🎁 Occupied by Joss Sheldon

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: Jack Wynters
Length: 12 hrs and 15 mins
Publisher: Joss Sheldon⎮2016

Step into a world which is both magically fictitious and shockingly real. Walk side-by-side with a refugee, native, occupier and economic migrant. And watch on as the world around you transforms from a halcyon past into a dystopian future.
Inspired by the occupations of Palestine, Kurdistan and Tibet, and by the corporate occupation of the west, ‘Occupied’ is a haunting glance into a society which is a little too familiar for comfort. It truly is a unique piece of literary fiction…

Guest Reviewer Susan⎮While it did take me 3 tries to get into this book, I’m glad I stuck with it. Occupied is a thought-provoking work. The three main characters, Tamsin, Ellie, and Arun, start off as kids, each coming from different backgrounds. As they age, they are pulled apart and their friendships set aside though they do occasionally intersect later in the story. A fourth pivotal character, Charlie, comes into the tale much later.

While this story qualifies as a satire, I did feel that I would have gotten quite a bit more out of it if I was more knowledgeable on Middle East politics (past and present). For the most part, the story stood on it’s own though I admit that I often lost track of which character is a Godly versus a Holy. I had the feeling that the underlying alluded to politics were more important than the story and I really just wanted to be swept up into the tale.

There is a lot of repetition in this book. Lots. That is the main thing that kept me from getting caught up in this book. If the book was 1/3 to 1/2 as long I feel that it would have more of punch, the important scenes would hit harder, and there would be more poignancy to the disturbing bits. All those things exist in the book as it is but you have to wade through the repetition to get to them.

The last fifth of the book was my favorite. It takes us into a near-future view of a consumer driven society. It definitely had that Brave New World vibe which I quite enjoyed. Also, I didn’t feel I had to be knowledgeable about certain politics to get what the story was telling me. This was the most chilling part of the book because there’s a society-encompassing apathy whereas the rest of the book has plenty of emotions flying around as one wrong is done after another, usually in the name of Right.

So, all told, I’m glad I finished it and I can see how fans of the satire genre would be interested in checking this book out. While the repetition and my lack of great knowledge on the politics alluded to made this book a bit of a chore to get through, it did end on a very strong note that resonated with me. 3.5/ 5 stars.

The Narration: Jack Wynters gave a decent performance. He had some accents and some voice range though not all of his characters were distinctly performed. He sounded interested in the story for the entire book never going deadpan bored. The pacing was good and there were no technical issues with the recording. 4/5 stars.

 This audiobook was received at no-cost from Audiobookworm Promotions. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

🎁 The Ex Lottery by Kim Sanders

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Nov. 2017

Narrator: Eva Kaminsky
Length: 9 hrs and 39 mins
Publisher: Kim Sanders⎮2017

Synopsis: Winner of three contemporary romance awards. The NEC-RWA Readers Choice Award, Contemporary Romance Chick Lit Writers Award, and the Chatelaine Award.

In this modern Irish fairytale, a young art teacher from Savannah, Georgia has given up on love. Three times Tory Adams has loved; three times her heart has been crushed. On a whim, Tory purchases a lottery ticket using the dates her ex-boyfriends dumped her. And she wins! Wins over $600 million dollars. All Tory has ever desired is love, a home, and a family. Now, with a pot of gold, she can at least have her own home, and she is not settling for just any home.

Tory flies to Ireland to buy the castle on Dragon’s Isle, a magical place where her grandparents met and fell in love. But could money buy love? From the moment she arrives in Ireland, Tory faces complications. Wonderful complications. A handsome Irishman appears followed by a trio of men to chase her across the Emerald Isle. But she must decide – do the men love her or are they simply romancing the numbers?

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮Three things drew me to The Ex Lottery: 1) The cover. This looks like the cover of a NYT Bestseller. 2) The narrator. Eva Kaminsky is ahh-mazing, but I’ll tell you more about that later. 3) The premise. This was the biggest draw. Kim Sanders has thought up an entirely original basis for a story. It was one that I couldn’t resist, even though I’m not typically that fond of the romance genre.

The Ex Lottery wound up being just the lighthearted adventure that I needed after all of the spook-tacular audios I heard in October. The story was definitely fun, but it wasn’t shallow. It had real substance. I was surprised to find such a well-woven plot underneath all of the fun.

One of my biggest complaints with Romance, and with all genres, is predictability. Sanders’ cleverness extended beyond the basic premise of the story. As someone who listens to a lots of stories, I love being surprised. Alas, it is becoming harder and harder to surprise me. However, Sanders was able to catch me offguard several times with unexpected, but welcomed, plot twists. With true skill, she was able to tie each of these seemingly random twists into the larger story, leaving no loose ends.

Many authors are capable of developing ideas clever enough to serve as the foundation of a good story, but far fewer are able to execute those ideas and follow them up with a story of worth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a promising synopsis, only to be let down by the plot execution, character development, quality of writing, or all of the above. The Ex Lottery was well written, narrated, and produced.

The Ex Lottery did not disappoint me in any respect. It made me laugh, made me swoon, and kept me guessing. If only all Contemporary Romance novels were written with as much ingenuity and heart as The Ex Lottery, I might become a regular romance listener. At the very least, I’m interested in hearing more from Kim Sanders.

Narration review: Eva Kaminsky was a huge part of why I decided to listen to The Ex Lottery. I hadn’t heard her before, but I’d heard of her enough to know that this would be worth a listen. And it sure was! Kaminsky added so much to the telling of this story. She was perfectly tuned into the characters’ personalities and the overall tone of the tale. The characterization she provided, particularly to the exes and other background characters, went a long way toward helping me navigate the story and connect with its characters. Less than an hour into the audiobook, I had already begun searching through her other titles. I plan on hearing The Gilded Age Mysteries very soon. ♣︎

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

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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.

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Nov. 2017

Narrator: Kate Rudd
Length7 hrs and 12 mins
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2017

Synopsis: It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward.

Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.

4.75 ★ Audiobook⎮ I love John Green books. I just do. Turtles All the Way Down has reaffirmed that. It has made me want to go on a John Green binge and listen to all of his remaining titles that I have yet to hear.

I’m ranking Turtles All the Way Down as my second favorite John Green novel thus far, after Paper Towns. I agree that Green has breathed new life into the young adult contemporary genre. His writing is philosophical without being patronizing. The existentialist within me revels in Green’s writing. And it is so very quotable. For example, “If only I were as good at life as I am at the internet.” I need that on a T-shirt or a mug or something.

Or something deeper like, “Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really – just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.” I had to pause the audiobook but after hearing that and just reflect on it for a few moments. It kind of blew me away. Green’s writing is so beautifully profound, yet still relatable. He manages to put words to things that I’ve felt, that we’ve all probably felt, but have been unable to properly describe.

As for the story itself, Turtles All the Way Down was very different from the other John Green stories I’ve heard in the past. I really enjoyed Aza as a protagonist, but especially her interactions with the other characters. I was able to relate with Aza to a certain extent. After that, it was just empathy all the way. I think that’s what I love most about John Green’s writing: He makes me feel human. Like, really human. His characters evoke compassion, sympathy, empathy, and even a sense of vulnerability from the reader. They help me get in touch with the inner humanity that connects us all and better appreciate the human experience.

Aza was so multidimensional that she practically came to life for me. She didn’t feel like just a character in a book. She felt so real and my heart ached for wanting to reach out to her. In my opinion, Aza was Green’s best character yet. She was flawed, yet endearing. It was her flaws that made her so relatable. Aza was portrayed in a way that allowed the reader to be able to appreciate her struggle, even without having first-hand experience of it. Even more, Aza’s anxiety disorder was not used to portray a sense of “alluring individuality”. Green has come a long way from writing “manic pixie girls”.

Narration review: At this point, I think Kate Rudd is my most listened to narrator of all time. If that’s not an overwhelming endorsement, I don’t know what is. It’s not even that I’m actively seeking out her books anymore. But every time I turnaround, BAM! There she is. And you know what? I’m just fine with that. She deserves every bit of it. Needless to say, Rudd hit another homerun with Turtles All the Way Down. Brava, Madam. ♣︎
$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

📚 Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

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Hercule Poirot Mysteries #10

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Nov. 2017

Narrator: Kenneth Branagh
Length6 hrs and 12 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: A new recording of the most widely read mystery of all time, performed by Kenneth Branagh.

Now a major motion picture from Twentieth Century Fox, releasing November 10, 2017 and directed by Kenneth Branagh.

“The murderer is with us – on the train now….”

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮ ‘Tis the season of the family gatherings and my family has a semi-consistent tradition of seeing a movie together at some point during the holiday season. After seeing a trailer for the recent silver screen adaptation of Murder On The Orient Express, starring Kenneth Branagh as Agatha Christie’s famed protagonist Hercule Poirot, I knew I had to see it. In anticipation, I decided it was best to hear the audiobook first.

Murder On The Orient Express is a story that has been recorded on audiobook several times. I was tempted to listen to the Dan Stevens narrated version (aka Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey), when I realized that there was a movie tie in addition narrated by Hercule Poirot himself, my mind was made up.

This was my first Agatha Christie novel, but it was her tenth installment in the Hercule Poirot Mysteries series. I’m delighted to be able to say that it didn’t stop me from being able to fully enjoy Murder On The Orient Express. At some point, I do plan to go back and start the series at the beginning. I want to know more about Hercule as a main character, even though I’m given to understand that each installment in the series is able to be enjoyed on its own.

At just over six hours, Murder On The Orient Express was the perfect length for this story. If shorter, the mystery may have felt rushed and been difficult to comprehend. However, if it had been much longer, I may have lost interest. The pacing was on target with the level of intensity and the mystery was appropriately challenging. It’s not something I think I could have figured out on my own. This is a well known title that has been around for sometime, so it’s conclusion may be common knowledge to some. Beware of the internet spoilers.

Agatha Christie showed a great amount of ingenuity and originality with its conclusion. I was highly impressed with her storytelling ability. Murder On The Orient Express was originally published in 1934. Aside from the outdated stereotypes (i.e. hysterical women, hot-headed Italians), the story could have passed as having been written rather recently. I enjoyed fitting the faces of the movie cast to the character voices I was hearing.

Narration review: Kenneth Branagh was the reason I chose this particular audiobook version and he did not disappoint. Branagh’s stellar performance was most definitely award-worthy. He seamlessly slipped in and out of the dozen primary characters, giving each one everything he had. His varied accents left me awestruck. In fact, I’m curious to know about his natural accent, because I honestly couldn’t pick it out of the bunch. His vocal performance has left me even more eager to see him take on the role of Monsieur Poirot on-screen. ♣︎
$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

📚 Cherringham by Matthew Costello & Neil Richards

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Cherringham Compilations #1-3

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Sep. 2017

Narrator: Neil Dudgeon
Length7 hrs and 48 mins
Publisher: Lübbe Audio⎮2017


Jack’s a retired ex-cop from New York, seeking the simple life in Cherringham. Sarah’s a Web designer who’s moved back to the village find herself. But their lives are anything but quiet as the two team up to solve Cherringham’s criminal mysteries.

This compilation contains episodes 1 – 3: MURDER ON THAMES, MYSTERY AT THE MANOR and MURDER BY MOONLIGHT.

Here Jack and Sarah investigate a suicide in the River Thames – or was it murder? They investigate an “accidental” fire with deadly consequences, and they nab the culprit behind the Rotary Club choir poisoning.

Cherringham is a series à la Charles Dickens, with a new mystery thriller released each month. Set in the sleepy English village of Cherringham, the detective series brings together an unlikely sleuthing duo: English web designer Sarah and American ex-cop Jack. Thrilling and deadly – but with a spot of tea – it’s like Rosamunde Pilcher meets Inspector Barnaby. Each of the self-contained episodes is a quick listen for the morning commute, while waiting for the doctor, or when curling up with a hot cuppa.

For fans of Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple series”, Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who series”, Caroline Graham’s “Midsomer Murders”, and the American TV series “Murder She Wrote”, starring Angela Lansbury.

Co-authors Neil Richards (based in the UK) and Matthew Costello (based in the US), have been writing together since the mid 90’s, creating content and working on projects for the BBC, Disney Channel, Sony, ABC, Eidos, and Nintendo to name but a few. Their transatlantic collaboration has underpinned scores of TV drama scripts, computer games, radio shows, and – most recently – the successful crime fiction series Cherringham.

The narrator of the audiobook, Neil Dudgeon, has been in many British television programmes including the roles of “DCI John Barnaby” in “Midsomer Murders” and “Jim Riley” in “The Life of Riley”.

3.5 ★ Audiobook⎮The snobby little Anglophile within me has been rearing its head lately, causing me to turn up my nose at all things American and crave BBC TV Dramas and cozy village mysteries. I decided to pick up the first Cherringham compilation because it consists of three separate mystery stories, called “episodes”, each one only being a couple of hours long.

My thinking was that if I didn’t enjoy the first mystery, I would have only wasted a couple of hours of my time and still completed an episode. That wound up being my favorite thing about the Cherringham mysteries, their brevity. Each episode was the literary equivalent of a single serving dish. What was lacking in coziness and intrigue was made up for in succinctness.

The overall character of the village of Cherringham fell a little flat, as did its main character. Though, not for a lack of potential. I actually think the short length of each episode harmed the series by stunting its growth potential. I wouldn’t have a minded an extra hour or so of listening if it had been devoted to more development, outside of each mystery.

As it was, I can’t complain too much, because I was interested (or just bored) enough to continue listening to the remaining two episodes in the compilation. I happen to have been also watching the BBC series Midsomer Murders on Netflix around the same time I was listening to this series and the comparison of American ex-cop Jack (from the stories) to Chief Inspector Barnaby (from Midsomer Murders) is a significant stretch. I can see how the authors would have wanted to re-create the appeal of Midsomer Murders, but they were missing a certain je ne sais quois.

If you’re looking for an “edge of your seat” mystery or a “cozy night in” series, this probably isn’t it. However, if you’re looking to pass a few hours of time, have at it. This compilation was far from terrible, but it wasn’t exactly memorable it either. It’s not really something I see myself returning to in the future.
Narration review: The authors were pushing for a Midsomer Murders vibe hard. So hard that they actually hired the actor who plays Chief Inspector Barnaby to narrate the audiobooks. Aside from the brevity, Neil Dudgeon’s performance was my favorite thing about listening to Cherringham. His performance did more to imbue the series with a feeling of coziness than the stories themselves. If I were to ever pick up another Cherringham episode, it would be to hear him narrate. ♣︎
$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens

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Graveyard Queen #2

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Nov. 2017

Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Length: 11 hrs and 13 mins
Publisher: Harlequin Books S.A.⎮2012

Synopsis: Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town….

My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town – this withering kingdom – and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.

3.75 ★ Audiobook⎮ A little bit of my October listening list carried over into November. The Kingdom was the second installment in the Graveyard Queen series that I started in early October. But if I didn’t already know that The Kingdom and The Restorer were in the same series, I would have never guessed it. The deeper I got into the story, the further it seemed to drift from the world and characters Stevens created in The Restorer

Things started off really great. Amelia was off to a new town to restore another cemetery. I was interested to see what secrets this cemetery would hold and how Amelia would become dragged into trouble because of it. I ended up getting more than I bargained for. Amelia’s job as a cemetery restorer wound up having little to do with the story. In this installment, it seemed like Amanda Stevens abandoned her originally presented idea for the series, in favor of taking it, Amelia, and the reader down a completely new and dark path. In doing so, she also seemed to have bitten off more than she could chew, so to speak.

The Kingdom’s main issue, in my opinion, was an overly abundant storyline. I barely had enough time to process one shocking soap opera-style reveal before another was thrown at me (and another, and another…). The thing was, I had already figured out a couple of the big twists early on. So it wasn’t the twists themselves that were too much to comprehend, but the amount of twists. It made the story seem messy. Stevens pulled out all the stops, with little development in between, and it was just too much. Quantity does not equal quality. As a result, this audiobook seemed almost double its length.

I will say that The Kingdom was way creepier than I expected. I was pleased with the richly atmospheric elements of the story. I had to stop listening several times because the story became so intense. At one point, I was absolutely livid. These villains were pushing all the wrong (or right?) buttons. It’s been a while since a story has managed to evoke such a visceral response from me. By the end, I was 50% weirded out and 50% freaked out. In other words, it was perfect for Halloween night.

I’m undecided about when, or even if, I’ll be listening to the third installment. I am curious to know if Stevens will return to the way things were in the first book or continue down the very different path she started in The Kingdom. I hope it’s the former. I’m ready for both Amelia and me to leave Asher Falls behind.

Narration review: I adore Khristine Hvam as a narrator, but this wasn’t my favorite performance from her. The longer the audiobook went on, the more her southern accent began to annoy the heck out of me. Other than that, I have zero complaints about her performance. She always provides brilliant character distinction; heads and tails above the rest. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

📚 Star Witch by Helen Harper

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The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic #2

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Oct. 2017

Narrator: Tanya Eby

Length: 7 hrs and 48 mins
Publisher: Tantor Audio⎮2017

SynopsisLights. Camera. Inaction. 

Ivy Wilde, the laziest witch in the West, is still entangled with the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment. That’s not a bad thing, however, because it gives her plenty of excuses to spend more time with sapphire eyed Raphael Winter, her supposed nemesis. And when he comes knocking because he needs her to spy on the latest series of Enchantment, she jumps at the chance. Hanging around a film set can’t be hard … or dangerous … right?

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮I’m a little ticked off that my audiobook listening seems to be in an upswing just as the month of October, a.k.a. my favorite listening month, is coming to a close. I’m trying to pack in as many paranormal listens as I can before the 31st. And as this seems to be the month for reviewing second installments, I decided to return to a series I started earlier in the month.

Something weird must be going on with me because I almost never review second installments. Since they tend to be extensions of the first installment in a series, I hardly ever find them worthy of a separate review. Star Witch not only had a different setting and premise than Slouch Witch, but I wound up slightly preferring it over its predecessor. Considering these two things, I decided it was worth gushing about once more.

While the romance is progressing nicely in this volume, it was the mystery plot that had me more intrigued this time. Don’t get me wrong, Raphael Winter still has me swooning all over the place. Just his name is swoon-worthy. Say it with me: Raphael Winter.

Star Witch combined fun with fright. Take the setting of a hit reality TV show, combine it with a necromancer on the loose and my ears are at full attention. Plus, there’s Ivy… just being Ivy. That’s entertainment enough! Ivy is showing slight signs of character growth, as is Raphael, but she’s still humorously (and relatably) lazy and indulgent. In other words, she’s broken the mold for female protagonists! I’m so glad that Helen Harper is allowing Ivy to remain true to character. She’s the main reason I’m falling fast for this series.

The other reason is Helen Harper, herself. I love that each of these installments picks up right where its predecessor left off. It’s extremely conducive to the type of binge listening I’m doing right now! Harper’s style of writing is irreverent, funny, and down-to-earth. I can’t remember the last time I said an author’s writing sounded “down-to-earth”, but it’s a high compliment from me. I’m thrilled to see that she has several other paranormal series out on audiobook, all narrated by Saskia Maarleveld. I’ll be visiting those series soon enough. But now, if you’ll excuse me, my download of Spirit Witch has just completed and I’m off to hear more Ivy Wilde.

Narration review: The only complaint I had regarding Tanya Eby’s narration of Slouch Witch had to do with her lack of a British accent when voicing the main character, who appears in all other ways to be very British. That complaint notwithstanding, Eby’s narration continues to be marvelous. I’m extremely pleased with the amount of character distinction she provides. Such characterizations assist in my visualization of the characters immensely. And she has nailed Ivy’s sass perfectly. Eby has made an already relatable character seem even more realistic and almost tangible. ♣︎

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📚 Haunting the Deep by Adriana Mather

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How to Hang a Witch #2

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Oct. 2017

Narrator: Tara Sands

Length: 9 hrs and 52 mins
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2017

SynopsisThe Titanic meets the delicious horror of Ransom Riggs and the sass of Mean Girls in this follow-up to the #1 New York Times bestseller How to Hang a Witch, in which a contemporary teen finds herself a passenger on the famous “ship of dreams”—a story made all the more fascinating because the author’s own relatives survived the doomed voyage.

Samantha Mather knew her family’s connection to the infamous Salem Witch Trials might pose obstacles to an active social life. But having survived one curse, she never thought she’d find herself at the center of a new one.

This time, Sam is having recurring dreams about the Titanic . . . where she’s been walking the deck with first-class passengers, like her aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, in Sam’s waking life, strange missives from the Titanic have been finding their way to her, along with haunting visions of people who went down with the ship.

Ultimately, Sam and the Descendants, along with some help from heartthrob Elijah, must unravel who is behind the spell that is drawing her ever further into the dream ship . . . and closer to sharing the same grim fate as its ghostly passengers.

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮ I know I’ve said this already this month, but I’m so glad I decided to continue on with this series. After hearing the first installment, How to Hang a Witch, I wasn’t exactly rushing to buy its sequel. But two things about Haunting the Deep intrigued me: 1) Narrator switch and 2) Titanic!

I’ve been fascinated by the tragic sinking of the Titanic since first learning about it in the third grade. My fascination grew when James Cameron’s film hit theaters in 1997. Of course, I was far too young to see it in the theater, but (after lots of begging) my parents allowed me to watch a censored version on VHS.

I’ve rarely thought about it since then, but that changed when I discovered that Adriana Mather was tackling the subject in the second installment of her series. Switching subject matters in the middle of a series was a bold move, but I like how Mather did it. Each installment is treated like a serial. They aren’t exactly standalones, because there are larger arcs spanning the series. The encapsulating events in each installment are approached in an episodic manner, somewhat like a television sitcom (but without the humor).

Haunting the Deep solidified my interest in this series and in Adriana Mather’s work as a whole. With How to Hang a Witch, I really wanted to like it, but I had several valid concerns that prevented me from being completely on board. Haunting the Deep managed to ameliorate (or negate) enough of my previous issues that I was able to enjoy it without reservation. No one was more surprised by this than me. I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying listening to Haunting the Deep. I honestly did not want it to end.

Adriana Mather can now count me among her biggest fans. I love the fact that she again drew inspiration from her family history to create such a historically rich tale. I especially appreciate that she approached the well-known legend of the Titanic from a lesser seen viewpoint by emphasizing the injustice that was shown to lower class passengers.

This was an incredibly haunting story that made my skin prickle. In other words, it was the perfect listen for October! I hope to be able to hear more from Mather this time next year. Listening to her books is becoming my new Halloween tradition.

Narration Review: What a difference a narrator makes! I can’t help but wonder how much of my disappointment with the previous installment and my enjoyment of this installment can be attributed to the choice of narrator. Adriana Mather narrated How to Hang a Witch herself, but decided to hire a professional voice actor for Haunting the Deep. I’m not normally a fan of mid series narrator switches, but in this case, I’m all for it. Mather has shown confidence in her series by investing in its professional telling. In my opinion, she got more than her money’s worth.

Tara Sands saved this series for me. She’s new to me, but I was deeply impressed with her abilities. The characterizations she provided were well done and she delivered and all-around excellent performance. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

📚 The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

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Practical Magic, Book 0

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Oct. 2017

Narrator: Marin Ireland

Length: 10 hrs and 58 mins
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio⎮2017

SynopsisFind your magic

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮ I found The Rules of Magic so much more satisfying than Practical Magic. Even when listening to Practical Magic, I was drawn to the characters of Jet and Franny. I’m so glad Hoffman decided to tell their story in more detail.

The historical setting perfectly suited the story. It was wonderful to see Jet and Franny as children and young adults. Even though The Rules of Magic was released after Practical Magic, it’s set several decades before. The story is told in such a way that someone new to the series could just as easily hear The Rules of Magic first, especially if a chronological order is preferred. The Rules of Magic ends by introducing the newest generation of Owens, Sally and Gillian, who go on to become the main characters in Practical Magic.

I’m so glad that I decided to give this prequel a chance. My initial experience with the series left me rather indifferent. I was expecting a stronger paranormal theme and got a “slice of life” instead. But with The Rules of Magic, I knew what to expect and was prepared for it.

In a lot of ways, this came across as historical fiction. It just happened that the family at the center of the cross-generational story has paranormal abilities. But the family was very much the focus of the story. In that respect, it resembled Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches series, but with a slower pace and lighter tone.

Like Practical MagicThe Rules of Magic was a character driven story. The major difference, from my perspective, was that I was already invested in the characters this time. Unlike most other stories featuring paranormal elements, very little of the characters’ of supernatural abilities where within their control. The author wrote them passively. For the most part, the Owens were reacting to things that happened to them, but initiating very little of the action. Because of that, there really didn’t seem to be a plot. It annoyed me in the first book, because I wanted more action, but I was able to appreciate it for what it was in The Rules of Magic.

Alice Hoffman obviously knows that her strength as a writer lies in character development. Kudos to her for capitalizing on that strength. The development of the outside world seemed stronger in this installment as well. There was a better sense of time and of the outside world, which helped track the generational progress of the Owens family and its individual members.

I hope Hoffman continues on with this series. I’m eager to see if she will continue backtracking within the Owens family or chronicle of the lives of younger generations. Either way, I look forward to returning to the Owens characters and Hoffman’s storytelling.

Narration Review: Marin Ireland was an excellent choice to narrate The Rules of Magic. Her appointment as narrator influenced my decision to begin this audiobook. Having someone new perform this installment in the series was the right call. It was my first listening experience with Marin at the helm and I was deeply impressed. Her performance was spot on. She provided excellent character distinction and an all-around pleasant listening experience. I could have listened to Ireland forever. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

📚 Origin by Dan Brown

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Robert Langdon, Book 5

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Oct. 2017

Narrator: Paul Michael

Length: 7 hrs and 31 mins
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: Where do we come from?

Where are we going?

The stunningly inventive new novel from the world’s most popular thriller writer.

Bilbao, Spain

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend a major announcement – the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a 40-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough…one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself…and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face to face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery…and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

Origin is Dan Brown’s most brilliant and entertaining novel to date.

Dan Brown is the author of numerous number one international best sellers, including The Da Vinci Code, Inferno, The Lost Symbol, Angels & Demons, Deception Point, and Digital Fortress.

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮ Dan Brown is easily one of my top five favorite authors. His novels are consistently entertaining. Before beginning Origin, I was concerned that it wouldn’t be as enjoyable as his other novels. What if the magic was gone? What up my preferences had changed since hearing Inferno three years ago? Ten minutes into Origin, I knew I had nothing to worry about.

Origin’s premise was quite different from Brown’s previous work, which focuses on history and the past. In contrast, Origin shifts much of the focus to the future of humanity. Despite this difference, the overall tone of the book was the same. It was thrilling, adventurous, and majorly thought-provoking.

As Aristotle is credited with saying, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This quote comes to mind every time I begin a new Dan Brown novel. Brown has an excellent way of making you question what you think you know. The thing being questioned is generally something regarded as being “untouchable”. In this case, it was theology and religion.

This is probably a good point to interject that those who consider themselves deeply religious should probably steer clear of Dan Brown and Origin. However, if you are able to entertain a thought without accepting it, Origin will push you to new limits.

Each time I finish a Dan Brown novel, I feel as though my eyes have been opened a little wider, simply by having entertained a new [and mindblowing] thought. The thoughts Brown presents are ones I’ll be entertaining for weeks to come. And my favorite thing about his work is the way in which he presents these ideas. In Origin, Brown discusses profoundly huge concepts, having to do with the beginning of the universe, and yet I’m able to understand them without holding a single physics degree. Out of everything Brown has ever thrown at me, I’m most amazed by his ability to communicate these things in such a completely unassuming manner.

Because of this, I was able to follow along beside Robert Langdon every step of the way. Hearing this audiobook was like watching an action packed film. In classic Robert Langdon style, the adventure was so full of suspense that I was practically biting my nails in anticipation of the next line. Langdon is an Indiana Jones-esque hero and I can’t get enough of him.

As far as ranking this Robert Langdon story in with the others, Origin is my fourth favorite installment in the series. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Angels and Demons, The da Vinci Code, or Inferno, but much more than The Lost Symbol. The futuristic focus of Origin was intriguing, but also rather frightening in an existential sort of way.

I recommend this to fans of the Robert Langdon series and those who enjoy his standalone novel Digital Fortress. As with each installment in the series, the Robert Langdon novels can be read alone or out of order. However, I still recommend starting with Angels and Demons, simply because I think it’s the best in the series.

Narration Review: This was my second audiobook from Narrator Paul Michael. I previously heard him narrate Inferno, which was one of my first audiobooks. It seems like Dan Brown has made it to Stephen King’s level regarding the quality of his narrators. Paul Michael is a fantastic performer. He performs the material. He doesn’t just read it. And his characterization skills are phenomenal. There were only a couple of women featured in this story, but Michael performed them with ease. He also mastered the heavily featured Spanish accent and even managed to play a convincing AI. Paul Michael’s storytelling ability kept me captivated as Dan Brown’s story played out seemingly in front of me. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon