📚 Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: Robin Miles
Length: 2 hrs and 30 mins
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2015

Synopsis: Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.


Guest Reviewer Susan⎮Young Binti comes from an insular people (the Himba) who are dedicated to their land, their rituals, and science. She is the first of her people to be excepted to this big university and she’s willing to leave the bosom of her people to go experience this thing called ‘higher learning’. I really liked Binti right from the start. She’s a great character to take us through this tale. I was caught up in her culture and how that differed from all those around her. The story does a great job of showing how Binti’s people have, in some ways, limited themselves by choosing to remain so isolated. There’s several details about the Himba culture including their otjize, which is a mix of oil and clay they use on their skin and hair.

Other students on their way to the university populate this spaceship and Binti makes a few friends. Alas, the jellyfish-like aliens Meduse attack the ship and kill nearly everyone before we get a real chance to know these new friends. The Meduse have a bone to pick with university and plan to exact a messy revenge for the perceived insult.

 

OK. So, I was indeed entertained by this story even though there is this sudden and not subtle at all plot twist with the Meduse. The story started off promising complexity and depth but once the Meduse squiggle into the story, we lose that. Deus ex machina becomes the mechanism driving the story forward from that point. Despite that, I still really liked Binti and was biting my lip wondering how things would turn out for her.

 

Binti gets more of an education than she ever expected. So do the Meduse. The overall message of the story holds true throughout the plot even if I felt it was a bit strained for the second half: acceptance and respect of different cultures. Despite the difficulties with the plot, I was entertained enough to seek out the sequel and I look forward to giving that a listen. 4/5 stars because I was so entertained.

 

The Narration: Robin Miles gave such a beautiful performance. I really enjoyed listening to her voice. She made the perfect Binti. Her other character voices were distinct and her male character voices were believable. I also enjoyed her voice for the Meduse. Binti goes through a pantheon of strong emotions in this tale and Miles delivered them all with skill. 5/5 stars
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📚 Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

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Hercule Poirot Mysteries #20

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: Hugh Fraser
Length: 6 hrs and 12 mins
Publisher: Harper Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: Christmas Eve, and the Lee family’s reunion is shattered by a deafening crash of furniture and a high-pitched wailing scream. Upstairs, the tyrannical Simeon Lee lies dead in a pool of blood, his throat slashed.

When Hercule Poirot offers to assist, he finds an atmosphere not of mourning but of mutual suspicion. It seems everyone had their own reason to hate the old man….


4 ★ Audiobook⎮ I heard Murder On the Orient Express around Thanksgiving and enjoyed it so much that I vowed to hear more Agatha Christie soon. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas presented the perfect opportunity to hear another Christie novel as well as a holiday tale. It turned out to be more of one than the other, but I’m still pleased with this relatively brief listen.

Agatha Christie has proven herself to be more than capable of telling a complete story in just a few hours time. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas was a perfect holiday listen, not because it was filled with holiday cheer, but because its brevity allowed it to fit into my jam-packed holiday schedule. I had been worried that I wouldn’t be able to find time for audiobook listening during the holidays, but Hercule Poirot’s Christmas was not only a quick listen, but an easy listen as well.

I’ll admit I was hoping for a little more “cozy”, but I guess that’s not Christie’s style. I was slightly disappointed with the lack of holiday atmosphere, especially considering that the title is Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. The holiday itself played very little into the setting or plot. Aside from the title and the fact that Christmas was the reason for the family reunion the plot centers around, this could have been any other time of year. That’s not a huge detraction, but I was hoping this story would help enhance my Christmas spirit.

As for the mystery itself, I feel like this one was a bit more obvious than Murder On the Orient Express. Still, it had me debating right up until the big reveal. And, what a reveal! Classic Poirot. I’m getting more of a sense of his character now and it’s only compelling me to hear more of his mysteries.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is the 20th book in the series and Murder On the Orient Express was the 10th, so I’m definitely reading these out of order. But that’s another fantastic thing about the series: Each installment truly stands on its own. I don’t remember hearing any references to previous installments, so it’s possible Christie planned it this way.

The Hercule Poirot Mysteries will be one of those series that I return to whenever I’m in the mood for a solid mystery, without the pressure of having to hear the series in its entirety.

Narration review: Although this was my second Hercule Poirot mysteryit was my first time hearing Hugh Fraser’s narration. He is apparently well known for having narrated the entire Hercule Poirot series and even though this is a series that has been covered and recovered by many voice actors, it seems that Fraser is a fan favorite.

Fraser’s dynamic voice allowed him to be quite colorful in his characterizations, which helped my understanding of the plot tremendously. His accents were exceedingly well-done, especially the South African accent, which I was previously unable to recognize. I’m looking forward to many more of Hercule Poirot’s mysteries with Fraser at the helm. ♣︎

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🎁 Leonardo the Florentine by Catherine Jaime

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: David Winograd
Length: 2 hrs and 55 mins
Publisher: Catherine Jaime⎮2017

Synopsis: Who are the Medici brothers? And who is trying to assassinate them? Why was the Pitti Palace never completed? And what part did Leonardo play in all of this? Leonardo da Vinci is remembered as an artist and inventor. But who was he before anyone knew his name? This family-friendly novel explores the history and the legends of his early years in Florence. It also weaves a mystery of politics and power. This novel is the first in the series of historically based novels – The Life and Travels of Da Vinci (followed by Leonardo: Masterpieces in Milan and Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond).


Guest Reviewer Susan⎮What little I knew of Leonardo da Vinci before listening to this book was about his later years. Leonardo the Florentine does a great job of showing us who Leonardo was as a boy, teen, and young man. At an age we would today consider far to young to be off on your own, Leonardo apprenticed at Master Verrochio’s art workshop in Florence. The story excels at describing not only the work done at the workshop but the various architecture, pageantry, and statues around Florence. Leonardo was exposed to quite the variety of art forms and media during his formative years. Even though he was much older that the typical novice, he possessed a deep interest and no little amount of natural skill. Verrochio noted that and encouraged Leonardo to take on greater and greater challenges.

There’s a bit of intrigue tossed into the tale. Leonardo was alive during the time of the Medicis and the politics of the time often involved battles and small wars up and down the length of Italy. Leonardo isn’t interested in politics and hopes to never get caught up in a war, but there is this mystery concerning the Pitti Palace that threatens to suck Leonardo and his friends into intrigue. While I would have enjoyed the book a little more if this aspect of the story had more of a presence, I still enjoyed Leonardo uncovering information one clue at a time.

This is a family-friendly version of Leonardo’s younger years. There’s no gore or love story or even harsh words. All the characters are polite to each other, even the gruff ones. While I can appreciate that the focus of the story is giving us a good outline of young Leonardo’s life, it did come off as a little to tidied up. The 1470s were definitely harsher than our modern era with flush toilets, antibiotics, and the UN. A little grit would have given a more believable flavor to the story. Leonardo comes off as naive throughout the entire tale; as a kid and even teen, this would have probably worked but as he enters his young adult years, having lived without family and earning his keep from a young age, the naivety didn’t work so well.

While there are a handful of women mentioned, there are no female characters. There were obviously women in the 1470s in Florence and most likely there were some women in Leonardo’s life even if they were relegated to the roles of someone’s wife or housekeeper or cook or such. I would have appreciated even a token try at gender balancing this tale.
Leonardo the Florentine is a good source of information about Leonardo’s young years, if not detailed. I learned that Leonardo had no formal schooling (even by standards of the day) and had to learn Latin mostly on his own. This single skill opened a world of knowledge to Leonardo. His status as a student and worker at Verrochio’s workshop opened doors for him that would have remained closed otherwise due to his birth status. Prior to listening to this book, I did not know that Leonardo had such a strained relationship with his parents. Nuggets of info like these are revealed throughout the story in interesting ways. By the end, I felt I knew young Leonardo as a possible friend instead of some wise old man high up on a pedestal. 4/5 stars

The Narration: David Winograd did a pretty good job with this story. His Italian and Latin pronunciations of names and certain words sounded accurate to me. His voice as young, naive Leonardo was well done. There were a few places throughout the story where there were some odd pauses in the middle of sentences. All his character voices were distinct. 4.5/5 stars.

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

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🎁 The Ruby Brooch by Katherine Lowry Logan

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The Celtic Brooch Trilogy, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: Teri Schnaubelt
Length: 12 hrs and 40 mins
Publisher: Katherine Lowry Logan⎮2015

Synopsis: As the sole survivor of the car crash that killed her parents, grief-stricken paramedic Kit MacKlenna is stunned to learn her life is built on lies. A legacy from her father includes a faded letter and a well-worn journal. The journal reveals she was abandoned as a baby 160 years ago. The only clues to her identity are a blood-splattered shawl, a locket with the portrait of a 19th century man, and a Celtic brooch with magical powers. Kit decides to continue her father’s 25-year search for her identity and solve her birth parents’ murders.

Scotsman Cullen Montgomery, a San Francisco-bound lawyer who resembles the ghost who has haunted Kit since childhood, helps her join a wagon train heading west. More dangerous than the river crossings, bad water, and disease encountered on the trail is Cullen’s determination to expose her lies and uncover the source of her unusual knowledge and lifesaving powers.

Kit is convinced that if she can survive the perilous journey and Cullen’s accusations, as well as thwart his attempts to seduce her, she might solve the mystery of her heritage and return home without leaving her heart on the other side of time.


Guest Reviewer Susan⎮I was pretty excited to dive into this time travel novel because I played way too much Oregon Trail as a kid and this book is set in the mid-1800s along the Oregon Trail. Kit MacKlenna is a modern day paramedic living on her ancestral horse ranch. Yet she has questions about her heritage and a small package left to her tempts her into the past to discover her true roots. I really liked that she knowingly traveled to the past. She plans well, studying up on the time period and packing certain supplies. Now I will say that I was a little surprised by how many modern things she decided to take with her (flashlights, IVs, pregnancy tests, etc.) and I did worry that would lead to many, many questions for her later. Also, she chose to take her dog and cat along for the trip as well. While I do like having furry companions in any story, I did find this an odd choice and I deeply worried the pets were going to be Red Shirts for drama down the road.

Then we’re off into the semi-civilized lands of Missouri. She knows that it will be hard to get a place on a wagon train as a single woman so she’s hoping to find a group that will accept her. She’s capable of seeing to her own food, camping gear, and animals so it’s really a matter of bending the social norms of the time. At first, the mid-1800s characters held to their social morays but as the story progresses, I did notice that there were sometimes unlikely reactions to Kit’s modern attitudes. Those little breaks in character took me out of the story from time to time and I wish that Kit had to work harder to either hide her modern ways or win others over to her ways quietly.

There is a strong romantic element to this book. I did like Cullen though I found the insta-luv between him and Kit to be rather convenient. Cullen is an interesting character but once he becomes involved with Kit they had this silly emotional roller coaster. Flirting, fighting, showing off to one another, ignoring each other, kissing, making up, etc. I was much more interested in the historical elements of this story but, alas, those were rather lacking once the tale was set up and off and running. This is a romance story first and foremost and a historical fiction second.

Despite the silly romance, Kit is a woman who does get stuff done. She’s a good shot, knows how to ride well, and has her medical skills. She’s also skilled at sketching. So she has a lot going for her if she can just wrangle in her emotions and stay focused. This mystery about her true relatives eats away at her throughout the story. While I can understand how that mystery can drive a person, I did feel she was a bit too needy at times, forgetting all the good things her upbringing modern Kentucky did have. I can’t help comparing The Ruby Brooch to other time travel books by the likes of Diana Gabaldon and Connie Willis. This book isn’t on the same level as those works. It’s more romance than historical fiction.

Some of the other interesting characters include Braham McCabe, who adds a bit of comedy here and there.The Barrett Family was very good to Kit and I feel I got to know Mrs. Barrett and Frances the best among them. Elliot Fraser is Kit’s godfather in modern Kentucky and he provides wisdom and safe household to return to if needed. All told, 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Teri Schnaubelt was awesome as the narrator. I really liked her variety of accents and the range of voices she had for men and women. Kit cried so much in this book (a little too much for me) but Teri did a great job with all the emotions. Schnaubelt sounded engaged throughout the story and all her character voices were distinct. There were no technical issues with this recording. 5/5 stars.

Susan received a free copy of this book from the narrator. Her opinions are 100% my own.

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🎁 The Elf and the Princess by Anna del C. Dye

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 Silent Warrior Trilogy, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Dec. 2017

Narrator: George Tintura
Length: 6 hrs and 57 mins
Publisher: Anna del C. Dye⎮2012

Synopsis: A most thrilling and captivating tale for readers of all ages….

Menarm was a great and prosperous kingdom, known throughout the lands for its friendly, hard-working people and fair trade. But a bitter struggle of succession between brothers left the kingdom devastated, the people divided. Some stayed with Fenil, who had conquered the crown, others followed Renil to the wild lands of the north, founding a new kingdom.

Now Adren, the last princess of the vanquished realm of Menarm, finds herself alone in a world where women live in the shadows of men. Not only must she battle her enemies, but also a truth that could obliterate her last hope for happiness and bring dishonor to all those whom she holds dear. On her quest, she finds unlikely allies in a powerful prince and a defiant mercenary, only to be devastated by an ancient and wily elf. Will Adren be able to survive this final assault?

The Elf and the Princess is a brilliant tale of true love, high adventure, and medieval-style warfare between elves, men, and orcs. Drawing inspiration from the myths and legends of Europe and from such writers as J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien, Anna del C. Dye spins a completely original tale that will leave the reader wanting more.


Guest Reviewer Susan⎮I started this book with high hopes. I liked the book blurb description and was up for an Elven adventure. However, this story fell a little short. The beginning was easy to start with but then the timeline jumps around a bit and I had trouble following who did what when. Now, if you get past that, the story settles on 16 year old Princess Adren.

Initially, I really liked her character. Her mother dies shortly after we meet her and Adren’s kingdom is in ruins. I worried she wouldn’t be able to save herself let alone her kingdom! But she has been taking sword-fighting lessons from a master, Donian. Now he was a fun character! I loved his harsh nature and no-nonsense training. He’s merciless in her training and she picks up the art quickly. Now, I did find it a bit too convenient that she mastered sword training so quickly, but it’s necessary for the story to progress.

Adren must venture out on a quest to find allies but her little world is one where women are kept safe and secure and don’t learn to fight with swords and gallivant around the countryside. Initially, I found her solution to this problem endearing, because who wouldn’t want to put on a mask and pretend to be someone else, especially if you have to kill anyone? Still, I was a little dismayed that in this fictional world, ladies in general have very little to do with the plot.

Adren hasn’t spent any time with elves and now that she’s met some, she’s fascinated by them. Here’s another part of the story that didn’t work so well for me. We know that she was raised with stories about elves and there’s obviously contact and trade between humans and elves, and yet dear little Adren is totally blank on Elvish factoids. Really? Sigh… So I felt that contradicted what we learned earlier. Then when she learns why her ears are the shape they are…. well, it was just a lot of drama for no reason.
Still, there’s plenty of action and armor and sword fighting and heroes. I liked all those bits. Then we have the love story. Adren loves a certain person and then yet another person is falling in love with Adren (unbeknownst to her). Again, I felt the love story was a whole lot of drama for very little entertainment. Also, the wrap up to that romance in this book was a little cliched and I expected that twist well before it was revealed.

All together, the tale held potential to be a fun high adventure but fell short with some inconcise writing and over-done drama. 3/5 stars.

The Narration: George Tintura did an OK job with this narration. He sounded interested in the story all the way through the book. He does make an effort to do accents and keep character voices distinct but they kind of go in and out. His grumpy voice for Donian is pretty good and most of the time, he does a believable 16 year old Princess Adren. He also makes a believable snobbish elf. 4/5 stars.

Susan received a free copy of this book from the author. Her opinions are 100% my own.

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🎁 Occupied by Joss Sheldon

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 Dec. 2017

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

Synopsis: SOME PEOPLE LIVE UNDER OCCUPATION.
SOME PEOPLE OCCUPY THEMSELVES.
NO ONE IS FREE.
Step into a world which is both magically fictitious and shockingly real. Walk side-by-side with a refugee, native, occupier and economic migrant. And watch on as the world around you transforms from a halcyon past into a dystopian future.
Inspired by the occupations of Palestine, Kurdistan and Tibet, and by the corporate occupation of the west, ‘Occupied’ is a haunting glance into a society which is a little too familiar for comfort. It truly is a unique piece of literary fiction…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

🎁 The Ex Lottery by Kim Sanders

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

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Nov. 2017

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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📚 Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Nov. 2017

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hercule Poirot Mysteries #10

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Nov. 2017

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 Cherringham by Matthew Costello & Neil Richards

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Cherringham Compilations #1-3

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Sep. 2017

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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