🔎 Monday Discovery: Learning Ally

As promised in my Talking Audiobooks interview, today’s discovery is centered around Learning Ally.

I made this discovery a few months ago, but wanted to gather enough information before sharing it with you. This is the kind of discovery that has the potential to change lives.

Learning Ally is a service that provides audiobooks and recorded materials for individuals with disabilities that prevent them from reading print. Learning Ally was formerly known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, but (as the name change implies) this service can benefit individuals with other disabilities as well.

Before I lose some of you, think about those around you. Even if you aren’t in Learning Ally’s specific audience, someone you know may be.

What qualifies as a “print disability”?

According to Learning Ally, anyone with a “print disability” can qualify for their service. They define a “print disability” as anything that prevents someone from being able to read physical books. Obvious examples include visual impairments (i.e. blindness) and learning disabilities (i.e. dyslexia). However, certain physical disabilities may also qualify. For example, if severe arthritis or another physical condition makes it hard for you (or someone you know) to hold a physical book, it could qualify as a print disability.

Determining Eligibility

I say could qualify because Learning Ally requires documentation to determine eligibility, such as a physician’s note detailing the nature and extent of the disability. There are multiple avenues to determining eligibility. Learning Ally allows certification of a disability to be determined by persons in your community (i.e. an ophthalmologist, vocational rehabilitation counselor, special education instructor, family doctor, physical therapist, or disability services counselor). You can also upload or send in an IEP, if you have one.

What types of books do they have?

They currently have an audiobook selection of over 80,000 titles. They also have the ever elusive audiobook for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Their audiobooks are recorded by real narrators and can be played on iOS and android devices, as well as on assistive technology devices.

Educational Materials

Not only does Learning Ally provide recreational listening, they also make textbooks and other instructional materials available for individuals with disabilities. This information is especially relevant for those who would like to or are currently attending post-secondary schooling (college). As mentioned above, the school’s disability services counselor is qualified to certify individuals with print disabilities as eligible for a Learning Ally membership. If a membership with Learning Ally could benefit you or someone you know as a student, I sincerely urge you to investigate their services.

What does it cost?

Learning Ally charges its individual members an annual fee of $135. That breaks down to $11.25 per month. According to its website, membership fees are used to support Learning Ally, along with donations. A financial assistance program is available to qualifying individuals, which could result in the payment or partial payment of membership fees.

Learning Ally also partners with certain states to provide its services to designated school districts. Click here to find out if your state has partnered with Learning Ally.

More Than Books

Learning Ally is an empowering voice in the disability community. They hold seminars and webinars for parents, teachers, advocates, and individuals. They also provide tools and programs for personal and institutional growth. If you’re the parent, guardian, or educator of individuals with print disabilities, I encourage you to look into Learning Ally as well. As of the 2015/16 school year, there were approximately 10,000 schools using Learning Ally. Although that number is incredible, I think it should be much higher.

How can I help?

Even if none of this directly applies to you, I still believe that those in the book community have a moral obligation to support readers and listeners of all abilities. By extension, shouldn’t we also support an

Narrators, lend your vocal talents to a worthy cause!

organization aiming to make reading more accessible? This is one of the primary reasons I’m such a strong supporter of the audiobook format. Learning Ally has several ways volunteers can become involved in their organization through the recording process and in the community.

Whether you’re a narrator who would like to volunteer your voice, an advocate for the disability community hoping to make a difference, or simply a book enthusiast looking to spread the word about Learning Ally, you can learn more about pitching in here (I’ve already done so!). Of course, boosting this post would also help spread awareness and hopefully reach someone (or several someones) in need of reading assistance.

🎙Talking Audiobooks with Casey Trowbridge

Exciting news: I was interviewed by Casey Trowbridge on the Talking Audiobooks podcast recently and the episode just went live today! It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had since beginning The Audiobookworm and I’m tremendously grateful to Casey and his producer Ken Joy.

If you want to finally hear my voice and learn a little more about me, this is your chance.

Keep an eye out for more about Casey, as I plan to host him on The Audiobookworm in the future! And possibly elsewhere…

And if you like my voice enough, you can hear more of it on my recently launched YouTube channel. Subscribers are welcome (duh)!

Aaaand, since now seems to be the time for a shameless plugs, Be sure to check out:

 

Happy Friday,

📚 Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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.

Rich #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jul. 2017

Narrator: Lynn Chen
Length: 13h 53m
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2013

4.75★ Audiobook⎮ I’m so glad I decided to start listening to Crazy Rich Asians. It truly is like Gossip Girl, but set in Singapore and way more extreme, if you can believe it. Crazy Rich Asians was unbelievably entertaining.

Crazy Rich Asians had all the drama of a soap opera, complete with unexpected twists. As a soap fan, I ate it up. I found it hilariously funny and delightful, like juicy gossip. It provided a great contrast to Vacation, a more contemplative book I was hearing at the same time. Crazy Rich Asians would make for a delicious poolside tale at whichever summer resort you choose to holiday. Or, you know, your own backyard.

Beginning this series has made me super excited for the upcoming movie. It was fun to be able to envision the cast members as the characters in my head while I listened. Most of the POV characters came across as very distinct. Some of the more minor characters, however, tended to blur together. Being unfamiliar with Chinese naming traditions, I found it a little difficult to grasp the who’s-who until about 75% through the book. It was a overwhelming trying to keep all of the characters and families straight, but still worth it. I ended up finding a family tree graphic on Pinterest that made it a lot easier.

I can’t wait for the movie to be released! I’ve been following the casting news eagerly and can’t wait to see it all come together. Hopefully the second and third installments of the series will also be picked up for the silver screen.

Narration reviewRich is a series that I was absolutely planning to continue on with. After finishing Crazy Rich Asians, I picked up its sequel almost immediately and began listening. I adored Lynn Chenn’s narration, even if it was a little fast-paced at times. As the story went on, I became used to it. She did an excellent job of differentiating between characters and displaying their personalities with her voice. Alas, I understand that narrator swaps have to be made sometimes, but I really wish Lynn could have finished out this series. Her replacement was simply not up to par and I doubt I’ll be able to finish the series because of it. Quelle déception!

However, I do encourage you to give the series a shot. I wholeheartedly recommend the first installment, Crazy Rich Asians, on audiobook. The second two, not so much. Whether you start listening on audio and switch to paperback or just read the entire series, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

📚 Witches of East End 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 Beauchamp Family #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jul. 2017

Narrator: Katie Schorr
Length: 7h 51m
Publisher: Hyperion⎮2011

4.25★ Audiobook⎮ I finished Witches of East End yesterday and if I had rated it then, it would have been a 4.5 Star audiobook. After a night of reflection, I decided to knock a quarter star off because I’m a little bit miffed with the abrupt direction change the story took in the last fourth-ish of the book.

Before I go there, I should be fair: I enjoyed Witches of East End enough to finish it, give it a pretty favorable rating, and start the second installment. I also enjoyed it enough to foresee myself finishing the series and possibly any other spinoffs. Something about it reminds me of The CW’s show The Originals. I really like Melissa de la Cruz’s writing and I’ve already been researching her other series.

But when something is advertised as a story about witches, I expect for them to actually be…you know, witches. Not Norse goddesses who have magical powers like witches, which is what we’ve got going on here. When that point became clear well into the book, I groaned in disgust. Not because I have anything against Norse goddesses, but because I’m on a perpetual quest to find the perfect book about witches and this was really close to being it. Okay, not perfect. But I have this idea of how witches should be written (close to American Horror Story: Coven) and it doesn’t involve vampires, werewolves, or Norse gods and goddesses. I just want to read about witches. Why is that so difficult?

Rant aside, I rolled with the Norse goddess thing as best I could. I’m not that well-versed on Norse mythology and I haven’t seen any of the Thor movies, but I still appreciated what Melissa de la Cruz was trying to do. Greek mythology is over used in literature, so basing these characters in Norse mythology was a welcomed change. I just wish it had been marketed as such.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Witches of East End was the setting. It’s set in the Hamptons on Long Island and I can’t remember reading another story set there that wasn’t Gossip Girl or the like. The setting itself doesn’t really add much to the paranormal elements of the story, but the atmospheric setting is written well enough to give me a distinct sense of place while listening to the story. It’s definitely more memorable than some fictional Midwestern town would be, even if it doesn’t directly contribute to the paranormal events as somewhere like New Orleans would.

The plot in Witches of East End wasn’t super strong in this installment, but it felt like a first installment should. It was character-driven and laid a good foundation for the rest of the series. I’m really looking forward to being able to watch the television adaptation, assuming Netflix can get it itself together and offer more than the second season. But Until then, I’ll have to be content with listening to the rest of the series.

Narration reviewWitches of East End brought Narrator Katie Schorr to my attention and I’m glad of it. Halfway through the audiobook, I began searching for more of Katie’s titles. Schorr’s ability to appropriately voice three female characters of vastly different age groups and personality types impressed me. Melissa de la Cruz’s writing style jumps between the three characters, often mid chapter and with little to no warning. If it weren’t for Schorr, I wouldn’t have known which way was up. I’m delighted that she is back narrating the second installment. ♣︎

 

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

✏️ Wednesday Resource Review: Playster

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 & Download
•Type of Service: Subscription
•Selection: 100,000+ titles

 

For the past several months, TuneIn Premium has been my audiobook service of choice. However, I’ve been experiencing more and more technical issues with the service lately. So when I saw the magic word *unlimited* appear in conjunction with another audiobook service, I dove in head first. I’m currently near the end of a 30-day free trial with Playster and have used it to listen to my last few audiobooks. Full disclosure, I’m only using Playster to hear audiobooks, not partake in any other type of entertainment.

Playster shares a lot of similarities with TuneIn Premium. They both offer unlimited audiobooks, as well as other forms of entertainment. They’re both reasonably priced and cheaper than Audible, especially when considering the unlimited selections. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with either service. The trick is finding which of them works best for you.

If you’re a hardcore listener like me, you probably aren’t even reading this line because you already jumped ship and headed over to sign up upon seeing the word unlimited. That word signals an all-you-can-eat buffet for audiobook listeners, but because of that, unlimited audiobook services have become akin to the Holy Grail. Most services offering unlimited listening aren’t sustainable long-term, so I’m going to echo what I said in my TuneIn review: Don’t. Waste. Time. Sign up now and fill your plate. Get a doggy bag, if you have to.

Fun for the Whole Fam Damily

By far, the most notable thing about Playster’s service is that (with the right package) you can get so much more than just audiobooks. TuneIn Premium has a little of this going on, offering music and podcasts, but Playster is taking the multimedia experience to a new level. Playster offers games, music, movies, books, and audiobooks all packaged together for just $24.95 a month. That’s only $10 dollars more than you’re paying for one audiobook at Audible. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Playster calls itself the Netflix of entertainment and I have to agree. Playster allows you to create individual profiles within your account (similar to Netflix), so multiple members of your family can share the account without intruding on each others’ experiences. Even better, multiple people can enjoy Playster at the same time (on separate devices). You could, theoretically (I don’t know you), be in your car listening to an audiobook, while your spouse is in the living room watching a movie, your son is upstairs playing games, and your daughter is listening to music- all through Playster. Congrats, you’ve just become a 21st-century family!

Plentiful Pluses and Minor Minuses

In case you haven’t picked up on it, there’s a lot more that’s right with this service than is wrong with it. Even though it may be technically more expensive than TuneIn, you end up getting more than your moneys worth with Playster. Another big advantage Playster has over TuneIn is the ability to download titles. An audiobook listener’s primary complaint with TuneIn is likely to surround the amount of data eaten up when streaming books. TuneIn doesn’t have downloading capabilities, but Playster does.

Playster also wins the tech battle, in my opinion. The app still isn’t up to Audible, Audiobooks.com, or Scribd standards where audiobooks are concerned, but it beats TuneIn’s app in all areas but one:

Browsing. I can’t for the life of me figure out how effectively browse for audiobooks via Playster. Instead of regular genres, Playster divides audiobooks into “moods” and “playlists”. The only genre list I could find was sparse by comparison. This isn’t to say that their audiobooks selection is sparse, however. Just about any title you search for can be found, but my point is that you have to manually search for it. I find most of my listens simply by happening upon them and enjoy browsing just to see what’s available. But because I can’t decipher Playster’s navigation system, I don’t even know what great titles I’m missing out on.

Other than that, I’m still giving Playster’s app the win over TuneIn’s (although, in fairness, TuneIn has made a lot of improvements). Both apps regularly crash, but Playster at least gives you the opportunity to bookmark your spot. And there’s that whole downloading thing which makes it an easy win for Playster.

Nickels and Dimes

I always include a separate section for price comparison when doing service reviews. I’m a very budget-conscious person and I believe that indulging an audiobook habit shouldn’t break the bank. Technically speaking, Playster comes in at third place in the price department, behind TuneIn and Scribd*. Just for the Playster audiobook package (not the multimedia bundle), it’s $14.95/month. The regular price of TuneIn’s Premium monthly package is $7.99 and the annual price is $69.99, which breaks down to about $5.83/month. Scribd is only $8.99 a month, but that’s just for one audiobook credit.

Here’s where you have to decide what type of experience you want. As far as audiobook listening goes, you can’t beat TuneIn’s $5.83/month deal. But if you’re looking for a multimedia experience the whole family can enjoy, Playster has got you covered.

Playster vs. TuneIn Comparison Chart
Comparing Playster’s audiobook service to TuneIn Premium

What I love:

Downloading: If device storage space isn’t a problem, downloading your books is the way to go. It saves you from getting a nasty surprise in the form of your mobile bill every month and is great for commuters and on-the-go listeners. No Wi-Fi required.

Profiles: Playster doesn’t just allow you to share your account with friends and family, they encourage it! Each of you can have an individual profile to keep your experiences customized to your own tastes. This may be my favorite part of Playster’s service. It’s what gives it the ultimate edge of over TuneIn, in my opinion.

• Selection: Playster has a title selection comparable with Audiobooks.com, better than Scribd, and nearly as good as Audible. Oh, and it blows TuneIn’s selection out of the water. The selection was my primary reason for giving Playster a try. I was content with TuneIn Premium until I realized that Playster had many of the books I was looking for.

Multimedia Experience: Playster has something for everyone and they’re making a hard play at becoming the favorite member of your family. Can’t decide between Netflix or an audiobook subscription? Bundle that sh*t up and get it all. Problem solved.

Unlimited Audiobooks: Playster is one of only two services that I know of currently offering all-you-can hear audiobooks and their selection far outweighs the competition. This is perfect for someone like me who easily hears 8+ audiobooks each month.

Affordability: Let’s hope that Playster doesn’t come to their senses anytime soon and start charging a lot more for 100,000+ unlimited audiobooks. Because they easily could… and I would probably pay it. This is the best deal around for the selection.

What I don’t:

Browsing System: I’m far from being a technological superstar, but I’m not a newbie either. Although Playster’s app and website are much more user-friendly than TuneIn’s, their attempt at novelty has backfired. I don’t want “moods” or “playlists” to be my primary mode of navigation when browsing for a new listen. I want traditional genres, in plainly laid out and easily accessible lists. I also want to be able to access their entire audiobook catalog via these lists, not just those trending that month or selected by the editors. Get it together, people.

Frequent App Glitches: I realize that these issues are likely to be resolved in future app updates, but the glitches and crashes occur with enough regularity to be noted here. Again, it’s nowhere as bad as those experienced by the TuneIn app. Once listening, the experience is fairly smooth. It’s mainly the start up that’s the problem. In total perspective, this is really just a minor complaint that I’m sure will be sorted out eventually.

I’m seriously considering making the switch to Playster once my annual TuneIn Premium subscription is up (assuming I can wait that long). I usually make my decision based on money alone, but Playster makes a strong case for quality over quantity.

* This post will be amended and updated as necessary.

🎁 Pre-release Review: Vacation by JC Miller

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 Jul. 2017

Narrator: Curt Simmons
Length: 7h 20m
Publisher: J.C. Miller⎮2017

4.5★ AudiobookVacation is a contemporary fiction novel that feels like a classic in a very “coming-of-age” way. JC Miller sends Dr. William Koval on a hero’s journey worthy of a Greek warrior. Although, the journey William goes on to find himself is as much metaphorical as it is physical.

I would classify Vacation as contemporary fiction, although there is a light romantic theme appearing midway. Vacation is more about life than romance, but since romance is often a part of life, it’s natural that it was included in William’s journey. Don’t expect anything hot and steamy; Instead, Vacation’s romance was sweet and endearing. I appreciated that it didn’t overpower the larger plot of William’s journey, which was the main focus of the story.

Vacation was a character-centered tale. The largest obstacle William had to overcome was an internal struggle. As a widower, he was faced with the ultimate task of obtaining closure over his troubled marriage and his wife’s murder. Miller’s use of an internal primary obstacle rather than external was refreshing. Dr. William Koval was a well-rounded character. Vacation is told from his perspective, so we encounter all other characters from his point-of-view. Considering that, the more minor characters were pretty dynamic as well. They weren’t as developed as William, of course, but I still had a distinct sense of who they all were.

Some may find Vacation “slow”, but I think it made for an excellent summer read, perfect for lazy days on the beach. Unlike most “Beach Reads”, Vacation has substance. I was so invested in William as a character that his heartache became mine. It prompted a great deal of introspection on my part and was a bit emotionally heavy in a “Life goes on” sort of way. Miller’s light writing style managed to alleviate some of the emotional burden, making this a surprisingly easy tale to get through. The details Miller provided brought William to life, making it easier for me to connect with him and with the story.

Vacation is a solid standalone novel. At just under 7.5 hours, this could easily be heard in a couple of days. Upon finishing Vacation, I was left with the feeling of completion and satisfaction. Miller did an excellent job of providing the reader with closure. She told a complete tale, with a solid message, in the perfect amount time.

Narration review: You know who the audiobook world is sleeping on? Mr. Curt Simmons. I’ve been singing his praises and recommending him to everyone since I heard him narrate Omari and the People last year. Curt has been blessed with an unbelievably soothing voice. I could listen to him 24/7 and never tire of his voice (I wonder if his wife feels the same way). Curt was the perfect choice for Vacation. It’s like it was written with him in mind.

The sheer sound of his voice relaxes me and makes all my worries fall away. Listen for yourself, if you think I’m exaggerating. And not only that, but he’s talented as well. Vacation allowed Curt to showcase a different set of vocal talents than Omari and the People did. In Omari, most of the characters were from roughly the same region and had variations of the same accent. In Vacation, William encounters people from various countries around the world. Curt gave each of them distinct accents, appropriate to their native areas and somehow managed to capture their equally distinct personalities. Simmons was also dialed in on the considerable emotions depicted in Vacation. The sincerity in his narration made this powerful story all the more moving. Despite the “heaviness of William’s personal journey, this was one of the easiest listening experiences I’ve had- all thanks to Curt Simmons.

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

$ Vacation will be available on Amazon and Audible in early July.

Interested in reviewing or promoting the Vacation audiobook?  Claim your spot on the audiobook blog tour.

📚 Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

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 Jul. 2017

Narrator: Eddie Huang
Length: 7h 55m
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2013

4.5★ AudiobookFresh Off the Boat grabbed my attention because of the ABC sitcom adapted from it. I started it looking for a laugh and came away with something much more profound.

There were still loads of laughs, though. During one particularly sleepless night, I laid in bed listening to this at 4 AM, laughing so hard that my pillow was wet with tears. There was something so refreshing about Eddie’s way of storytelling. It was raw, unpolished, and entirely genuine. I felt his emotions.

Culturally, we have nothing in common, but I still found myself relating to Eddie. I loved hearing about his experiences growing up as a child in the 90s. That’s the main reason I began that television show last year. However, hearing this audiobook made me realize how much of Eddie’s story they had to tone down for television. The real Fresh Off the Boat is much more intense, making the ABC show look like Leave It to Beaver.

With every pop culture reference, I forged a stronger generational bond with Eddie Huang. The aforementioned 4 AM laughing spree was sparked by Eddie telling how he tortured his younger brother by holding him down and putting Nickelodeon Gak in his hair (remember Gak?).

I also related to him as a young adult. His reflections on the 2008 presidential election nearly brought me to tears. Eddie voiced feelings about that time that a lot of people can relate to. Most of Eddie’s feelings and experiences are specifically tied to his being Chinese-American, but I definitely think that those from other cultures and minorities will be able to see pieces of their own stories reflected in Eddie’s experiences.

Eddie speaks candidly of a deeply-rooted issue in America thats effects transcend one culture (racial stereotyping). He addressed this issue in a way everyone can understand, even if they haven’t personally experienced its effects. That’s more than I could ever do and I applaud Eddie’s courage.

This didn’t come across as a politically-motivated memoir, but it approached politically-sensitive issues. My favorite point Eddie made was saying that stereotyping is harmful because it has the power to create self-fulfilling prophecies. I had to stop the audiobook after that and reflect on what was just said.

In all, Fresh Off the Boat was much deeper than I was expecting. It was part politics, part comedy, and part cookbook. Personally, I could have done without so much of the cooking talk, but that’s understandable since he’s a chef (a fact of which I was previously unaware).

I learned so much about Eddie as an individual and about Chinese culture. I knew next to nothing about Chinese food and culture before beginning this memoir, so Fresh Off the Boat served as my introduction. Eddie’s experiences were incredibly eye-opening.  There was something powerful about reading a memoir from someone (nearly) my own age. Knowing that he and I grew up around the same time, yet with completely different cultural backgrounds, helped me to appreciate his story even more.

Narration review: Eddie Huang narrated <i>Fresh Off the Boat</i>. He opened it by breaking down the fourth wall and speaking directly to the listener about being in the recording studio. That introduction set the tone for the rest of the audiobook. Throughout the ensuing eight hours, it felt as if Eddie was speaking directly to me. His delivery was relaxed and casual. The best thing about his narration was when he would crack himself up telling a joke or funny story. His laughter was infectious and always got me laughing too.

Eddie also does the voiceover for the television adaptation, so I recognized his voice immediately. He didn’t have the largest tonal range, so it was a little hard to distinguish who was speaking during his anecdotes, but that’s not a huge detraction here. I overwhelmingly recommend hearing this on audiobook. ♣︎

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

📚 Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

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 Jun. 2017

Narrators: Jorjeana Marie, Bailey Carr, Fiona Hardingham
Length: 6h 20m
Publisher: Harper Audio⎮2017

4.25★ Audiobook⎮ Midnight at the Electric is classified as science-fiction, but that’s a bit misleading. It was really a story about female friendship and sisterhood. The story was told from three different points-of-view and only one of them had elements of science-fiction.

Each of the POVs was interesting in its own right and could have easily become a standalone installment, if Anderson had decided to make this into a series. I almost wish that she had, because each of these women’s stories was powerful enough to warrant closer inspection.

As it was, Jodi Lynn Anderson wove all three of the tales together in a subtly magnificent way. The common denominator between the three POV characters was a 150-year-old turtle named Galapagos. Using Galapagos to tie the three women together was an incredibly unique way to tell a cross-generational story.

I would be tempted to classify Midnight at the Electric as Historical Fiction, since two thirds of it take place in the 1920s and 30s. I was particularly intrigued by Catherine’s point-of-view, set in 1936 Kansas during the dust bowl. I wasn’t overly familiar with the setting, so Catherine’s story was surprisingly enlightening.

Midnight at the Electric was a contemplative listen. Anderson manages to insert minor themes of planet preservation (or lack thereof), leading to the somewhat underwhelming plot of leaving earth to live on Mars. I think Adri’s story, set in the year 2065, had the most potential, but I feel like there was a lot left on the table. Adri was the main protagonist. It was through her that we discover the stories of the other two women through lost letters. Adri is the main reason I feel this story could have been split into installments. She is preparing to go live on Mars (hence the science-fiction classification), but her story is overshadowed by the others.

Another seemingly important point that I think it was deserved more attention was The Electric, itself. If The Electric was important enough to spawn the name of the book, it should have been more essential to the plot. I was disappointed that did not hold more obvious prominence in the story.

However, I was not disappointed by Anderson’s priorities. The romance was minimal and appropriately understated. The prominent theme in Midnight at the Electric was friendship. More than that, Anderson emphasized that being family doesn’t have to mean sharing genetics. Anderson’s message was beautifully and eloquently conveyed.

Midnight at the Electric was a quick and easy listen, though I wouldn’t call it light. There were several times, especially toward the end, where my heartstrings were tugged. I was impressed enough with Jodi Lynn Anderson’s writing that I will be looking into more of her work soon.

Narration review: I chose to listen to Midnight at the Electric because of its narrators and in the end, I think I enjoyed it most because of them. I was already such fans of each of these three narrators individually, that hearing them all work together on a title was Christmas come early. Hiring a trio of narrators was the perfect call for Midnight at the Electric. This is the type of story that could easily have been bungled by too little distinction between POV characters. Marie, Carr, and Hardingham each held their own, remaining true to their respective characters. What’s more, they somehow managed to complement each other. Fantastic job, all around! ♣︎

 

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

#AUDIOBINGO

✓ Listen to an audiobook with a narrator that has the same first initial as you (J- Jorjeana Marie)

📚 The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

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 June 2017

Narrator: Julia Roberts
Length: 4h 44m (Abridged)
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2002

4.25★ AudiobookThe Nanny Diaries proves that money is a powerful motivator. It’s unthinkable to me that someone would put up with as much as is shown in this story, but I’ve never been in this exact position. I was constantly thinking to myself of what I would do in Nanny’s position, but there really was no right choice. The Nanny Diaries was a story full of moral dilemmas.

I don’t consider myself to be a “kid-person” and hearing about the experiences of a young nanny on the upper Eastside has only strengthened that notion. To be fair, it was the parents who were the worst behaved. I didn’t find The Nanny Diaries to be as comical or entertaining as I think it was supposed to be. Honestly, it annoyed me more than anything else. I was outraged on Nanny’s behalf.

It was wonderfully written and, at times, a bit of lightheartedness peaked through. I chose the abridged version because it was narrated by Julia Roberts and I wanted to check off the “Narrated by famous actor” square on my audio bingo card. Looking back, I wish I had listened to the unabridged version instead. Not only because Roberts’ narration was slightly disappointing (see below), but also because I think much of the comic relief was cut in the abridgment.

The abridged version felt too concentrated. After finishing this audiobook I watched the trailer for the 2007 movie adaptation and realized it was markedly different from what I had just heard. Movie changes are not uncommon, but much of what I saw in the trailer may have been cut during the abridgment instead of the screenwriting process. I suspect the story would have come across as much more balanced and even if I had heard the entire 10 hours, instead of the <5 hour abridged version.

Complaints aside, The Nanny Diaries was an entertaining story. It was fairly easy to listen to and moved along quite quickly. As a listener, I was firmly on the side of the protagonist (“Nanny”), but I occasionally found myself empathizing with the various other characters. The Nanny Diaries managed to show almost every character in a sympathetic light, at one point or another, which gave me conflicting feelings. Who is the real victim here? Is there a victim? Is everyone a victim in some form? Nanny was clearly being extorted. Mrs. X was being cheated on. Ms. Chicago was being used. And poor little Grayer was caught in the middle of it all.

Most fiction stories draw firm lines between Protagonist/Antagonist, Good/Evil. The Nanny Diaries was a mixture of fact and fiction. The authors state upfront that the story was inspired by real experiences, so I assume that is where the multifaceted character depictions stem from, because firm lines between good and bad don’t exist in real life. I frequently had to remind myself that there was an element of truth in the story. From where I sit, the actions of these upper crust characters are seemingly unthinkable. I’m still wondering how much of this story was based in fact and how much of it was embellished for the sake of entertainment. Either way, I can’t think of a better Nanny revenge than writing a best-selling tell-all novel. Hell hath no fury like a nanny scorned!

Narration review: I chose this version of The Nanny Diaries because it boasted America’s sweetheart, Julia Roberts, as its narrator. In the past, I’ve had trouble listening to audiobooks narrated by popular actors, largely because I associate them with external roles. The same was true here, but only to a certain degree. To me, it was always Julia Roberts reading the story. In my mind, she wasn’t able to become “Nanny”. Not because I already know her with an outside character from another show or movie, but because I know her as herself.

She read the part fantastically. Her tone was enjoyable and she was able to adjust it just enough to provide adequate distinction between characters. Instead of “doing voices”, she simply adjusted her own voice (cadence, pace, or pitch) when reading different characters. It worked well enough for me to be able to discern who was speaking, but it wasn’t anything I’d write home about. I guess, because of her acting prowess, I was somehow expecting more from her performance. After all, she was the reason I chose this version of the audiobook. My tip to you is not to be lured in by the prospect of being read to by a famous actor. Instead, choose the unabridged version with the professional narrator. ♣︎

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

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✓ Listen to an audiobook narrated by a famous actor

🎧 Thursday Thoughts & Opinions: Authors As Narrators

Author narration is bold, but is it worth it?

Most listeners have had experiences hearing author narrated audiobooks, be they positive or negative. In my experience, the majority have been mediocre to negative, which has made me wary of listening to author narration. My general feeling on the subject is “Leave it to the professionals”.

Authors deciding to narrate their own work is a risky decision. It saves money upfront on professional narration services, but could ultimately cost big bucks down the line in sales if their narration isn’t up to snuff. I understand the temptation. Award winning narrators can charge up to $1000 per finished hour. Multiply that by 8-16 hours and it’s enough to make anyone want to cut corners wherever they can.

But professional narrators are called professionals for a reason. In most cases, they’ve had years of vocal training and narrating/acting experience to perfect their art. And it is an art. It’s not as simple as reading words from a page. Let’s be clear here: I am very much pro-narrator. I respect the heck out of what they do enough to realize that it’s a finely honed skill that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Nonfiction audiobooks seem to be the glaring exception here. The nonfiction genre naturally lends itself to author narration, especially where memoirs and autobiographies are concerned. I’ve heard two of Betty White’s memoirs and her colorful narration only enhanced the experiences. The emotion she exuded through the speakers added to my connection with her as an author and public figure. I can’t imagine anyone else having narrated her work.

A more recent positive experience I had with author narration was while listening to AJ Mendez Brooks narrate Crazy Is My Superpower. Whoah, baby. I was surprised shocked at how amazingly Mendez Brooks narrated her own work. She gave it so much life that I could practically feel her presence through my speakers. If every author narrated their work as expertly as Mendez Brooks, there would be no need for this post. I loved her narration so much that I’m now actively rooting for her to quit whatever she’s doing and become a full-time professional narrator.

A perfect comparative example of author narration versus professional narration is A Walk to Remember. Many of you probably recognize it as the 2002 film starring pop singer Mandy Moore. But before it was adapted for the silver screen, it was recorded as an audiobook with author Nicholas Sparks narrating. Here is a sample of Sparks’ 1999 narration and, for comparison, here is a sample of Frank Muller’s 2014 re-recording. The difference in quality is obvious.

A much-hyped YA audiobook was released last year that I had been anticipating for months prior. I became slightly ambivalent about listening to it when I heard it was being narrated by the author, but decided to give it a shot anyway. Ultimately, the author’s narration nearly ruined the story for me. Although it was fiction, the author had a very personal family connection to the story. That connection was enough to make her narrating of the audiobook somewhat relevant and novel.

From that angle, I can see why she would have wanted to do the narration herself. But I still think it was the wrong decision because she was unable to effectively convey the relevancy of her connection to the story through the narration alone. There was no enhancement of the story through her narration, only distraction and detraction.

That’s what’s risked with self-narration, particularly of fiction titles. It’s a bold move, for sure. But, in my opinion as a listener, it rarely pays off.

I’ll admit that my experience with author narrated titles doesn’t go very deep, but that’s primarily due to the reasons explained above. Unless I’ve specifically heard good things about the narration, I’m generally hesitant to start listening to an author narrated Fiction title. But that’s just me.

What about you? What types of experiences have you had with author narration? Do your experiences greatly differ from mine? Which author-narrated titles do you consistently recommend?