📚 The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Reviewed Nov. 2019

Narrator: Angela Lin
Length: 3 hours 55 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2012

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Summary

When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai's only possible ally is the emperor's most loyal counselor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape...

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

Like many other reviewers, The Emperor's Soul was my first Brandon Sanderson novel, but I hope it won't be my last. Sanderson is an author that I've always aspired to hear, but whom I've also always been a bit intimidated by. Most of his books are 20+ hours long and although that may not intimidate me in other genres, Epic Fantasy is something I've struggled with for the last couple of years.

I began The Emperor's Soul in August, when I was feeling particularly spontaneous and optimistic. However, I didn't realize that it was basically a spinoff novella from Sanderson's Elantris universe. I saw that this title was significantly shorter than his others and thought it might be a good entry point into Sanderson's work. I'm pleased to say that this tactic worked in initiating me into this world and his writing style.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to not only enjoy The Emperor's Soul, but also follow it. That's been a sticking point for me when listening to epic fantasies in the recent past. Many of them are so dense in their world building that I inevitably become overwhelmed and throw in the towel. But sometimes, I just want to be immersed in another world and this was one of those times when I wasn't just immersed, but completely swept away. If this is what Sanderson is capable of, then sign me up for more!

I would have begun the main series immediately after finishing The Emperor's Soul if not for the fact that I suffered a personal tragedy (my cat died) just after finishing this audiobook which definitely broke me out of its spell and put me off listening to anything for a while. However, I completely intend to return to Sanderson in 2020 and I'm looking forward to it!

Note that The Emperor's Soul is connected to the Elantris universe, but can definitely be heard alone. I don't often make that recommendation, but in this case, I'm comfortable making it out of personal experience. I heard The Emperor's Soul without even realizing it was connected to another series. I'm not sure if there are any cameos from characters seen elsewhere in the main series, but from what I've gleaned from Goodreads, the two are pretty separate, apart from the world they inhabit.

Narration review: From what I recall, Angela Lin provided an excellent listening experience. I remember being particularly pleased with her characterization. There were a number of characters, of all ages and social statuses, and she provided subtle, but distinct vocalizations for each of them. It doesn't look like she has narrated anymore for Sanderson, which is a shame, because I would love to hear her work again. ♣︎

🎁 50 Ways to Worry Less Now by Gigi Langer PhD

Reviewed Oct. 2019

Narrator: Robin Waters
Length: 5 hours 24 minutes
Publisher: Possum Hill Press⎮2019

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Summary

Winner of the 2018 Indie Excellence Award.

Do you want to stop dreading the future or reliving past disappointments?

Thirty years ago, Gigi Langer was a prisoner of her worries who used alcohol, romance, and professional accomplishments to soothe her frayed nerves. When she stopped drinking, she began applying tools from therapy, recovery programs, scientific research, and a variety of philosophical and spiritual teachings to overcome her anxieties and stress.

50 Ways to Worry Less Now offers four life strategies and 50 eclectic tools to dissolve the whispered lies of negative self-talk. Although many books address negative thinking, very few give the listener step-by-step directions on how to defeat it. Others simply advocate a single approach. With candor and humor, Langer describes a wide variety of strategies that helped her, and others, defeat dysfunctional relationships, perfectionism, addiction, and worry about loved ones.

As an award-winning writer and professor, Langer skillfully shares compelling stories and exercises that empower listeners to:

  • Manage life's most difficult challenges with calm wisdom
  • Create relationships that blossom and thrive
  • Fulfill your dreams without limitations
  • Serve others in their personal growth

Regardless of the situation, you'll be able to gain peace, clarity, and wisdom.

"Langer’s frank and empathetic tone will comfort readers, as will the practical steps she teaches.” (Publishers Weekly)

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

I requested a review copy of 50 Ways to Worry Less Now during a particularly stressful and anxiety ridden time in my life. By the end of the first chapter, I had already recommended it to three people. There aren't many times when I will actually stop a book to call someone and recommend they hear it, but this book was definitely worth it.

In fairness, I haven't heard many personal development/self-help audiobooks, but not for lack of trying. They always put me off for some reason or another. With 50 ways, I found myself thinking "Yes!" more times than I can count. I felt like Gigi Langer was speaking directly to me and only me. Moreover, it was like she already knew me. I talk a lot about relating to fictional characters and connecting with them personally, but this was the first time a nonfiction book has created this sort of connection. It was almost eerie.

What struck me first was the amount of professionalism with which 50 Ways is written. Because of my background in psychology, I'm wary of most psychologically-based texts and given the number of pop psychology works (i.e. anything written by a "life coach"), I'd begun to avoid this type of book entirely. But I knew right away that 50 Ways was different and not just because I had already researched Dr. Langer's credentials. It quickly became apparent that Langer knew exactly what she was saying, not only because she had studied it, but also because she had lived it.

I was particularly moved by the efficacy of Langer's self-disclosure. Knowing how and when to disclose personal experiences is an important part of being a therapist. When done properly, it can be an incredibly effective technique within the therapeutic relationship. Langer struck a wonderful balance by disclosing relevant and appropriate information about her past, especially regarding substance abuse, personal relationships, and previous therapeutic experiences (from both sides of "the couch"). This decreased the amount of anxiety I was feeling regarding vulnerability and simultaneously forged a bond between Langer and I (or the audiobook and I). I was simply amazed at the efficacy of this approach conducted via audiobook.

It was a warm, enlightening, and engaging experience. Listening to 50 Ways to Worry Less Now was not a passive activity. Dr. Langer makes a concerted effort to actively engage the listener by asking thought-provoking questions and especially by including a PDF work book with the audiobook. Throughout the audiobook, the listener must reference the PDF workbook and perform coordinating tasks for each chapter. This makes it impossible to zone out while listening and forces the listener to take an active part in the experience. However, it also makes it impossible to listen while driving. This wasn't a drawback for me, but I know that a lot of listeners like to multitask, so it's just something to keep in mind.

I also appreciated that Langer made an effort to provide a spiritually inclusive experience. Something else that usually puts me off of personal development books is the inevitable inclusion of spirituality and/or religion, to varying degrees. To Langer's credit, she allows the listener to insert the name of their preferred deity (or "positive power") and doesn't overtly lean toward any certain religion. She does, however, take for granted that the listener has a preferred deity/"positive power". This was a moderately-sized hang up for me while listening to this audiobook, because I am not a spiritual person. I have no deity, nor do I want one, yet the majority of exercises in this audiobook seemed to hinge on the listener relying on their "positive power". For the first few exercises that called for a positive power, high thought "Well, I guess this one isn't for me". But after a while of sitting them out, I decided to jokingly adopt Elvis as my "positive power" just so I could participate to a fuller degree. This got a little funny when I came to parts about "letting your positive power guide you". I realize that I am in the minority here, so this hangup wouldn't (and didn't) prevent me from recommending 50 ways to anyone else.

50 Ways to Worry Less Now and Dr. Langer helped me through a tremendously difficult time in my life. It gave me a number of useful tools that I have begun to implement in my day-to-day life. This audiobook has become the newest addition in my "mental health toolbox" and I will no doubt be putting it to use again in the future.

Narration review: Robin Waters was the absolute perfect person to narrate this audiobook. Her soothing and reassuring tone had an instantaneous calming effect on me and provided an immediate inner stillness. More than that, her narration was perfectly paste to allow for the absorption of the material. The content of this audiobook is something that should be pondered and reflected upon. Waters facilitated such reflection and added a great deal to the overall listening experience. ♣︎

📚 Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber

Reviewed Oct. 2019

Narrator: Stephanie Willis, Bethany Lind, Nicholas Techosky
Length: 11 hours 46 minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2019

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Summary

"Listeners will be transported to the small Southern town of Wicklow by the drawls and laid-back pacing of the narrators.... This is a beautiful story of family, love, and forgiveness." (AudioFile Magazine, Earphones Award winner)

Heather Webber's Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm.

Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 5 Stars

I discovered Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe back in August, but made myself hold off on listening to it until October. Boy, am I glad I waited! This was the perfect type of book to start off my October. It's not scary, or even spooky, but it still put me in the mood for magic.

Magical Realism is a tough sub genre to grasp, at least it is for me. I always seem to enjoy it, but for some reason, my mind wants to firmly put it in either a Fantasy or Fiction box, when it's really neither... or both...? I'm still not sure. What I do know is that Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe just became one of my favorite listens of 2019 and maybe ever.

Forgive the confused introduction, but one thing I'm sure of is how much I enjoyed this book. It was slow, sweet, and smooth. Oh, and there was some magic. But not "in your face" magic, more like peripheral magic. It was just there on the outer edge of the story, subtly pulling the strings, without having to be the main focus. There wasn't an intricate system of magic, with rules and lore. In truth, we never really learned much about it. You would think that would be frustrating, but it really wasn't. Everything was character driven and the ending tied up the character plots so nicely, that I couldn't possibly be left feeling unsatisfied.

There was a lot of genre crossing happening in Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe. There was family tension, drama, a little bit of mystery, a dash of romance, some humor, and it all worked together magnificently. I enjoyed each of the POV characters nearly equally, only preferring Anna Kate somewhat because of her ties to The Blackbird Café and its unique charm and mysticism. In a rare occurrence, none of the characters really got on my nerves either. They were all written with such finesse that even those with potentially abrasive personalities (i.e. curmudgeons and busybodies) came across as lovable and well intentioned.

The audiobook was less than 12 hours long, but I'll admit that it did feel longer than that, although not necessarily in a bad way. This is an extremely slow paced book and that worked in favor of the setting. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is set in the small town of Wicklow, Alabama. Over the course of the story, Wicklow almost takes on its own personality as if it were a character. Let me tell you, I love it when places become "characters", especially small towns. I know that this wasn't a cozy mystery, but it sure was cozy. I reveled in the slow pacing of this book as one would wallow in a comfortable bed.

This was my introduction to Heather Webber, but I'm hoping it won't be the last I hear from her. Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is one of those books that makes me wish I could wipe my memory of all traces of it, just so I could listen to it again for the first time. There's a reason I haven't seen any negative reviews of it. Sometimes, just sometimes, a book lives up to the hype.

Narration review: Stephanie Willis, Bethany Lind, and Nicholas Techosky narrated this audiobook to perfection. Techosky read a much smaller role, so I didn't hear from him as much, but his performance earned no complaints. Willis and Lind where the stars. They were absolute stars! Both women went above and beyond to help endear me to each of their characters, imbuing them with subtle traces of personality that reached beyond the pages.

I was especially impressed with Bethany Lind's southern accent. I can be rather picky when it comes to southern accents, but Lind's sounded so genuine, I am wondering if it was authentic. She did something I've never heard another narrator portraying a southern accent do, even though I hear it daily in North Carolina. She appropriately pronounced the word "oil". I can't speak for the entire southern United States, but where I'm from, this word is often pronounced in a way that sounds like "ull". As soon as I heard that from Lind, I knew I would jump in front of a moving train from her. ♣︎

🎁 Am I On Speaker?: A Self-Help Guide for the Young Professional by Kivrin Vantage PhD

Reviewed Sep. 2019

Narrator: Kivrin Vantage PhD
Length: 55 minutes
Publisher: Kivrin Vantage PhD⎮2019

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Summary

Don't look for this stuff in the employee manual! Learn how to navigate the workplace as a young professional, with tips on everything from shared office etiquette to whether you should friend your boss on social media.

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 3.25 Stars

I started listening to Am I On Speaker? knowing that I probably wasn't its target audience, but hoping that I could get something beneficial out of it anyway. I've recently discovered that I enjoy listening to self-help business audiobooks because they give me useful information and helpful insights into the world of business. I discovered this by listening to Tools to Succeed a few months ago.

Am I On Speaker? is less than an hour long, so I figured it would be condensed and to the point. Unfortunately, it was also very basic. I say 'unfortunately' because it felt like more than half of the information given was commonsense stuff. But I know that everyone has to start somewhere, so Am I On Speaker? is likely meant to serve an introductory purpose. I can't see it geared toward anyone with any type of prior workplace experience or anyone coming out of business school. It seems more likely that someone working their first job, possibly in or just out of high school would benefit most from Am I On Speaker?.

Vantage does a fine job of covering the many common scenarios a young professional is likely to face in the workplace, from the first day until the last. Because of the brevity of this audiobook, she didn't have a chance to delve too deeply into any particular area, but rather provided a general overview of each. The advice given was the sound, much like what I'd expect to hear from a parent, mentor, counselor, or anyone with a decade or two of workplace experience. Vantage is constantly reminding the listener to consider the larger picture and not get caught up in minute squabbles that could affect one's ultimate career trajectory.

The ending, when it came, was rather abrupt. Given the amount of introduction in the beginning, I was expecting a lengthier conclusion (or a conclusion at all). Am I On Speaker? is a very basic introduction to this topic and I definitely feel there was room for expansion on several of the topics. Starting with the basics is fine, but it ended their as well. I would have liked to have seen more insight. It felt like this could have used some polishing before publication, but it's not a bad value for the money.

Narration review: However, I do question Dr. Vantage's decision to narrate this audiobook. I'm not sure what precipitated that the decision, but in my opinion, it definitely had a detrimental effect on the overall listening experience. The sound quality was poor and the obvious lack of narration experience was a constant distraction from the material. Additionally, the music played in the background during the entire audiobook severely undermined the desired impression of professionalism. If I were to recommend Am I On Speaker? to anyone, I would recommend picking up the e-book instead. I would also recommend that Vantage hire a professional narrator to record any future audiobooks. ♣︎

📚 The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield

Reviewed Sep. 2019

Narrator: Rob Sheffield
Length: 2 hours 43 minutes
Publisher: Audible Original⎮2019

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Summary

Grab your lace shawl and top hat and get ready to twirl—this is a full-throttle appreciation of the life and voice of Stevie Nicks from one of rock criticism’s most celebrated writers.

Best-selling author and Rolling Stone columnist Rob Sheffield explores the music and artistry of the rock goddess who has kept generations of music lovers totally bewitched and spellbound, with such classic rock hits as "Rhiannon" and "Gypsy." With Stevie Nicks’s 2019 solo induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the time is right to uncover the stories behind the songs you love. Learn about the people, places, and events that have influenced her work—and why Nicks’ music is as powerfully alluring today as it was when you first heard it decades ago.

Drawing from Rolling Stone magazine’s extensive archives, and his long time appreciation of Nicks, Sheffield shares the stories behind the best-selling records and the spitfire 1997 Fleetwood Mac reunion show that put the band back on top of the charts—and why Stevie Nicks still speaks to us today. A dynamic, revelatory sketch of the one-of-a-kind icon, The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks is a portrait as revealing as it is dazzling, as human as it is pure magic.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks is a nice little "appetizer" listen, but certainly not a main course. For me, it was a great introductory book into the history of the band Fleetwood Mac and the life and career of Stevie Nicks. I say introductory, not because Stevie or "the Mac" is new to me, but because I've never delved too much deeper into them than their music.

I've never heard a musician's biography before, but if I was going to start anywhere, it would naturally be with Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. I've professed Fleetwood Mac to be my favorite band for nearly a decade now and when I saw that The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks was only around five dollars and less than three hours long, I decided it was time to dive in deeper.

I don't tend to gravitate towards biographies and nonfiction, as a whole, very often. But when I do, it's either for a historical figure (usually royalty) or a celebrity I'm particularly interested in (i.e. Betty White). Stevie, of course, falls into the latter category. I've had another of her biographies (Gold Dust Woman)in my wish list for a few months now, but I'm hesitant to pick it up because of its length. I don't faint at the sight of a 14-hour (or even 50-hour) audiobook, but I've never heard a biography that long, so I'll admit to being intimidated. However, The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks has definitely piqued my interest enough that I'm now eager to hear the extended version of her life and career.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks had some wonderful stories and was pulled together beautifully, combining insights and lyrics in a way that would make music historians, philosophers, and fans proud. However, when other reviewers mention that The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks seems gushingly fanatical, they aren't wrong. I don't have a problem with gushing fans. Hell, I am a gushing fan. But in this instance, it gave the audiobook an air of amateurishness that was at times endearing, but mostly just cringe-worthy. Sheffield relied too heavily on direct quotes from Stevie and the band, giving me the feeling that if I had poured through every interview they've ever done, I could have written this book myself and that's just not something you want your reader/listener to think.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks may not have been a literary masterpiece or an unimpeachable piece of objective journalism, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. It played its part in whetting my appetite for a more in-depth biography and gave me some great music history trivia tidbits in the process. Anyone more than a casual fan should probably skip this, though. It won't contain anything you probably don't already know.

Narration review: The author, Rob Sheffield, narrated The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks. He did a fine job enunciating and pacing throughout the production. He even managed to sound like he was talking to you, rather than reading to you. However, I have to admit that his narration added to the sense of casualness and fanaticism the audiobook possessed.  Sheffield clearly isn't a professional narrator and that was obvious in the underlying tones of his performance. It sounded like I was hearing a well-spoken student read a well-written essay on his favorite celebrity. ♣︎

📚 Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Wisp

Reviewed Aug. 2019

Narrator: Andrew Lincoln
Length: 3 hours 10 minutes
Publisher: Pottermore from J.K. Rowling⎮2018

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Summary

A set textbook at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since publication, Newt Scamander’s masterpiece has entertained wizarding families through the generations. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an indispensable introduction to the magical beasts of the wizarding world. Scamander’s years of travel and research have created a tome of unparalleled importance. Some of the beasts will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books – the Hippogriff, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail...Others will surprise even the most ardent amateur Magizoologist. Dip in to discover the curious habits of magical beasts across five continents…

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

Listening to Quidditch Through the Ages was such great fun! I've owned the physical copy for more than a decade now, originally purchased with the box set containing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. They are presented in text, as in audio, as Hogwarts textbooks.

Even though I always preferred Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the textbook, not the movie) to Quidditch Through the Ages, I have to admit that the audiobook version of the latter ended up being my favorite. The majority of the content in Fantastic Beasts was more interesting to me than this subject matter of Quidditch Through the Ages, simply because I would rather hear about magical creatures than Quidditch facts. However, the last portion of the Quidditch Through the Ages audiobook gave me more enjoyment than the rest combined.

The last 30 minutes or so is a dramatized account of the 2014 Quidditch World Cup. With narrative from Ginny Weasley Potter, as sports commentator, and Rita Skeeter as gossip columnist, we are given a play-by-play of the Quidditch match between Bulgaria and Brazil (from Ginny) and the movements of the Potter/Weasley/Longbottom/Lovegood crowd watching from  the VIP box (from Skeeter). This scene takes place about three years before the "19 Years Later" epilogue in The Deathly Hallows and The events of The Cursed Child.

This bit of the book was absolutely brilliant! I could practically see it playing out before my eyes. We were even given some juicy information about the characters. For example, Skeeter mentions that Luna Lovegood wore a rainbow colored wedding dress with a tiara made from unicorn horns when she married Rolf Scamander. That absolutely made me crack up! She also noted that Neville Longbottom is the godfather of Albus Potter. I'm sure that has been mentioned somewhere before, probably on the Pottermore website, but it was new information to me.

As I mention in every Harry Potter-related review, I'm the kind of Potterhead that craves whatever I can get my hands on. Therefore, there was no way I wouldn't love Quidditch Through the Ages. It was so great to return to the Harry Potter universe and get an adorable little glimpse into the lives of our favorites. Rowling's writing has this wonderful ability to automatically transport me back into my childhood. Quidditch Through the Ages was no exception.

Narration review: The 2014 World Cup scene was a wonderful surprise once I arrived at the end of the audiobook, but what I was most excited for from the very beginning was Andrew Lincoln's narration. In case you don't know, Andrew Lincoln is the magical man who stars in The Walking Dead. And what I didn't know was that he isn't American. That was another fantastic surprise courtesy of Quidditch Through the Ages.

In The Walking Dead, Lincoln has one hell of a southern drawl that this southerner actually thought was authentic. Apparently not (I googled him to confirm) and his natural British accent is just as amazing. This man could read the phone book and I would think it was the best thing I had ever heard. Quidditch Through the Ages also boasts a plethora of sound effects, all done very well, especially during the Quidditch World Cup scene. The Foley (sound effects) was so immersive it made me feel like I was actually there watching the match.  ♣︎

📚 Queen Victoria’s Granddaughters by Christina Croft

Reviewed Aug. 2019

Narrator: Fleur Edwards
Length: 13 hours 32 minutes
Publisher: Christina Croft⎮2017

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Summary

On 6 July 1868, when told of the birth of her seventh granddaughter, Queen Victoria remarked that the news was "a very uninteresting thing for it seems to me to go on like the rabbits in Windsor Park". Her apathy was understandable - this was her 14th grandchild, and, though she had given birth to nine children, she had never been fond of babies, viewing them as "frog-like and rather disgusting...particularly when undressed".

The early years of her marriage had, she claimed, been ruined by frequent pregnancies, and large families were unnecessary for wealthy people since the children would grow up with nothing worthwhile to do. Nevertheless, her initial reaction to the birth of Princess Victoria of Wales belied the genuine concern that Queen Victoria felt for each of her 22 granddaughters. "As a rule," she wrote, "I like girls best," and she devoted a great deal of time to their well-being and happiness, showering them with affection she had seldom shown her own children.

By 1914, through a series of dynastic marriages, the queen's granddaughters included the empress of Russia; the queens of Spain, Greece, and Norway' and the crown princesses of Rumania and Sweden. As their brothers and cousins occupied the thrones of Germany, Britain, and Denmark, Prince Albert's dream of a peaceful Europe created through bonds of kinship seemed a real possibility. Yet in little more than a decade after Queen Victoria's death, the prince consort's dream would lie shattered in the carnage of the First World War. Royal cousins and even siblings would find themselves on opposing sides; two of them would die horrifically at the hands of revolutionaries, and several others would be ousted from their thrones. They had lived through the halcyon days of the European monarchies, but their lives, like the lives of millions of their people, would be changed forever by the catastrophe.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

When I came across Christina Croft's Queen Victoria's Granddaughters, I immediately thought it was too good to be true. It felt just like hitting the jackpot. I love learning about European history, particularly European royal history. But it's difficult to find information about royals outside of the primary players, especially on audiobook. Excuse me, but one can only hear so much about Henry VIII, Queen Victoria, or Princess Diana. I've been a royal fan for so long that it's become increasingly hard to find new information about these figures, so I've begun to expand my interests into the lives of more minor royals. I find them far more interesting, possibly because the information available to me about them is so much more scarce.

Considering how many figures Croft covers in this book, the level of detail concerning each of them is astounding. What's more is how Croft managed to tie them altogether. I'll admit that (on more than one occasion) I had to pull up a family tree to maintain my orientation within the book, but that's not surprising considering the family or the tangled branches of the tree. Biographical information about Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and even a few of their children is relatively easy to come by, but information regarding the generation of grandchildren and so on becomes much tougher to find, especially beyond the direct line of the throne. Queen Victoria's Granddaughters may be the only chance I get to hear about the majority of these individuals, so I'd like to thank Christina Croft for not only writing this title, but especially for turning it into an audiobook.

Croft covers a wide variety of royals in Queen Victoria's Granddaughters and, while the depth of information on each of them isn't what it would be in singular biographies, the breadth of information is well-defined. I appreciated the way Croft listed the names of the figures to be discussed (and brief identifying factors) at the beginning of each chapter. It made it much easier to track the vertigo-inducing Who's Who of European royalty and how they were all connected to each other, if only for the next chapter. I suspect this would have been much more effective if I had been reading the physical book and could have referred back to the list throughout the chapter. Still, it was a nice gesture and I'm sure those reading the physical book appreciated it much more.

The highest compliment I can give Croft is that she actually managed to surprise me with several new facts and details, which was a delightfully refreshing experience. Too often when I am listening to biographies of those with whom I am already familiar, I begin to zone out after hearing the same details over and over again. But in Queen Victoria's Granddaughters, every chapter held details of the lives of several new (to me) historical figures and I inhaled them all. For example, I've heard (several times over) that Queen Alexandra called Edwards VII's mistress Alice Keppel to his deathbed. However, Croft asserts that Edward requested that the two women (his wife and his mistress) kiss! Queen Victoria's Granddaughters is the first place I've ever heard that and I think I would remember having heard it before!

Although it is a non-fiction work, Queen Victoria's Granddaughters is written in a way that held my attention quite easily. It did not seem like an endless barrage of names and dates, like so many other biographical titles do. Queen Victoria's Granddaughters is an audiobook I'm glad I purchased instead of renting or borrowing from a library because I fully intend on returning to it. So much information is provided on so many people that I'm not sure I was able to properly process, let alone retain, all of it. I certainly regard Queen Victoria's Granddaughters as a reference material that I will refer back to in the future.

Narration review: The only real hestitancy I have about this listening experience was that I didn't fully enjoy the narration, provided by Fleur Edwards. Edwards seems more suited to narrate fiction titles, which was initially offputting, but I must say that I rather think this eventually worked toward better holding my attention. It took some getting used to and I definitely was a little annoyed by the few production errors I noticed, such as hearing the narrator clear her voice, which I felt should have been removed in post-production. But, in fairness, these complaints soon fell away as I became more immersed in the content being read and less in how it was being read. It wasn't the best narration or production of an audiobook I've ever heard, but it certainly would not stop me from hearing this title again, nor would it prevent me from recommending it to anyone else. ♣︎

📚 The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Reviewed Aug. 2019

Narrator: Emily Rankin
Length: 9 hours 3 minutes
Publisher: Penguin Audio⎮2019

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Summary

“Abbi Waxman is both irreverent and thoughtful.” (number one New York Times best-selling author Emily Giffin)

The author of Other People’s Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone's radar.

Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own...shell.

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They're all - or mostly all - excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It's a disaster! And as if that wasn't enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn't he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.
1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It's going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I've never been so offended. Abbi Waxman had the nerve to write an entire book about my life and didn't even warn me about it. Can you believe that?!

I knew I was going to love The Bookish Life of Nina Hill before I even started it. I mean, it has the word "bookish" in it. That's a guaranteed win. What I wasn't expecting was how much I would relate to Nina. No joke- Reading this felt like reading my own diary (I don't keep one, but still...). Why yes, I have canceled plans in order to stay home with a good book. And yes, I do pretend that my cat speaks with a British accent. And...Wait a minute, has Abbi Waxman and spying on me?!

Seriously, though. I don't think I've ever related to a character in a book this hard. It upped my enjoyment of the book tenfold, but it also increased my anxiety (something else Nina and I share) because I was worried someone or something would hurt Nina and I would feel it even more deeply. I don't know how to logically explain that, but such is the nature of anxiety.

Don't pick this up expecting a lot of fast-paced action, though. Nina doesn't roll that way. It takes a little while to even see where the story is going, but I was happily along for the ride, like a Sunday drive. Self-proclaimed "Book Nerds" will adore The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, no doubt. The only thing I felt was missing what is Nina's opinion on audiobooks. I have to wonder what she thinks of them. There was a little throwaway comment about turning the bookstore she works at into an all audiobook store, but that was [unfortunately] in jest.

The romance was minimal and adorable. I liked Tom, but not necessarily his response to Nina's panic attack. He seems more of the "smothering with love" type and that's not what Nina needed in that moment. His butthurt response to her telling him that was childish and I don't think she should've had to apologize for it, but whatever. I do think that Tom will ultimately be a good thing for Nina.

I really do hope Waxman writes a sequel, perhaps one involving Nina's mother. I feel like there's a lot left to be explored there and they have an interesting dynamic. I also really loved how under dramatized Nina's family drama was. It made it feel so much more realistic and not overly-sensationalized. Lydia, in particular, grew on me.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is the perfect book for book lovers. It's filled with bookish references and fantasies (wall-to-wall bookshelves, anyone?). Plus, as a trivia buff, Nina throws around fantastic pieces of trivia like confetti and I learned so many neat factoids from her I have already begun tossing around myself. This really was the most bookish story imaginable and I fell head over heels for it from the beginning because it was so stinking cute.

Narration review: I have heard Emily Rankin narrate before, but not for a while. Her performance in The Bookish Life of Nina Hill was excellent. Her pacing and comedic timing were both en pointe and she hit all the right notes to make Nina come alive, not only in my head, but in my heart as well. The tone of her voice was warm and soothing, perfect for characterizing Bookish Nina. I could just picture her curled up in a nook with a book or planning her day out while sipping a cup of tea. Rankin's performance was so moving that I overwhelmingly recommend this audiobook to all book lovers and audiobook listeners alike. ♣︎

📚 You’ve Been Volunteered by Laurie Gelman

Reviewed Jul. 2019

Narrator: Laurie Gelman
Length: 6 hours 35 minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2019

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Summary

In the eagerly anticipated follow-up to Laurie Gelman’s "irreverent and hilarious" (The New York Post) hit Class Mom, brash, lovable Jen Dixon is back with a new class and her work cut out for her.

If you’ve ever been a room parent or school volunteer, Jen Dixon is your hero. She says what every class mom is really thinking, whether in her notoriously frank emails or standup-worthy interactions with the micromanaging PTA President and the gamut of difficult parents. Luckily, she has the charm and wit to get away with it - most of the time. Jen is sassier than ever but dealing with a whole new set of challenges in the world of parental politics and at home.

She’s been roped into room-parenting yet again for her son Max’s third grade class, but as her husband buries himself in work, her older daughters navigate adulthood, and Jen’s own aging parents start to need some parenting themselves, Jen gets pulled in more directions than any one mom, or superhero, can handle.

Refreshingly down-to-earth and brimming with warmth, Dixon’s next chapter will keep you wondering what’s really going on under the veneer of polite parent interactions and have you laughing along with her the whole way.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Well, it looks like Laurie Gelman heard my plea in 2017 for a follow up book to Class Mom. I was so excited to see that You've Been Volunteered had been released recently. It wasn't even on my radar until I discovered it had already been released. This was an instant purchase for me. As soon as I knew it existed, I paused everything else I was listening to and immediately started You've Been Volunteered.

I remember thoroughly enjoying Class Mom but I didn't realize it had been nearly 2 years since I heard it. I love hearing funny books, but not all humor strikes a chord with me. My brand of humor largely revolves around snark and sarcasm (make of that what you will), but that makes me the perfect listener for Laurie Gelman's work, even if I am probably not the target audience for her Class Mom books. But Gelman writes in a way that allows you to enjoy her characters and appreciate their experiences, even if you don't have first-hand experience with them. I'm sure that parents will probably have a more intimate connection to these books and therefor a greater appreciation of them, but they aren't written in a way that excludes anyone. It's not as if they are an inside joke between parents that flies over the heads of those without children.

My only complaint with You've Been Volunteered was that it wasn't long enough. It was even shorter than Class Mom. Unlike Class Mom, I do feel that You've Been Volunteered could have been an hour or two longer, allowing for further development of the secondary storylines. I get it that the Class Mom books are supposed to be short and sweet, which they definitely are, but they still leave me wanting more!

I was [selfishly] a little bummed that You've Been Volunteered jumped forward a couple of years and put Max in third grade. I felt that we missed out on so much in first and second grade, because you know the action didn't stop in the Dixon household. After finishing Class Mom, I was hoping that Gelman would pick up the next book with Max in first grade. I definitely had a moment of "Aw, he grew up so fast!" when learning that Max was already a third grader. It may have been an unrealistic of me to hope that Gelman would write a book for every grade, but can you blame me for wanting more of this series?!

You've Been Volunteered is lighthearted and fun. Listening to it felt like catching up with a friend I haven't seen in a while. Technically, I guess it can be heard without having heard Class Mom, but I definitely recommend binging both books one after the other for the best experience.

Narration review: Unlike last time, I was aware that Laurie Gelman (the author) was narrating this audiobook from the get-go and I was still blown away by her performance. It makes me wonder how much of Jen Dixon's life is inspired by Gelman's own, because she definitely connects with the material in a way that makes me think she may have lived it. That's absolutely one of the silver linings of having an author narrate her own audiobook. If all authors were able to pull off a performance like Gelman, I would have very little hesitancy regarding author narration. ♣︎

📚 The King of Bones and Ashes by J.D. Horn

Reviewed Jul. 2019

Witches of New Orleans, Book 1

Narrator: Sophie Amoss
Length: 12 hours 11 minutes
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2018

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Summary

From the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Witching Savannah series comes the story of a young witch's quest to uncover her family's terrifying history...

Magic is seeping out of the world, leaving the witches who've relied on it for countless centuries increasingly hopeless. While some see an inevitable end of their era, others are courting madness - willing to sacrifice former allies, friends, and family to retain the power they covet. While the other witches watch their reality unravel, young Alice Marin is using magic's waning days to delve into the mystery of numerous disappearances in the occult circles of New Orleans. Alice disappeared once, too - caged in an asylum by blood relatives. Recently freed, she fears her family may be more involved with the growing crisis than she ever dared imagine.

Yet the more she seeks the truth about her family's troubled history, the more she realizes her already-fragile psyche may be at risk. Discovering the cause of the vanishings, though, could be the only way to escape her mother's reach while determining the future of all witches.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

I like reading Southern Gothic fiction during the dog days of summer. In North Carolina, it's hard to breathe outside due to all of the humidity at this time of year and something about the heaviness of the air and the stillness it brings draws me to the Southern Gothic genre. It's unlike the beginning of summer when everyone is setting off for fun vacations and reading light, frivolous beach reads (à la Nicholas Sparks). As you near the end of July, everyone is terribly aware that the school season is right around the corner, along with crisp Fall air and eventual holidays. Maybe it's the promise of Halloween looming in the distance, but I always search for something witchy to read at this time of year. Last year it was Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches and a couple of years before that it was J.D. Horn's Witching Savannah series.

I love J.D Horn. I do. I devoured his Witching Savannah series and, even though the ending left me frustrated and confused, my enjoyment of the first 2/3 of the series was enough to cement Horn as a winner in my book. And he did eventually redeem himself with the release of Jilo, which I enjoyed more than the original series that spawned it. So I guess I was hoping The King of Bones and Ashes would be more of the same. The ingredients were all there. I was excited for the New Orleans setting, which lends itself to "witchy-woo" even better than Savannah, Georgia (again, see the Mayfair Witches). And it could have been so good. It was good, for the most part, but it may be that my high expectations were impossible to reach.

The King of Bones and Ashes was so very different from the Witching Savannah series. For starters, Witching Savannah had a clearly identifiable main character. I identified her as the protagonist and related to her as someone to root for. She was our main guide through the series and, even though there were alternating POVs, she was still our "North Star". I can't with 100% certainty say that The King of Bones and Ashes had a main protagonist. I want to say that it was Alice, but she wasn't present in enough of the story to be sure. Horn changed POVs with increasing rapidity in this book and seemingly lost me along the way. There was no one for the reader/listener to cling to as a guiding force. The interchanging cast of characters left me feeling lost in a storm, with little to no orientation. To put it simply, there was too much crammed into the first installment of this series. Too many people, too much world building, etc. He could have easily (and probably should have) divvied this up into at least two or three installments in order for it to be more easily digested. Following along with a story should not be this hard. Sorry, not sorry.

With that out-of-the-way, there were several shining glimpses that gave me hope, reminded me why I loved Horn in the first place, and kept me listening. His system of magic in The King of Bones and Ashes is among my favorites. I like the thought of magic as a finite resource. And, as gruesome as it may sound, I really dug the idea that surviving witches carve up the remains of a powerful deceased witch and each take (or fight over) those body parts as magical "relics" to increase their own power. To me, this was a new spin on blood magic and one that I was surprisingly into.

As always, Horn's interpretation and inclusion of Voodoo is a major selling point of his books for me. I appreciate that he presents it primarily as a religion. The primary practitioner in The King of Bones and Ashes is someone who adheres to the practice of magic and the Voodoo religion out of deference to her deceased mother's faith, rather than any sort of personal belief. This depiction of Voodoo as an ancestral religion, coupled with its evolution into modern day mercantilism was striking. It made Lisette the most relatable character in the story and therefore ultimately my favorite. The magical cat didn't hurt, either.

The conclusion, when it came, was a total flub. Big revelations toward the end of books are supposed to provide "A-ha!" moments, epiphanies, and clarity. All this one did was confuse and anger me. Instead of unraveling the knot, Horn tightened it. For every question that was answered, five more were raised. It was alarmingly reminiscent of The Source, which made me feel as if I had wasted my time on an entire series for an "it was all a dream"-type ending. The King of Bones and Ashes had so many great things going for it. The ingredients were all there, but it was executed as if someone were cooking blindfolded.

I've already started the second installment with hopes of at least obtaining some clarity as to what I heard at the end of the first book. It's possible that Horn will do a U-turn and redeem himself the way he did with Jilo. And if not, there are enough enjoyable independent elements ("ingredients") here to convince me to at least attempt to finish the series. Because, after all, sometimes you just want to eat the cookie dough.

Narration review: Sophie Amoss did a well enough job narrating The King of Bones and Ashes. Her character distinctions weren't strong enough for my tastes, which did somewhat impede my ability to stay oriented with in the story. She did fine with the more extreme characterizations, i.e. someone very old or someone with a strong accent, but the majority of the characters did not have any significant identifying factors for her to cling to enough to make them stand apart from anyone else. I would have appreciated a bit more tonal range and I think that would have helped with distinguishing the characters vocally. Other than that, I had no problem listening to Amoss for 12 hours. Her natural tone is pleasant and soothing, without being shrill. She provided adequate southern accents for the setting. I would be willing to hear other work voiced by Amoss, although hopefully with less characters. The King of Bones and Ashes was a tall order for her. ♣︎