I began to dislike her increasingly as the sisterly bond was sacrificed at the expense of the plot. Having a boy come between two sisters seemed so unoriginal and overplayed. I can see where that sub plot is leading because I’ve seen it so many times before. But that was the only part of Black’s tale that dared to disappoint me. If the character of Taryn was flat and shallow, Cardan was a layered onion.

I will admit that I judged Cardan completely wrong. I’ve never bought into the whole “boy pulls girl’s pigtail because he likes her” thing– seriously, don’t teach your little girls to put up with that– but Holly Black gave us a valid underlying cause for his behavior. Once I understood his situation, it put his behavior into perspective. It still didn’t excuse it, mind you, and I hope the issue continues to be addressed later in the series. But it’s the equivalent of “boy pulls girl’s pigtail because he likes her and doesn’t know how to appropriately handle such feelings because he has never been shown affection”. See the difference?

Holly Black has addressed psychological abuse in a story about faeries. It’s not a fairytale, it’s a tale about faeries. In my opinion, Holly Black is redefining this section of the genre and we are all benefiting from it. Fantasy genre, this should be the bar to which you all try to measure up.

I know it’s only January, but this may end up being one of my favorite books I hear this year. I’m partially devastated that I’ll have to wait until 2019 for the sequel, but I also know that it will be more than worth the wait.

Narration review: I’ve heard (and interviewed) Caitlin Kelly before, but never like this. Caitlin, congratulations on being able to lend your amazing voice and talents to such an incredible story! Tonally, Caitlin was a perfect match for a faerie story. Her voice has this light, airy quality typically associated with the fae and fantasy, in general.

Kelly’s characters completely hit the mark. I particularly loved her voicing of Oak, the young fae child. She also gave appropriate distinction to Jude and Taryn. The differences in their personalities really came through in the audiobook in a way that should make traditional book readers envious. And Cardan’s emotional depth was intensified to the max. It’s performances like this that make me so grateful to be an audiobook listener. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

💬 Thursday Thoughts & Opinions: Out of Order

How important is series order?

So, I have these two aunts. They’re alike in a lot of ways, but one of their quirkiest differences stands out every Thanksgiving. Aunt #1 separates all of the foods on her plate so that none of them are touching. Aunt #2 swirls all of her food together until everything is mixed in one giant heap. If you believe in astrology, I should note that Aunt #1 is obviously a Virgo and Aunt #2 is clearly a Pisces. Polar opposites. My own philosophy on this matter is that certain foods go better together than others. I’m not opposed to crossing dishes now and then, if the situation warrants it. Who doesn’t like a little salty and sweet?

What I’m getting at here is that some people prioritize order more than others. When it comes to audiobook listening, I’m more like Aunt #1. There has to be an order and that order should be respected. This is my listening preference based on my own experiences. I insist on hearing a series in order.

Now, there have been times when I’ve accidentally picked up Volume II before Volume I and not even realized it until it was pointed out to me. Ironically enough, I actually started two of my favorite series that way. In sixth grade, a wee Audiobookworm somehow managed to fall in love with the Harry Potter series via The Prisoner of Azkaban (Book #3!). More recently, I got about halfway through Jenny Han’s P.S. I Still Love You before realizing it was the second installment in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series. In both cases, I immediately backtracked and started each series from the beginning.

I don’t care if the author swears up and down that a series can be heard independently. I’ve been burned by that logic before. I also find it impossible to recommend that a series be heard out-of-order, even if I’ve already finished the entire series. Once you understand something (i.e. the nuances of a plot), it’s difficult to see it from the perspective of someone else. That’s another I hesitate to believe every author’s claim regarding their own series order.

Side Note: I actually lost a friend over this in sixth grade. As you know, I started the Harry Potter series with the third book and subsequently backtracked with books one and two. Once I did that, everything made sense. I naïvely recommended the series to a friend in that order (3, then 1 & 2). My misguided order recommendation backfired for my friend, causing her to get a less-than-stellar grade on a book report…

In my experience, it’s a rare book that can be heard independently of its series. I believe stories are meant to be experienced in the order they were written. By the way, chronological order versus order of publication is a topic worthy of its own post. I do acknowledge, however, that some installments are more dependent than others. A “bridge” book, for example, is exactly that: A bridge between two installments in a series. The Harry Potter series is a great example of a “pyramid” series. Each new installment builds upon its predecessor. That’s not to say that there aren’t smaller story arcs that are resolved within each book, though. On that note, I have no idea how 12-year-old me managed to get all the way through Prisoner of Azkaban without having read the first two books in the series. Just what were you thinking, lil’ Jess?

Series order and order, in general, has become much more important to me as I’ve matured. It’s to the point now that I won’t even touch a mid-series book without having heard its prior installments. It’s a major pet peeve. Almost everyone I’ve spoken with about the matter feels similarly. From a promotional perspective, I’ve found that it’s much more difficult to promote a mid-series book alone. Still, the subject of series order is highly subjective. There are those of you who have no trouble whatsoever picking up a mid-series book and running with it. I don’t understand it, but I respect it.

How often do you read series out-of-order? Do you have strong feelings (one way or the other)? What series have you successfully/unsuccessfully read out-of-order?

Bonus: How do you feel about foods touching on your plate?

I can’t wait to see these responses!

 

📚 Wraith Knight by C.T. Phillips

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Three Worlds, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrator: Kevin T. Collins
Length: 12 hrs and 2 mins
Publisher: Audible Studios⎮2017

Synopsis: The King Below, Enemy of the World, is dead. Will his successor save the world…or rule it? Jacob Riverson was once the greatest hero of an age. Cut down during what should have been the final battle against the King Below, he was condemned to centuries of torment as a Wraith Knight in the service of said monster. With the destruction of his master, Jacob finds his free will returning and discovers he is in a world torn by civil war between the King Below’s former slaves and the heroes who “saved” them. Joining forces with the overly-idealistic but brilliant warrior Regina Whitetremor, Jacob must determine whether he has any place in the new world and whether his destiny is as a hero or monster. Or both.

Wraith Knight is book one of the Three Worlds saga by C.T. Phipps.


Guest Reviewer SusanWraith Knight is a cross between epic fantasy and grimdark fantasy. Our main character Jacob was a hero over two centuries ago but his soul was enslaved by the Big Baddie and he served as a Wraith Knight committing many atrocities. Now his servitude is over and he has no memory of his time spent as the repellent Wraith Knight. He was a very interesting character. He gave his life fighting the King Below but now that that malevolence is gone from the world, he is sad to see that the world isn’t a cheery paradise. He has a lot of conflicting emotions and the large cast of characters all treat him differently. Some are disgusted by his actions as a Wraith Knight. Some fear him. Some seek him out for his power. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with.

In this epic story, there’s so many characters. Serah, a witch of a sort, stands out for me as well as Regina. Both are powerful in different ways and both have an eye on Jacob. I also liked the interplay between the ladies. There’s a bit of romance later in the book, but in typical Phipps fashion, it’s not your standard epic fantasy romance. Yay!

 

Trickster was a fun minor character. It’s a disembodied voice that often speaks Jacob’s doubts, making them seem more plausible. Indeed, without Trickster Jacob wouldn’t have been so interesting as I bet he would have had more self-confidence.

 

Despite all these things the story had going for it, I still found it hard to be fully engaged with it. Parts of the story lagged for me. I really wanted to enjoy this story completely but I found that many of the characters held no interest for me. Also, I think the narration style had something to do with it as well. 4/5 stars

 

The Narration: Kevin T. Collins put a lot into his performance. While I can appreciate that, it was also tough to listen to this stylized narration for 12 hours. It was like I was listening to a Shakespeare play for all those hours. Every character spoke in this high and mighty style, all the actions were great and thunderous, all the prose had flourishes. I am guessing that Collins was directed to narrate the entire book in this style. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. I found myself quickly becoming fatigued and since the nuances were tiny, everything said and done sounded important. I had to listen to this audiobook in small chunks of 1-2 hours or I would start zoning out. It was exhausting to get through this audiobook. With that said, Collins never sounded bored with his own performance. His male character voices were distinct, though his ladies didn’t always sound like ladies, nor were they always distinct. The pacing was good and there were no technical issues with the recording. 3/5 stars

 

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

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

The Nyxia Triad, Book 1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrators: Sullivan Jones, Dominic Hoffman
Length: 10 hours 6 minutes
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2017

Synopsis: Every life has a price in this sci-fi thriller that has the nonstop action of The Maze Runner and the high-stakes space setting of Illuminae. This is the first in a new three-book series called the Nyxia Triad that will take a group of broken teens to the far reaches of the universe and force them to decide what they’re willing to risk for a lifetime of fortune.

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of 10 recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden – a planet that Babel has kept hidden – where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.


 3.75★ Audiobook⎮This was a solidly good story. It wasn’t fantastic, just “good”with a few great moments thrown in. I did put it down for a couple of months before coming back to it with the determination to finish it. Even though it didn’t blow my mind, it’s still worth a listen. In my opinion, the narrator gives the audiobook the edge over the traditional book (more on that later).

I had this nagging feeling the entire time I was listening to Nyxia that I had heard it before. Or, at least, something very similar to it. Nyxia felt a lot like two or three different existing stories patch worked together. The literary déjà vu sometimes stemmed from memories of The Hunger Games and at other times Nyxia was reminiscent of The Maze Runner. The good news is that I love both of those series. The not-so-good news is that they made the plot and some of the characters of Nyxia feel stale by comparison.

That’s not to say Nyxia didn’t have its own original elements. The protagonist, for example, felt very original. When reading the author’s bio, it’s easy to understand why Emmett seemed so real. Apart from the narration, it was the best thing about Nyxia. Honestly, I think the story would have fared a lot better if more of a focus had been on Emmett and his background. He was a wonderfully developed character, but we seem to have only seen the tip of his iceberg. Everything about his background is told in retrospect. I would have loved it if more of the story had taken place into Detroit prior to Emmett’s journey.

Speaking of Detroit, I know that Nyxia takes place at some point in the future (I’m still unclear on exactly when, which says a lot), but future Detroit seems a lot like present-day Detroit. At one point, Emmett and his father even discussed the current NFL draft. This raised questions about Reintgen’s world building. Again, actually seeing Reintgen’s future (but not futuristic?) Detroit would have probably filled in a lot of the gaps. This seemed like a missed opportunity on the part of the author.

The other point that was really original to Nyxia was the Nyxia itself. This powerful and rare substance was unlike anything I’ve heard of before. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say that the mystery and originality of the Nyxia substance opens a lot of plot avenues for Reintgen. I like what he’s done with it so far.

I originally gave Nyxia 4 stars, but after a few days of reflection, I’m dropping it down to 3.75. The rush of action at the end really had my blood pumping and temporarily blinded me to the story’s weaknesses, which are now more prominent in my memory. Only time will tell if I wind up continuing with this series. I don’t foresee myself spending an Audible credit on the next installment, but I won’t rule out borrowing it from the library, if the mood strikes me.

Narration review: Sullivan Jones was my favorite part of the Nyxia audiobook. At one point, my mom overheard part of it and even commented on Jones’ voice. His voice is deep and rich. It’s the kind of voice you can sink into, like a waterbed. He provided subtle characterization for the majority of the characters and excellent characterization for a few. For the most part, it wasn’t the best characterization I’ve heard, but it was enough to get me through the story. He excelled at providing vocal distinction for the younger characters, especially those with well-defined personalities and backgrounds, but the distinction waned slightly when more than one adult character was involved in a conversation. Luckily, the majority of the characters were younger and several were from locations with distinct accents. Overall, there were a lot of characters in this story and Jones handled them all with aplomb. I will be actively seeking out his work in the future. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

📚 The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz

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

The Ring and the Crown, Book 1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda
Length: 10 hours 23 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2014

Synopsis: Princess Marie-Elizabeth, heir to the Lily Throne, and Morgan Myrddn, bastard daughter of the Mage of England, grew up together. Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second, Supreme Ruler of the Franco-British Empire. With the help of the Head Merlin, Eleanor has maintained her stranglehold on the world’s only source of magic. She rules the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. But Eleanor’s extended lifespan is nearing its end.

The princess must marry and produce an heir. When Marie is promised to the heir to the Prussian throne, she turns to Morgan, desperate for help. The best friends form a perilous plan: Morgan, a powerful magician herself, will take on Marie’s face, allowing the princess to escape with the boy she loves and live the quiet life she’s always wanted. And Morgan will get what she’s always dreamed of – the chance to rule. But the hunger for power in Lenoran England run deeper than anyone could imagine. In the end, there is only rule that matters in Eleanor’s court: Trust no one.


 4.75★ AudiobookThe Ring and the Crown had one foot planted in fiction and the other in history. Still, I wouldn’t call it historical fiction. At least, not the Philippa Gregory kind. This was more decidedly fantasy, but with an air of alternate history.

Melissa de la Cruz drew inspiration from several fountains. Some of her characters were from Welsh/Arthurian legends and some were derived from history pages. A prime example is the pairing of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and the mage Merlin, her adviser. In a twist of alternate history, Britain conquered France and France became a part of the British Empire. I love alternate histories, but most seem to be either in a futuristic science fiction setting or revolve around a “mission to save the world” plot with a historical fiction setting. The Ring and the Crown was neither.

The Ring and the Crown was this beautiful mix of everything I love. It felt like it was plucked straight from my brain (and then made way better). There were several different subplots that seemed completely unrelated for much of the story. I enjoyed Ronan Astor’s story and I appreciated her flaws, even though she wasn’t always the most palatable character. Her side of the story was delightfully reminiscent of The Luxe Series.

Princess Marie Victoria and “Wolf” were by far the most enjoyable characters. I haven’t shipped a fictional couple in quite sometime, but I loved them together. Their friendship was so pure. I would have a really enjoyed seeing where de la Cruz took them. I say “would have” because this series was canceled by the publisher in 2014. Melissa de la Cruz released the unedited manuscript for fans to read soon after the cancellation and then the second installment was released on November 12, 2017. Honestly, the whole situation is rather confusing but I’m hoping that the recent release of The Lily and the Cross means that an audiobook isn’t completely out of the question.

As disappointed as I am that I may know how de la Cruz intended to end the series, I’m relieved that she didn’t end this installment with a massive cliffhanger. That would be unbearable. Most of the storylines were contained nicely by the end of this installment, except for Isabel’s, and I can live with that.

Melissa de la Cruz tends to paint with broad strokes and then hastily color in details for before the conclusion. It’s annoying at times, but I enjoy so much of the other aspects of her writing style that it doesn’t really bother me anymore. I do wish she would have drawn out the ultimate resolution a little more. I feel like there was more there to be savored. Her big revelations are often told rather than shown. But again, this is a minor concern for me. I’m a huge fan of Melissa de la Cruz and I look forward to settling into more of her work.

Narration review: Jennifer Ikeda is one of my favorite narrators. She has to be one of the top narrators for YA Fantasy, if not YA Fiction. The Ring and the Crown really allowed her to show off her many accents. The story frequently changed point of view and Ikeda kept pace with it spectacularly. Not once did I ever wonder whom was speaking. The transitions were smooth and even. This was a wonderful audiobook to experience and I highly recommend giving it a listen. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

 

📚 The Empress by S.J. Kincaid

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Diabolic, Book 2

Description⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: Candace Thaxton
Length: 11 hours 7 minutes
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio⎮2017

SynopsisIt’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.

Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?


 4.75★ Audiobook⎮ I always sort of hold my breath when beginning a sequel, especially if it’s been a while since hearing the previous installment. That was especially true when beginning The Empress because my expectations for it were so high.

I can’t imagine the type of pressure authors must feel when writing sequels. But luckily, in the case of The Empress, Kincaid was able to perfectly recapture the magic of The Diabolic. I actually breathed a sigh of relief when realizing that I was enjoying The Empress just as much as I had enjoyed The Diabolic. That rare, but spectacularly balanced, mixture of fantasy and science-fiction was again present in Kincaid’s work. There was a slightly more dominant Sci-Fi vibe in The Empress, giving it the feel of a Space Opera at times. But it still possessed the eery timeless atmosphere that I adored it in its predecessor. 

I had been looking forward to The Empress all year and it exceeded my expectations. And, oh my, the twists and turns we took. Nothing is ever as you expect it to be with SJ Kincaid. There’s political intrigue, backstabbing, and betrayal. Nothing is straightforward and no one is ever really dead, just like in a soap opera. My daytime television loving heart ate it all up. Kincaid managed to weave together a gripping drama that surprised me with every turn.

And beneath all of that drama was a deeper theme of finding one’s humanity. How exactly do we define what it means to be human? That question is at the core of this series. Nemesis’ growth as a character has been thought-provoking, to say the least. Nemesis is a fantastic and memorable character. She is written in a beautiful, if not entirely relatable, manner. The course her character development has taken has been just as much of an unexpected twist as anything else in the series.

It’s to the point now that I want to go back and hear everything Kincaid has ever written. The Diabolic was not a singular strike of luck. SJ Kincaid may very well be on the way to becoming one of my favorite authors. As it stands now, this series has already claimed its place on my virtual “Favorites” shelf and in my heart.

Narration review: My previous enjoyment of Candace Thaxton’s performance was something else I needed to reaffirm while hearing The Empress, because it had been 12 months since my last experience with her narration of this series. I most recently heard her perform The Last Magician in August (which I enjoyed immensely), but The Diabolic series requires the use of a different set of skills, particularly when voicing the main character.

Right off the bat, I remembered how pleasing her vocal tone was to my ears. Some people just have voices you like listening to, you know? Further in, I noted that her interpretation of Nemesis’ voice was spot-on. Such an accurate interpretation deeply enhanced my understanding of the character. I also noted that Nemesis sounded more human in this installment, which was extremely appropriate. ♣︎

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📚 Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: Robin Miles
Length: 2 hrs and 30 mins
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2015

Synopsis: Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.


Guest Reviewer Susan⎮Young Binti comes from an insular people (the Himba) who are dedicated to their land, their rituals, and science. She is the first of her people to be excepted to this big university and she’s willing to leave the bosom of her people to go experience this thing called ‘higher learning’. I really liked Binti right from the start. She’s a great character to take us through this tale. I was caught up in her culture and how that differed from all those around her. The story does a great job of showing how Binti’s people have, in some ways, limited themselves by choosing to remain so isolated. There’s several details about the Himba culture including their otjize, which is a mix of oil and clay they use on their skin and hair.

Other students on their way to the university populate this spaceship and Binti makes a few friends. Alas, the jellyfish-like aliens Meduse attack the ship and kill nearly everyone before we get a real chance to know these new friends. The Meduse have a bone to pick with university and plan to exact a messy revenge for the perceived insult.

 

OK. So, I was indeed entertained by this story even though there is this sudden and not subtle at all plot twist with the Meduse. The story started off promising complexity and depth but once the Meduse squiggle into the story, we lose that. Deus ex machina becomes the mechanism driving the story forward from that point. Despite that, I still really liked Binti and was biting my lip wondering how things would turn out for her.

 

Binti gets more of an education than she ever expected. So do the Meduse. The overall message of the story holds true throughout the plot even if I felt it was a bit strained for the second half: acceptance and respect of different cultures. Despite the difficulties with the plot, I was entertained enough to seek out the sequel and I look forward to giving that a listen. 4/5 stars because I was so entertained.

 

The Narration: Robin Miles gave such a beautiful performance. I really enjoyed listening to her voice. She made the perfect Binti. Her other character voices were distinct and her male character voices were believable. I also enjoyed her voice for the Meduse. Binti goes through a pantheon of strong emotions in this tale and Miles delivered them all with skill. 5/5 stars
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📚 Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

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Hercule Poirot Mysteries #20

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: Hugh Fraser
Length: 6 hrs and 12 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: Christmas Eve, and the Lee family’s reunion is shattered by a deafening crash of furniture and a high-pitched wailing scream. Upstairs, the tyrannical Simeon Lee lies dead in a pool of blood, his throat slashed.

When Hercule Poirot offers to assist, he finds an atmosphere not of mourning but of mutual suspicion. It seems everyone had their own reason to hate the old man….


4 ★ Audiobook⎮ I heard Murder On the Orient Express around Thanksgiving and enjoyed it so much that I vowed to hear more Agatha Christie soon. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas presented the perfect opportunity to hear another Christie novel as well as a holiday tale. It turned out to be more of one than the other, but I’m still pleased with this relatively brief listen.

Agatha Christie has proven herself to be more than capable of telling a complete story in just a few hours time. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas was a perfect holiday listen, not because it was filled with holiday cheer, but because its brevity allowed it to fit into my jam-packed holiday schedule. I had been worried that I wouldn’t be able to find time for audiobook listening during the holidays, but Hercule Poirot’s Christmas was not only a quick listen, but an easy listen as well.

I’ll admit I was hoping for a little more “cozy”, but I guess that’s not Christie’s style. I was slightly disappointed with the lack of holiday atmosphere, especially considering that the title is Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. The holiday itself played very little into the setting or plot. Aside from the title and the fact that Christmas was the reason for the family reunion the plot centers around, this could have been any other time of year. That’s not a huge detraction, but I was hoping this story would help enhance my Christmas spirit.

As for the mystery itself, I feel like this one was a bit more obvious than Murder On the Orient Express. Still, it had me debating right up until the big reveal. And, what a reveal! Classic Poirot. I’m getting more of a sense of his character now and it’s only compelling me to hear more of his mysteries.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is the 20th book in the series and Murder On the Orient Express was the 10th, so I’m definitely reading these out of order. But that’s another fantastic thing about the series: Each installment truly stands on its own. I don’t remember hearing any references to previous installments, so it’s possible Christie planned it this way.

The Hercule Poirot Mysteries will be one of those series that I return to whenever I’m in the mood for a solid mystery, without the pressure of having to hear the series in its entirety.

Narration review: Although this was my second Hercule Poirot mysteryit was my first time hearing Hugh Fraser’s narration. He is apparently well known for having narrated the entire Hercule Poirot series and even though this is a series that has been covered and recovered by many voice actors, it seems that Fraser is a fan favorite.

Fraser’s dynamic voice allowed him to be quite colorful in his characterizations, which helped my understanding of the plot tremendously. His accents were exceedingly well-done, especially the South African accent, which I was previously unable to recognize. I’m looking forward to many more of Hercule Poirot’s mysteries with Fraser at the helm. ♣︎

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