📚 The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

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 Glittering Court #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🎁 Collide by Michelle Madow

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

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2017

Narrator: Caitlin Kelly
Length: 7h 24m
Publisher: Dreamscape Publishing⎮2017

4.5★ Audiobook⎮ I started Collide late last night and spent all of today listening to it. I was surprised at how easy it was to follow the story, especially considering the plot revolves around alternate universe (AU) theory. This wasn’t my first AU story, but it was definitely the simplest to grasp. Collide blurs genre lines, blending science fiction with murder mystery and romance.

Despite the plot hinging on an AU theme, the mystery and romance elements shined through the strongest. Collide’s  mystery plot impressed me the most. Despite practically being pulled from a real life news story, the resolution still shocked me. Just before the culminating point, I could’ve sworn my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Madow built enough suspense to execute that scene perfectly, without dragging it out too long.

I think Collide  would be a great starting point for those interested in AU theory. It explains how alternate realities can be spun around a small decision (i.e. a coin toss), but have massive collateral effects. Madow presented this on a minor scale and in a simplistic manner which the reader is likely to understand. This isn’t a hard-core science fiction novel, after all. But there’s enough scifi present to whet your appetite before moving on to more complex works.

In true YA fashion, Collide boasts a love triangle. But hold on, before you write it off, I should say that Collide’s  overall storyline benefited from the triangle. If ever a story necessitated (or justified) having a love triangle, it’s one with split realities. In Collide,  the triangle just worked, you know? It had a very Gone with the Wind feel to it, in that it served the overall plot. Although, admittedly, I was rooting for the other guy to be chosen. But such is my luck…

I definitely recommend Collide to YA fans looking for a romantic thriller with science fiction-y underpinnings. At around 7.5 hours, it’s a quick, fun, and easy listen. Not to mention thought-provoking. It’s fast-paced, but easy-to-follow. The ending provides a rush of adrenaline comparable to a soap opera ‘whodunit’!

Narration review: This was my second audiobook narrated by Caitlin Kelly. Kelly is becoming my go-to YA narrator. She has the ability to voice young characters without coming across as annoying. Her stellar characterizations skills made listening to this audiobook a seamless and breezy experience. I have no doubt that Kelly’s narration aided my inability to stop listening to Collide. Caitlin Kelly has a number of YA titles under her belt and several of them have just been promoted to hire standing on my TBR list. ♣︎

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

$ Available at Audible/Amazon, and The Book Depository (paperback)

✏️ Wednesday Resource Review: Audiobooks.com

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

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

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

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

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

 

Basic Info:
•Format: Digital Download and Streaming
•Type of Service: Subscription and Individual Purchase
•Selection: 100,000+ titles

Let me start by saying I have had nothing but positive experiences with Audiobooks.com. I’ve been a steady subscriber since August 2016. I used this service to hear Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and that 32 our experience alone was enough for me to become pretty well acquainted with the Audiobooks.com mobile app. I’ve contacted customer service on multiple occasions and have always received a timely, polite, and helpful response. When the customer service representative did not have the information I needed, he immediately referred me to his supervisor. Said supervisor responded to my email with impressive quickness, especially considering it was during the holidays. I’ve also had contact with representatives in other departments and have consistently come away with the feeling of being valued.

I hope you, as a subscriber or potential subscriber, can see the relevance of these experiences. For me, it’s important to know that a company is reliable and respects me as a customer. Customer service is part of the consumer experience and should be seen as a purchased commodity, just as much as the goods being purchased (in this case, audiobooks). In a lot of cases, this is a dealbreaker when deciding whether or not to give a company my money. Based on my experience, Audiobooks.com is a company that I am completely comfortable giving my support. I recommend them to you fully believing that you will be treated as kindly as I have been.

From the ‘About Us’ section of Audiobooks.com

Another reason I recommend this company is because I believe they have the best interests of audiobook lovers at heart. From what I’ve found, Audiobooks.com is a company that was founded for the love of audiobooks. Its parent company is Simply Audiobooks, a cd and cassette audiobook rental service that has been in business for almost 15 years. Audiobooks.com claims to be “a bunch of book and tech nerds doing cool things to make listening to books better” and I actually believe them.

They’ve already made my audiobook listening more enjoyable simply by alleviating my concern over running out of storage space on my mobile device. Audiobooks.com uses patent-pending cloudmark sync technology to store audiobooks in a cloud rather than on your device. It’s still possible to download a title to your device, if you’re worried about data overages while listening on the go. Since I do most of my listening at home (connected to Wi-Fi), I love this feature! Especially considering the I’ve been listening to some gigantic books lately (30-50+ hours).

Another way Audiobooks.com benefits it listeners is by instating an awesome affiliate program. I’m an affiliate with several audiobook services and Audiobooks.com is my favorite. They are the only affiliate program I’ve found with subaffiliation capabilities (you can sign up affiliates under you) and they give the highest commission rate ($15 for every free trial generated). This is especially important for book bloggers because blogging can be expensive! Also, I’d like to give a shout out to Nicholas, the affiliate manager, for being so patient with me and answering all of my [many] questions.

➜ If you would like to sign-up as an Audiobooks.com affiliate, you can do so here. Feel free to ask me questions about it too!

Let’s Talk Numbers

The two primary quantifying factors I judge an audiobook service by are price and selection size.
In other words, what am I getting and how much am I paying for it?

At $14.95, it costs the same per month as a basic subscription to Audible and around six dollars more than Scribd (see review). This wouldn’t be noteworthy if their selection size was comparable. I understand that it’s hard to compete with Audible’s 180,000+ titles, but if it’s going to cost the same, something has to give. And that, friends, is the primary complaint I’m logging against this service. Either the price needs to come down or the selection size needs to increase.

The quality of the selection, however, is admirable. Audiobooks.com has a number of popular titles from best-selling authors such as Stephen King, John Grisham, Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, John Green, and so on. If you’re looking to keep up with the latest literary trends, they will likely have you’re looking for. I certainly have had no problem finding something to listen to among their library!

It should be noted that Audiobooks.com frequently runs 2-for-1 deals. You can purchase a preselected title for one credit and download its sequel for free. That is how I nabbed the first two installments of The Program and Leviathan. There’s also a sale section on the Audiobooks.com website where you can grab other preselected titles for $8, around half of the membership price.

Tech Talk

The Audiobooks.com website passed one of my primary tests by having a designated ‘Young Adult’ genre. Call it a personal pet peeve, but I hate when services group the young adult and children sections together and I am resisting the urge to rant about it. Overall, I was very pleased with the website structure and I found it easy to navigate, if a little sparse on detail. Plus, I love having the option to gift memberships and individual books. Trés convenient!

Throughout my experience testing this service, I wound up using the mobile app 90% of the time. One of my chief complaints against Audible’s mobile app (see review) was that it does not allow in-app purchasing, but guess what? Audiobooks.com does! The app is basically a miniature version of the website, with full functionality. Actually, the app may have a few more bells and whistles. There’s a neat recommendation feature that detects your listening preferences and makes recommendations based on them.

Using the app also alleviates one of my problems with the website by grouping books together according to series. The Audiobooks.com app is definitely more user-friendly than Audible’s. And, if you should have a problem, they make it very easy to contact customer support straight from the app. At this point, I’m side-eyeing every other audiobook service for not making it this easy…

One thing I noticed that is missing from the app is a progress tracker. The app shows you how much time is remaining in your current listen, but not the percentage. Granted, this is only a minor nuisance, but I like being able to update my progress on Goodreads without having to pull out a calculator.

Side note: This is an issue I’ve had with several audiobook listening apps. Maybe Goodreads should just take a hint and allow users to update their progress using more than pages and percentages.

What I love:

The customer service: Responsive and genuinely helpful customer service counts for a lot in my book. Hopefully, it does in yours too.

• The selection quality: This company boasts plenty of major titles, including most new releases. As long as you’re not looking for something obscure (or exclusive to another company), I think you’ll be able to find it here.

The mobile app: I love this mobile app! It’s simplistic and incredibly easy to use. The cloudmark sync technology hosts audiobooks in a cloud instead of on your phone, while still giving you the option to download. Knowing that my purchases aren’t taking up precious space on my device definitely inclines me to make more purchases.

In-app purchasing: The ability to purchase audiobooks straight from your mobile device is something you don’t really think about until you finish a book with a major cliffhanger and can’t immediately download the next one. Believe me, that’s a kind of audiobook listening hell! Audiobooks.com‘s mobile app not only allows you to make purchases using existing credits, but also allows the purchasing of additional credits when you run out. They’ve got you covered.

The ease of use: Seeing how easy and stress-free Audiobooks.com makes the entire process of purchasing and listening, it makes me wonder why I’ve been putting up with the complicated ins-and-outs of some other companies. After my experience with Audiobooks.com, one thing is clear: They value me, not just as a consumer, but as an audiobook listener.

The affiliate program: Hands-down, Audiobooks.com has the best audiobook affiliate program I’ve seen to date. Everything I’ve mentioned above about how they care for customers also applies to affiliates. Commission rate aside, I would not recommend this company to anyone if I didn’t genuinely believe in it.

What I don’t:

The price vs. the perks: I’m grouping these together because they are interrelated. To be honest, the price alone isn’t a huge detraction for me. I wouldn’t mind paying $14.95 if I felt like I was getting a little more out of it. I would rather see an increase in the services offered (selection size + perks) than a decrease in subscription price. However, I do feel that this increase is bound to happen as the company continues to grow.

Audiobooks.com has an excellent foundation and I’m certain that they will continue building on it. They are in position to be seen as an extremely viable alternative/competitor to Audible, especially for those not wanting to support a mega-corporation (Amazon).

But hey, don’t just take my word for it. Try Audiobooks.com for yourself and get a free book. I’d love to hear about your experience!

* This post will be amended and updated as necessary.

📚 Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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.

Grisha #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2017

Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Length: 8h 55m
Publisher: Audible Studios⎮2012

4.25★ AudiobookShadow and Bone was one of those super-hyped books that was just “okay” for me. I’ve heard so much about Leigh Bardugo and the Grisha series that I was really excited about finally getting to this audiobook after having it on my TBR list for so long. Maybe it was a case of being done in by my own high expectations, but this was an underwhelming experience. Not terrible, but definitely not what I was expecting it to be.

I can’t help but wonder if I could have enjoyed this any more, had it not been for my high expectations. I had gotten over halfway finished with it, before realizing that I hadn’t processed (let alone enjoyed) more than 10% of it. So I decided to restart the entire thing and give it an honest-to-goodness shot. Why? Because the hype. I figured there had to be something I was missing.

Alas, after finishing the entire story, I can say that there wasn’t. At least, not anything of note. Again, Shadow and Bone was not terrible and I did enjoy it somewhat. Although not really enough to comment on anything specific about the story that I particularly enjoyed. Parts of it reminded me of Throne of Glass and a few other YA fantasy novels. The Russian-esque setting was the most intriguing part, but not enough to carry the rest of the story.

Overall, Shadow and Bone felt rather generic, which is ironic considering Veronica Roth’s jacket quote. Orphaned girl forms childhood bond with “boy next door” character. Girl discovers she has magical abilities. Girl undergoes training to learn how to use these abilities. Evil entity wants control over girl because of said abilities. Girl resists. Fighting ensues. Seem familiar? Probably because that’s the plot of 7 out of 10 YA novels.

I will say, however, that I do plan to continue on with the series in hope that I will be able to immerse myself in this story. But mainly because I’ve heard numerous ravings about Bardugo’s (spinoff?) series, Six of Crows. I’m still a little uncertain of the relationship between the two series, other than the fact that Six of Crows  takes place in the same universe as Shadow and Bone,  only two years later. I’m an absolute stickler about reading things in order (chronologically, if possible), which is why I soldiered on through Shadow and Bone. 

It’s possible that Shadow and Bone will grow on me over time. There were definitely times when I almost got into it and, after the halfway point, listening didn’t seem like as much of a chore. I’m really hoping that the next installment will show me something new and make me a full-time Bardugo fan. *Fingers crossed*

Narration review: Lauren Fortgang’s narration was appropriately somber during Shadow and Bone. Part of me wants to complain that she sounded dry and bored, but anything other than that wouldn’t have fit this story. I mean, look at the cover. It’s beautiful, but it’s also sort of cold and drab. Fortgang’s characterization skills were more prominently displayed with some characters than others. Not every character was given clear vocal distinction, but she managed to make certain characters standout (i.e. Genya and the Darkling), while others were given only subtle distinction (i.e. Alina and Mal). ♣︎

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

 

📚 The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

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

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017

Narrator: Bahni Turpin, Raymond LeeDominic Hoffman
Length: 8h 4m
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2016

4.75★ Audiobook⎮ I’ve been putting off writing this review for over a week. Not because I was unsure of how I felt, but because I was (and still am) unsure of my ability to properly convey those feelings. The Sun is Also A Star had such a profound effect on me that I am honestly unable to put it into words. I know I will be unable to do it justice in this review, but here goes.

Let me start by saying that the hype for The Sun is Also A Star is 100% justified. This is the type of story I have been craving for so long. It addresses the incredibly sensitive, but also important topics of culture, diversity, and immigration. As someone whose ancestors immigrated to the US in the 1600s, I wasn’t able to relate with Natasha’s story in the same way that some others are, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate it.

To say that hearing The Sun is Also A Star was an eye-opening experience for me would definitely be an understatement. Immigration and deportation are something that I’ve always thought of on a macro scale and I appreciate Nicola Yoon giving me (and other readers) the opportunity to consider these topics on a more micro/personal level.

The Sun is Also A Star  features two main characters, Natasha and Daniel. The basic plot of the story centers around the fact that Natasha’s family is being deported to Jamaica after immigrating to the US illegally when Natasha was a child. Daniel is also the son of immigrant parents, although his story offers a different perspective on cultural background and family. Daniel and Natasha meet and form a surreal bond within 24 hours. Those 24 hours also happen to be Natasha’s last day in the United States.

The Sun is Also A Star is incredibly layered. Even if most high school seniors can’t specifically relate to Natasha’s deportation situation, they could probably relate to her as a high school senior. That was the level on which I connected with Natasha. Because, at the most basic level of the story, there is a teenager who’s facing being uprooted right before her senior year of high school. Anyone who has ever been in that situation, for whatever reason, will sympathize with Natasha.

And then there’s the more complicated issue of deportation. Being deported means Natasha can never come back to the United States. So the fact that she meets her potential soulmate on her last day in the country is all the more upsetting. Daniel’s story of struggling with cultural assimilation/preservation is a little more commonly told (but only a little). Daniel’s parents try very hard to instill a sense of Korean heritage in their sons, whom they feel are being lured away by mainstream American society. That, by itself, would make for an excellent story. I empathized with both Daniel and his parents to a certain degree (and maybe a little with his brother by the end).

Yoon wove Natasha’s and Daniel’s stories together using a string of events which had a domino effect on the characters’ lives. Natasha would have called them coincidences. Daniel would have seen them as fate. Ultimately, it is left to the reader’s discretion.

What really made the story standout to me, other than the memorable characters, were the brief “asides” sprinkled throughout the story. Yoon included occasional segments filled with background information about characters (major or minor) and cultural history. I found these segments incredibly informative and enlightening. They took this story to the next level and gave it additional depth and dimensionality.

Overall, I enjoyed The Sun is Also A Star a million times is more than Everything, Everything. Nicola Yoon has proven herself to be a more than capable storyteller. The Sun is Also A Star  is such an important story with a beautifully abstract message. I’m sure that it speaks to each reader in a different way. The world needs more stories like this.

Narration review: Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee, and Dominic Hoffman did right by this story. Turpin voiced Natasha, Lee voiced Daniel, and Hoffman read the alternative chapters (the “asides” and secondary characters). Having multiple narrators was a bold and appropriate choice for this story. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of Hoffman for the alternative segments. His narration of them was attention grabbing and alerted the listener to the upcoming change in pace. All three narrators provided excellent character distinction, especially accent-related distinction. There weren’t many accents to perform, but those that were performed were done so appropriately and respectfully (not stereotypically or garishly). This is especially important due to the sensitive nature of the topics being discussed. It wouldn’t be appropriate for an accent to come off as comical or offensive. ♣︎

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

 

📚 Antigoddess 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.

Goddess War #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2017

Narrator: Kate Reading
Length: 10h 28m
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2013

4.5★ Audiobook⎮ I’m so glad that I didn’t give up on Kendare Blake after my failed attempt(s) with Anna Dressed in Blood. Antigoddess is so different from that and so much more my speed. It still has touches of Blake’s horror-esque graphicness, but was much milder overall. I’m not sure where the Stephen King comparison on the cover comes from, though.

Antigoddess  was extremely reminiscent of Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed trilogy, although not as well written or developed. Still, it’s hard to mess up a plot that involves reincarnated Greek gods because that idea is just so cool. Instead of Helen and Paris of Troy (as in Starcrossed), Antigoddess  focused on the prophetess Cassandra and the god Apollo. Different players, same game.

Antigoddess  alternated points-of-view between teenaged Cassandra and Athena and Hermes. The chapters with Athena and Hermes were most informative, as they provided some backstory on how the gods had been keeping busy for the past 2000 years. There was a strong, but not always positive, family dynamic between Athena, Hermes, and the rest of the gods. Because, as you now, they are all closely related. [insert incest joke here].

Even if you weren’t aware of the close familial ties, Blake makes it clear. She does an excellent job of helping the reader/listener recall long lost Greek mythology facts from 10th grade. Quick tip: Just assume they are all half-siblings via Zeus, unless told otherwise. The mythology brush up was really appreciated, as I hadn’t thought about Greek mythology in a very long time, despite still being interested in it. However, I do wish Blake had been a little more imaginative in using Homer’s tales, instead of relying so strongly on them. There’s a pretty large 2000 year gap between the Trojan war and the contemporary plot and Blake does very little to fill it.

That’s why I can’t give Antigoddess  more than 4.5 stars. I enjoyed Antigoddess a lot, but mostly because I already enjoy Greek mythology, not because I enjoyed anything particularly specific to the way Blake used it. Her character development of the gods was adequate, but the world-building felt neglected. I’m very hopeful that my appreciation of Kendare Blake’s writing style and her attention to world-building will grow in the following installments. In that respect, Antigoddess  definitely has one up on Starcrossed  in that its entire series is available on audio.

Narration review: Practically from pressing play, I was in love with Kate Reading’s narration. She also narrated Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, which was one of the first audiobooks I heard. Her voice has one of the most beautiful timbres I’ve ever heard. It caused me to listen to Antigoddess  well into the night, when I’d only intended to listen for a couple of hours. She provided accents when necessary and altered her voice considerably when a character’s voice was damaged. The vocal distinction could have been more prominent with background characters, but it was wonderful most other times. I already have the next two installments in this series and is quite possible that I’m looking forward to them more because of Kate Reading than the actual story. ♣︎

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

🎁 Sprinkled by Gina LaManna

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 Lacey Luzzi Mafia Mysteries #1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2017

Narrator: Caitlin Kelly
Length: 7h 54m
Publisher: Gina Thorwick⎮2015

 4★ Audiobook⎮ I’ve been on a “mafia kick” lately. Over the holidays, I introduced my brother to The Godfather Trilogy while he was home from college. So it was fitting to discover The Lacy Luzzi Mafia Mysteries a couple weeks later.

To clarify, I am in no way comparing Sprinkled to The Godfather. You can stop peeking through your fingers now. Sprinkled  was a much more fun and fluffy tale. I mean, take a look at the cover! In actuality, I would compare this more to The Princess Diaries than The Godfather. The main character (Lacey Luzzi) suddenly finds out that her long-lost family is actually spelled with a capital “F”. Get it?

She shows up on her newly discovered grandparents’ doorstep after being kept from them her entire life (28 years) and is given a job at their legitimate business, which is a front for their not-so-legitimate business. For some reason, Lacey wants to prove herself to her grandfather who doesn’t believe women have a place in the mob. She’s given small tasks which, of course, turn into gaffes. Bada bing, bada boom, there’s your story.

I really love the underpinnings of this story. A mafia story isn’t something I’ve come across before in cozy mystery form, especially not when told from a female perspective. Lacey is presented as a determined and ambitious protagonist. I love the fact that she is not only going up against a mob boss (her grandfather), but also the basic misogynistic framework of the mob itself.

Sprinkled  definitely lived up to being a “humorous cozy mystery”, as advertised. Knowing that, I didn’t take it overly seriously. This was obviously the kind of story that’s meant to put a smile on your face, not break literary boundaries. I enjoyed the “mafioso” theme and colloquialisms, even if they were a bit stereotypical. The dialogue was kind of awkward, but for the most part, the writing was very enjoyable.

Lacey was an entertaining and pretty relatable character. There’s plenty of room for further development, though. Most of her backstory was glazed over in favor of the current plot’s action. I’m really hoping that Gina LaManna will use future installments to progress Lacey as a character through her backstory. We saw a glimpse of it regarding her ex-boyfriend, Blake. But I would specifically like to know more about her pre-mafia life and about her mother. Perhaps a prequel is in order?

Narration review: Caitlin Kelly’s voice is just so happy and perky that you can’t help but smile when listening to it. Her narration always seems to put me in a better mood. My attention never wandered when listening to Sprinkled. She made Lacey an instantly likable character. And, oh my gosh, Meg! Kelly brought such spunk and hilarity to the character of Meg. Her narration of Meg just oozed sass. Caitlin Kelly pulled off several very distinct regional accents (New York, Russian, Italian, Minnesotan, plus a little Marlon Brando). I was both surprised and impressed by the breadth of Kelly’s characterization skills. ♣︎

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

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and The Book Depository (paperback)

📚 Series Review: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

My favorite series of 2016 read by my favorite narrator of 2016!

Installments (10.5+*)

*On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service to be released on August 1st, 2017

Individual ratings & information:

Title Installment Rating Length Published Purchase Options(via affiliate link)
#0.5 4★ 1h 14m Audible Studios (2014) Audible
#1 5★ 8h 9m Audible Studios (2010) Audible
#2 5★ 8h 57m Audible Studios (2010) Audible
#3 4.75★ 8h 31m Audible Studios (2010) Audible
#4 *TBD 9h 25m Audible Studios (2010) Audible
#5 4.75★ 9 h 12m Audible Studios (2011) Audible
#6 4.75★ 9h 8m Audible Studios (2012) Audible
#7 4.5★ 8h 22m Audible Studios (2013) Audible
#8 4.25★ 9h 40m Audible Studios (2014) Audible
#9 4.75★ 9h 20m Audible Studios (2015) Audible
#10 4.25★ 9h 57m Audible Studios (2016) Audible

*accidentally skipped this one. Update to come!

Recommended for lovers of:

Royals, Downton Abbey, Agatha Christie, Miss Marple, British humor, the 1930s, delightful frivolity

Suggested age group: 16+

Review Highlights: Research, Royals and Romance

I’ve often mentioned my love for royals, including royal history, and that love has met its match in my love of audiobooks. I discovered the Her Royal Spyness series in July 2016 and fell head over heels. Since then, I have turned to this series whenever I felt a listening slump coming on. Her Royal Spyness (#1) served as my introduction to the cozy mystery genre. I’ve sampled a few other cozy mystery series, but have yet to find one so perfect for me as this.

Rhys’s Research

The primary appeal of the Her Royal Spyness  series for me was the seamless integration of real royal history with fictitious storyline. I certainly don’t claim to be anything close to a royal expert, but I know enough about the history of the current British royal family to be able to identify fact from fiction in this series. It is obvious that Rhys Bowen did extensive research when preparing to include the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, George V, Queen Mary, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and the Duke of Clarence (just to name a few) in her storylines. She obviously took liberties when turning them into characters for the series, but mostly did an excellent job of portraying them as they were seen during the 1930s.

The most interesting thing about Bowen’s transformation of these historical figures into characters is the amount of authenticity she afforded them. As someone writing a work of fiction, I suppose she could have written these figures in just about any light. But, for the most part, they were portrayed pretty accurately. With the possible exception of the Duchess of Windsor, who was clearly used in an antagonistic manner. Whether or not Wallis was as antagonistic in life is frequently debated. Either way, the common perception of her made for convenient fodder.

I ❤ Royals

I overwhelmingly recommend this series to those with a love of royalty who are looking for lighthearted fun. However, don’t expect biographical accuracy. But if you want a general idea of the pre-WWII Windsors without having to read a work of nonfiction, this could loosely do the job. Just remember to take certain things with a grain of salt. For example, the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) and Princess Marina Greece and Denmark (later the Duchess of Kent) were portrayed in very flattering lights, while Wallis Simpson (later the Duchess of Windsor) was almost villainized. Whether these portrayals stem from Rhys Bowen’s personal feelings or are merely reflections of common perceptions of the time, I have no idea.

I was very impressed by the inclusion of small bits of information such as Queen Mary’s penchant for collecting small items of value, Bertie’s speech impediment, Princess Elizabeth’s love of horses, Prince George’s bisexuality, the conspiracy theories surrounding the Duke of Clarence’s death, and so on. These are all things that were either frequently rumored or reported. Rhys Bowen used them as points of character development and to “set the atmosphere” since those were likely things that would have been talked about in the 1930s (vintage gossip).

When Fact Meets Fiction

With the groundwork laid using facts, the fiction fell easily into place. The main character, Lady Georgianna Rannoch (“Georgie”), is a fictitious, but highly believable figure. At 34th in line to the British throne, Georgie is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria through one of her younger daughters who married a Scottish Duke. In fact, one of Victoria’s daughters really did marry a Scottish Duke and the title Duke of Rannoch did exist at one point in time (a subsidiary Jacobite peerage), but you won’t find a Lady Georgianna Rannoch in the Windsor family tree. See how well-blended fact and fiction are there?

As so many minor royals do, Georgie finds herself penniless and having to make her own way in the world. This endeavor is complicated by the fact that it was highly unconventional in the 1930s for women of Georgie’s stature to hold jobs. It would have been much more convenient for Georgie to allow her royal relatives to arrange a marriage for her to a foreign prince. However, over the course of the series, [minor spoiler] Georgie finds herself romantically entangled with the dashing and mysterious, but equally penniless son of an Irish peer.

Swoon-worthy Romance

I’m not normally one for unnecessary romantic subplots, but something about Georgie and Darcy’s complicated romance adds extra coziness to this cozy mystery series. By the third or fourth installment, I was “shipping” these two hard. Darcy’s “man of intrigue” angle really works with the overall mystery vibe of the series. He has a knack for showing up just when Georgie needs him most, although I do wish she was able to swoop in and save him a little more often. Still, Bowen goes pretty easy on the whole “damsel in distress” thing. Georgie’s independence and capability definitely increases as the series progresses.

The Cozy Factor

How cozy is this cozy mystery? Extremely.

Naturally, it’s important to gauge the “cozy factor” when reviewing a cozy mystery. I’ve heard that the cozy mystery [sub]genre is difficult to write and I find it pretty “hit-or-miss” as a reader too. The Her Royal Spyness series is the perfect example of coziness done right. Of course, this factor can be extremely subjective. For me, it was the involuntary grin that appeared on my face just seconds after beginning a new installment. Not to mention, the warm assurance of knowing that for the next 8 hours I could immerse myself in what would undoubtedly be a positive listening experience. This series has become my “sure thing”.

Coziness aside, there is an ominous undertone to the series surrounding Hitler’s rise and the looming second world war. Hitler is frequently mentioned, as he realistically would have been when discussing politics of the time. Rhys Bowen uses the reader’s knowledge of history to subtly contrast the ritz and glamour of London’s high society. Georgie’s world exists on an island. The series begins after WWI and will likely end before WWII, sheltering the reader and preserving the air of coziness.

Narration Review: Katherine Kellgren

Katherine Kellgren deserves just as much credit as Rhys Bowen for my enjoyment of the Her Royal Spyness series. This series made Kellgren my favorite narrator of 2016. If you haven’t heard her work, you have no idea what you’re missing! While I’m sure this series is a treat to read in traditional book format, it is phenomenal on audio.

Kellgren’s characterization skills are uncanny. A one woman band, she consistently gives listeners the illusion of having heard a full-cast performance. Her skills blow me away. She delivers distinctly accented vocalizations for at least a dozen characters in each installment. Even the most casual of listeners would have a hard time becoming distracted while listening to her narration. I’ve never had to wonder “Who’s speaking now?” because Kellgren makes listening a breeze.

Her narration exponentially enhances character development. For example, her voicing of Hilda “Fig” Rannoch (Georgie’s sister-in-law) is shrill and annoying… But it works perfectly with Bowen’s written description of Fig, who is supposed to be both shrill and annoying. It’s one thing to read a character description of shrill and annoying and another thing to hear it firsthand. Kellgren brings Rhys Bowen’s characters to life incredibly effectively. I hate Fig (and I’m supposed to!).

Overall series rating:
4.75 

(rating for Masked Ball at Broxley Manor not considered, since it wasn’t a full installment)

Reviewer’s Note: This series is only available on audiobook through Audible.com. If you are interested in giving it a shot (which I totally recommend!), but don’t yet have an account with Audible, consider signing up through the banner below to get an extra audiobook with your free trial. Doing so will give me a small commission, but won’t cost you anything. Plus, if you are taken with Georgie in Her Royal Spyness (as I suspect you will be), you’ll be able to hear the next installment immediately!

To sum up: You can get the first two installments of this series (or any other two audiobooks) for free and  help support The Audiobookworm!

🎉 12 Favorite Audiobooks of 2016

Because I couldn’t stop at ten!

Quality Versus Quantity

This past year taught me a big lesson in quality versus quantity. In 2016, I heard a whopping 108 audiobooks. That might not be too impressive, but I’m proud of it, especially considering I came back from a deficit of 10 down. It was definitely an uphill battle and one that I won’t soon repeat. My New Year’s resolution is to hear a minimum of 100 books a year, instead of trying to constantly outdo the previous year’s goal.

I’m approaching this new goal with a rather “laissez-faire” mindset. I want a goal that will push me, but not stress me out so much that the fun is lost. My 2016 goal caused me lose some of the joy I find in listening to audiobooks and I won’t allow that to happen again. I’m also learning to say no to certain review requests if I suspect I’m not a good fit for the title. I think this is a hard lesson for some to learn, especially new bloggers. But I like to think of it as passing the opportunity onto someone else, rather than just passing on the opportunity.

Know Your Tastes

I think I’ve sampled enough this past year to identify where my interests most strongly lie and that should help me know which opportunities to take on in which to pass on to someone else. My 12 favorite audiobooks of 2016 probably seem like a mixed bag of Time travel, YA, thrillers, and contemporary fiction, but those are the genres and subgenres I get the most out of as a listener.

One third of my top 12 list is dedicated to titles released in the past year (The Raven King, Don’t You Trust Me?, The Bird and the Sword, and The Chemist). The remaining two thirds are titles I stumbled upon in one way or another. My favorite narrator from 2015, Will Patton, has two audiobooks on the list (The Raven King and Doctor Sleep). While Katherine Kellgren, the object of my current listening fascination, has locked down that honor for 2016 with her performance in the Her Royal Spyness series.

Click covers to read my reviews

The ‘Memorability’ Factor

There are plenty of ways one could rank a year’s worth of audiobooks.

  • Favorite narrators
  • Best overall listening experiences
  • Highest rated audiobooks
  • By genre
  • Hidden gems (favorite underhyped audios)
  • Not to mention several ranking methods for audios of the less pleasurable variety (DNFs, etc.)

For me, memorability was the most important factor when choosing my favorite audiobooks of the year. When I sat down at the end of 2016 and reflected on what I had heard in the previous 12 months, these were the titles that stood out most fondly in my mind. To be sure, I rated them all very highly, but that’s not why they made the list. Each of these made such an overwhelming impression on me that their characters, storylines and narration stuck with me long after putting them down.

➜ Close your eyes right now and reach back into the recesses of your mind, all the way back to the beginning of 2016. What do you remember reading over the past 12 months? Don’t use Goodreads–that’s cheating! Which titles standout to you? What do you remember loving? Or hating? Anything in between probably isn’t memorable.

My tastes are certain to change with time (and with my mood). It will be fun to reflect few years from now and see not only if/how my feelings towards these 12 titles have changed, but also if/how my overall listening preferences have evolved. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to list your favorite listens of the year or at least make note of your listening habits for future reference.

Feel free to list your top listens of 2016 below or place a link to them in the comment section. I’ll see how our favorites match up!

📚 Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

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

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2017

Narrator: Davina Porter
Length: 32h 43m
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2006

 4.25★ Audiobook⎮ One of my [many] New Year’s resolutions was to get through Outlander if it killed me and for a while, I thought it might. I must’ve restarted this audiobook at least three times in the past 18 months and it still took watching the television adaptation to solidify its contents in my mind.

For nearly the first third of the audiobook, I felt like an unenthused spectator at a sporting event with a roaring crowd. There is so much praise for this series, but I was initially underwhelmed. However, after hour five and encouraging words from someone whose opinion I trust, I’ve began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

My interest in Outlander really began to shoot upward once I started using the television adaptation as a supplemental tool. The excruciatingly slow nature of this story caused me to glaze over countless important details while listening to the audiobook. Speeding up the narration helped quite a bit, but not as much as following along with the television show. I was actually very impressed with the book-to-screen adaptation. Most of the characters’ lines seemed to be pulled directly from Gabaldon’s work.

By hour 10, I knew I was interested enough in the story to finish the rest of this installment, but I was still unsure about continuing on with the series. There were numerous aspects of the plot that troubled me and I constantly had to adjust my mindset from that of a 21st-century feminist to accommodate the historically accurate, yet disturbing, actions of 18th-century Scottish culture. Fortunately, I was able to do so, but I absolutely do not recommend this story to anyone sensitive to any type of abuse (sexual, physical, psychological, you name it- it’s all in Outlander).

My main reservation with both finishing this installment and continuing with the rest of the series was length. Eight installments and this is the shortest one at 32 hours (not counting the many novellas). Not only would that eat up my audiobook credits, but it would put me seriously behind with my reading challenge. The pace of this novel is far too slow for it to be this long. Gabaldon’s writing may be beautifully detailed, but even my patience has a limit. Hence, my number one reason for detracting almost an entire star is that this novel is just too damn long. I feel that this story could have been told just as well in 20-25 hours and even a small consolidation of plot points would have gone a long way toward securing my attention and interest.

With that said, I’ve heard from several sources that this series gets better as it goes along and as I already own the next installment, I will doubtless be giving it a shot at some point. Most likely after I zip through a few smaller (aka normal-sized) novels to ensure that hearing a 50-hour audiobook doesn’t hinder my reading challenge progress. I’d also like to become up-to-speed on the television series so it matches my reading progress thus far. If you are thinking of undertaking the Outlander series, I encourage you to follow along with the show. Doing so greatly enhanced my understanding and overall experience with the novel.

This is a very different type of time travel adventure from those I have read in the past. The time travel enigma definitely takes a backseat in Outlander, which is probably why it isn’t primarily seen as a science fiction novel. It more strongly resembles a historical fiction novel, possibly akin into something written by Philippa Gregory in regards to historical accuracy and immersion. Kudos to Gabaldon for the obvious amount of painstaking research done to ensure historical accuracy. Outlander‘s setting is positively consuming and fosters the sense of cultural immersion I am so fond of in historical fiction.

Narration review: Davina Porter is a widely-admired narrator. After spending more than 32 hours with her, I can see why. The vocal distinction she provided was top-notch. Indeed, her Scottish brogue was so convincing but I found myself frequently straining to understand it. Like with all accents, it became easier to understand with time, but just barely. As the next installment is partially set in France, I’m very excited to hear Porter’s French accent. I’m sure it will be delightful.

One aspect of this audiobook that I was slightly disappointed in was the quality of production. There was a faint, but constant sound of white noise present in the background throughout the entire 32 hours. I realize this audiobook was produced in 2006, so that may be why, but I hope subsequent installments don’t have this issue. It wasn’t a major concern, but still slightly annoying, especially because I had to listen very closely when a Scottish character spoke.  ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon,  Audiobooks.comAudiobooks Now and The Book Depository (paperback)