📚 Circe by Madeline Miller

Reviewed Mar. 2019

Narrator: Perdita Weeks
Length: 12 hours 8 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio⎮2018

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Summary

The daring, dazzling and highly anticipated follow-up to the New York Times best seller The Song of Achilles

One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2018

"An epic spanning thousands of years that's also a keep-you-up-all-night page turner." (Ann Patchett)

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child - not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring, like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power - the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur; Daedalus and his doomed son, Icarus; the murderous Medea; and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and pause-resisting suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, and love and loss as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.75 Stars

My fascination with Greek mythology is something that I haven't visited in many years, yet I still jumped at the opportunity to hear Circe.

I didn't immediately recall the figure of Circe from my high school studies. Luckily, that didn't impact my experience with this audiobook at all. After Odysseus enters the story, I did remember Circe as the somewhat of an antagonist in The Odyssey. As an eighth grader, I was very much pro-Penelope while reading The Odyssey. Since Circe is presented as one of Odysseus's obstacles in returning to his wife and son, she certainly wasn't a sympathetic figure. However, Madeline Miller changes all that.

Circe is our protagonist here, so we are meant to root for her. Miller makes that increasingly easy as the story progresses. Circe is known throughout history as the goddess of sorcery, but Miller portrays her in a more recognizable light, introducing the label of "witch" to mythology. In fact, if you didn't know you were listening to the story of the goddess of sorcery, Circe could have been one of many wood witches in modern literature. That is not to say that this story was "run-of-the-mill", but that Miller puts a new spin on the story of Circe by combining two recognizable themes: Witchcraft and Divinity.

Circe is both a goddess and a witch. We recognize her as a "nature witch" or "woods witch". Circe's abilities may come from her divinity, but she uses fruits of the earth to channel them. She uses herbs and plants to create elixirs and potions. She communes with wildlife. These things tie her to the earth. Towards the end of the novel, Telemachus quotes his father Odysseus by saying that he had never known a goddess who reveled in her divinity less than Circe. Calling a goddess "down-to-earth" seems ironic, but that is exactly what Circe strives to be and it makes her all the more relatable.

But it was Miller's writing that most brought Circe to life. The story contains one point-of-view, that of Circe. By keeping the story as single point-of-view, it places us in the shoes of Circe, making it easier to connect with her. This was a story that could have easily become a tangled mess. The amount of names and relations bandied about could make your head spin. That was always the most frustrating part of studying Greek mythology. Miller's simplistic, yet beautiful, writing style eases this frustration. The story emits a sort of existentialism. From beginning to end, we cross centuries in time and see generations born and die, all through the same character's eyes. It was a unique experience, for sure. Miller did an excellent job of providing us an immortal's point-of-view, while at the same time presenting Circe with mortal problems (i.e. having a mortal son who can so easily be harmed).

From recent research inspired by the story, I know that Miller omitted certain key aspects of Circe's life, particularly towards the end. I find this interesting because it seems like she took such care to be true to Circe's story before that. It may be that tales of the end of Odysseus's life vary, but in the account I read, Circe plays a large role in the end of Odysseus' and Telemachus' lives. This deviation may be because Miller decided to downplay Circe's abilities as a necromancer. I'm very interested in further looking into the varying accounts of the key players lives.

Circe is a story that I will ponder for years to come. Having just finished it, I can't help but feel that I haven't yet experienced its full impact. The writing was exquisite; the pacing, perfection. I'm now eager to begin The Song of Achilles from the same author. Achilles is a figure I've always felt was over exposed, but I'm now curious to see what Madeline Miller can do with him.

Narration review: Perdita Weeks may possess one of the most chillingly beautiful voices I've ever heard. During this performance, I forgot that I was listening to an audiobook narrated by Perdita Weeks. Weeks became Circe and Circe was divulging the details of her life to me. Weeks slipped into the body of the character like slipping on a glove and told the story with Circe's voice. I can't recall a more perfect casting than Perdita Weeks as Circe. While listening to the audiobook, I could almost see Circe as well as hear her. The beauty in Weeks' voice stunned me almost as much as that of Miller's writing. The two combined to provide me with an memorably explicit listening experience. ♣︎

🎁 Tools To Succeed by Antonio Páez

Reviewed Mar. 2019

Narrator: Pam Rossi
Length: 1 hour
Publisher: Antonio Paez⎮2019

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Summary

This audiobook provides the listener with tips and techniques to improve business know-how. The author offers proven techniques from experienced businesspeople that will help you on the path to success.

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

I don't have a lot of time to review these days, but I accepted Antonio Páez's review request for Tools to Succeed for two reasons: 1) It's only an hour long and 2) I felt it was extremely relevant to me.

As a small business owner, I'm constantly looking for ways to improve. As soon as I heard the sample for Tools to Succeed, I knew that this audiobook would be an invaluable asset to me. I've never had any kind of formal business education, so Tools to Succeed was a welcome listen. As I was listening to the sample and debating whether or not I could get anything of value from listening to the entire audiobook, I found myself taking mental notes of valuable tidbits, just from the sample. I knew that if I was already deriving value from a <5-minute sample, the full audiobook was definitely worth hearing!

I was not wrong. Páez's concise writing style was extremely digestible. Some of the information discussed in Tools to Succeed is bound to be basic to those already well-immersed in the business world, but to me, it was enlightening. Tools to Succeed is a great introduction to business. Páez utilizes inspirational quotes from recognizable figures, primarily Albert Einstein, to motivate the listener and drive salient points home. He breaks the audiobook up into four main points, using the four Ms: Mindset, Money, Marketing, and Management.

Certain portions of the audiobook were more relevant to me than others. As a one person business, the bits about delegation and management don't necessarily apply to me right now, but they may in the future. I found the chapter on God out-of-place and distracting. As someone who does not regard herself as a faith-based individual, that chapter was not only irrelevant to me and even a bit disconcerting in a title that isn't specifically marketed to persons of faith. In an audiobook that's only an hour long, I was disappointed to have not been able to get anything out of an entire chapter in it. If I had been reading this of my own accord and not as a review request, I would have skipped over it entirely. However, I can see that religious individuals would gain inspiration from applying the "let go and let God" attitude to their business, as well as personal life. If you are a faith-based individual, this complaint will likely not apply to you. If you are not, I recommend skipping the chapter. It isn't very long.

Other than that, I can't tell you how much I got out of listening to Tools to Succeed. It's a one hour version of a Business 101 course at the cost of $4.86! I definitely plan on listening to it again, probably multiple times. I really want to internalize the individual concepts. I like that the audiobook download comes with PDF charts that are frequently referenced during the audiobook. During my first time listening, I was not in place to look at these reference materials, but I plan on studying them in detail during my next listen. While listening, I had the frequent urge to take notes. Páez offers multiple nuggets of wisdom that I want to remember. But since I was listening in the car, I'll have to take notes during my next listen, as well.

Páez not only covers 101 topics, but also some more in-depth business models and concepts. Towards the end of the audiobook, he begins referencing specific number related examples. I'm particularly eager to re-listen to and further process these sections. I view Tools to Succeed as valuable reference material and I will doubtlessly be putting the concepts learned in it to immediate use in my business.

Narration review: Pam Rossi provided a clear, articulate, and easy listening experience. Her pacing was natural and she held my interest effortlessly. She presented the concepts discussed in a professional manner that allowed me to concentrate on the topic at hand, rather than her narration. The recording was high-quality and contained no distracting elements. If you are interested in Tools to Succeed, the audiobook comes with my highest recommendation. ♣︎

📚 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games, Book 1

Reviewed Feb. 2019

Narrator: Carolyn McCormick
Length: 11 hours 11 minutes
Publisher: Scholastic Audio⎮2008

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Summary

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I originally read The Hunger Games somewhere around 2008 in anticipation of the movies release. I read it on my Kindle, since that was quite a few years before my foray into the world of audiobooks. The Hunger Games has remained one of my most favorite series of all time. I'm not much of a re-reader, but 11 years seemed like enough time for me to forget enough of the little details so that I would be able to enjoy the story again, almost as new. I'm trying this new strategy to combat listening slumps. Whenever I'm in a listening slump, I'm going to reach way back in my library and find a book that I enjoyed before I began listening to audiobooks. Then I'm going to hear that book as an audiobook and see if/how the different format changes my view.

I initially gave the book five stars and I'm sticking to that for the story portion of this audiobook. While listening to it, the same emotions that I originally felt more than a decade ago flooded me once again. I think the story has aged well so far. I didn't see it with new eyes or anything like that. Maybe more time has to go by for that type of experience. But I did remember why I loved it so much to begin with.

And yes, I'm still #TeamPeeta.  I was from the very beginning, even though it was never as much of a debate as the Team Jacob versus Team Edward. I think that was my favorite part of this experience, or re-experience. Listening to The Hunger Games made me feel 20-years-old again. I was both relieved and thrilled to find that my excitement and appreciation of Suzanne Collins work was just as alive as it was in '08. It had just been lying dormant for a while. For me, this was a "somethings never change" kind of experience and it's great to have those now and then. I guess the word for it is nostalgia.

Next up: Twilight.

Narration review: Given the fact that I started listening to this audiobook just for the narration and to see if/how my experience with Collins' work would differ with the audiobook format, I was quite disappointed in Carolyn McCormick's performance. There was nothing egregiously wrong with her performance, but she very clearly was not the right choice to narrate the series. I'm especially confident in this opinion knowing that the majority of listeners seem to share it.

For starters, McCormick clearly did not get the memo that this is a young adult book. On one hand, I like that she didn't sound too young and innocent because that would have been wrong for Katniss and the hunger games as well. However, try as I might, no amount of suspension of disbelief could make me buy into McCormick as a teenager. I found McCormick's narration to be more than a little distracting. It wasn't a situation in which I considered stopping listening, but Susan Collins writing deserved a better performance, in my opinion. That's why I'm shaving .5 stars off of my total rating. The story itself is still five stars, the narration deserves about four stars, so my total rating is 4.5 stars for this audiobook.

My narration frustration was compounded after I realized that there is another version of this audiobook which is narrated by Tatiana Maslany. I'm still kicking myself for choosing the wrong version of the audiobook. Maybe, after another decade goes by, I'll give that one a try. The Tatiana Maslany-narrated audiobook is the one that I recommend to you. I wasn't expecting the audiobook to be narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, but Maslany  is certainly closer to that mark than McCormick. Unfortunately, Maslany only narrated the special edition of book one in the trilogy. If you want to hear books two and three, you'll have to put up with McCormick's narration. As for me, I think I'll skip them, at least until another anniversary edition comes out with a different narrator. ♣︎

📚 Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong

Casey Duncan, Book 4

Reviewed Feb. 2019

Narrator: Therese Plummer
Length: 11 hours 30 minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2019

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Summary

Watcher in the Woods is the next gripping installment of number-one best-selling Kelley Armstrong's riveting Casey Duncan series. 

The secret town of Rockton has seen some rocky times lately; understandable considering its mix of criminals and victims fleeing society for refuge within its Yukon borders. Casey Duncan, the town's only detective on a police force of three, has already faced murder, arson, and falling in love in the several months she's lived there. Yet even she didn't think it would be possible for an outsider to locate the town and cause trouble in the place she's come to call home.

When a US marshal shows up demanding the release of one of the residents but won't say who, Casey and her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, are skeptical. And yet only hours later, the marshal is shot dead, and the only possible suspects are the townspeople and Casey's estranged sister, smuggled into town to help with a medical emergency. It's up to Casey to figure out who murdered the marshal and why someone would kill to keep him quiet - before the killer strikes again.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.75 Stars

I effing love the Casey Duncan series so much. It will go down in history as one of my favorite series of all time, along with Harry Potter and ASOIAF. There, I said it. And yes, I did move heaven and earth (credit-wise) to get this audiobook when I could've waited two more weeks to access it through my Scribd account. But it was a give it to me now or I will implode type of thing and I regret nothing.

I ravenously tore through the first three books in the series last year. It was one of my most enjoyable binge sessions of 2018. Watcher in the Woods was on track to be just as good as its predecessors until the last 5% of the book. It ended more with a fizzle than a bang, but honestly, it didn't matter that much to me. The first 95% was so incredible that Armstrong really would've had to have sh*t the bed to upset me at that point. I should probably lower my rating to 4.5 stars to account for that, but this is such a solid series that I really don't feel like nitpicking it.

Objectively-speaking, this wasn't the strongest installment in the series. In retrospect, the plot formula was rather similar to previous installments, but I didn't notice that at the time (probably because I was too busy freaking out over puppy playdates and Casey's sister and how much I was enjoying it all of it). But I mean, if it's a good formula, why change it?

My obsession with the series kind of baffles me because I haven't connected with anything else written by Kelley Armstrong. I've tried several of her other series and nothing clicked with me. But Casey Duncan is life to me. She's one of my favorite characters of all-time and a serious badass. I didn't even try to pace myself with Watcher in the Woods. It would have been a futile effort and I knew it. I also knew that I was going to have one hell of a book hangover when I finished it. One which I'll be reeling from for days to come.

But, oh my God, it was so enjoyable. Once again, Armstrong blindsided me with the mystery. I love it when that happens. Watcher in the Woods did feel more like a set up installment (aka a "bridge" book), which could account for the weak ending and somewhat formulaic plot. A lot was set up in Watcher in the Woods that won't fully develop until the next installment or beyond. I'm totally fine with that. I'll sit right here, on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next installment.

Narration review: This series always reminds me of how much I enjoy Therese Plummer's narration. Narration had a lot to do with my underwhelming experiences with Armstrong's other work, which makes me even more grateful to have Plummer narrating this series. Her characterization for Casey is spot on and she also did a great job of voicing April (an individual with ASD). She gives subtle accents to certain characters, which goes a long way toward, not only distinguishing their speech, but providing added depth to the characters as well. ♣︎

📚 One For the Money by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum, Book 1

Reviewed Feb. 2019

Narrator: CJ Critt
Length: 8 hours 32 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2011

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Summary

Rachel Morgan is a runner with the Inderland Runner Services, apprehending law-breakers throughout Cincinnati. She's also a witch, one of the many Inderlanders who revealed themselves after a genetically engineered virus wiped out 50 percent of humanity. Witches, warlocks, vampires, werewolves: the creatures of dreams and nightmares have lived beside humans for centuries, hiding their powers. But now they've stopped hiding, and nothing will be the same.

On the run with a contract on her head, Rachel reluctantly teams up with Ivy, Inderland's best runner...and a living vampire. But this witch is way out of her league, and to clear her name, Rachel must evade shape-changing assassins, outwit a powerful businessman/crimelord, and survive a vicious underground fight-to-the-death...not to mention her own roommate!

Fun, sassy, filled with action, humor, and romance, Dead Witch Walking is the perfect summer listen for anyone who likes vampires, paranormal fantasy, romance, or just a great beach book.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I know I must be the last person on earth to get to the Stephanie Plum series, but here I am! I've actually tried listening to One for the Money on a couple of different occasions, but it just never hit me right, for whatever reason. This time, I was in the perfect mood for Stephanie Plum, having already been primed by a recent paranormal mystery kick. To be clear, this series is not paranormal, but it seemed like a natural progression from the Charley Davidson series.

I've come to like Stephanie Plum a lot. I definitely like her more than Charley Davidson. I find Plum to be much more relatable and I vastly prefer Evanovich's writing style. I also LOL'd more while listening to One for the Money than I did and all of the Charley Davidson series. Evanovich's humor seems to come much more naturally and it doesn't feel forced. Stephanie isn't necessarily trying to be funny, although she does have a dry, sarcastic humor that I appreciate. Most of her funny moments happen incidentally.

It didn't take me long to realize how much I was enjoying One for the Money. Once that realization hit, I breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn't realized it before that point, but I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to enjoy this audiobook, simply because of its mass popularity. I also got this thrill of excitement, knowing that I had just found a new series to love and one that has 25 installments. This series has practically guaranteed the completion of my 2019 Goodreads challenge and it's only February! But mostly, I was just excited to know that I won't have to search for another great listen for several months while I enjoy this series.

One for the Money is really well written. Janet Evanovich's writing style takes a little bit to get used to, but after that's accomplished, this is actually a pretty easy listen. That is a huge testament to Evanovich as a writer because a lot of mystery novels require a great deal more mental energy to process what's going on, something that's usually harder for an audiobook listener, since multitasking is often involved. I was genuinely surprised at, not only how much I enjoyed One for the Money, but how easy the plot was to follow. I honestly don't remember a single time when I was confused about who was talking or what was going on.

The plot itself was highly engaging. It wasn't overly complex, but I still didn't entirely figure it out before the big reveal. I had a somewhat of an idea of who was behind the "whodunit", but I was never certain. The "big baddie" in this installment was pretty chilling and I could see how the theme of rape and violence against women could be disturbing to listeners particularly sensitive to those triggers. For me, it was definitely unsettling, but not unbearable. Evanovich toed that line very tightly. It was just creepy enough without being psychologically disturbing.

I've just started the second installment, Two for the Dough, and I'm glad to see Stephanie and Morelli team up again. I was worried that Stephanie would have a new male counterpart in this installment, so I'm happy to see Morelli reappear. He and Stephanie have a great dynamic together (I'm a sucker for the "enemies to lovers" trope!). My enjoyment of One for the Money was further amplified by viewing the movie trailer on Goodreads just after beginning the book. I liked being able to visualize the movie characters while listening to the audiobook. I plan on watching the movie sometime soon and continuing on with the Stephanie Plum series immediately.

Narration review: CJ Critt is a new-to-me narrator. Her characterization was excellent in this audiobook and it definitely aided in my processing of the story, especially when it came to knowing who was talking. I wouldn't hesitate to hear something narrated by her again. I know that she narrates the next couple of installments in this series. After that, it seems like Lorelei King takes over the series. Critt did an admirable job in this installment, but I am excited to hear Lorelei King again. She's one of my favorite narrators and I can't wait to get to the point in the series where she takes over, just because of my familiarity with her other work.

If you're one of the few who have yet to try this series, I highly recommend listening to it on audiobook. Not only is the narration superb, the listening experience is smooth and breezy, as well. ♣︎

📚 The Wicked King by Holly Black

The Folk of the Air, Book 1

Reviewed Jan. 2019

Narrator: Caitlin Kelly
Length: 10 hours 21 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio⎮2019

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Summary

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

When two Russian magicians come looking for a man named Alex Karkarov, they hire Lizbeth to find him or his family, but there are problems: The man they're looking for is dead, but he has a daughter they now need to find, as an ever-growing set of sorcerers and gunnies do not want them to succeed. It's a good thing Lizbeth is a deadly gunfighter; too bad she hates sorcerers, even the ones on whom she has to learn to rely.

Number-one New York Times best-seller Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, True Blood, Midnight Crossroad) returns to fantasy in a taut thriller set in a US where magic is an acknowledged truth, but disreputable.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.75 Stars

Holy freaking cow. Holly Black has done it to me again. I cannot believe how good The Wicked King was. I won't say it was better than The Cruel Prince, but it was damn close, let me tell you... I have to give the edge to The Cruel Prince based on its position in the series, but it's not often that a sequel gives a first installment such a run for its money. I'd almost come to accept the fact that sequels are rarely as good as their predecessors, be it books or movies. And then The Wicked King came along.

I started out wondering if I should re-listen to The Cruel Prince, just to refresh my memory. Black doesn't do the best job of "recapping on the run", so it's largely left up to the listener to recall the events of the first book. There's a five month gap between installments in the story, so it doesn't pick up immediately where The Cruel Prince left off. In reality, there was a gap of about a year in between the two books.

Luckily, as the story progressed, the major plot points of The Cruel Prince returned to mind and so did all the feels. I remembered exactly why I was so enamored by The Cruel Prince last year and doubled down on it. The Wicked King had me squirming with excitement. Seriously, Holly Black needs to be a soap opera writer because she definitely brings the drama. That ending practically had me flailing around on the floor in angst and agony. I can't believe I didn't see it coming. I mean, I saw something coming (one always does with Holly Black), but not that.

The Wicked King also made gigantic strides with character development. I can see now that my few criticisms of The Cruel Prince were indeed premature. Black was obviously just setting the foundation for the series in The Cruel Prince and had always intended on "playing the long game". I see that now and I tip my hat to it.

Cardan and was still the most complex character, but The Wicked King allowed for more character growth all-around, with a few exceptions. I hereby bestow the title of the 'most improved' character to Jude. She became a more dynamic character in this installment, as we got to see more of what makes her tick. I found it interesting that Black chose to use Jude's flaws to highlight this. I found it more interesting that the more flawed Jude seem to be, the more I liked her (and related to her).

Taryn, however, was still abysmal. I keep waiting for her redeeming story line, or at least an explanation of her actions from her point-of-view, but I'm not sure we'll ever get it. Black seems content to leave her as a passive (and flat) antagonist. We all know that Locke is going to get what's coming to him, but I really want a redemption arc for Taryn. Black writes sibling bonds extremely well and I need her to make things right between Jude and Taryn. My soul needs it.

Jude has such an interesting family dynamic. It bothers me that I don't think I can get everything I want from it in the one remaining installment. I'm really hoping Black will come out with novellas exploring the various family ties. I'm sure a spinoff series would be asking for too much, but each of these characters has so much potential that I can't stand to see any of it left untapped.

Narration review: It's not surprising that Caitlin Kelly's performance was just as good as it was in The Cruel Prince. I wouldn't expect anything less from her. She has obviously found her "sweet spot" and is making herself comfortable there. I'm beyond happy to see that audiobook community is recognizing her for the talent she is and giving her due credit. In my opinion, being the voice of this series could very well define and elevate Kelly's career. Working with an author like Holly Black is a huge deal. It allows Kelly to shine on a higher level and she has definitely risen to the occasion. ♣︎

📚 Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness, Book 12

Reviewed Feb. 2019

Narrator: Jasmine Blackborow
Length: 9 hours 36 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios⎮2019

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

Summary

Handpicked by Rhys Bowen, Jasmine Blackborow is the dazzling narrator for the 12th installment of Rhys Bowen's best-selling Royal Spyness Mystery series.

Georgie, or Lady Georgiana Rannoch, is busy planning her upcoming nuptials to Darcy O'Mara. Unfortunately, what has started as a simple wedding has become quite a royal headache and grand affair, thanks to a guest list that includes the queen and the appointment of princesses as Georgie's bridesmaids. "If only Darcy and I had eloped!" she thinks, as she attempts to organize her wedding and find a place for her and her husband-to-be to live.

Just as she despairs of ever finding a home, her godfather offers his fully staffed country estate. With Darcy off in parts unknown, Georgie makes her way to Eynsleigh alone, only to find the grounds in disarray, and the small staff suspiciously incompetent. Not to mention the gas tap leak in her bedroom, which is beginning to look like an attempt on her life. Something sinister is afoot - and bringing the place up to snuff may put Georgie six feet under before she even gets a chance to walk down the aisle....

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding was a bittersweet listen. For starters, I had no idea that it had even been released until I stumbled upon it while browsing Audible the other day. Honestly, I wasn't even aware that it was in production. It completely slipped under my radar. I'm ashamed to say that because the Her Royal Spyness series is one of my favorite series of all-time. I even pre-ordered the previous book and counted down the months until its release. I'm not sure if Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding was given a softer release or if I was just completely out of the loop.

Anyway, within about 10 seconds of discovering this title, I had already added it to my cart, checked out, and begun listening. It totally made my week. Bowen opens the audiobook by dedicating it to Katherine Kellgren. For those of you who don't know, Kellgren, narrator of the first 11 books in the series, passed away a few months ago. It was a very emotional time in the audiobook community and hearing Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding really punctuated her loss for me. I wasn't lucky enough to have ever personally interacted with Kellgren, but she touched my life through her phenomenal audiobook narration, particularly with this series. Her Royal Spyness has always been a light and fun series and I'm sure it still is on paper. But my listening experience with Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding was inevitably underlined by thoughts of Kellgren. I was touched by Bowen's heartfelt dedication in which she says that's she can't imagine the audiobooks without her [Kellgren]. That was a beautiful gesture on Bowen's part and it gives us a little insight into the bond between author and narrator.

Story wise, this wasn't my favorite installment of the Her Royal Spyness series. The plot felt somewhat weaker than what I'm used to from Bowen, probably because we spent the majority of the story without any familiar supporting characters. As much as I like to complain about Queenie, I found myself missing her terribly in this installment. Georgie was extremely isolated, figuratively and literally, and her lack of someone to "play off of" caused a lot of the humor to fall flat. Things started looking up when her mother, grandfather, and eventually Queenie were finally thrown into the mix. Darcy did't make a proper appearance until very late in the story, which was a shame because the best installments in the series are those that heavily feature Darcy and Georgie together. I also enjoy George's relationship with her grandfather and wish that we had seen more of that in this installment.

Before beginning, I had assumed that Georgie and Darcy's wedding would be the focal point of this installment. It wasn't and that really disappointed me. The wedding itself takes place in the last five minutes of the audiobook. That really felt like a missed opportunity. I was sure that the plot would revolve around some sort of terrorist scheme threatening to ruin the wedding. That would see much more in line with previous installments of this series. Instead, the actual plot of Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the series.

Although not terrible by any stretch of imagination, Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding felt more like a bridge installment in the series. That's odd, considering it's Book 12, but it's undeniably a transitional period in Georgie's life. The next installment will take place while she and Darcy are on their honeymoon, so it definitely sounds promising!

I was overjoyed to return to the series. Starting this audiobook felt like sliding into the covers of a cozy bed after a long day on your feet. As long as Bowen writes this series, I will be an avid listener. And I'm still holding out hope that it will be adapted for television production! Helen George (of Call the Midwife) would make a marvelous Belinda.

Narration review: Apparently Jasmine Blackborow was handpicked to replace Kellgren by Rhys Bowen herself. I always love it when an author chooses their own narrator (as opposed to them being chosen by a publisher or production company). It feels more genuine that way.

I cannot praise Blackborow enough. It can't have been easy stepping into a series at Book 12, much less attempting to fill Katherine Kellgren's shoes, but Blackborow does it with aplomb. Her interpretation and voicing of the characters was only slightly different from that of her predecessor. I was pleasantly surprised with how remarkably similar her style was to Kellgren's. It made the transition between narrators that much easier to bear. There were a few things that Blackborow pronounced a little differently (i.e. "Rannoch"), but I've heard titles in which a single narrator uses inconsistent pronunciations within a series (or within the same book), so this was not a big deal at all. To be honest, there were some things that Blackborow did that I actually preferred and, after a while, I found it harder to recall the style of Kellgren's narration of the series for the sake of comparison.

Excitingly enough, Blackborow's style brought to mind interviews I've seen with the cast of The Crown in which they discuss the unique British RP accent used by the royal family. There were certain words Blackborow said that struck me as though I was hearing them from Queen Elizabeth herself. One of them was the word "actually". If you follow the British Royal Family at all, chances are that you know precisely what I'm talking about. That one word went a long way in selling Blackborow as a performer to me. She clearly knows what she's doing and she does it magnificently. Her stelar performance has quelled any comparison-based criticisms before they could even be vocalized. Brava! ♣︎

📚 First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Charley Davidson, Book 1

Reviewed Jan. 2019

Narrator: Lorelei King
Length: 8 hours 58 minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2011

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

Summary

Charlotte “Charley” Davidson is not your stereotypical Grim Reaper. She’s sexy, sassy, and likes to help dead people with unfinished business before they cross. She’s more of a bright light kind of girl than a hood with an axe. For her day job, Charley is an Albuquerque private investigator and a consultant to her police detective uncle. Lately, her nights have been steamed up with dreams of a hot mystery lover who may or may not be real. It’s chick-lit meets paranormal with a touch of mystery in the buzz-worthy First Grave on the Right.

Inevitably, this book will be compared to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. They both have feisty female protagonists, snappy dialogue, and zany characters. Veteran narrator Lorelei King also performs the Stephanie Plum books and is well-cast in this novel. What makes her fantastic in the Plum series is her ability to define the voices of all the secondary characters and inject them with interest and distinct personalities. In this performance, she does not disappoint. King seamlessly switches among the characters and has fantastic comedic timing. She elevates the work and keeps the laughs coming.

This is a debut novel from Darynda Jones. It will not be her last; this is clearly a launch for a series. There’s quite a bit of set-up as Charley begins to understand more of her abilities and the presence of other supernatural beings. Jones has created an interesting premise and characters. The mystery element is weak, however, and the writing is on the mediocre side. Jones is at her best with witty dialogue and keeps things moving at a brisk pace. Overall, it’s a fun, breezy listen and an enjoyable escape.

Fans of Janet Evanovich, Lorelei King, and paranormal romance will want to give this new series a listen.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

This wasn't my first go around with First Grave on the Right, but it was the first time I made it all the way through. I've been on a PNR (Paranormal Romance) kick lately. To be honest, I could do without most of the romance, but it's so hard to find good paranormal books without it. PNR has basically consumed the paranormal genre, but that's a rant for another day.

Whatever you call it (PNR/Urban Fantasy), I still enjoyed it. I'm so glad I was able to get through (and enjoy) this book because this is a series that I've been wanting to get into for a while. It's always high everyone's lists of favorite Urban Fantasy/Paranormal series and I was really bummed the first time around when I wasn't blown away by it. I wasn't blown away by it this time either and it's leagues away from the likes of Mercy Thompson or even Sookie Stackhouse, but it was good enough that I was able to finish it in just a couple days.

Charley Davidson was likable enough as a protagonist. I mean, I wouldn't fall on my sword for her or anything, but she was more than tolerable. I could see her growing on me as I continue with the series. Maybe I'm finally acclimating to the PNR genre, but the romantic pairing in First Grave on the Right, actually sort of worked for me. I like that it wasn't run-of-the-mill and it certainly wasn't predictable, especially with one half of the pairing being incorporeal. The big twist at the end regarding the Reyes' identity really surprised me. I'm not sure how to feel about it at this point, so I'll wait for a few more installments before passing judgment.

The only character I didn't really care for was Cookie. Evening her name is annoying. She came across as really trope-ish to me. Other than that, I have no real complaints with First Grave on the Right. The episodic mystery didn't do a lot for me (I can't even remember it), but the larger mystery involving Reyes and Charlie's identities/connection was super intriguing. We were given just enough of a resolution at the end of First Grave on the Right to make me want to continue on with the series right away. This is clearly something that will be an overarching plot throughout the series and I am more than ready to let it string me along. This is definitely a binge-able series, so watch out for a series review once I'm finally finished with it.

Narration review: The phenomenal Lorelei King narrated First Grave on the Right. She also narrated the Mercy Thompson series, of which I am a huge fan. King carried me half way through this audiobook before I really became invested in Charley. Her voice is the stuff dreams are made of. It's absolutely heavenly. To begin with, my subconscious was making connections between Charlie Davidson and Mercy Thompson (because they are both voiced by King) and, on some level, I think that helped me draw more parallels between the two, which certainly aided my overall enjoyment.

King is a wonderful performer, so if you have a chance to hear First Grave on the Right, jump at it! Knowing that she is the narrator makes me want to continue with the series even more, just to hear more of King's voice. ♣︎

📚 Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Fever, Book 1

Reviewed Jan. 2019

Narrator: Joyce Bean
Length: 8 hours 57 minutes
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2008

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

Summary

MacKayla Lane's life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she's your perfectly ordinary 21st-century woman.

Or so she thinks...until something extraordinary happens.

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death - a cryptic message on Mac's cell phone - Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers.

The quest to find her sister's killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed - a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae.

As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister's death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane - an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women - closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac's true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book - because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

I love a good paranormal book and I'm always in search of one. More often than not I'm disappointed. The Patricia Briggs and Anne Bishops of the world are few and far between. Knowing that, I went into Darkfever with semi-low expectations, even though it appears on pretty much all of the top paranormal lists on Goodreads. From the cover, I thought that it would be a cheesy paranormal romance with that horrible writing would turn me off immediately and another one would bite the dust...

Boy, was I wrong. Let me tell you, good writing and good narration really do make all the difference in the world. I'm still surprised at how much I enjoyed Darkfever. That realization dawned on me slowly. Moning started out with a Southern Belle trope of a protagonist but pretty quickly threw her into a foreign land. Right there, all of my premature assumptions about the MC and her actions were thrown out the window, because I've never read anything with a Georgia Peach (a real Reese Witherspoon-type) in Ireland.

To further unsettle my in accurate assumptions, Moning didn't immediately toss our MC into bed with the first hot Irish dude she came across. I mean, he definitely existed and there was a ton of chemistry, but she kept on hating him through the end of the book. Moning allowed the dynamic between them to grow and breathe. There was no suggestion of an immediate pairing, much less a triangle. That's practically unheard of in Paranormal Romance!

Without the distracting presence of insta-love or a love triangle, I was able to focus on the plot at hand. The catalyst itself was nothing particularly new or noteworthy (her sister was murdered, she wants to find out why), but what was intriguing was watching Moning's paranormal universe begin to unfold and take shape. This happened over the course of the book, not in one or two "info dumps". Moning is actually pretty great with pacing her story. She scattered her seeds of world-building in the beginning of the story, they sprang to life in the middle of it and bloomed in the end. This gradual progression made Darkfever really easy to follow. Even if I was a little bit unclear on certain aspects of the world-building at some points, it was never for too long. Moning has a really subtle way of providing clarification, without rehashing.

If you can't tell, I was really impressed with Karen Marie Moning's writing style. At this point, I'm not ready to elevate her to Patricia Briggs status, but I'm definitely eager to continue with the Fever series. It has a ton of potential, especially where the world-building is concerned. I can't wait to see what she does with it.

Narration review: It was a total coincidence that I began listening to this series right after hearing and loving Joyce Bean's narration of Matchmaking for Beginners. To be completely honest, I don't even think I registered the narrator's name before pressing play on Darkfever. But it didn't take long after that for me to recognize Joyce's warm, rich voice. The fact that she could convincingly play an elderly woman in Matchmaking for Beginners and a 22-year-old young woman in Darkfever is a testament to her talent.

I can't overstate this: My listening experience with Darkfever would have been entirely changed (probably for the worse) if it had been narrated by someone else. Mac (the protagonist) is a hit or miss type of character. Because of her age and personality, she could easily be confused with a YA protagonist. From what I recall, she mentioned her nail color by name at least three times during the story (always some shade of pink). Picture Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. If Reese Witherspoon hadn't walked such a fine line during that portrayal, that character would have been unbearably annoying. But instead, she became lovable and endearing.

Joyce Bean's voice has a lower register than most female narrators, which makes her sound more mature. Her voice is exactly what the character of Mac needed to be taken seriously and tolerated through, let's be honest, some ridiculous scenarios. Her voicing of this character influenced and enriched my mental image of Mac. I have no doubt that was by design. A+ casting! ♣︎

📚 Series Review: The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries

Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries

Installments (13+)

The Sookie Stackhouse Novels, also known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries, is a series of books written by bestselling author Charlaine Harris that were first published in 2001 and now serve as the source material for the HBO television series True Blood.

The series is narrated in first person perspective by Sookie Stackhouse. She is a waitress and a telepath in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. The first book in the series, Dead Until Dark, won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Mystery in 2001. The recently released thirteenth book, "Dead Ever After", is the final book in the series.

Please note: Each book in this series is a whole story with a beginning and an ending, however the plot of each book relies heavily on the prior books in the series. It is recommended that you read the full length novels in the order they were published.

Available purchase options for this series (via affiliate links) are located by clicking the cover images and buy links below. Purchasing through them helps keep The Audiobookworm going. Learn more here.

RECOMMENDED FOR LOVERS OF:

True Blood, Paranormal Mysteries, Small Town Cozies, Vamp Lit, Faeries, Charlaine Harris

SUGGESTED AGE GROUP: 18+
A Few Of my favorite things:
  • Sookie's accent
  • Pam's sassiness
  • Eric Northman shower scenes
  • Quinn mixing things up
  • Bubba being passed around
  • Jason's adorkable self
  • Sam's awkwardness around Sookie
  • Sookie's relationship with Hunter
  • BUBBA
  • The length of this series- I didn't want it to end!
  • Details, details, details
  • Novellas and side stories
  • Eric & Sookie's bond

The Audiobookworm's Review

Highlights: Triangles, Television, & World Building

The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, also known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries, will go down in history as one of my favorite series of all time. *mic drop*

*picks mic back up* To elaborate, it is everything that is pure and good in the world of paranormal books. Charlaine Harris is an exquisite author with the uncanny ability to "cozy up" a mystery series without "dumbing it down". This series is the perfect combination of two of her other series. It has the cozy factor of Harris' Aurora Teagarden series, which has been made into Hallmark movies, and the paranormal vibe of her Harper Conelly series.

Over the course of a 13 book series, a certain amount of world building is inevitable, even for the worst authors. However, Harris' descriptive writing made the quaint Louisiana town of Bon Temps as distinct as her characters. This small town coziness is a key element that was missing from the television adaptation True Blood. For that reason, I'm not sure that HBO was the right network to make the adaptation. I mean, HBO doesn't exactly do cozy, do they? They played up the sex appeal and buried the small town appeal of this series. I think HBO (purposefully?) misunderstood the tone of this series.

I didn't mention this in my review of Dead Until Dark, the first book in the series, because the TV show remained largely true to that installment (plot-wise). In fact, it isn't until later in the series that significant plot divergences are made. I have to say that I greatly prefer the book series over the TV adaptation (shocker!). If you are thinking of passing on the book series and just watching the TV show (or maybe you've already seen it and don't want to rehash everything in writing), I strongly encourage you to read the series anyway. I think you'll be surprised at, not only the significant plot differences, but the overall tone the series takes, which directly contrasts that of the show. After the fourth book or so, the book series becomes more like a cousin to the television adaptation, rather than a twin or sibling.

For example, Sookie's romantic life takes a very different path in the series and one which I definitely prefer. Without giving too much away, the book series changed my opinions of several of the key characters. It didn't make me completely switch teams in a primary love triangle, but it evened the odds significantly. In the series, Bill and Sookie have a much healthier (in my opinion) relationship than is portrayed in the show and that really changed my opinion of Bill's character (and Sookie's, for that matter).

Minor spoiler: Eric Northman has a much stronger role in the series and that is one of the biggest differences between the book and show. In the series, he, more so than Bill, is Sookie's primary love interest. Alcide is not really seen as a viable contender for Sookie's heart, but is treated more like a shallow rebound. Instead, her interests (outside of Bill and Eric) focus on Quinn, a character who does not even exist in the TV show.

With this series, Charlaine Harris has proven herself to be a master of world building. This world is made up of so many little details that knit together to create an expansive universe. There are so many side characters, each with unique back stories, that it's understandable why HBO had to cut out the majority of them. The existence of After Dead Proves this point best of all. After the 13th and final installment of the series, here is created a novella detailing, and I do mean detailing, the lives and events of (probably) every character ever mentioned in the series. That was a neat way to say goodbye to the series and it provided closure in a way I've never experienced with a book series before. It went a long way toward healing the hole in my heart that was left after finishing Dead Ever After.

I'm amazed at how quickly I was able to zip through this lengthy series. Harris' writing lends itself to audiobook listening extremely well. I was easily able to listen while I worked. Her straightforward manner of writing is easy to follow and does not require much mental energy to comprehend. She is not prone to fancy flourishes or fluff, but is descriptive all the same. Don't let the length of the series put you off. This series is like potato chips, once you start indulging, you just can't stop. ♣︎

🎙 Narration Review

Johanna Parker

Don't ask me to choose between Charlaine Harris' writing and Johanna Parker's narration because it would probably take the rest of my life to decide. I love them both equally and I also equally credit them with making my listening experience so spectacular. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have heard this series on audiobook from Parker. This is a case in which a narrator was able to elevate a written work above and beyond anything that could be found on the page or produced from the author alone. I do hope Harris realizes what justice Parker has done to this series. I do not hesitate in saying that hearing this series was one of the top three best listening experiences of my life.

Do yourself a favor today: Drink lots of water, take your vitamins, and start the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries on audiobook. You'll thank yourself (and me) later. ♣︎

Overall Series Rating

4.25 Stars

The gush-fest above and my average rating of 4.25 stars for this series may seem contradictory, but my love for this series is really about the underlying fabric and tone that stretched through the entire series, more than specific events in individual installments. It's hard to articulate, but this series just made me so happy and gave me the warm fuzzies while listening to it. That's hard to factor into a star rating.

This was a solid four star series. It wasn't perfect and the first half of the series was slightly better than the later books. I got the distinct feeling that the series changed course after the debut of True Blood (around the 7th or 8th book). Although I didn't enjoy the books after that point as much as the earlier ones, I'm a loyal listener and I was already invested in Sookie, Bon Temps, and the series enough to hang on.

Where To Find This Series

Audiobooks.com

If you are interested in giving this series a shot on audiobook (which I totally recommend!), there are a couple of great options available to you.

In my opinion, your best option for listening to the whole series is from Scribd. Scribd doesn't use credits, so you'll have access to the entire series and the novellas on audiobook. If you haven't tried Scribd yet, I recommend signing up for a free trial using this link, which will add an extra month to your free trial.

This series becomes available through Scribd around the 28th of each month, so be sure to download whatever installment you need soon after that date.

Your other option for hearing this series is, of course, Audible. If you don’t yet have an account with Audible, consider signing up through the banner below to get an extra audiobook with your free trial. Doing so will give me a small commission, but won’t cost you anything.

To sum up: You can get all or part of this series for free and help support The Audiobookworm!