A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

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Firebird #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2016

Narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Length: 9h 18m
Publisher: HarperCollins⎮2014

5 ★ Audiobook⎮I picked this up thinking it would be a YA Contemporary story (based on the cover, I suppose). Boy, was I surprised! This story perfectly captured how I envision alternate universes. It was really everything I wanted A Darker Shade of Magic to be, but not nearly as slow. The pace was perfect. The writing was straightforward and to the point without being dull. There was so much action that there wasn’t a lot of time for in-depth character development or a whole lot of backstory, but I honestly didn’t mind since I was more invested in the AU storyline than the specific characters. I loved the AU descriptions and each universe was better than the last. This was an extremely easy and pretty fast read.

Narration review: The audiobook narrator (Tavia Gilbert) did an excellent job of distinguishing voices/accents between characters and between universes. This element brought an extra layer to the audiobook that the physical book just could not have. For example, having Marguerite think in an American accent and speak with a Russian accent while in the Russian AU was absolutely brilliant! I definitely think the audiobook has a leg up on the physical version. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com and Audible

Tempting Fate by April White

274059871

Immortal Descendants #2

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2016

Narrator: Gemma Barrett
Length: 15h 0m
Publisher: April White⎮2015

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮I’m giving this installment of the Immortal Descendants series .25 less of a star than the first because, although I am still completely enthralled by Saira and her world, the premise of this particular story (time-traveling to Tudor England) just did not captivate me quite as much as Jack the Ripper did in the first installment. The story seemed to slow down when Saira was in the 16th century and I found myself longing for her to return to St. Bridget’s. I’ve fallen so much in love with the world and characters April White has created that I hardly wanted to depart from it/them in order to move the story forward. This was surprising to me since I am such a lover of royal history and the primary reason I was initially looking toward this installment was because of the Elizabethan storyline. While I wouldn’t say I was disappointed with that part of the story, the historical elements weren’t as enticing to me as in the last book. Luckily, everything else was and I became even more invested in Saira (and “Ringo”) in this book. I still love the concept of Time, Nature, War, Fate, and Death being portrayed as people and having modern day descendents with special abilities. However, I’m still not crazy over Saira’s romantic interest being a vampire (did he have to be a vampire? Really?). This series has so much uniqueness going for it that a vampire love interest feels a bit like settling for mediocrity. Thankfully, this author is not keen on shoving love scenes down her readers’ throats. The very minor parts of this book that I did not fully enjoy were definitely overshadowed by those that I did, so I really have no reason to complain. This is still an extremely under-appreciated series that deserves more so much more exposure than it gets.

Narration review:  Now, onto the part of this review I have been just itching to write: the narration critique. As my name suggests, I primarily listen to (and review) audiobooks and this is an audiobook I absolutely cannot recommend. This was, by far, the worst listening experience I have ever had with an audiobook. It bears no reflection on the story itself (which was reviewed above), but on the narrator and whomever approved this audiobook. Firstly, I have no earthly clue as to why someone thought it was a good idea to hire a British-accented narrator to voice a Californian protagonist. Seriously, no clue. It made this book feel like part of a completely different series than the first. But I could get over that. The worst part was that I could hear audible swallowing from the narrator. That may not sound like a big deal, but after the first five minutes I wanted to claw my eyes out from sheer frustration and annoyance. It took every ounce of will I had to stay focused on the story. If this story had been even the tiniest bit less incredible, I would have given up on it in under an hour, just because of the narrator. This audiobook sounded like an amateur recording on YouTube. So, unless you have the patience of Job, read the physical book.

Update: Just to clarify (because it isn’t very clear in my original review), my annoyance was with the production/audio quality and not the narrator. I am certainly not faulting her for swallowing/ being human. I was simply annoyed that those noises were picked up by the microphone, which was disruptive to my listening experience. Gemma Boyle has a lovely voice and none of this has to do directly with her or her narrating ability. I am happy that the third installment seems to have none of these issues! ♣︎

$ Available at The Book Depository (paperback) and Audible

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

A Darker Shade of Magic #1

Description⎮Reviewed Nov. 2015

Narrator: Steven Crossley
Length: 11h 34m
Publisher: Tantor Audio⎮2015

4 ★ Audiobook⎮Despite my hearty loathing the audiobook’s narration, this is still a four-star story. This was almost everything I’ve ever wanted from a parallel universe story (and what I was hoping A Trial by Fire would be more like). I just wish there had been more time devoted to the world-building aspect of the story. I still feel like I only know the bare bones about each London. There is so much potential for story expansion that the sheer idea of it is overwhelming. I want to know more about Kell’s backstory and see more of him in Lila’s London. Oh, and I want to know more about Lila’s backstory as well. It is for these reasons that I will be picking up the sequel pretty soon after its release.

Narration reviewWith all of that said, I don’t think I can recommend this narrator. He’s just okay for the most part, but his voice as “Lila” is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Actually, I can’t stand how he voices any of the women. If choosing between the physical book and the audiobook, go with the physical book. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com and Audible

The Shining by Stephen King

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The Shining #1

Description⎮Reviewed Oct. 2015

Narrator: Campbell Scott
Length: 15h 49m
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2005

4 ★ Audiobook⎮Seriously, does this guy ever disappoint?! Stephen King is always a sure thing for enjoyable reading and a guaranteed cure for a reading slump. This book was somewhere between 4 and 4.5 stars. It was a great Halloween read that left me adequately spooked, but still able to sleep at night. He always strikes the perfect balance for me between spooky and terrifying. This story was amazingly simple, yet thought-provokingly complex at the same time. If every other author on Earth could take notes from him on this, that would be ideal. This novel also paired nicely with AHS: Hotel. I had it in my mind to save the sequel for next October, but I highly doubt that will actually happen. Let’s see how close I can get to next October without reading Doctor Sleep…

Narration reviewI very much enjoyed listening to this narrator (Campbell Scott), a pattern I have noticed among Stephen King audiobooks. If his voice sounds familiar, it’s because Scott is actually and accomplished television/movie actor, as well as narrator. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com (paperback) and Audible

Unhappenings by Edward Aubry

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Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2016

Narrator: Josh Hurley
Length: 12h 6m
Publisher: Audible, Inc.⎮2015

4 ★ Audiobook⎮Whew. This was a trip! And by “trip” I mean an absolute roller coaster ride. It was extremely enjoyable and fairly easy to comprehend. The author obviously took great care to ensure the story’s comprehension for all types of readers (even those not particularly scientifically-minded, like myself), while still maintaining a certain degree of plausibility. As someone who looks for the logic in all things, I greatly appreciated the detailed, yet lay explanations provided in this book. The parts of it that did feel a tiny bit far-fetched (evil mastermind Carlton) did so on their own, not as a direct result of the time travel premise. For the first 2/3 of the story, I was hanging on the narrator’s every word. Things got a little weird towards the end with all of the apocalypses and it felt like the story was in fast forward mode with so much back and forth through time. The epilogue was satisfying in a bittersweet sort of way, but I commend the author on resisting the urge to give it a “happily ever after” ending. I wouldn’t have complained if he had, but this type of ending somehow seems more appropriate for this particular story. In retrospect, this story was a lot darker than I realized whilst reading it. The somber ending definitely stayed true to the book as a whole. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as my last time travel book, Time After Time, but significantly more than The First 15 Lives of Harry August.

Narration review: Josh Hurley was a good narrator. There weren’t any special effects to enhance the experience (like with Illuminae or The Beautiful Creatures series), but I could hear the emotion in the narrator’s voice, especially in the end. It added so much to the story. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book Depository and Audible

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

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Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2016

Narrator: Rebecca Lowman
Length: 8h 14m
Publisher: HarperCollins⎮2015

5 ★ AudiobookMy Heart and Other Black Holes was a rare combination of simple and complex. The topic it addressed (teenage depression/mental illness and suicide) is definitely a profound issue, yet I was able to breeze through this story fairly easily. Warga’s writing brings a somber reverence to the discussion of life and death that is extremely thought-provoking, but I never felt overwhelmed by the subject (as can often happen when discussing something so “heavy”, such as death).

I can understand how My Heart and Other Black Holes could be triggering to certain individuals who may be battling depression and/or mental illness. I liken it somewhat to Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (which I thoroughly enjoyed, as well). Both stories tackle serious (and potentially triggering) issues, but do so in a way that is extremely realistic and compelling. I can also understand how someone would need to be in the “right mood” to read this type of story. If you are looking for a light hearted and frivolous beach read, Honey, this ain’t it! But if you want something on the more serious side to make you really think about life, then My Heart and Other Black Holes is absolutely perfect. To me, it was better than The Fault in Our Stars.

Narration reviewCoincidentally, the narrator for this audiobook (Rebecca Lowman) also narrated Eleanor & Park. Lowman’s voice lent an extra air of sobriety to the words. She was the perfect choice for narrator. Someone with a more “perky” or lilting voice would have undermined Warga’s work and been completely wrong for Aysel. Lowman is fast becoming one of my favorite narrators. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com and Audible

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

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Illuminae Files #1

Description⎮Reviewed Nov. 2015

Narrator: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln HoppeJonathan McClain
Length: 11h 41m
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2015

5 ★ Audiobook⎮”DON’T LOOK AT ME!”
Because I’m grinning like a fool. I rated this at five stars within the first 15 minutes of starting it. Premature assumption? Not. One. Bit. This is easily my favorite book of the year. And I do mean easily. So easily, that it is actually unfair to the other 50+ books I’ve listened to in 2015. So easily, that I should probably take a little break before picking up anything else because it is already guaranteed to pale in comparison to Illuminae. As much as I thought I loved These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman, it in no way can compare to Illuminae. Kaufman seriously stepped up her game. I get that this type of “space drama” isn’t for everyone, but I still think this book should be given a shot. You’ll probably know within the first 15-30 minutes if it is for you. The style of writing may get some taking used to, but I think it drastically enhances the story’s uniqueness.

Narration review: As already implied, I listened to this is on audiobook and cannot say enough about the entire audiobook experience. If it is possible for narrators to have chemistry, then these certainly do! The entire narration team did a superb job and I can’t imagine that this story would have been as enjoyable without the enhancing sound effects. This sort of story lends itself to the audiobook format better than any I have ever heard. I wholeheartedly recommend the audiobook over the physical book. It enhanced my experience with Illuminae exponentially. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com and Audible

Marking Time by April White

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Immortal Descendants #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2016

Narrator: Em Eldridge
Length: 16h 19m
Publisher: April White⎮2014

4.75 ★ Audiobook ⎮This series is such a hidden gem. I can’t understand why this series isn’t talked about at all. If I hadn’t stumbled upon it on Audible, I would have seriously missed out. Even though I’ve only read the first book (thus far), I already like this series better than 98% of the YA Fantasy/Scifi books I’ve read based purely on recommendations or social media hype (The Mortal Instruments, Delirium, Outlander, etc). For starters, this book actually had a female protagonist that I could stand. I love Saira Elian. She’s the most kick ass heroine I’ve read in a long, long time. One that doesn’t make you pull your hair out with her stupid decisions. Do you even understand how rare that is in YA?! The *only* complaint I have is with her vampire love interest, just because it’s been done (and redone) so effing much. Their romance was a tiny bit “insta-love” for my tastes, but was made palatable by the time traveling element of the story. Honestly, I’m so in love with everything else that’s going on in Saira’s world that her love life barely registered as an annoyance with me. I am much more interested in Saira’s familial relationships than romantic ones. This author obviously knows wear her story’s strengths lie and doesn’t spend an unnecessary amount of time with the mushy gushy. Believe me, it’s appreciated. For a world that is so complex, White does an outstanding job of slowly building it while distinguishing the families from one another in a way so that the reader can easily catch on. I love the writing style and fast pace. This story hit the ground running (figuratively and literally) from page one. I especially appreciate that, although marketed as part of the YA genre, it is not (or doesn’t seem to be) exclusively written for teenage readers. I think the maturity level of the main character has a lot to do with that. Saira maybe 17, but she acts a lot older.

Narration review: Great narrator. She captured Saira’s sarcasm and dryness perfectly, without being whiny or annoying. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book Depository (paperback) and Amazon (free on Kindle)

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

106265941Description⎮Reviewed Nov. 2016

Narrator: Steve West, Fiona Hardingham
Length: 12h 6m
Publisher: Scholastic Audio⎮2011

5 ★ Audiobook⎮This book is a slow burn. I can’t recall a story that has ever touched my soul quite like this one. This story managed to get under my skin in the most hauntingly pleasant sort of way. Some may be bothered by its plodding pace, but to me it was the good kind of slow. The peaceful sort of slow, like a Sunday drive. So much of this story is devoted to character development that I feel like I know them. Fondness for the characters almost creeps up on you, even with the minor characters. The plot is not unnecessarily impeded by romance (there isn’t even a hint of it for most of the book). And the romance that does exist is the furthest thing from insta-love or the juvenile type of romance usually seen in YA stories. I’m not even sure I would classify this as YA. It’s such a mature story and a far cry from Shiver. I can’t believe this was even written by the same author as Shiver. This is the work by which Maggie Stiefvater should be judged. Her writing here is poetic. This book truly is an experience. There’s no other way to describe it.

Narration review: The audiobook narrators ( Steve West & Fiona Hardingham) did an incredible job of conveying more through their narration than was present in the author’s work. They excelled at creating an atmosphere for the story that whisks the listener away to Thisby. I get chills just thinking about it. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book Depository and Audible