📚 Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

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Jane Yellowrock, Book 1

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2018

Narrators: Khristine Hvam
Length: 14 hours 34 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios⎮2010

Synopsis: Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind – a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she’s been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katie’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps.

4★ AudiobookSkinwalker was one of three Paranormal audiobooks I purchased during a recent Audible ‘First-in-series’ sale (the best type of sale, tbh), the other two being Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs and Halfway to the Grave. Despite being the first I heard, Skinwalker was also the last I finished. But get ready for a plot twist because I think Skinwalker was my favorite.

I should clarify that I mean two things by “favorite”: 1) It was the one I disliked the least and 2) It’s the series I would probably continue on with before the others. Skinwalker has more potential than the others (in my opinion, of course) and I would therefore be the most curious to see where the series goes. Of the three, it also gave me a distinct Mercy Thompson vibe, which was precisely what I was looking for. Just look at the cover. That could practically be Mercy.

Let’s break it down: Mercy is a mechanic. Jane Yellowrock built her own motorcycle from scrap parts. Mercy and Jane are both of Native American descent. They are both shape shifters who don’t really know what they are and don’t fit in with their respective packs. There are many more similarities where world building is concerned, but Hunter’s writing style just can’t touch that of Patricia Briggs. In fact, Skinwalker sort of felt like listening to fan fiction from the Mercy-verse.

But I’m not even mad about it (though I can see why people would be). Honestly, I’m so desperate for more Mercy Thompson that I’ll try anything that is even slightly similar to it. I purchased Skinwalker because of these similarities, not in spite of them. I mean, something has to sustain me until Briggs’ next release.

However, I am disappointed that Hunter’s world didn’t seem to be as immersive as I was hoping for, nor was Jane as dynamic of a character. I appreciated the idea of Jane’s absorption of Beast and their subsequent, albeit reluctant, cohabitation and cooperation. But something about it just didn’t click with me. The writing style used for Beast’s POV was offputting and hard to follow. The incomplete sentences made the overall flow of events seem choppy and disconnected.

Speaking of disconnection, something in the writing (I’m not sure what) prevented me from connecting with these characters and fully sinking into their world. However, I’m not completely certain that 100% of this disconnection can be blamed on the book, which is why I’m open to continuing on with the series. The potential is definitely there and I’ll need to hear more of this series to know if more of the problem lies with it or me. Some series take longer to get into than others and I’m really hoping to fall in love with this one with a little extra effort.

Narration review: As soon as I saw that this series was narrated by Kristine Hvam, I clicked ‘purchase’. No hesitation, whatsoever. I’ve heard countless titles from Hvam and have loved them all.She did an adequate job of voicing Beast, which couldn’t have been easy. Hvam’s narration is playing a huge part in my openness to hearing more of this series. I’m always open to hearing more of Kristine Hvam. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

📚 The Millionaire’s Wife by Shalini Boland

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Description⎮Reviewed Mar. 2018

Narrators: Saskia Maarleveld
Length: 7 hours 14 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: Can you ever really know the ones you love?

When a woman is killed on the other side of the world, Anna Blackwell realizes that her past has caught up with her. That her greatest fear is about to come true. That it’s her turn next.

Uncover a web of lies and deceit in this chilling, twisty suspense thriller.

4.25★ Audiobook⎮ I’m new to Shalini Boland, but already impressed. The Millionaire’s Wife was a solidly told thriller. It may not have knocked me off my feet or necessarily even kept me on the edge of my seat, but it definitely kept me listening.

At just over seven hours of runtime, I was easily able to hear all of The Millionaire’s Wife in one day. Boland’s writing style was concrete and straightforward, bordering on simple. You wouldn’t think that style of writing would work well for suspense, but Boland has proven that a good thriller doesn’t have to be overly complex. With a premise as original as this one, there’s no need for convoluted twists and turns.

The plot’s development may have edged toward predictable at times, but never in an unsatisfactory manner. Is satisfyingly predictable a thing? Like when you’re aware of where the plot is [probably] headed, but are okay with it because it’s where you want it to go. Shock and awe isn’t everything, people.

The Millionaire’s Wife was more of a psychological thriller than an all around action-packed adventure. However, the action it did have was well executed. It had the feel of an old film classic, probably starring Julia Roberts or Sharon Stone. Although the main character was a blonde Swedish woman, so Malin Åkerman is probably a more modern selection. Anyway, I could absolutely see The Millionaire’s Wife being optioned for film. 

I plan to return to Shalini Boland the next time I’m in the mood for some quick suspense. I typically turn into Agatha Christie in those times, but it’s nice to have a more contemporary author who can deliver the same effect.

Narration review: I have heard Saskia Maarleveld’s narration before, but never like this. My previous experiences with her as narrator were in the context of Speculative Fiction.  I’ve heard her narrate Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, and Young Adult Fantasy, but never a thriller. I have to say, the performances are not comparable. They’re like apples and oranges. As much as I enjoyed Maarleveld’s previous work, The Millionaire’s Wife was her best performance to date. She seemed comfortable with the material and in her element, vocally. I hope Boland plans on working with Maarleveld again. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

📚 City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

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Description⎮Reviewed Mar. 2018

Narrators: Therese Plummer
Length: 13 hours 47 minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2016

Synopsis: Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: When she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster, and she knows that someday this crime will catch up to her.

Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again.

Diana has heard of a town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton, and if you’re accepted it means walking away entirely from your old life and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval.

As a murderer Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want: She’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding – in fact she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives.

An edgy, gripping crime audiobook from best-selling urban fantasy writer Kelley Armstrong, City of the Lost boldly announces a major new player in the crime fiction world.

4.5★ AudiobookCity of the Lost is my first novel from author Kelley Armstrong. I’ve begun a few of her other titles, but have been put off for reasons varying from narrator dislike to protagonist annoyances. Thankfully, neither of those applied here. I’ve been in the mood for something suspenseful, thrilling, and gritty. City of the Lost checked those boxes and then some. An off-the-grid city for people who want to disappear? My arm needed no twisting to jump into this audiobook.

City of the Lost features the exact type of the protagonist I love. Casey Duncan is flawed, yet tough as nails. She’s also extremely savvy and it’s easy to believe that she is a police detective. She meets my high standards for a heroine with ease. Armstrong is a good enough author that she doesn’t need a conveniently naïve main character in order for her plot to fall into place. And although I had the “whodunit” culprit pegged before the big reveal, there were several other curve balls thrown my way before that revelation, thanks to Armstrong’s delicate weaving of plots and subplots.

Intensely satisfying is the best way to describe City of the Lost. Or maybe intense and satisfying, because it was so much of each. I was there for the mystery, which certainly didn’t disappoint, but the romantic element of the story caught me by surprise. Unlike most other romantic subplots, the progression in between our main character and her man felt natural, not forced or out of place. Like everything else, it fit beautifully into the larger arc of the story. I became overwhelmingly invested in each character individually, as well as their pairing.

My only complaint, if you can call it that, was the final resolution. I wish it had been drawn out a bit more and “shown” more than “told”. Still, City of the Lost left me as satisfied as a cat with a full belly. City of the Lost is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that burns like dry ice. It consumed me from start to finish and, once it was done, I couldn’t reach for the next installment fast enough. Now that I know what Kelley Armstrong is capable of, I won’t be so easily put off by small annoyances with her other work. I’m currently reveling in the excitement that comes from the discovery of a new favorite author, so expect to see a lot more of a Armstrong on The Audiobookworm!

Narration review: Therese Plummer was the reason I even gave City of the Lost a second look. The synopsis intrigued me, but Plummer sealed the deal. I loved her performance in This Savage Song enough that her name and voice have become recognizable me. Plummer does excellent characterization for women and her primary male characterization is one of my favorites. If you haven’t heard anything from her, I suggest correcting that immediately. She has a ton of fantastic titles to choose from and I’m having a blast working my way through them. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

📚 Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

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Night Huntress, Book 1

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2018

Narrators: Tavia Gilbert
Length: 11 hours 17 minutes
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.⎮2010

Synopsis: Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father—the one responsible for ruining her mother’s life. Then she’s captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unlikely partnership.

In exchange for help finding her father, Cat agrees to train with the sexy night stalker until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. She’s amazed she doesn’t end up as his dinner…are there actually good vampires? Pretty soon, Bones will have her convinced that being half-dead doesn’t have to be all bad. But before she can enjoy her status as kick-ass demon hunter, Cat and Bones are pursued by a group of killers. Now Cat will have to choose a side…and Bones is turning out to be as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.

Jeaniene Frost lives with her husband and their very spoiled dog in Florida. Although not a vampire herself, she confesses to having pale skin, wearing a lot of black, and sleeping in late whenever possible. And while she can’t see ghosts, she loves to walk through old cemeteries. Jeaniene also loves poetry and animals but fears children and hates to cook. She is currently at work on the next novel in her best-selling Night Huntress series.

4★ AudiobookHalfway to the Grave was one of three paranormal/vampire titles I picked up in a recent Audible sale. I started it first, because it sounded like it had the most promise. About a fourth of the way in, I switched over to Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs because the main character and her love interest were already grinding my nerves.

As a protagonist, Catherine Crawfield showed a lot of potential. She was presented as a badass vampire slayer, à la Buffy, who happened to be half vampire herself. That last part was what really intrigued me. It’s a new twist on an old favorite. The special abilities Catherine boasts from her vampire lineage and her quest to find her father kept me listening, even through the obnoxious romance subplot. Warning: There’s some Twilight-esque shit going down in this book. You’ve been warned.

Everything I disliked about Halfway to the Grave can be attributed to one character: Bones (what a sexy name for a Vampire boyfriend, right?). It turns out that Vampire romances can still be creepy and problematic in Adult fiction, not just YA. Around Bones, our badass heroine was reduced to a weakling in love. Everything to do with Bones was my least favorite part of the story. I think it would have been so much stronger without his character entirely.

Aside from that, the overall plot was very well done. Halfway to the Grave didn’t have the humor element that Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs did, but it had a much better plot. There was a ton of action, from beginning to end. At times, Catherine was terribly naïve, which seemed inconsistent with her “Vampire slayer” side, but I got over it. I think I would continue on with this series before Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangsbut I’m not immediately reaching for the sequel to either of them.

Narration review: As much as I have enjoyed Tavia Gilbert’s previous work, a big part of her performance in Halfway to the Grave missed the mark for me. Overall, it was very well done, with one major exception. I hated her voicing of Bones. Even just reflecting on it makes my skin crawl. He sounded like someone’s grandpa, not their lover, which was really offputting considering the amount of sexual dialogue he had… I’m positive that the way she voiced him was the main reason I couldn’t connect with the character. The accent was like nails on a chalkboard to me. Not sexy at all.

I hate saying that, because I really do like Gilbert’s other work. And even her other characterizations in this title were admirable. She did a lovely job of providing adequate distinction between characters and imbuing them with personality. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

📚 Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs by Molly Harper

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Half-Moon Hollow, Book 1

Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2018

Narrators: Amanda Ronconi
Length: 9 hours 24 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios⎮2010

SynopsisMaybe it was the Shenanigans gift certificate that put her over the edge. When children’s librarian and self-professed nice girl Jane Jameson is fired by her beastly boss and handed $25 in potato skins instead of a severance check, she goes on a bender that’s sure to become Half Moon Hollow legend. On her way home, she’s mistaken for a deer, shot, and left for dead. And thanks to the mysterious stranger she met while chugging neon-colored cocktails, she wakes up with a decidedly unladylike thirst for blood.

Jane is now the latest recipient of a gift basket from the Newly Undead Welcoming Committee, and her life-after-lifestyle is taking some getting used to. Her recently deceased favorite aunt is now her ghostly roommate. She has to fake breathing and endure daytime hours to avoid coming out of the coffin to her family. She’s forced to forgo her favorite down-home Southern cooking for bags of O negative. Her relationship with her sexy, mercurial vampire sire keeps running hot and cold. And if all that wasn’t enough, it looks like someone in Half Moon Hollow is trying to frame her for a series of vampire murders. What’s a nice undead girl to do?

3.75★ AudiobookNice Girls Don’t Have Fangs could easily have been a four star book for me. It really is as funny as everyone says. Molly Harper’s writing, particularly for dialogue, is witty, clever, and snarky. Out of the three Paranormal audiobooks I started last week, Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs was the one I stuck with and finished first.

It’s immediately clear that this story isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. Much concession in the way of “suspended disbelief” is required. That’s not altogether surprising in the paranormal genre, but Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs was missing certain developmental depths that other paranormal series (i.e. Mercy Thompson, Midnight, Texas) use to make their world building more immersive and their characters more dynamic.

Diving into Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs was like being forced to paddle around in the shallow end of a pool when you really want to dive into the deep end. It’s pleasant enough, but you still want more. What was given in the way of world building was extremely intriguing, but given almost as an aside. I wanted more from Molly Harper. Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs was refreshing in some aspects, but disappointing in others. The premise and the dialogue were excellently primed for capitalization, but the plot was undercooked and somewhat stilted.

Still, I listened to Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs in its entirety and pretty quickly, at that. It was an extremely easy listen that didn’t require a lot of mental energy or focus. Jane Jameson’s (the protagonist’s) dry humor was in line with my own and kept me listening. Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs is great for when you want a light, humorous Paranormal story with one or two steamy scenes thrown in.

Narration review: I’m on the fence regarding Amanda Ronconi’s appointment as narrator of the series. On one hand, I can see why she was chosen. Her southern accent sounded completely authentic and I would be surprised if it wasn’t. It also was refreshing in the way of southern accents, not only because it didn’t sound “put on”, but also because it wasn’t the stereotypical southern accent narrators tend to gravitate towards (you know the one). It hit the right balance between being distinctive and being too thick. Her timing and delivery were also on point, which made Harper’s “zingers” especially funny.

In other areas, however, I found Ronconi’s Pperformance to be lacking. In opposition with the air of naturality used when voicing the protagonist, almost all other characters sounded strained. I applaud Ronconi’s desire to give each character a distinct voice, but many of the female characterizations were over the top and grating, which at times caused me to focus more on the narration than the story. On the other hand, almost all of the male characters sounded alike.

Even so, I will likely still hear more of Ronconi in the future, as she narrates almost all of Molly Harper’s other works. And I do plan on hearing more of Molly Harper’s titles, though I may switch it up a bit before returning to this series. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

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Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2018

Narrators: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 15 hours 48 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s, when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever.

5★ AudiobookBelgravia has been on my list for a while now and I finally decided to hear it because I was in the mood for something Downton Abbey-esque. Julian Fellowes, the author of Belgravia, is also the writer of Downton Abbey. I’ll come right out and say it: If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, there’s a good chance you will enjoy Belgravia. 

It isn’t directly comparable to Downton Abbey, but several indirect comparisons can be made, given Fellowes’ masterful writing signature. Belgravia features a cast of both “upstairs and downstairs” characters. Unlike Downton Abbey, Belgravia followed more than one family. The summary states that “one family’s life will change forever”, but the spotlight didn’t appear to be that exclusive. I can argue that at least two families lives were changed as a result of events surrounding the Battle of Waterloo, possibly even three (by extension).

Belgravia was a 19th-century soap opera. The semi-frequent changes in POV made it feel like the Young and the Restless rotating the spotlight between the Newmans and the Abbotts. I’ve never been one to gravitate toward a Victorian setting, typically finding them stuffy and repressed to the point of mind-numbing boredom, but Belgravia was a welcomed surprise. I’m now convinced that anything Julian Fellowes touches is as good as gold.

One thing fans of Downton Abbey might find disappointing is the lack of focus on the “downstairs” characters (servants). The balance of Belgravia was tipped heavily in favor of the society folk and the servants shown were much less dynamic, usually only acting as plot devices. Still, it worked for me. Belgravia isn’t Downton Abbey, after all. But there are enough broad stroke similarities (via Fellowes) to satisfy. If you’re looking for something to fill the Downton Abbey-shaped hole in your heart, I think this is as close as you’ll come.

Narration review: Oh my! What a performance. Belgravia gave the feeling of having been to see a show at the theater. There were swells of emotion in every direction and the pacing was perfect. Juliet Stevenson is a wonder of the narration world. A third of the way into the book, Stevenson had already knocked my socks off with an emotional monologue. More than any other audiobook narrator in recent memory, Stevenson made me feel the characters’ emotions. She had a direct line to my heart. Her performance was filled with such emanating passion that I frequently had to pause the audiobook and take deep breaths because it felt like the story was unfolding around me.

I venture to say that the audiobook performance of Belgravia could run circles around its book counterpart. Stevenson’s performance transforms the story into something more magnificent than the original work. This is undoubtedly a story that should be heard rather than read. And, for the record, I’m now dying to see Belgravia come to life on screen with Stevenson (an actress) in a leading role. 6 out of 5 stars and a standing ovation. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

📚 A Million Junes by Emily Henry

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Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrators: Julia Whelan
Length: 10 hours 30 minutes
Publisher: Listening Library⎮2017

SynopsisRomeo and Juliet meets One Hundred Years of Solitude in Emily Henry’s brilliant follow-up to The Love That Split the World, about the daughter and son of two long-feuding families who fall in love while trying to uncover the truth about the strange magic and harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations.

June O’Donnell – aka Junior, aka Jack, aka Jonathan O’Donnell IV, aka the first female O’Donnell firstborn – has always been haunted by her family’s mythic but complicated legacy. As she prepares to begin her final year of high school, June is itching to leave behind her ghosts in Five Fingers, Michigan, and travel the world.

And then, just like it always happens to the O’Donnells, a painful glimmer from her past returns to mess everything up.

Enter Saul Angert, the eldest son of Eli Angert, aka June’s late father’s mortal enemy, back in town from a prestigious writing program to care for his ailing father. June can’t seem to avoid Saul, whose very presence makes her ache with grief over her father, and soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic, and strangely tender boy whom she was born to loathe.

When June and Saul accidentally stumble into a bit of the forest magic, they are allowed a glimpse into the past at the fateful, horrible moment that started all the trouble between their families. Now June doesn’t know if this new discovery means she should hate the Angerts even more or if it’s finally time for her – and all of the O’Donnells before her – to let go.

4.75★ AudiobookA Million Junes was a really magical story. I don’t hear a lot of magical realism, so it sort of took me by surprise. By nature, it had this “one foot in the real world and another foot in a fantasy world” vibe that was both eerie and beautiful.

I found it extremely easy to suspend my disbelief for A Million Junes. It was also an incredibly easy listen. I credit Emily Henry’s poetic, yet still down to earth, writing style. It suited the genre perfectly. It wasn’t magical in a fairytale sort of way, per se. It was more like a daydream when your physical body is one place, but your mind is worlds away and you’re aware of both at the same time. Or like that in between place when you’re just waking up in the morning, but not yet fully awake, just hovering somewhere above total consciousness. Yeah, A Million Junes is just like that and it was an amazing experience.

There was also this Romeo and Juliet thing going on that worked better than I would have thought. Don’t get me wrong, that angle is still completely overplayed, but Henry managed to make it work surprisingly well. The rest of the story was fresh enough to keep an old angle from going stale.

The multigenerational aspect of the story was something I thought could have been played up a bit more. I loved Junior and the fact that she is a she, despite being named Jack O’Donnell IV (how very Rory Gilmore of her). But I wish the story had been broken up a little more, possibly with multiple POVs. Still, the incorporation of the wisps was a unique way to give us and the main character first-hand insight into the past, albeit in an indirect nature.

The only thing that slightly bothered me about A Million Junes was that, by the end, it began to feel like it was dragging on and becoming repetitive. Henry could have ended it an hour sooner without any loss of quality. With that said, I still absolutely adore A Million Junes and Emily Henry’s writing. My fingers are still crossed that The Love That Split the World will be available as an audiobook soon. I’ve had my eye on it for a while because of its intriguing premise, and now that I know how much I love Emily Henry’s writing style, I’m even more eager to get my ears on it!

Narration review: Julia Whelan is an amazing narrator. We all know this, don’t we? At this point, after hearing so many of her titles, I’ve come to think of her amazingness as more of a fact than an opinion. I’ve picked up countless of her titles just because they were her titles. Her narration can raise even mediocre storytelling to epic heights.

Needless to say, her performance in A Million Junes did not disappoint. This was an incredible experience on audiobook and I definitely recommend the audio version in order to capture the full impact of it. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

📚 Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

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The Belgariad, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrator: Cameron Beierle
Length: 10 hrs and 28 mins
Publisher: Books In Motion⎮2007

Synopsis: Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil god Torak sought dominion and drove men and gods to war. But Belgrath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe. That was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the man without a shadow had haunted him for years. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved, but did not truly know.
For yet a little while, his dreams of innocence remained safe, untroubled by knowledge of his strange heritage. For a little while… thus begins The Belgariad, an epic fantasy of immense scope set against a history of 7,000 years. It tells of the struggles between ancient gods and mighty Kings, and of men in strange lands facing fated events, all bound by a prophecy that must be fulfilled.

Fantasy fan? Listen to more in the Belgariad series, and its sequel, David Eddings’ Malloreon series.

Guest Reviewer Susan⎮Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings is a classic in the epic fantasy realm. I read them as a kid but only recently have enjoyed the first in the series as an audiobook. Here is my review.

While the premise to Pawn of Prophecy is pretty basic (ancient evil is awakening and a Chosen One may be our only salvation), I still enjoyed it. I read this series as a kid and only recently have discovered them as audiobooks. As an adult, I find that I have a more critical eye. However, I still found myself enjoying this book. Perhaps part of that is nostalgia but I think the characters hold up well even if the plot is pretty much boiler plate.

I really enjoyed Silk for his wit. He pokes fun at other characters but also has quieter moments where he teaches Garion something useful or playful moments when he’s getting up to some mischief. Garion’s Aunt Pol (Polgara) is also a favorite. I love how she insists on keeping Garion clean, presentable, and well fed. She’s the care giver in the group but she’s also one of the sternest characters. She will suffer no foolishness on her watch!

There’s this one scene that really stood out for me because Silk was poking fun at certain social norms. At a big meeting of the nations’s leaders, there are some women present. Some nations expect their ladies to stay pregnant and in the house while other nations have greater equality. Silk pokes fun at the former while praising the later. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps the author was making a little fun of earlier epic fantasy works where the ladies are relegated to minor roles of providing love, comfort, and babies. It’s scenes like this that rekindled my love for this series.

Garion himself is an OK character though I expect I will once again fall in love with his character later in the series. Right now, he really is a bit of a pawn. People want to control him because he could be The One. Yep, the bad guys want him and the good guys in the know want to keep him safe. While that is all pretty standard for several epic fantasies, I still found my self holding my breath during fight scenes or when a bad guy was skulking around.

All told, this was a story that stood the test of time and I’m glad that I have reacquainted myself with it. 4/5 stars

The Narration: Cameron Beierle did an amazing job with his narration. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. I especially love how he managed Silk’s role. Silk speaks multiple languages and likes to go about in disguise, including disguising his voice. I liked his grumpy Belgariad and stern Pol as well. All around, an excellent performance. 5/5 stars


$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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The Folk of the Air, Book 1

Description⎮Reviewed Jan. 2018

Narrators: Caitlin Kelly
Length: 12 hours 36 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio⎮2018

SynopsisBy number-one New York Times best-selling author Holly Black, the first book in a stunning new series about a mortal girl who finds herself caught in a web of royal faerie intrigue.

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him – and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

5★ Audiobook⎮I enjoyed every single second of this audiobook. From start to finish, The Cruel Prince was the kind of wild ride I’ve come to expect from Holly Black. Just thinking back on it makes my head want to explode. My tiny human brain can’t handle all of the faerie awesomeness. Even while listening to it, I couldn’t string together in the right words to describe the amazingness of what I was hearing.

The Cruel Prince was easily the best audiobook I’ve heard in a very long time. It was the last thing I heard before falling asleep at night and the first thing I turned on in the morning. I didn’t want it to end.

Story-wise, I was riveted. The atmospheric setting was highly reminiscent of The Darkest Part of the Forest, but better because almost all of it took place in the faerie world. Before hearing The Cruel Prince, The Darkest Part of the Forest had been my favorite tale from Holly Black. I’ve heard several other of her titles, but this was better than them all. Holly Black obviously knows that she excels at writing faerie stories. She’s also creative enough to be able to stick with the subject without giving the impression of stagnation.

While I prefer the plot of The Cruel Prince, I do think there were a few things Black did better in The Darkest Part of the Forest. When reviewing The Darkest Part of the Forest, I praised Black’s ability to create such a multi-dimensional main character in Hazel. Hazel was an ordinary teenage girl during the day and a Fae warrior at night. By contrast, The Cruel Prince’s protagonist Jude felt more one dimensional. In The Cruel Prince, it seemed as though Black split the characteristics of Hazel into two separate characters, the twins Jude and Taryn. I believe doing so flattened each twin into a less dynamic and less interesting YA trope. I disliked Taryn, tolerated Jude, and adored Hazel.

Taryn was the most stereotypical of the sisters and I began to dislike her increasingly as the sisterly bond was sacrificed at the expense of the plot. Having a boy come between two sisters seemed so unoriginal and overplayed. I can see where that sub plot is leading because I’ve seen it so many times before. But that was the only part of Black’s tale that dared to disappoint me. If the character of Taryn was flat and shallow, Cardan was a layered onion.

I will admit that I judged Cardan completely wrong. I’ve never bought into the whole “boy pulls girl’s pigtail because he likes her” thing– seriously, don’t teach your little girls to put up with that– but Holly Black gave us a valid underlying cause for his behavior. Once I understood his situation, it put his behavior into perspective. It still didn’t excuse it, mind you, and I hope the issue continues to be addressed later in the series. But it’s the equivalent of “boy pulls girl’s pigtail because he likes her and doesn’t know how to appropriately handle such feelings because he has never been shown affection”. See the difference?

Holly Black has addressed psychological abuse in a story about faeries. It’s not a fairytale, it’s a tale about faeries. In my opinion, Holly Black is redefining this section of the genre and we are all benefiting from it. Fantasy genre, this should be the bar to which you all try to measure up.

I know it’s only January, but this may end up being one of my favorite books I hear this year. I’m partially devastated that I’ll have to wait until 2019 for the sequel, but I also know that it will be more than worth the wait.

Narration review: I’ve heard (and interviewed) Caitlin Kelly before, but never like this. Caitlin, congratulations on being able to lend your amazing voice and talents to such an incredible story! Tonally, Caitlin was a perfect match for a faerie story. Her voice has this light, airy quality typically associated with the fae and fantasy, in general.

Kelly’s characters completely hit the mark. I particularly loved her voicing of Oak, the young fae child. She also gave appropriate distinction to Jude and Taryn. The differences in their personalities really came through in the audiobook in a way that should make traditional book readers envious. And Cardan’s emotional depth was intensified to the max. It’s performances like this that make me so grateful to be an audiobook listener. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon and Audiobooks.com

💬 Thursday Thoughts & Opinions: Out of Order

How important is series order?

So, I have these two aunts. They’re alike in a lot of ways, but one of their quirkiest differences stands out every Thanksgiving. Aunt #1 separates all of the foods on her plate so that none of them are touching. Aunt #2 swirls all of her food together until everything is mixed in one giant heap. If you believe in astrology, I should note that Aunt #1 is obviously a Virgo and Aunt #2 is clearly a Pisces. Polar opposites. My own philosophy on this matter is that certain foods go better together than others. I’m not opposed to crossing dishes now and then, if the situation warrants it. Who doesn’t like a little salty and sweet?

What I’m getting at here is that some people prioritize order more than others. When it comes to audiobook listening, I’m more like Aunt #1. There has to be an order and that order should be respected. This is my listening preference based on my own experiences. I insist on hearing a series in order.

Now, there have been times when I’ve accidentally picked up Volume II before Volume I and not even realized it until it was pointed out to me. Ironically enough, I actually started two of my favorite series that way. In sixth grade, a wee Audiobookworm somehow managed to fall in love with the Harry Potter series via The Prisoner of Azkaban (Book #3!). More recently, I got about halfway through Jenny Han’s P.S. I Still Love You before realizing it was the second installment in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series. In both cases, I immediately backtracked and started each series from the beginning.

I don’t care if the author swears up and down that a series can be heard independently. I’ve been burned by that logic before. I also find it impossible to recommend that a series be heard out-of-order, even if I’ve already finished the entire series. Once you understand something (i.e. the nuances of a plot), it’s difficult to see it from the perspective of someone else. That’s another I hesitate to believe every author’s claim regarding their own series order.

Side Note: I actually lost a friend over this in sixth grade. As you know, I started the Harry Potter series with the third book and subsequently backtracked with books one and two. Once I did that, everything made sense. I naïvely recommended the series to a friend in that order (3, then 1 & 2). My misguided order recommendation backfired for my friend, causing her to get a less-than-stellar grade on a book report…

In my experience, it’s a rare book that can be heard independently of its series. I believe stories are meant to be experienced in the order they were written. By the way, chronological order versus order of publication is a topic worthy of its own post. I do acknowledge, however, that some installments are more dependent than others. A “bridge” book, for example, is exactly that: A bridge between two installments in a series. The Harry Potter series is a great example of a “pyramid” series. Each new installment builds upon its predecessor. That’s not to say that there aren’t smaller story arcs that are resolved within each book, though. On that note, I have no idea how 12-year-old me managed to get all the way through Prisoner of Azkaban without having read the first two books in the series. Just what were you thinking, lil’ Jess?

Series order and order, in general, has become much more important to me as I’ve matured. It’s to the point now that I won’t even touch a mid-series book without having heard its prior installments. It’s a major pet peeve. Almost everyone I’ve spoken with about the matter feels similarly. From a promotional perspective, I’ve found that it’s much more difficult to promote a mid-series book alone. Still, the subject of series order is highly subjective. There are those of you who have no trouble whatsoever picking up a mid-series book and running with it. I don’t understand it, but I respect it.

How often do you read series out-of-order? Do you have strong feelings (one way or the other)? What series have you successfully/unsuccessfully read out-of-order?

Bonus: How do you feel about foods touching on your plate?

I can’t wait to see these responses!