📚 Royally Screwed by Emma Chase

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.

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017

Narrators: Andi Arndt, Shane East
Length: 9h 39m
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio⎮2016

4.5★ AudiobookRoyally Screwed wasn’t my normal type of listen. In fact, I had no idea what I was getting into when I began listening to it. But if it’s about royalty, real or fiction, I’ll probably give it a shot. That was the case with my first Emma Chase novel.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I was able to enjoy this romance novel. I largely credit that to the inclusion of fictitious royal characters. Royally Screwed  reminded me of a grown up version of Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries or The Prince and Me. A decent amount of suspended disbelief was required, but not so much that the story seemed fantastical.

Emma Chase managed to reinvent the modern Cinderella story, infusing it with realistic elements and fairy tale fun. I decided early on that Chase’s writing was good enough to warrant an emotional investment from me. After that, I was able to become fully immersed in the story and allowed myself to be willingly swept away by the romance. That isn’t an easy concession for me, which is why I seldom read romance. But again, royalty is my weakness, so allowances were made.

I don’t think that would have been possible if I hadn’t seen such potential in Chase’s characters. They were well-developed, distinctive, relatable and endearing.  I was really intrigued with the way Chase developed Nicholas and Olivia’s world. Olivia’s world is essentially our own. She was born and raised in New York City. Nicholas, however, hails from the fictitious country of Wessco (which sounds like an oil company). It is briefly noted that Wessco shares roots with the UK, but branched off centuries ago. I’m not sure if that qualifies as Alternate Universe, but that’s neither here nor there. Royally Screwed  blends reality with fiction, which creates the perfect setting for a light hearted, happily-ever-after romance.

Royally Screwed  was fun, fresh and extremely sexy. The “prince falls for commoner” storyline may be an oldie, but it’s also a goodie. Chase didn’t do anything monumentally different with it, she just told it in an incredibly enticing way. If you’re one of the estimated 300 million who stopped what you were doing on April 29, 2011 to watch Prince William marry Kate Middleton, then Royally Screwed is definitely for you!

Narration review: Emma Chase struck gold twice over with Andi Arndt and Shane West. I was beyond impressed with both of their performances. First of all, kudos to Shane for nailing the sexy British accent on the head. There’s a fine line between sounding sexy and sleazy, and Shane definitely fell on the better side of that line. But more than that, I was blown away by his ability to voice female characters. Characters, as in multiple. He performed multiple female character voices. And they were all distinct. I’m still pinching myself.

Andi Arndt is someone I’m itching to look up. I enjoyed her performance, especially as Olivia, enough that I’m already dying to hear more of her work. With this one performance, Arndt has proven herself to be a quality narrator, capable of appropriately conveying emotion and vocal diversity. Dual narration was definitely the right call for Royally Screwed.  West and Arndt livened the story through the alternating POV chapters and embodied Nicholas and Olivia. That’s all a listener can ever really ask for.

$ Available at Audiobooks.comAudible/Amazon, and The Book Depository (paperback)

 

✏️ Wednesday Resource Review: TuneIn Premium

The purpose of Wednesday Resource Reviews is to help listeners and potential listeners compare and contrast the many audiobook listening resources available to them.

I will test as many of these resources as possible and relay my first-hand experiences in an effort to help you find an audiobook resource/service that best fits you.

Wednesday Resource Reviews are purely based on my subjective experience and information available on the web, from other listeners, or from someone representing the resource (i.e. customer service).

All types of resources will be reviewed, including those from free audiobook sources. However, illegal sources (such as those violating copyright laws) will not be reviewed.

 

Basic Info:
•Format: Streaming
•Type of Service: Subscription
•Selection: 40,000+ titles

Possibly the best kept secret in the audiobook listening world right now is TuneIn Radio’s unlimited audiobook service. Of course, it’s only available to TuneIn Premium subscribers, but at $7.99 per month, it’s more than worth it! I stumbled upon TuneIn’s delectable audiobook selection a couple of months ago and instantly fell in love.

After all, Scribd once had an unlimited service and so did Audiobooks.com, before being forced to convert to a credit-based system like Audible‘s. But after two months of sheer bliss, I can tell you that TuneIn is the real deal and it is by far the best deal you’re bound to get on audiobooks for a while. But if I learned anything from Scribd and Audiobooks.com, it’s to enjoy it while it lasts, because it probably won’t last long.

TuneIn may be in a slightly different boat than Scribd and Audiobooks.com were, however. TuneIn was operating long before they introduced an audiobook selection in August 2015. TuneIn’s audiobook service is merely one out of several profitable features offered by TuneIn Radio. Through TuneIn, you can hear podcasts, news shows, music playlists, sports programs, language lessons, and audiobooks all for $7.99 per month. Even if you never use any of the other features, $7.99 for unlimited audiobooks is an out of this world deal.

Mobile listening makes more sense cents

But hold on— If you think $7.99/month is an unbelievable price, you’d better sit down for this one. Here’s a first-hand tip from The Audiobookworm: Subscribe to TuneIn Premium from the mobile app, not the website. TuneIn’s website advertises their premium service as a monthly subscription of $7.99. That comes to $95.88 a year, plus a one week free trial. However, if you download the TuneIn app on your mobile device and then subscribe to premium, you’ll get an offer for a 30-day free trial and a $69.99 annual subscription plan! Please, please. Hold your applause until the end of the post.

Note: This worked for me using an iPhone. I’m assuming the experience would be the same for Android users. If it’s not, let me know.

Still think it’s too good to be true?

There has to be a catch, right? If there is, it has nothing to do with the selection. After scanning the audiobook selection for the first time, I almost had to pick myself up from the floor. At 40,000 audiobooks, the selection may not be as large as that of some other services, but the quality is astounding. TuneIn has titles from major publishing houses like HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. I’m still working my way through them all.

 

What I love:

The Price: As a frugal listener, this is naturally the first thing on my list. $7.99/month is an unbeatable price, unless you subscribe through the app. In that case, it’s totally beatable.

The Unlimited-ness: I haven’t seen an unlimited audiobook service since September 2014 (when Scribd canceled theirs) and it has been one heck of a dry spell! No credits, no waiting, no extra fees, just all-you-can-hear audiobooks. What’s that? Do you hear angels singing? 

• The selection quality: TuneIn’s title selection is phe-nom-enal,  especially for the price. I was particularly pleased with their selection of YA titles. I don’t think you can view the selection until signing up, so this is the point where you decide whether or not to trust me (and use the free trial).

The additional features: You’re guaranteed to get more than your money’s worth with all that being a premium TuneIn subscriber offers.

What I don’t:

The website: Using the TuneIn website has been a cumbersome experience for me, to say the least. Many of TuneIn’s navigational features are uncooperative when using the website. It seems that the TuneIn service is primarily geared towards mobile app use.

The app: Although I much prefer using the mobile app instead of the website, some fine tuning is needed, especially for audiobook listening. The mobile app is peppered with minor annoyances such as not displaying the total runtime of an audiobook, not having a manual bookmarking feature, occasional crashes, and a few other small things.

Streaming only: This makes sense, given the originally intended nature of TuneIn Radio, but it may be a deal breaker to some. Luckily, I do most of my listening via WiFi. But on-the-go listeners will have to keep a close eye on their data usage.

The things I love about TuneIn’s premium service FAR outweigh the things I don’t. If you have plenty of access to WiFi or unlimited cellular data, you’d be silly not to give this a try!

* This post will be amended and updated as necessary.

📚 Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

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.

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017

Narrator: David Levithan
Length: 6h 15m
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2013

4.75★ Audiobook⎮I started and finished Two Boys Kissing in one day. That’s very rare for me, but this was an extraordinary story.

Two Boys Kissing was intriguing on multiple levels, most notably in the way that it was told. Levithan used a Greek chorus to narrate his tale. The Greek chorus consisted of the generation of gay men lost to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. After recently having read this article about the impact of AIDS on the original San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, I was particularly interested in Levithan’s unique approach.

If you haven’t already deduced from the title, Two Boys Kissing features gay male characters. The fact that Levithan told these boys’ stories through the eyes of their predecessors was hauntingly beautiful. It gave the story an “otherworldly” quality, especially when combined with Levithan’s ethereal writing style. I wasn’t expecting to be so emotionally engaged in this story. But there were numerous times when I was given chills or brought to the brink of tears. The moment that finally did me in was when Levithan described the lost generation as the role models who would-have-been and the current generation as the role models who will-be.

Two Boys Kissing  was such a captivating story to hear. A perfect balance was struck between the heaviness of the underlying subject matter and the light heartedness of the story’s current events. Harry and Craig are too high schoolers trying to break the Guinness world record for longest kiss (32 hours). Much of the story takes place within that timeframe, but the omniscient Greek chorus narrator(s) actually follow a few other boys in addition to Harry and Craig. In that sense, the story is told through multiple points-of-view, though always in third person via the Greek chorus. I apologize if that is difficult to understand (it’s difficult to describe!). But trust me, you have to experience it. I’m surprised at how easy it was to follow each of the boys’ stories.

Two Boys Kissing is the type of novel that affects each reader differently. I started listening to it because I was in the mood to hear something different. I finished it with an entirely new outlook on the history of AIDS in America and the crossgenerational impact that it has had. That wasn’t the entire focus of Two Boys Kissing,  but it was the aspect of the story that had the most profound impact on me. I’ve already started to look into Levithan’s other work.

Narration review: Around the 75% completion mark, I was so impressed with the narration of this audiobook so much that I had to find out the narrator’s name. I was stunned to discover that David Levithan himself narrated this audiobook. Author narration can be a polarizing topic and I thought I knew where I stood until hearing Two Boys Kissing.  Levithan’s jaw-dropping narration skills left me in absolute amazement. His performance was delivered with the kind of feeling and hush-toned reverence that could cause some professional narrators to reevaluate their work. It makes sense that he would have an emotional connection to his own work, but the most impressive part is that he was able to audibly convey that connection to the listener. That is the feat that many professional narrators attempt, but only some are able to achieve. Levithan should be extremely proud of this performance.  ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.comAudible/Amazon, and The Book Depository

📚 If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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.

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017

Narrator: Samia Mounts
Length: 7h
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2016

4.75★ Audiobook⎮ Listening to If I Was Your Girl  was an incredibly emotional experience. Meredith Russo did an amazing job of creating an empathic character in Amanda. Russo expanded on that creation in the author’s note, explaining the liberties she felt it necessary to take in order to allow a larger audience to more easily connect with Amanda. Side note: It feels odd to refer to the people in this novel as “characters” because they all felt so realistic.

From a psychological standpoint, those liberties make perfect sense. Russo’s message is one of commonality. She appeals to the universally humanistic qualities in every reader. There were times when I would forget that Amanda was trans and just become immersed in the details of her life.

From the very beginning, I felt for Amanda. I felt her highs, her lows and everything in between. In that respect, I connected with Amanda’s father more than any one else. I got where he was coming from with wanting to protect Amanda, but not knowing how. I imagine that is a feeling that every parent or guardian experiences at some point.

In a broader sense, I also felt extremely protective of Amanda. Gosh, she was just such a beautiful and pure character that I couldn’t help but want to protect her. As a reader, I was constantly on edge waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was wonderful to see her so happy and well-adjusted in her new life, but I could scarcely enjoy it for fear of what would come next. I imagine that to be a fraction of what her parents must have felt.

If I Was Your Girl  is not a story I will be forgetting soon, if ever. Russo’s writing is heartbreakingly poignant, emotive, and gripping. Not usually one to be overcome with emotion, I nearly succumbed to tears while listening to this in public. Nevertheless, If I Was Your Girl was still lighter than I had anticipated. Russo allows the reader to experience the many nuances of Amanda’s life, positive and negative. If I Was Your Girl  was as beautiful and hope-filled as it was heart-wrenching. It was very easy to follow along with and hard to put down. If I Was Your Girl  is the type of story that stays with you long after you’ve finished it.

Narration review: Samia Mounts deserves the slowest of claps for her performance in If I Was Your Girl. She had a beautiful southern accent that enhanced Amanda’s softness. Her narration was imbued with so much emotion that it evoked similar feelings in me as a listener. Sort of like how you can be so in tune with someone that you begin to tear up as soon as they do. During one of the most emotional passages in If I Was Your Girl,  I swear it sounded as if Samia was choking back tears while narrating. If so, I 100% do not blame her. Mounts was a huge asset to this audiobook. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.comAudible/Amazon, and The Book Depository

📚 Game of Crowns by Christopher Andersen

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.

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017

Narrator: Simon Prebble
Length: 8h 52m
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio⎮2016

4.75★ AudiobookGame of Crowns was one of the more entertaining biographies of the British royal family that I’ve read. By selecting three members of the royal family as the central figures, Andersen set Game of Crowns  slightly apart from other works of royal nonfiction. Prince Charles, Prince William, and the late Princess of Wales (Diana) are also prominently featured, although primarily in relation to Elizabeth, Camilla, and Catherine.

Although the majority of the book’s broad strokes were common knowledge, Andersen provided plenty of new details, seemingly derived from “insiders”. Game of Crowns  kept my interest far better than my most previous royal reads. No one subject was concentrated on for too long and a number of approaches were taken to tell the story. There were a number of personal quotes from and about members of the royal family that enhanced the underlying significance of what Andersen said.

He broached the subject of abdication (the queen stepping down) with more seriousness than most other royal commenters. Andersen purported that this is a very real possibility, especially if the Duke of Edinburgh passes before the queen. He pointed to the long list of “nevers” that Her Majesty has already overturned (paying taxes, opening her homes to tourists, decommissioning the Brittania, and so on) as evidence that an abdication is still possible, no matter the refusals.

I especially enjoyed Andersen’s projection into the future of the monarchy, beginning with Elizabeth II’s passing. He painted a realistic, if somewhat cynical, picture of a post-Elizabethan monarchy. Andersen made it clear that he believes Charles’ accession and Camilla’s subsequent crowning as queen could very well lead to the end of the British monarchy.

My largest criticism of other royal-themed works of nonfiction has been that they seemed glaringly propagandized. I learned long ago that all royal biographies are biased, albeit some more heavily than others. Game of Crowns maintained a façade of professional journalism longer than most, while including juicy tidbits one might find in a tabloid. It was initially hard to tell whom exactly Christopher Andersen was favoring, as nearly everyone seemed to be painted in an unflattering light at one point or another. Diana, the late Princess of Wales, was neither wholly romanticized, victimized or villainized. This was incredibly refreshing. Most royal biographies tend to harp on Diana for much too long, all the while offering an incredibly skewed viewpoint of her.

Unfortunately, any pretense of overall fairness or objectivity was abruptly dropped each time The Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla) was mentioned. She was undeniably painted as the villain in Game of Crowns. So much that I found myself almost involuntarily empathizing with her. In that respect, Andersen’s plans seem to have backfired. To be clear, no one was exactly written as a “sympathetic figure”, but Andersen definitely came down on Camilla the hardest. His somewhat nasty attack on her caused me to question the reliability of Andersen’s other information. He was pushing the reader so hard in one direction (the anti-Camilla direction) that it came across as extremely imbalanced and nearly personal.

Most other figures were given a more balanced and seemingly fair covering, with the possible exception of Prince Harry. Harry was not mentioned very often, but when he was, it was mostly just to bring up a past indiscretion. The infrequency, at least, is understandable as Harry was not portrayed as a central figure (surrounding Elizabeth, Camilla, and Kate). He was unapologetically given the “Spare” treatment. Fans of Prince Harry, skip this one.

Narration review: Simon Prebble’s narration lent an air of respectability to what could have come off as another tabloid-fueled tale. His posh accent suited this audiobook perfectly and made the listening experience most enjoyable. Prebble caused the nearly 9 hours to fly by. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another of his works. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.comAudible/Amazon, and The Book Depository

🎙 The Narration Nest: Caitlin Kelly

The Narration Nest on The Audiobookworm- Audiobook Reviews and More!

The Narration Nest segment is designed to give readers a way to connect with audiobook narrators, learn more about the process of recording an audiobook and get a better sense of the individual behind the voice.

Caitlin Kelly

Caitlin Kelly's voiceover experience is as diverse and interesting as her audiobook catalog. Kelly has voiced a number of popular audiobooks, including several Young Adult titles from Michelle Madow, J.L. Weil, and Kasie West.
The Audiobookworm Interviews Audiobook Narrator Caitlin Kelly- The Narration Nest

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Caitlin moved to New York City to pursue her theatrical training at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She has a BFA in Drama and studied musical theatre at CAP21. Caitlin has been working in voice over since 2009. She got started in VO while living in Tokyo, Japan. Caitlin toured Japan with Disney's World of English and World Family Club as a performer and a puppeteer. Caitlin currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and can be heard on TIME for Kids, Forbes.com, and Slate.com. For more info, check out www.CaitlinKellyVO.com.

 

Caitlin has graciously agreed to visit The Narration Nest for a little Q&A session discussing her adventures in audiobook narration.
Did you find it difficult to “break into” audiobook narration? What skill/tool helped you the most when getting started?

It was definitely a challenge but I don’t want to use the word difficult. I came to audiobooks having already had a career in voiceover while I lived abroad in Tokyo, Japan. When I moved to NY, I needed to start over and rebuild my career. My experience and the knowledge I had already been successful in voiceover helped me to keep persevering every time it felt “difficult”. I took a commercial voice over class with prolific audiobook narrator, Johnny Heller. He encouraged me to take an audiobooks class and the rest is history.

What type of training have you undergone?

I attended NYU Tisch School of the Arts where I received a BFA in drama. I had conservatory training while I was in school. I’m a trained singer and also studied voice and speech. Learning about anatomy and how our bodies produce sound have helped me find and test the range of my voice. I also studied IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and tongue placement and mouth shape for different vowel and consonant sounds. This training has been especially important to be able to drop my midwestern accent or put on a different accent.

Your bio says you’re proficient in performing several accents. Which is the most fun to perform and which is the most difficult?

I love accent work. I had a great time with Irish in the Raven Series by JL Weil. The most difficult accent for me is Australian. It morphs into a Waco, Texas and Russian hybrid! But I’m getting better. 

Is there a particular genre you feel unsuited for?

I have a very youthful voice but I don’t believe it keeps me from narrating specific genres. As long as the main character is in the age range of my voice, the sky's the limit.

How does audiobook narration differ from other types of voiceover work you've done?

Audiobooks are incredible as an actor. I get to play ALL the parts. Parts that I would never be cast in based on appearance. So while performing audiobooks is really fun, they are the marathon on voiceover. I have to make sure I take care of myself physically so I have the energy and focus to sustain my performance.

What types of things are harmful to your voice?

Yelling! Americans are loud when we socialize in bars and restaurants. In NY, the music gets cranked way up and I find I have to shout at the person sitting next to me to carry a conversation. In the short term, yelling causes my vocal folds to swell. In the long term, it can cause nodes or polyps.

Has anyone ever recognized you from your voice?

There was one time I was shopping at Don Quijote in Tokyo, Japan. I had just finished playing Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors with Tokyo International Players. I was talking to my friend while shopping and two high school girls approached me and asked if I had been in the show. I said I had and they said they didn’t recognize me without the platinum wig and all the makeup but recognized my voice. They were so sweet and it made me feel really good.

How closely do you prefer to work with authors?

It depends on the author and the book. I love when authors share incites about characters, especially revelations that may inform my performance in a series.

Have there been any characters that you really connected with?

Absolutely! I empathize with all my characters to be as truthful to their stories as possible. But I feel particularly invested in ones that have anxiety disorders, like Autumn in By Your Side by Kasie West, or Molly in Saving Red by Sonya Sones. I became overwhelmed by my anxiety when I started college. And while I’m able to manage it now, it affects me every day. I had always been embarrassed to talk about my anxiety. But anxiety affects a lot of people and talking about it helps. Stories with protagonists dealing with anxiety contribute to dialogue about the issue.

What type of review comments do you find most constructive?

When I’m shopping for my next listen, I prefer audiobook reviews that explore how the narrator added to or detracted from the story. If the reviewer felt they got more or less out of the story based on the performance. One of my favorite examples of this is RC Bray reading The Martian by Andy Weir. He fleshed out characters and contributed to dialogue in his performance. In my opinion, Bray’s narration is the best way to enjoy The Martian, better than print and better than the film. (Sorry Matt Damon!)

Bonus question: Any funny anecdotes from inside the recording studio?

Most studios have a window in the booth so the actor can see the director and engineer. My most high profile job at the time was recorded in a booth that did not have a window. The job was to dub Japanese with a strong American accent for a national commercial. I was read the line, butchering the Japanese pronunciations, and waited for further direction in my headphones from the director. There were really long pauses between takes and I started getting nervous. What was going on out there? Was I bombing? Were they calling another actor and replacing me in the middle of the session? It was awful. When they called me out of the booth, the director, engineer, client representative, marketing representative, studio manager, and my manager were all in tears laughing so hard. The long pauses between takes weren’t because my delivery wasn’t working, it was because they needed time to compose themselves because they were laughing so hard. Making that moment simultaneously my most stressful and most gratifying in my voiceover career.

That's too funny! Thank you so much, Caitlin, for allowing me to pick your brain. This has been very insightful and it will make listening to your work all the more interesting. 
 

Select Titles From Caitlin Kelly

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Click to hear samples of Caitlin's narration

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📚 Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

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.

Three Dark Crowns #1

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017

Narrator: Amy Landon
Length: 9h 52m
Publisher: HarperAudio⎮2016

4.75★ Audiobook⎮ I don’t say this very often, but I need the next installment right freaking now. Holy wow. I’m still trying to process everything that was just thrown at me. Three Dark Crowns was the most exciting fantasy novel I’ve read since Amy Harmon’s The Bird and the Sword. I didn’t start Three Dark Crowns  with very high expectations. It’s my third series from Kendare Blake, but it blows the other two away.

The world building was enveloping and trifold. Blake built three encapsulated worlds, one around each of the sisters, and then seamlessly merged them for an explosive finale. But the character development was her crowning achievement (pun intended). Arsinoe, Mirabella, and Katharine were developed separately, yet their characters still complemented each other. I appreciated the subtle underlying themes of female friendship and familial bond.

My only struggle with this book was the amount of minor characters. The overall pacing of the story was slow, but there were frequent POV rotations. Each POV rotation brought a different set of characters to the forefront. It took me half of the story just to differentiate between the three sisters and almost the entire story to keep the minor characters straight. The frequent rotations made the overall pacing seem faster than it was, but if the story had actually been paced any faster, I’m not sure I could have kept up with the characters at all.

Blake’s straightforward writing style made the story easier to follow. Contrary to my initial beliefs, I found Three Dark Crowns surprisingly easy to listen to during the day, while going about my usual routine. Most fantasy plots require singular concentration and can therefore only be heard during downtime. It usually takes me longer to get through that type of story. But once my mind had a grasp on Three Dark Crowns,  it never strayed.

Kendare Blake has a penchant for coming up with irresistibly intriguing plot premises, but Three Dark Crowns  was her best executed piece of work yet. The twists and cliffhangers were worthy of a 10pm television timeslot. It was very prime time soap-ish, but more fantastical. Three Dark Crowns  was a mind blowing series debut. I’m glad Blake is biding her time, without giving too much away too soon. I’m simmering with anticipation for the next installment.

Narration review: I swear, the timbre of Amy Landon’s voice makes all my cares drift away. Her voice is so soothing, but not to the point of putting me to asleep. There was far too much happening in the story for me to even think about dozing off. The narration was well paced, with appropriate emotion and inflection. Overall, I really enjoyed hearing her performance. My only bone to pick is with the slight lack of characterization. As noted above, I had a hard time mentally juggling the many characters. I think this juggling act was made a little more difficult because Landon didn’t seem to make a huge effort to provide vocal distinction between characters. Given Blake’s distinguishing of the three main families surrounding the sister queens, this seems like a missed opportunity on Landon’s part to audibly enhance the difference is between those families. Without characterization enhancement, the audiobook doesn’t really have a “leg up” on the traditional book format. It was a nice performance, but nothing was added that you couldn’t get from the book. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.comAudible/Amazon, and The Book Depository

📚 Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

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.

Dumplin’ #1

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017

Narrator: Eileen Stevens
Length: 9h 02m
Publisher: HarperAudio⎮2015

4.5★ AudiobookIt’s the kind of iconic song that is bigger than geography or languages or religion. It’s “Jolene.”

Dumplin’ was such a kick. It oozed southern sass from the first sentence on. On the surface, this was a super fun, uplifting, and culturally rich story. The culture I’m referring to is that of the Texas beauty pageant circuit. Some aspects of it are almost stereotypical, but always entertaining.

But more than that, it felt so damn authentic that I was going “Yes, girl!” after every few passages. I related to Willowdean hard. Willowdean’s internal turmoil is something I think everyone can relate to in some form or another. I loved her approach to body positivity. It wasn’t just “Be comfortable in your own skin”, but also “It’s okay to struggle with being comfortable in your own skin”.

Willowdean’s struggle was on center stage throughout the story. Her struggle wasn’t with her body, but with the way others viewed her body. Willowdean was confident and insecure at the same time. That made her relatable and one of the most authentic characters I can recall, because humans aren’t just one thing. They are multitudes of things and sometimes those things clash with each other within the same person. Such complexity is what made Willowdean come alive. The minor characters also stood out as being multidimensional. Julie Murphy has a knack for creating incredibly lifelike characters.

Although I originally found Willowdean to be somewhat unendearing, I was eventually able to better understand her. Her personal insecurities translated into an abrasiveness that caused her to push most people away, including the reader. Her jealousy and pettiness kept me at an emotional distance for the first half of the story. I had absolutely no interest in the friendship drama between Willowdean and Ellen. The whole situation cast Willowdean in an unflattering light, which may have been the point. But honestly, I could have done without that subplot.

The real negative in my experience with Dumplin’ was the pacing of the story. It didn’t feel balanced. I was half way through the audiobook before the plot had a structure. I appreciate the buildup, but Murphy dragged things on a little too long before even teasing a plot direction. The writing was still excellent, so I wasn’t bored during the first half, just frustrated. After the first half, the plot started to take shape and I zoomed through to the ending, almost without putting it down. The character and atmospheric development were definitely highlighted, but maybe “milked” a little too much.

However, now that I know this is just the first installment in the Dumplin’ series, the initially underemphasized plot seems more fitting for a long term deal. If I had known that this was part of a series, my perspective during this listening experience may have been slightly altered. With that said, I’m ecstatic that there will be more Dumplin’  in my future! I’m really looking forward to witnessing more of Willodean’s personal growth.

Narration review: Literally, from the first sentence of this audiobook, I was a fan of Eileen Stevens. She gave one of the best performances I’ve heard in a long time. Her narration added so much to Dumplin’  that I can’t imagine having read this instead of heard it. Stevens nailed every single character with impeccable distinction. Not only did she enhance the development of individual characters, but also that of the overall atmospheric sense. Her southern accent was rich and sweet, just the way sweet tea should be. Dumplin’ was magnificent to experience in audio format. If you’re considering reading Dumplin’, listen to the audio sample first. Eileen Stevens breathes life into these characters and I can’t rave about her narration enough. ♣︎

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📚 Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

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Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017

Narrator: Julia Whelan
Length: 10h 43m
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2016

4.5★ AudiobookGirl in Pieces  was a heavy and powerful story. I wasn’t expecting the emotional breadth and gravity of this piece. At times it was hard to hear, but the discomfort only made me realize how much I needed to hear this story.

Girl in Pieces  features a main character with self-harming tendencies. In the author’s note, Kathleen Glasgow reveals that much of the story comes from her own experience with self-harm. Throughout the story, she emphasized the importance of connecting with others facing similar issues and that’s why I am so glad Girl in Pieces  exists.

It was incredibly courageous of Kathleen to tell Charlotte’s story. More than courageous, I think it was vital. Self-harm is something that isn’t often openly discussed, especially in the mainstream media. Although I haven’t dealt with these issues personally, I know that others have and do. For every novel fantasizing self-harm (i.e. Written in Red), there needs to be a Girl in Pieces to realistically portray its effects. 

Glasgow told Charlotte’s story beautifully. From a fictional standpoint, all of the boxes were checked. I was emotionally invested in Charlotte as a protagonist and empathized with her from the start. Her narrative had the feel of a tragic and beautiful Shakespearean play. This aided in giving the story a sense of authenticity as life can be both tragic and beautiful. Glasgow’s writing struck a perfect balance. If the story had been more of one than the other (tragic or beautiful), I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that the tone of the ending surprised me.

Glasgow’s writing was absolutely striking. Again, it was simultaneously beautiful and evocative, dealing one emotional blow after another. I was most impressed by the messages of hope and perseverance peppered throughout Charlotte’s despairing narrative. Such messages encouraged to me to continue on with the story when it became especially dark and further endeared me to Charlotte.

Obviously, the content in Girl in Pieces  may not be suitable for everyone. It explicitly addresses several sensitive issues including suicide, self-harm, substance abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Glasgow’s writing is meant to be evocative, but may be provocative to certain readers.

Narration review: Julia Whelan gave a stirring performance in Girl in Pieces. The story calls for constant raw emotion and Whelan delivered. Her narration met and matched Glasgow’s emotive writing. At times, I became so swept up in the whirlwind of emotion that I forgot I was listening to Whelan narrate an audiobook. She embodied all of Charlotte’s feelings and I could just sense how much of herself Whelan was putting into this performance. Athletic coaches often tell players to “leave it all on the court/field”, meaning give the game everything they have. That phrase comes to mind regarding Whelan’s performance because it truly seemed as if she put all of herself into Girl in Pieces and the results were magnificent to behold. ♣︎

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📚 The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

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The Glittering Court #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2017

Narrator: Kristen Sieh
Length: 12h 53m
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2016

3.75★ AudiobookThe Glittering Court is very different than what I’m used to hearing from Richelle Mead. But in this case, different doesn’t translate into anything especially positive. Although I was intrigued by the first 25% of the story, the remaining 75% left me bored and unimpressed.

Mainly because Mead is plainly ripping off US colonial history. Pick up your nearest US history textbook, substitute England and America for “Osfred” and “Adoria”, insert a predictable romance and you’re suddenly reading The Glittering Court. I’m barely exaggerating here. The point in the novel in which I realized there was nothing more to it than that is exactly where I lost interest.

As someone who loved the Vampire Academy series and came to love its spinoff series, I finished The Glittering Court  out of respect for Mead as an author. But honestly, I’m so disappointed. The world-building felt lazy. It’s like Mead just decided to use US colonial history as a foundation for this world and barely bothered to further develop it on her own, besides slapping new labels on territories and indigenous populations. This is especially disheartening because the development of the Vampire Academy world was just so fantastic. The writing itself was quite good, though. It had a Jane Austen feel to it, especially before the setting change.

Things get very political towards the end and it all feels out of left field. Seriously, it’s like at that point she was just grabbing things from a history book. Religious persecution, persecution of indigenous populations, tense relations with the motherland, murmurs of rebellion, so on and so forth. It’s all very 1770-ish, which doesn’t jive well with the book cover. Although beautiful, the cover now seems misleading, even though it still might be the best thing about The Glittering Court. I have no desire to hear the next installment. Furthermore, I’m now questioning whether or not I even want to give Soundless a shot.

Narration review: Besides the cover, Kristen Sieh was the other best part of The Glittering Court. The tone of her voice was lovely and it had a slight rasp to it, which I found very pleasing. Her vocal distinction was wonderful and immediately helped me visualize each character. Her voicing of Ada had me wondering if she was Rose Leslie in disguise (Gwen from Downton Abbey). If you do plan on giving The Glittering Court a shot, I recommend listening to it. I was very impressed with Sieh’s performance and I plan to check out more of her work soon! ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.comAudible/Amazon, and The Book Depository