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

Reviewed Sep. 2019

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

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 3.25 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

📚 The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield

Reviewed Sep. 2019

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

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

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Wisp

Reviewed Aug. 2019

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 Queen Victoria’s Granddaughters by Christina Croft

Reviewed Aug. 2019

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

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

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Reviewed Aug. 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 You’ve Been Volunteered by Laurie Gelman

Reviewed Jul. 2019

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

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

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

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed Jul. 2019

Witches of New Orleans, Book 1

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

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

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 Recursion by Blake Crouch

Reviewed Jul. 2019

Narrator: Jon Lindstrom, Abby Craden
Length: 10 hours 47 minutes
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2019

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From the New York Times best-selling author of Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines trilogy comes a relentless thriller about time, identity, and memory - his most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.

“An action-packed, brilliantly unique ride that had me up late and shirking responsibilities until I had devoured the last page...a fantastic read.” (Andy Weir, number-one New York Times best-selling author of The Martian)

Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome - a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease - a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

What. A. Whirlwind.

I heard and devoured Dark Matter by Blake Crouch two years ago, so I didn't wait very long after the release of Recursion to begin listening. Blake Crouch tackles science fiction in such a tactile manner, that it becomes extremely easy for novices such as myself to digest and appreciate all the science fiction-y goodness, or as Doctor Who would put it "Timey Wimey" stuff.

Also Recursion doesn't exactly deal with time travel, it's more of an alternate universe (AU) deal, similar to Dark Matter. Even so, it's enough to make your head hurt. I'd be willing to bet a hefty amount that no one on this planet fully understands the concept of time travel or alternate universe theory and all the intricacies that accompany it. Yet, Crouch does a well enough job of keeping the reader/listener up to speed on his spin on the concept. Is it flawless? No. Do I have more questions than answers? Probably.

Crouch does something a lot of other science fiction authors missed the memo on: He includes his audience in the explorations. He doesn't assume that we all have a certain level of knowledge about these things. His novels are extremely digestible for the average partaker and I say this as an average partaker (and someone who watches Doctor Who, for whatever that's worth). I was able to breeze through the first 3/4 of Recursion with minimal head scratching and while my focus was divided most of the time (because what audio listener doesn't multitask?). As far as science-fiction goes, this is among the most reader-friendly stuff I've come across.

Although I think I enjoyed Dark Matter just a tad bit more, I can see how Crouch's style has slightly changed since his last release. My largest complaint with Dark Matter was that I felt like Crouch had written himself into a literary corner and the climax was a little underwhelming. With Recursion, Crouch seemed to over correct. He again found himself in that literary corner (which George RR Martin knows all about), but this time the ending was overly dramatic and unnecessarily prolonged.

He had me until the last quarter of the book. Part Four got weird. It was a redundant pattern of disaster after disaster and I got tired of it pretty quickly. It actually seemed to slow the book down, even though the pacing was the same. The repetition of events, à la Groundhog Day, got quickly became old and exhausting and I was just ready for a resolution and the end of the book by then. The resolution, when it came, it was definitely underwhelming. There hadn't been a lot of explanatory build up for it, so it kind of came out of left field. No matter, I was glad that it came at all. Crouch's imaginings of various apocalyptic resolutions were inventive and intriguing, I just think he had too many of them.

I enjoyed the first 3/4 enough that the slogging last quarter can be filed away as irrelevant. I'll definitely still be picking up any Blake Crouch novels to come. I enjoy the way he writes science fiction and I'm hoping he's still figuring out how to untangle these seeming "plot knots" he creates. He writes some of the most digestible science fiction out there, so I definitely recommend Recursion and Dark Matter to SciFi newbies and anyone else who doesn't critique the genre too seriously.

Narration review: Recursion was a dual narration from Jon Lindstrom and Abby Craden. Although I've never heard anything from either of them before, I wouldn't hesitate to listen to either of them again. Both narrators did an excellent job. I would've listened to it even if Recursion was single narration, but having two narrators was a perfect fit. It made the alternating chapters, POVs, and simultaneous timelines much easier to follow. That can't be emphasized enough. Anything narrators and audiobook producers can do to make this sort of plot easier on the listener is always appreciated. For that reason alone, I 100% recommend Recursion on audiobook. ♣︎

📚 Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury

The Bitter Battle Inside Britain's Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII

Reviewed Jun. 2019

Narrator: Veida Dehmlow
Length: 15 hours 22 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Audio⎮2015

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The personal lives of the British royals were successfully kept out of the public eye by mutual agreement of the press and royal family, but this all changed in 1936, when King Edward VIII abdicated the throne and spurned his responsibility for the sake of the glamorous American socialite and divorcee, Wallis Simpson. In Princes at War, Deborah Cadbury reveals evidence that the duke and duchess of Windsor colluded with Hitler to take back the British throne from Edward's younger brother, King George VI, should Germany prevail in the war.

Drawing on new research and recently released files, Deborah Cadbury shows that not only did George VI have to battle to lead his country but he had to battle constantly to keep his brothers, and especially his older brother, in check.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Princes at War. I don't often hear nonfiction titles, so it surprised me to become so enraptured by the picture Cadbury was painting before me. She truly is a phenomenally talented author to have been able to make this history come so alive in my mind. I have heard other titles on the subject, but none captured my interest the way Princes at War did.

Princes at War takes us step-by-step through the abdication crisis and World War II. I know that World War II is of particularly great interest to many historians and history enthusiasts, but it has never been my jam. I much prefer the Edwardian and Victorian eras. This was the first audiobook I've heard that so heavily dealt with the subject of the second world war. Of course, I'm familiar with the major events from school, but what made Princes at War so intriguing was that the events were told from a royal perspective. As an avid royal history enthusiast, I ate it up and asked for more.

I began listening under the impression that the book would focus on The Duke of Windsor and George VI. That's where most authors tend to focus, given the drama surrounding the abdication crisis. But I was delighted upon realizing that Deborah Cadbury had devoted significant chunks of her book to the other two brothers, The Duke of Gloucester and The Duke of Kent. Last year, I heard another audiobook centering on The Duke and Duchess of Kent, but I have yet to find one that provides so much information on Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester. He must seem a bit of a bore to biographers since he was not involved in the abdication crisis and did not die a tragically young death. It was enlightening to learn how much George VI leaned on The Duke of Gloucester, with the latter often serving as regent during Princess Elizabeth's minority, and of the effect that had on their relationship.

Having already read titles focusing on George V and Queen Mary, The Duke and Duchess of Kent, and The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Princes at War filled in a lot of the gaps where The Duke of Gloucester was concerned. It also provided a more inflammatory view of The Duke and Duchess of Windsor's activities during that time. I have found that works centering around that particular couple tend to be bipolar, either romanticized or scandalized, with very little overlap. Princes at War didn't pull any punches. There were hard-hitting allegations of treason on the part of The Duke of Windsor and Wallis was basically called a Nazi spy. I've never read anything so direct with its implications. Like I said, most material on the matter either falls into the "greatest love story ever told" category or the "gold-digging Nazi spy" category. This was the definitely latter, so if you're one of those who likes to romanticize the Windsor's relationship, you'll definitely want to stay away from Princes at War. 

For me, the directness of such claims was hard to swallow at first, but Princes at War frequently sites official military intelligence and letters of the time as sources, so it seems pretty legit. It's looking more and more likely that some sort of revisionary cover up happened, so I'm planning on hearing 17 Carnations soon to compare accounts. The only other Wallis Simpson biography I've heard downplays the whole ordeal, which piques my interest further.

I was expecting Princes at War to be a rehashing of a story I've heard 1000 times, but it ended up giving me a lot more new information than I expected. Not only was there new information given, but it left me with new questions I'm eager to have answered.

Narration review: Veida Dehmlow did a fine job of narrating princes at war. Her performance was engaging enough to easily hold my attention, while still lending an air of seriousness and respectability to the work. She offered a few accents here and there, which seemed appropriate considering the multitude of countries and characters involved. But I did notice that she never attempted an American accent. It would have been especially appropriate, given the dominating presence of Wallis Simpson in the narrative, but it may have been that Dehmlow did not feel comfortable attempting such an accent, in which case I applaud her judgment. ♣︎

📚 The Wonkiest Witch by Jeannie Wycherley

Wonky Inn, Book 1

Reviewed Jun. 2019

Narrator: Kim Bretton
Length: 4 hour 20 minutes
Publisher: Jeannie Wycherley⎮2019

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Alfhild Daemonne has inherited an inn.

And a dead body.

Estranged from her witch mother, and having committed to little in her 30 years, Alf surprises herself when she decides to start a new life.

She heads deep into the English countryside, intent on making a success of the once popular inn. However, discovering the murder throws her a curve ball. Especially when she suspects dark magick.

Additionally, a less than warm welcome from several locals persuades her that a variety of folk - of both the mortal and magickal persuasions - have it in for her.

The dilapidated inn presents a huge challenge for Alf. Uncertain who to trust, she considers calling time on the venture.

Should she pack her bags and head back to London?

Don’t be daft.

Alf’s magickal powers may be as wonky as the inn, but she’s dead set on finding the murderer.

Once a witch, always a witch - and this one is fighting back.

A clean and cozy witch mystery.

Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in this fantastic new witch mystery series, from the author of the award-winning novel, Crone.

Listen to The Wonkiest Witch now!

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I started The Wonkiest Witch on a complete spur-of-the-moment whim and I'm so glad that I did! I've been listening to a lot of intense, action packed, even dark stuff lately and it's been taking its toll on me. I knew I needed something light and fun, but had no idea what. The Wonkiest Witch was right under my nose and it was just what I needed.

I've just finished organizing an audiobook blog tour for The Wonkiest Witch, but wasn't planning on listening to it myself. However, when I began reading the tour reviews and hearing how much everyone was loving it, I knew it was something I had to try. I was teetering on the edge of a listening slump and The Wonkiest Witch was like a splash of cold water to my face. It was a quick, light, and fun listen, as expected. But what I wasn't expecting was how involved I would become in the story.

The premise may seem slightly familiar at first: A witch who has shunned her powers and magical ancestry suddenly finds herself in a situation where she must face her magic- and her past- head on. But what sets The Wonkiest Witch a part is the absolute brilliance of the writing. Cozy mysteries are something that I want to love, but unfortunately, I've been spurned by juvenile writing too many times to keep returning to the genre that I could so easily adore. If all cozies were written this well, wouldn't life be lovely?!

The Wonkiest Witch combines magical world building with the coziness of a British murder mystery set in a small English Village. Think Midsomer Murders, if inspector Barnaby was a witch. Bizzarre, I know, but that's what kept popping into my mind as I was listening. It's an atmospheric story and the setting perfectly complements the protagonist.

What surprised me most about The Wonkiest Witch was how well Wycherley was able to pace the story. It's just over four hours long, but I don't exactly feel short changed by the short runtime. Of course, I would have loved it to have been longer, but it didn't need to be. Wycherley told a complete story and probably provided more background information and well-developed characters than do most 8-hour stories.

The Wonkiest Witch was a solid, well-rounded, and satisfying tale. I will 110% be listening to the next installment, which I'm told is only weeks away from being released on audio! I would binge this series in a heartbeat if it were already available. It's heartwarming and adorable, yet substantive at the same time. The Wonkiest Witch is the perfect little witchy cozy mystery and a magical start to a series.

Narration review: From the first sentence, Kim Bretton's narration had me hooked. Her voice was the first thing I noticed about this audiobook and it propelled this story from good to great.  Her narration was absolutely delightful and she is clearly a talented performer. Her voicing of Alf, the protagonist, was wonderful. But what really shook me was her voicing of the secondary characters. She switched between accents seamlessly, with each of them as authentic as the one before it. That actually had me wondering about her natural accent, which I will have to investigate, because I honestly could not tell which one was native to her. They all seemed so natural.

If you're planning on giving The Wonkiest Witch a try (which I suggest you do, since it's likely better than whatever cozy you've heard lately), try it on audiobook! Bretton's performance amplifies the magic of the story in a way you have to experience to believe. ♣︎