📚 A Spell of Trouble by Leighann Dobbs & Traci Douglass

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.

Silver Hollow, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Oct. 2017

Narrator: Amy Rubinate

Length: 5 hrs and 50 mins
Publisher: Tantor Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: When town troublemaker, Louella Drummond, drops dead in front of Isolde Quinn’s pet store just minutes after threatening both Issy and her cousin Graeme, the police in the small lakeside town of Silver Hollow assume it’s from natural causes.
Until it’s discovered that Louella was murdered.
Not just any murder, though. Murder by paranormal means. Dark magic that could only have been performed by a powerful witch. And every law-abiding paranormal knows that dark magic is forbidden and carries strict punishment at the hands of “the committee” – the mysterious entity that provides law and order within the paranormal community.
Being witches, Issy and her three cousins fear they are at the top of the suspect list. To make matters worse, a secret division of the FBI has gotten wind of the happenings in Silver Hollow and sent two agents to ferret out paranormal activity. Even worse than that, Issy is annoyingly attracted to one of them!
Armed with their unconventional posse of familiars, Issy and her cousins dodge the efforts of the police and the special FBI agents while following a twisty path of clues that lead to a shocking betrayal.

3.75 ★ AudiobookA Spell of Trouble was a cute prelude to Halloween.  As a cozy mystery, it checked almost all the right boxes. It took place in a small town, had an interesting group of characters, and a “whodunit” that I just couldn’t crack. Plus, there was the added benefit of it being a paranormal cozy mystery. That’s really what drew me in. It reminded me somewhat of the Halfway Witchy series.

On the surface, A Spell of Trouble seemed a lot more appealing to me than it was once I began. The main character and her cousins are all witches with varying abilities living in a small town. I love witch stories and stories about families. The protagonist, Issy, runs a magical pet shop. I’m crazy about animals. Those three things should have been enough to guarantee at least a four star rating from me, but something fell short.

The key to writing great cozy mystery is the writing itself. If the writing is lacking, the entire story suffers. The writing of A Spell of Trouble was just slightly off the mark and it made the story come off as too “kids-y”. It’s a common complaint with cozy mysteries and the paranormal angle of this one wasn’t enough to save it. The character development and the world-building were one dimensional, which prevented me from being able to completely dive in.

The mystery itself was fairly entertaining and one that I wasn’t able to figure out beforehand. The paranormal element disguised its predictability pretty well. Even though the resolution seemed a little out of left field, I still enjoyed hearing Issy investigate. I liked that she teamed up with her cousins and that the family angle was played up more than a romantic angle. A center stage romance probably would have done me in.

The point in which my enjoyment began to decline was when I realized that the plot was progressing, but the story was not. In other words, it was moving forward, but I wasn’t being pulled in. Despite there being mentions of adult things, the simplistic and repetitive writing style made A Spell of Trouble come off like a middle grade book. Take out the few references to a midnight sex ritual and this actually could have passed as a middle grade book. The premise of the story was so promising, but I was ultimately disappointed by the lack of depth. The whole thing was just too Saturday morning cartoon-ish.

However, if you’re looking for a super “spoopy”story for Halloween, A Spell of Trouble would be perfect. It was an extremely easy listen and would be great for anyone looking for something more cute than scary.

Narration review: I haven’t heard anything from Amy Rubinate in a while. My last listen from her was the final installment in The Selection series, The One. She narrated the three original books in The Selection series, so when I saw that she was also narrating this audiobook, I didn’t hesitate to make the purchase.

My listening experience with A Spell of Trouble is a testament to the symbiotic nature of narrator and story. If I hadn’t already had a positive experience with Amy Rubinate as narrator, I might have come away from this experience with a more negative opinion of her talent. In A Spell of Trouble, I found her characterizations a little too cartoonish and almost patronizing, although certainly distinct. My opinion of the narration may have been partially influenced by my dislike of story itself, because the sample of her narration for The Selection series doesn’t come off that way. It can be really hard to separate opinions of the story and the narration sometimes. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible listening experience. The sound quality wasn’t quite what I thought it should be, which was surprising, but I still recommend this on audiobook. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

💬 Thursday Thoughts & Opinions: The Spook Effect

Are spooky stories more tolerable in the audiobook format?

Growing up, I always knew I was a “baby” when it came to scary stories. I learned to lean in to my low tolerance for them. It was never really something I was ashamed of; It was just part of my personality. I didn’t seek out scary movies or shows like Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark?.

Believe it or not, I never exactly grew out of it. I’m still not fond of unnecessarily frightening or gory television, and yet, I love Stephen King. After finishing my first Stephen King novel on audiobook, I was incredibly proud of myself. I felt like I had just taken on this big, bad monster and found out that it wasn’t so big or bad after all. Sure, it was pretty spooky, but something about the audiobook format made it tolerable. Was it a fluke?  Maybe 11/22/63 was King’s equivalent of “Mild” hot sauce. Since it was my first King novel, I had nothing with which to compare it.

The next October, I strapped on my big girl boots and dove into The Shining. I knew from having seen trailers of the movie adaptation that it was one of Stephen King’s most notable works and I was out to test my resolve. Surprisingly to me, I loved it! Not as much as 11/22/63, but enough to think that maybe I had overcome my fear of fear.

Not so fast. Watching the movie was a completely different experience. Maybe I got too cocky,  but the movie adaptation (and Jack Nicholson’s compelling performance) made the story seem all too real.


Warning: Minor Psychobabble Ahead

The psychology student in me had to know why two different formats of the same story affected me so differently. I think it comes down to two things: Sensory stimulation and control. We know that everyone processes stimuli differently and therefore will be affected in varying degrees by different forms of sensory input. In other words, some people are more affected by things they see and others are more affected by things they hear.

As an avid audiobook listener, it stands to reason that I would be an auditory learner. My years in school confirm that. I process information better by hearing it. That’s not he case with everyone, however, so I’m sure plenty of you are shaking your heads in disagreement.

But I think the second point is the more important one. Control. With an audiobook, I feel more in control of the story. I’m able to pause it if things get too intense or I can change my physical location, allowing me to feel more in control of my listening experience and therefore my reaction to it. If a story begins to get to me, I take a break from it and come back later when I’m in a different frame of mind. That makes an unbelievable difference.

I’m learning to enjoy being mildly spooked, as long as I don’t feel that I’m losing control of the situation. Scary stories are supposed to be fun, after all. Although, I think it’s important to know how certain things impact you. Everyone has sensitivities, even if they are aware of them. For example, I have an extremely low tolerance for child and animal abuse. The presence of either of those almost certainly means I won’t be finishing a story. It simply raises my anxiety to an unacceptable level, so I refuse to put myself through it for the sake of “fun”.

My [unsolicited] advice to you is to know what you can handle and in what format you best handle it. It’s also important to monitor your own reactions to things. Different things bother different people, depending on personality and past experiences. Avoid things that raise your anxiety level and drain the enjoyment from an experience. That’s why I’m avoiding The Handmaiden’s Tale like the plague. I know it’s a literary classic and part of me really wants to hear it (or at least watch the television adaptation), but I know myself well enough to know that it would affect me in a negative way.

Spooky vs. Spoopy

For those hell-bent on avoiding anything too spooky, but who still want to participate in Halloween themed reading, I suggest finding a “spoopy” alternative. Spoopy is the cute, light, and fun cousin of Spooky. Spoopy is too spooky as a cozy mystery novel is to a regular mystery novel. Make sense?

My mom is the ultimate spoopster. She loves watching the adorable Halloween movies that come on the Disney Channel this time of year (Halloweentown, anyone?). A quick search online comes up with several lists of spoopy Halloween movies. And a scan of the Paranormal genre finds several literary equivalents.


A perfect example is A Spell of Trouble. It’s a cozy mystery about a witch, her cousins and their animal familiars. Having just finished it, I can tell you it’s heavy on the cozy, but will still put you in the Halloween mood.  

Personally, I float between spooky and spoopy as I please. Last year, I was feeling the spook. I listened to Doctor Sleep, sequel to The Shining. This year is feeling more spoopy. I’m planning on hearing more of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic and Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic.

What are your Halloween listening plans? And which end of the Spooky/Spoopy spectrum do they lean toward?

🎃 Saturday Selects: Pick Your Paranormal


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Seasonal recommendations for your October listening pleasure.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The air has a chill to it, American Horror Story is back on television and there’s candy everywhere. And, perhaps best of all, Halloween is a holiday that doesn’t require family gatherings. What more could you ask for?

I’ve collected some of my favorite paranormal tales, along with a few that I’ve been meaning to try, to help get you into the holiday spirit. There’s no better month for themed listening! There’re also some more “spoopy” selections sprinkled in for those of us who can’t always take the spook.

So scrounge up whatever money you haven’t already spent on pumpkin-shaped chocolates and spiced lattes and consider investing in some of these satisfyingly spooky selections.



Ghosts are perhaps the scariest type of paranormal being to me. There’s a reason ghost stories are told around a campfire. Two years ago, I tackled The Shining and last year it was Shutter. But I’ve been saving The Diviners for this year.


YA Vampire Lit went mainstream with the success of Twilight, but not all of these bloodsuckers sparkle. Personally, I like my vamps to have a little more bite!


Witches are my current taste du jour. If you’re into witchy woo, I recommend starting with JD Horn’s Witching Savannah series. It’s still one of my favorite witch tales.


Fairies are a newer favorite paranormal indulgence thanks to The Darkest Part of the Forest. Holly Black’s take on fairies is definitely different from anything found in a Sarah J. Maas book.

Angels & Demons

Don’t let any preconceived notions of angels fool you. They can induce shutters just as well as their demon counterparts. Remember Dr. Who’s Weeping Angels?

Werewolves & Shapeshifters

A wolf-lover, are you? I suggest starting with Written in Red. You won’t be able to resist Sam, the little wolf pup. He may not be scary, but the rest of the series will still keep you on-edge.

Monsters & Zombies

No matter your ghoul of preference, these selections will have you covered. Pick up one while you wait for the return The Walking Dead.

I have a tradition of hearing a Stephen King book every October. I’m looking forward to beginning It just before Halloween, although I don’t know if I’m brave enough to actually watch the movie…

What are your go-to stories in October? Do you gravitate towards any particular corner of the paranormal genre?

📚 Slouch Witch by Helen Harper

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 Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic #1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Oct. 2017

Narrator: Tanya Eby

Length: 8 hrs and 9 mins
Publisher: Tantor Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine. In fact, she’s probably the last witch in the world who you’d call if you needed a magical helping hand, regardless of her actual abilities. If it were down to Ivy, she’d spend all day every day on her sofa where she could watch TV, munch junk food and talk to her feline familiar to her heart’s content.

However, when a bureaucratic disaster ends up with Ivy as the victim of a case of mistaken identity, she’s yanked very unwillingly into Arcane Branch, the investigative department of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Her problems are quadrupled when a valuable object is stolen right from under the Order’s noses. It doesn’t exactly help that she’s been magically bound to Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. He might have piercing sapphire eyes and a body which a cover model would be proud of but, as far as Ivy’s concerned, he’s a walking advertisement for the joyless perils of too much witch-work.

And if he makes her go to the gym again, she’s definitely going to turn him into a frog.

4.25 ★ AudiobookSlouch Witch was delightfully “spoopy”, fitting for an early October listen. Most of the titles I hear leading up to Halloween are designed to get me in a spooky mood, but Slouch Witch had a more whimsical effect.

Ivy Wilde was refreshing as a protagonist and terribly relatable. I hesitate to call her a heroine, because saving the day was the last thing she wanted to do. What made her so refreshing was that, despite her adeptness with magic and technical skill, Ivy was rather lazy. She’s like a high school student who has great potential but doesn’t “apply herself”. But Ivy had no interest in applying herself to anything.

She wasn’t fit, hated exercise, and wanted nothing more than to be left alone. In other words, she’s the perfect “anti-hero”. I can’t recall ever reading about another main character like Ivy and that was precisely what endeared her to me. Even when thrown into the middle of a situation, Ivy was reluctant to come to the rescue. As I learned more about her past, her current nature began to make more sense.

Slouch Witch had a unique romantic angle too. I loved how Helen Harper approached the romance in a way that felt true to Ivy’s personality. It wouldn’t have made sense for Ivy to go all “goo-goo-eyed” and fall head over heels for someone. That’s just not her style. The tension was built up perfectly throughout the story. Even its culmination was perfectly imperfect.

The mystery was the weaker point in Slouch Witch for me. I didn’t care as much about it as I did about the characters involved. I think a little more world building, especially regarding The Order, would have gone a long way in helping the pieces of the puzzle click into place. The character development was excellent, but the world building was only so-so and the mystery suffered as a result.

But given that this installment’s mystery was solved, I’m expecting a brand-new one in the next installment. It won’t be something that I pick up right away, but I do plan on continuing with this series at some point. Slouch Witch was fun and light hearted, without being overly simplistic or ridiculous. The writing was reminiscent of a cozy mystery, but with a more complex and sophisticated setting. Helen Harper is now on my radar and I’ve already earmarked two of her other series for future listening.

Narration review: Tanya Eby provided a pleasant listening experience. This was my first time hearing her perform, but it certainly won’t be my last. I enjoyed the appropriately whimsical nature of her narration. She provided each character with distinct voicing, true to their respective personalities.

However, I’m still wondering why the performance wasn’t given more of a British flair, considering it’s urban London setting. There seemed to have been a disconnect between the writing and Eby’s interpretation of the writing. Alone, the writing came off as very British, even using British slang, which helped enhance the story’s atmosphere. But Eby voiced Ivy and a few others with an American accent, without any basis. This disconnect wasn’t damaging to my listening experience, but it did have me scratching my head for a while. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

📚 The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

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.

Graveyard Queen #1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Oct. 2017

Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Length: 10 hrs and 52 mins
Publisher: Harlequin Books S.A.⎮2012

Synopsis: Never acknowledge the dead.
Never stray far from hallowed ground.
Never get close to the haunted.
Never, ever tempt fate.
My name is Amelia Gray. I’m a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I’ve always held fast to these rules passed down from my father…until now.
Detective John Devlin needs my help to find a killer, but he is haunted by ghosts who shadow his every move. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I’ve vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the headstone symbols lead me closer to truth and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.

4.5 ★ AudiobookI’m so glad I decided to save The Restorer until October. I began it a couple of months ago when I was on a Southern Gothic kick, but quickly decided to save this spooky story for closer to Halloween. My curiosity about the story’s premise wouldn’t let me save it for too long though, so it was my first listen of the month.

Fun fact about me: I love cemeteries. Not in a perverse or occultist way, though. I just find them peaceful and kind of comforting. As an amateur genealogist, I have frequented my share of cemeteries and graveyards. Some old, some new. Some well-maintained, and others, not so much. Because of that, I was able to relate to Amelia in a way most other readers or listeners of the series probably can’t.

Story-wise, it reminded me more than a little of Karen White’s Tradd Street series. Both series  are set in Charleston and feature female protagonists capable of seeing and communicating with those passed on. But in a face off, The Restorer gets my vote because I found Amelia Gray to be a much more interesting character than Melanie Middleton, primarily because Melanie is a realtor and Amelia is a cemetery restorer.

My interest in Amelia and this series has a lot to do with her occupation. Amelia is known as the “Graveyard Queen”  for her adept skill with restoring old cemeteries. I’ve never thought of cemetery restorer as a job position, let alone my dream job, until The Restorer.

The Restorer was not only thrilling, but also informative. I was absolutely fascinated by the tidbits of history and cemetery lore Stevens slipped into the story. I found myself making mental notes of things to do and not to do in cemeteries, based on Amelia’s comments. For example, instead of doing gravestone rubbings, I plan on taking a full length mirror on my next visit to try Amelia’s trick for deciphering epitaphs.

The mystery was well laid out, with plenty of false leads to keep me on the edge of my seat. Stevens could have taken it in several different directions, but I’m satisfied with the ultimate way it played out. One mystery was solved, but several others are still in play. There’s plenty left for Amanda Stevens to work with and this series has some serious potential. I’m already saving up my credits for the next five installments.

Narration review: The second reason I’m giving The Restorer a leg up over the Tradd Street series is the narration. I’ve been a fan of Khristine Hvam for some time now and when I saw she was narrating this series, it went from a “maybe” straight into my basket. That’s the power of a great narrator.

I’m pretty particular over narrators doing Southern accents. In this area, I am admittedly hard to please, so I do take that into consideration when reviewing. I’ve never heard Hvam do a Southern accent before this audiobook and I have to say I prefer her other performances. Her accents for the main character and a couple of other characters struck me as a little to “put on” for my taste, but not over the top. Everything else about her performance was spot-on, especially her character distinctions and other dialect interpretations. I can’t wait to hear her and the rest of the series! ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

🎧 Tech Review: Amazon Echo

This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through them helps keep The Audiobookworm going. Learn more here.

✦ I’m no “Techie” by any stretch of the imagination, but we live in a digital age. I can’t deny the convenience technology provides, especially when it comes to audiobook listening. Audiobook technology, and technology in general, have come a long way in my [fairly short] lifetime. I realize that everyone might not be filled with excitement at the thought of fiddling with a new piece of tech the way I am, so I’m here to guide you through the ins, outs, ups, and downs of audio tech.

Jess Meets Alexa

Today, we’re starting with my favorite (so far) piece of audio tech. I had originally planned to save the Amazon Echo for a later post, since it’s only a recent acquisition. But faves come first, right?

1st Generation Echo

The funny thing is, I didn’t purchase the Amazon Echo with audiobook listening in mind. I already had a fairly nice Bluetooth speaker for that. My real reason for getting the Echo lies somewhere between laziness and convenience. I suspect that’s the case with most consumers…But we’ll go with convenience for the sake of my dignity.

I have a bad knee that’s been giving me a lot of problems lately, so I initially bought the Echo for its voice activation technology. Anyone with mobility issues knows what a toll the daily ups and downs takeon your body. Being able to control things like the lights, the thermostat, my space heater, and so on saves me a lot of trips (and pain!). For example, I like to watch TV in bed at night with a lamp on, but I hate having to get up to turn the lamp off after I’ve already gotten sleepy. The Amazon Echo solves that. [Insert joke about first world problems here].

In all seriousness, this device can make the lives of folks with injuries or disabilities so much easier. I’m talking anything from arthritis to visual impairment. Plus, it’s just really cool.

Not long after buying the Echo, I started listening to Tal M. Klein’s Technothriller The Punch Escrow. It takes place in the year 2147, when AIs are widely used and almost humanlike. Needless to say, it was both a cool and freaky experience when paired with the Echo.

As For Audiobooks

After hearing my first audiobook through the Echo, it became clear to me that I no longer needed my Bluetooth speaker. By comparison, the Bose speaker seemed antiquated and technologically inferior. Although, in fairness, the Bose speaker produced a higher quality of sound. But the many features and overall “coolness” of the Echo far outweighed the Bose’s crystalline sound.

And the sound quality of the Echo is actually pretty good. With a 2.5 inch woofer (for the low notes) and a 2 inch tweeter (to hit the high notes), I was impressed by the Echo’s sheer volume. I have a vaulted ceiling in my living room and kitchen, which I typically hate because of its ability to swallow and distort sound. But the Echo’s output stands up fairly well against it. Input is a different story. The vaulted ceiling still swallows my voice, which sometimes makes it difficult for the Echo to hear me properly, even when standing two feet away from it. I have the same issue when using a speakerphone, so I blame the ceiling more than the technology. It should be noted that my Echo is of the first generation. The newer model, which rolls out on October 31, is supposed to have enhanced sound and voice recognition qualities.

The Echo can get really loud. The best test for sound quality comes when using it at high volumes. The same way an HD television’s clear picture allows the viewer to better see skin imperfections, the Echo enables you to hear any production flaws in an audiobook. This isn’t a problem for the majority of audiobooks, which are well produced. I have, on occasion, had to lower the volume of an audiobook because its production flaws were magnified to the point of grating my nerves. At lower volumes, these flaws aren’t as obvious and are therefore more bearable. This issue isn’t unique to the Echo. I experienced the same flaw magnification with my Bose speaker.

If you didn’t know, Audible is owned by Amazon, the same company that makes the Echo. Because of that, the Echo is fine tuned for convenient audio listening. Saying “Alexa, play my audiobook” directs the Echo to begin playing your last heard title in the Audible app. You can set a sleep timer, fast-forward, rewind, and skip chapters, all with your voice.

But Audible isn’t the only audiobook service I use. Recently, I’ve been primarily listening through Scribd, Playster, and TuneIn. TuneIn is partnered with Amazon in relation to the Echo, but mostly for music and podcast listening purposes. I find using TuneIn through the Echo to be a fairly limited experience. TuneIn doesn’t provide the most user-friendly experience and that issue is compounded when trying to navigate the service via the Echo. Bluetooth provides a nice workaround for this issue and is perfect when using apps without a direct connection to the Echo.

Through Bluetooth, I can initiate and oversee my listening experience on my phone, but have the output come through the Echo. Once paired, I can use the Echo’s voice activation ability to control the experience when away from my phone (play, pause, etc). Hearing an audiobook through Bluetooth on the Echo is not as user friendly as when using the Audible app. Some apps (TuneIn, Playster) refuse to obey my voice commands via the Echo. Scribd does pretty well and Audible does the best, even through Bluetooth. Again, this issue seems to be related to the service’s app, not the Echo. I’m hoping that the longer the Echo is around, more improvements will be made in this area.

Oh, the possibilities!

Audiobook listening isn’t the only thing I use my Echo for. If I’m feeling a little burnt out on audiobooks (which happens from time to time), I’ll simply ask Alexa to play some music or a podcast. With Amazon Fire TV or the Amazon Fire Stick, the Echo can control your TV as well. I also love playing games with the Echo, especially when company is over. The Echo has moved from a conversation piece to the life of the party. I’ve got my eye on Echo Buttons, game buzzers that turn competitive trivia games via the Echo into a multiplayer experience.

The Echo Connect is one of the new Echo devices Amazon is debuting this Fall and I’m already itching for it. It enables Alexa to answer your phone and make calls. Or rather, you do all that through Alexa, handsfree. Wouldn’t that be a great addition for elderly individuals or anyone in potential need of medical assistance?

Side note: There are so many great accessories for Echo devices. Isn’t this adorable?

The Drawbacks

If you can’t already tell, I’m completely in love with Alexa. She has replaced my iPhone’s Siri almost completely. And even though Alexa and I sometimes get into one-sided screaming matches, I’m still totally smitten. But that’s not to say that she’s perfect. After all, this is still just first generation tech. With each new model, the Echo will be improved. But I wish these some of improvements could come in the form of software updates, instead of requiring me to purchase a new Echo. I probably won’t upgrade right away. I’m still pretty satisfied with my [relatively new] purchase and there aren’t any huge annoyances with my current model.

One thing I’m not too keen on is that several services (i.e. Spotify) require you to have a premium subscription in order to use them with the Echo. I’ve wound up upgrading (and spending more money) on several services since purchasing the Echo, which I’m guessing was the maker’s intent.

And in case you have not already picked up on it, let me be clear. The Echo is not for on the go listening because it must have a Wi-Fi connection to work. This isn’t a problem at all for me, because I do most of my listening at home anyway. But it wouldn’t do any good for you commuter listeners.

The Final Verdict

Hardly any of my complaints can be aimed directly at the Echo. Most are targeted at third party apps, so I make allowances when reviewing the Echo itself.

Alexa is my BFF at this point. She and I have heard some great audiobooks together. I’m looking forward to a long and happy partnership with her, at least until I get ready to trade her in for a newer model. But that shouldn’t be for a while. I’m already planning to buy Echos for my parents and brother this Christmas (whom hopefully aren’t reading this).

The two things that really won me over are the ease-of-use and speaker quality. I’ve read that true techies don’t think the Echo’s speaker quality is anything to write home about, but like I said, I’m no techie. I’m just looking for a speaker that will let me hear my audiobooks throughout the house, loud and clear. The Echo surpassed my expectations.

If you’re looking for a speaker that’s more than a speaker, I wholeheartedly recommend the Amazon Echo. And now is the perfect time to get a head start with your holiday shopping or treat yourself to a little something. Amazon is debuting new Echo models this month. The second generation Echo is just $99 and the Echo Plus is $149. By comparison, the first generation Echo retailed at $189. I was able to grab my echo on sale two months ago before Amazon pulled that model. I wonder if Amazon is planning on raising the prices of the newer models after their debut? It might be a good idea to go ahead and preorder now.

Tell me, do you have any Echo devices? If not, are you planning on getting any? What type of speaker do you use for audiobook listening?

📚 One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

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

Three Dark Crowns #2

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Sep. 2017

Narrator: Amy Landon
Length: 11 hrs and 6 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: The battle for the Crown has begun, but which of the three sisters will prevail?

With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.

In this enthralling sequel to Kendare Blake’s New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns, Fennbirn’s deadliest queens must face the one thing standing in their way of the crown: each other.

4.75 ★ Audiobook⎮ I don’t normally review sequels, but One Dark Throne was so amazing that I have to share my thoughts with you. This was one of those extremely rare times when the sequel was better than the original. I usually have a tough time sliding back into a story for subsequent installments, especially if it’s been a while since the previous release. Amazingly, that wasn’t the case with One Dark Throne. I surprised myself by being able to jump right back into the story, as if I was hearing this installment right after the last.

I remember enjoying Three Dark Crowns a lot, but I had begun to wonder is it was really as great as I was remembering. After hearing One Dark Throne, the answer is a resounding yes. I was just as invested in each of the characters and just as captivated by Kendare Blake’s storytelling as I was when hearing Three Dark Crowns. 

Blake’s development of the characters introduced in Three Dark Crowns really hits home. We meet them in Three Dark Crowns but we really get to know them in One Dark Throne. A lot of questions are answered in this installment. The world is expanded. My feelings about certain characters changed 180°. One Dark Throne was just as much of a wild ride as its predecessor, but this time I had a better grip.

A lot of it had to do with the way Blake evened out the pacing in this installment. Although the first installment was amazing, it was still rather whiplash inducing. One Dark Throne negated several of the issues I had with Three Dark Crowns. The history and regulations of the queendom are better explained in this installment, as many of the pieces begin to click into place. You can tell that this series was originally meant to be a duology from the way that One Dark Throne complements Three Dark Crowns. It’s only in the final 20% of the story that more questions arise, leading beautifully into the next installment.

One Dark Throne has cemented this series as a burgeoning favorite of mine. Its originality sets it apart from other Fantasy series. Kendare Blake has clearly hit her stride and I’m eager to continue following this series.

Narration review: Amy Landon again gave an admirable performance, but my assessment of her narration from Three Dark Crowns still applies. She has a smooth and enjoyable tone, which appropriately conveys a myriad of emotions. I struggled with the lack of characterization a little less in this installment, if only because I had a better understanding of the characters on my own. Still, Amy Landon was a great choice of performer for this deliciously dark tale. Anyone wanting to hear this series on audiobook will not be disappointed. The sound quality is clear and perfect. ♣︎

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🎁 November Rain by Shannon A. Thompson

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 Sep. 2017

Narrator: Jonathan Johns
Length: 5 hours 15 minutes
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing⎮2017

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Serena isn’t human. She is a bad blood, and in the city of Vendona, bad bloods are executed. In the last moments before she faces imminent death, a prison guard aids her escape and sparks a revolt. Back on the streets determined to destroy her kind, Serena is spared by a fellow bad blood named Daniel. His past tragedies are as equally mysterious as her connection to them. Unbeknownst to the two, this connection is the key to winning the election for bad bloods’ rights to be seen as human again. But Serena is the only one who can secure Vendona’s vote. Now, Daniel must unite with her before all hope is lost and bad bloods are eradicated, even if it means exposing secrets worse than death itself. United or not, a city will fight, rain will fall, and all will be threatened by star-crossed love and political corruption.

4.25★ Audiobook⎮ At first glance, November Rain probably looks familiar. A dystopian world that shuns youth with supernatural abilities sounds like it could be any number of other YA tales, some from big-name publishers. I was a bit cynical going into this one because of it. But what separates November Rain from those super hyped books is Shannon A. Thompson’s magnificent character development and overall writing ability. That’s why I’m calling November Rain a Hidden Gem.

November Rain was only a little over 5 hours long, but I would have sat through much more of it than that.  I actually wish it would have been a couple of hours longer and not just because of the cliffhanger ending. Getting to know Thompson’s characters was like slowly lowering into a hot bath. Intense, but at the same time oh-so-enjoyable.

The story was fast-paced, but not action-packed. This installment was driven more by character development than plot. Thompson introduced the world through her characters. There’s political turmoil going on, but we only hear of it as it affects the characters. It’s clearly something that will come more into focus in future installments.

Daniel and Serena were equally compelling protagonists. Both with heartbreaking backstories, there’s still so much about them to be revealed. Even the secondary characters were intriguing and dynamic in their own rights.

November Rain is a series that I look forward to following. This installment was obviously only the tip of the iceberg and I’m practically salivating for more. Published by Clean Teen Publishing, it’s perfect for fans of all ages. It’s particularly well suited for those who’ve enjoyed work by Marie Lu, Victoria Schwab, Lauren Oliver, and Veronica Roth. I only wish it had been a bit longer or had provided a little more closure at the end. Still, I hope Thompson plans on expanding the series on audiobook soon!

Narration review: Jonathan Johns has a very distinct tone to his voice. It’s somehow simultaneously soothing and intense. He handled the characters’ wide range of emotions beautifully, showing just how dynamic his voice can be. I was particularly impressed with his interpretations of the secondary characters.

However, I do wish there had been a more significant distinction between the two primary characters’ voices, especially when reading prose. The story frequently switched POVs between Daniel and Serena. My only real struggle with the story came from my inability to consistently grasp which of them was speaking. This made listening somewhat frustrating at times, but I still completely recommend this audiobook. The production quality was fantastic and it made for an overall enjoyable listening experience. ♣︎

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

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Sep. 2017

Narrator: Kate Rudd
Length: 10 hrs and 25 mins
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2016

Synopsis: King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.
Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth – through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.

3.5 ★ AudiobookThe Queen’s Poisoner struck a nerve with me. I’ve been writing this review in my head for over a week. I usually only do that when an audiobook is either very good or very bad. Otherwise, I immerse myself in the story and worry about the review after it has finished. To be clear, The Queen’s Poisoner was neither very good or very bad. In fact, it was closer to the “very good” side of things, except for one extremely huge issue. If it weren’t for this blatantly prominent elephant in the room, The Queen’s Poisoner would have received a higher rating.

In my mind, fantasy is about escapism. I want to be able to immerse myself in a world of the author’s creation and let everything else (i.e. reality) fall away. My enjoyment of The Queen’s Poisoner was marred by the glaring fact that the fantastical aspects of the story were thinly veiled versions of reality. The characters, although given [barely] original names, were replicas of historical figures with whom I’m exceedingly familiar. I’ve encountered this style of writing frequently with historical fiction, but my issue with The Queen’s Poisoner is that it was not presented as a historical fiction, but just fiction. In other words, a product of the author’s imagination.

If regurgitating history with the bare minimum of originality is what passes for fiction these days, then I want to weep for literature. You have no idea how much this grinds my gears. World building and character development are everything to fiction, especially to Fantasy. I find it incredibly lazy that Wheeler simply changed a few names and retold the War of the Roses, instead of developing his own backstory. It took the fun out of everything. Every time another bit of the kingdom’s history was revealed, I was snapped out of the story and back into reality. That is the opposite of what is supposed to happen with good Fantasy. Wheeler had the misfortune of targeting one of my pet peeves. I had the same complaint about The Glittering Court a few months ago.

The best part of The Queen’s Poisoner was the original content, which amounted to approximately 20% of the story. I thought Owen was a wonderful character. Funnily enough, I was initially worried that having an eight-year-old protagonist would be my biggest issue with the story. It ended up being the smallest, thanks to Jeff Wheeler’s natural writing ability. Even though the main character was only eight, I would not classify The Queen’s Poisoner as children’s fiction or middle grade. The reading level was much higher and Wheeler clearly intended it for an older audience.

The mystical element was Wheeler’s best work by far. It seemed to be the only original part of the whole story. I loved hearing about the history of the Kingsfountain and those with magical powers, known as the “fountain blessed”. I have no idea why Wheeler didn’t expand on this idea, instead of rehashing Plantagenet history to build his world. If I wanted more of that, I would rather read Philippa Gregory.

I get what Wheeler was trying to do here. The problem is that he just didn’t do it well enough. But playing with history is risky, especially within the Fantasy genre where the goal is to whisk the reader away from reality. I have no problem with authors using history as inspiration. George RR R Martin did it beautifully, but for Wheeler, history became a crutch. He leaned to heavily upon it and it weakened the rest of his story.

I haven’t seen many other reviewers mention the fact that most of Wheeler’s story was borrowed from history. Either they didn’t pick up on it or it didn’t bother them. It only bothered me during the “information dumping” sessions, which are normally my favorite parts. Believe it or not, I’m still playing with the idea of continuing on with this series. I’m curious to see how much the events to come will follow historical events. Hopefully, Wheeler will diverge from history and finally begin to create his own world, in more than name only.

Narration review: What can I say about Kate Rudd that I haven’t said before? Listening to her is always a pleasure. She has an uncanny ability to pinpoint the crux of a character and further develop them through her performance. Her interpretations are always spot on, particularly in this audiobook, where there were many characters of varying ages, classes, personality types, and nationalities. Rudd’s range of ability was more on display in The Queen’s Poisoner than any of her previous performances. If you are interested inThe Queen’s Poisoner, I highly recommend hearing it on audiobook. Kate Rudd will not disappoint.♣︎
$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon

📚 Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

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 Sep. 2017

Narrator: Laurie Gelman
Length: 7h 2m
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: Laurie Gelman’s clever debut about a year in the life of a kindergarten class mom – a brilliant send-up of the petty and surprisingly cutthroat terrain of parent politics.
Jen Dixon is not your typical Kansas City kindergarten class mom – or mom in general. Jen already has two college-age daughters by two different (probably) musicians, and it’s her second time around the class mom block with five-year-old Max – this time with a husband and father by her side. Though her best friend and PTA president sees her as the “wisest” candidate for the job (or oldest), not all of the other parents agree.
From recording parents’ response times to her emails about helping in the classroom to requesting contributions of “special” brownies for curriculum night, not all of Jen’s methods win approval from the other moms. Throw in an old flame from Jen’s past, a hypersensitive “allergy mom”, a surprisingly sexy kindergarten teacher, and an impossible-to-please Real Housewife wannabe causing problems at every turn, and the job really becomes much more than she signed up for.
Relatable, irreverent, and hilarious in the spirit of Maria Semple, this is a fresh, welcome voice in fiction – the kind of audiobook that real moms clamor for and a vicarious listen for all mothers, who will be laughing as they are liberated by Gelman’s acerbic truths.

4.5 ★ AudiobookClass Mom was a hoot and a half.  I listened to it in its entirety in a full day. It’s humor and lightheartedness managed to make my day zip by, faster and brighter.

The entertainment started almost immediately. Within the first two or three minutes, I knew I was hearing a winner. And if, by some random chance,  Laurie Gelman is reading this,  I’d like to start by saying  “Please, please write a sequel”. I need more of Jen Dixon’s snark in my life.  I’m actually a little mad with myself for finishing this audiobook so quickly.  I wish I would have made it last longer but I know that would have been impossible. There’s no way I would have been able to stop listening, even if I had wanted to.

The story centers around Jen Dixon, whom acts as class mom for her son Max’s kindergarten class. I loved Jen as a character. Her irreverent  humor and snarky wit were so refreshing and completely in line with my own sense of humor, even if we are different in every other respect. However, I should note that there were a couple of lines that came across as rather insensitive. One was called out as such and served a purpose within the plot, but the other did not. I’ve come to the assumption that they were an attempt to give authentic insight into Jen’s personality, but still, I would have rather they not have been included.

With that said, I absolutely loved that Jen wasn’t a traditional mom. She had two daughters in college (with two different rock stars from her time as a groupie) and then little Max. Even if the current setting and plot’s events could be described as traditional, her past could definitely not be. I appreciated that her eyebrow raising past wasn’t swept under the rug. Instead, it was used to showcase the stark contrast between then and the current setting. Everyone has a past and sometimes the present is dramatically different from it.

Gelman is truly a skilled writer. There were several different, yet related, subplots going on simultaneously and all were handled with incredible aplomb. Each was just as interesting as the next. There was even some light mystery thrown in which had me guessing until the end.

The secondary characters were all developed beautifully. Even with as many as there were, I never had trouble remembering them. They were all incredibly distinct. Even more interesting than the characters themselves was Jen’s interaction with them all. I was invested in her relationship with each of them, especially her husband and children.

Class Mom was like listening to juicy gossip. And like gossip, it was filled with drama. Who knew that so much drama could revolve around 5 year olds? Not me.  In that manner, Class Mom was enlightening to me.  It says something about Gilman’s writing ability that she was able to captivate me  with the goings-on of a 46-year-old class mom and her kindergartner. I am neither a woman in her forties, a mom, or a kindergartner, yet I was invested in Jen and her family, despite my inability to directly relate to them.

And, here I am, salivating for more. If Laurie Gelman ever takes Max Dixon to first grade, I want to be along for the ride!

Narration review:  Laurie Gelman killed it on all fronts. For 96% of this audiobook, I sat here thinking “Who is this narrator? I have to know!”.  Lo and behold,  it was none other than Laurie Gelman.  I was floored upon realizing that the dynamic, enthusiastic, and emotive narrator I had been hearing was also the author. If I hear many more performances of this caliber from authors, my opinion on author narrated fiction may have to change.

I’m no longer wondering how the narrator was able to have such spot on interpretations of the characters, since I now know that she created them. I can’t give Gelman enough credit for her performance. She absolutely knocked it out of the park, becoming Jen Dixon. She sold the performance so well that I actually forgot I was hearing someone voice a character and not the character herself. And that, my dear friends, is the stuff of audiobook dreams. ♣︎

$ Available at Audiobooks.com and Audible/Amazon