📚 Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine

Reviewed Jun. 2019

Stillhouse Lake, Book 3

Narrators: Lauren Ezzo, Will Ropp, Emily Sutton-Smith, Dan John Miller
Length: 11 hours 10 minutes
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2019

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Summary

She can’t ignore a cry for help. But in this remote hunting town, it’s open season.

Gwen Proctor escaped her serial-killer husband and saved her family. What she can’t seem to outrun is his notoriety. Or the sick internet vigilantes still seeking to avenge his crimes. For Gwen, hiding isn’t an option. Not when her only mission is to create a normal life for her kids.

But now, a threatened woman has reached out. Marlene Crockett, from the remote town of Wolfhunter, is panicked for herself and her daughter. When Gwen arrives in the small, isolated rural community, Marlene is already dead - her own daughter blamed for the murder. Except that’s not the person Marlene feared at all. And Gwen isn’t leaving until she finds out who that was.

But it may already be too late. A trap has been set. And it’s poised to snap shut on everyone Gwen loves. Her stalkers are closing in. And in a town as dark as Wolfhunter, it’s so easy for them to hide…

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.75 Stars

Full disclosure: I was a little apprehensive about beginning Wolfhunter River. As much as I loved this first two installments (Stillhouse Lake and Killman Creek), part of me was scared to return to the series. For months, I've been anticipating its release, but when it was time to begin listening, I balked and ended up putting it off for a few weeks.

This series is thrilling, but it's also extremely intense, even dark at times. It's a very heavy series dealing with the court of public opinion. This series causes the reader/listener to ask uncomfortable questions and face uncomfortable truths about society today and our part in it. It doesn't overtly do so, but if you really process the material, it will naturally lead you to such introspection.

Once I did finally gather enough courage to start Wolfhunter River, I was immediately sucked in. I appreciate that Rachel Caine doesn't mind giving us a brief refresher on the events of the past two books. It reminded me of how much I love the character of Gwen Proctor. I'm drawn to fierce, protective maternal characters and Gwen fits that bill better than anyone I've ever read.

The beginning of the story was uncomfortable. Gwen is once again faced with public scrutiny and is seemingly in a no-win situation, but that's what makes this series so unpredictable. I can't see a way out of her predicament because there isn't really a way out of it. Yet Gwen somehow finds a way to go on. I'm telling you, if I were in her situation, I would have thrown in the towel a long time ago and just given up. But Gwen doesn't do that, primarily because of her children, and that's why I love her character so much. She's Cersei Lannister, but without the cruelty.

I saw the most character growth in this installment from Connor. In Killman Creek, I found his character annoyingly childish (...that's possibly unfair since he is a child). In Wolfhunter River, his growth is obvious and I was so proud! He has clearly learned from his mistakes and he seems to have learned a thing or two from his kickass Mom as well. I love seeing how Connor and Lanny are growing up and becoming more savvy. I can't wait to see the type of adults they will become.

Not only are the kids learning from Gwen, but they are also finding out that they are stronger together, as a family unit. This installment saw them stick together and fight common enemies, rather than fighting amongst themselves. They have also welcomed Sam into the family. Every time Sam referred to the children as his children I got totally lost in my feelings. Wolfhunter River showed all four of them working as a cohesive family unit, having each other's backs, and forgiving each other's faults. Bless.

I usually prefer larger series arcs to the more episodic plots of individual installments, but this time was different. The over arching plot of Gwen's life is so tragic that it was nice to lose myself in the details of Ellie White's kidnapping and the other mysterious goings on of Wolfhunter. The end of Wolfhunter River seems to be opening a new door in Gwen's life and I think it paves the way for future installments to resemble this one.

Now that there are three installments out, it's the perfect time for you to hear this series while waiting for the fourth. I overwhelmingly recommend the series, but I do understand if it's not exactly binge-able, due to the high intensity. The writing is incredible and it's not exactly graphic, but it does deal with some pretty heavy stuff. Don't worry if you need to take a break and hear something ligher in between installments.

Narration review: The number one reason I recommend this series is the narration. Starting with the second book, three new narrators are introduced to voice Sam, Lanny, and Connor. The fact that they brought in four narrators for the audiobooks, when they could have easily had the primary narrator continue to voice all of the characters, shows the confidence the publishers have in this series and it is not without reason. Going the extra mile to ensure a well produced and excellently narrated audiobook has vastly improved the listening experience.  The cast of narrators do a wonderful job of handling the POV switch offs and this series is proof that multiple POVs should be handled by multiple narrators. If you are going to give this series a try, do so on audio!♣︎

📚 Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Reviewed Mar. 2019

Narrator: Lisa Flanagan
Length: 17 hours 56 minutes
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2018

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Summary

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders... but her father isn't a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife's dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty--until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers' pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed--and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold. But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it's worth--especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I adored Spinning Silver. Fairytale retellings are always sort of hit or miss with me. Most of them stick to closely to the source material and become predictable. However, Spinning Silver found the perfect balance. It paired fantasy with alternate reality to create something unique, yet subtly familiar.

It's a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin-- sort of. Perhaps retelling isn't the right word. It's about a young girl who can change pennies into gold, but not with magic. She is simply a good businesswoman capable of investing and turning a profit. I found Miryem extremely likable and I was most invested in her story. I appreciate resourcefulness so I found Miryem relatable and easy to root for.

Honestly, I would have been fine if there was nothing more to Miryem's story than this. I thought it was the ultimate swerve. A story that has been told so many times that it has been imbued with fantastical elements over the centuries to give it flair. It reminded me of the Drew Barrymore film Ever After, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. In Ever After, we learn the true story of Cinderella and that she really existed in 18th century France (sans magic). I thought Naomi Novik was going for a similar twist by making Miryem's family Jewish and incorporating real-world elements into her story and I was eating it up.

For the longest time, this was a five star audiobook for me. By the time the secondary POV character, Wanda, was introduced, I was already committed to this story. I didn't dislike Wanda, but she was no Miryem. As the story went on I did warm to her, but still preferred Miryem's chapters. However, I never got the point of Margareta's character or her POV. Not only did she seem useless to the overall story, I think she actually hurt it. Her inclusion did nothing but confuse me. Margareta is the main reason I can't give this five stars, even though I really want to! At a certain point, I decided to just ignore her all together and focus on Miryem and Wanda.

Then, Bam! Novik threw fantastical elements into the mix à la Once Upon A Time and I was swerved again. Luckily, I was able to hang onto my seat. The fantastical elements definitely complicated the story, but I didn't mind them too much. Novik's writing was so incredible that she could have thrown almost anything at me and I would've gone along with it. That's the mark of an amazing storyteller.

Narration review: I've had Naomi Novik's previous novel Uprooted on my TBR list for a while now, but I can never get into it because the narrator's accent is hard for me to understand. I was worried I might face a similar problem with Spinning Silver. Fortunately, that was not the case. Lisa Flanagan does an amazing Russian accent that is authentic, yet still intelligible. The more I listened, the easier it became to understand.

However, her narration did contribute to my confusion regarding the POV characters. There wasn't a lot of vocal distinction made between Miryem, Wanda, and Margareta. Additionally, there were no indicators given when the POV characters were being switched. The most frustrating thing about listening to Spinning Silver was that I was constantly confused about which POV character I was hearing. I'm torn about recommending this audiobook for that reason. In all other respects, Flanagan gave a wonderful performance and one that I genuinely enjoyed. However, reading the physical book would eliminate much of the POV confusion. ♣︎

📚 A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

Reviewed May 2019

Narrator: Harry Lloud
Length: 10 hours
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2015

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Summary

Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin's ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire. These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness.

Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne, there were Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve, but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals - in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg - whose true name (hidden from all he and Dunk encounter) is Aegon Targaryen. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lie ahead for these two...as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must-have collection that proves chivalry isn't dead - yet.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a single audiobook comprised of three previously individually published tales from the Dunk and Egg "spinoff series" (or whatever you want to call it). The events in these stories take place approximately 90 years before the start of the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

I read all three of the Dunk and Egg tales between 2010 and 2015, but I've never heard them on audio. As soon as I discovered Harry Lloyd was narrating, I knew I had to listen. Lloyd plays Prince Viserys Targaryen in the first season of HBO's Game of Thrones.

The three tales are as follows: The Hedge Knight (D&E #1), The Sworn Sword (D&E #2), and The Mystery Knight (D&E #3). I appreciated that A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms packaged all three of these tales in one audiobook, instead of having to purchase three different anthologies, as I did with the books.

I always knew this series would be something that I would revisit in the future. Each of the stories is around four or five hours long, so it wasn't a huge undertaking, unlike A Song of Ice and Fire. Going into this audiobook, I could still vaguely recall the plots of the first two stories. I knew the first one was about the tourney at Harrenhal and the second was about two smaller warring houses. My opinions about those two didn't really change after hearing this audiobook. I remember originally loving The Hedge Night, the first tale. Baelor Breakspear was the breakout character for me. I loved him so much that I actually named a foster dog after him back in 2010. I still really enjoyed it this time around.

I enjoyed The Sworn Sword a little more this time, maybe because I understood it slightly better, but it still my least favorite of the three. I understood it even more after hearing the tale that comes after it, though. The primary plot of The Sworn Sword isn't necessarily what should be focused on. The big takeaway for me was all the mention of the Blackfyre rebellion, treason, and so on, because that carries us into the next tale, where such themes are more prominent. If you go into The Sworn Sword knowing its tension is framed by the first Blackfyre rebellion, it really sets the scene for you and highlights your priorities as a reader/listener. I wish I had known that the first time and I even sort of wish I had heard The Sworn Sword after the third tale.

The Mystery Knight is my second favorite. It doesn't top The Hedge Knight for me (because Baelor!), but I had the best experience with it this time around. I remembered practically nothing from my initial reading for years ago and I actually kept questioning if I had read The Mystery Knight at all. After about 75%, I knew that I had. Even so, I was still swerved by the identity of The Mystery Knight. Out of all of the Dunk and Egg tales, this is probably the one that I will revisit soonest. I feel like I wasn't able to fully digest everything in it and I hope to be able to hear it as a refresher before beginning #4 (whenever that may be…).

On that note, I really loved the little author's note George left us at the end of the audiobook. He says that Dunk and Egg's adventures have only just begun and they will travel to Winterfell, Dorne, everywhere in between, and even to Essos and beyond. Talk about exciting! That's the way to hype a series. I'm so pumped for it. I can't wait to see Dunk hook up with a lass and start his line that will eventually lead to Brienne of Tarth (He's her ancestor- George confirmed). I wonder how far into their lifespans George will take us and if we will see Egg on the throne or even the tragedy at Summerhall! I have so many questions...

Narration review: I flipping love Harry Lloyd. I mean, my love for him pre-dates my listening to this audiobook, but this has only strengthened it. He is so immensely talented that it's unfair. It's actually unfair to other people. His narration of this audiobook was out of this world! They were so many characters in these stories and he gave them all distinct voices and accents, even those who didn't significantly impact the stories. Lloyd is a brilliant actor and he brings every bit of that into the recording booth for this audiobook. Do yourself a favor and listen. It's the perfect "hair of the dog" cure for the hot mess that was the HBO finale. ♣︎

📚 Series Review: Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

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Forward by Casey of Audiobook Empire

When Jess asked me to write a forward for her review of this series, I wasn't really surprised. However, there was one question I did have to ponder. What exactly do you write in a forward to a book review? After thinking about it for a little while, I determined that the best thing to do was to simply explain how it is that she came to listen to this series in the first place.

One night as we were texting about this and that, she asked me if I had any recommendations for her. She was looking for a character driven series. I did not answer her immediately though something did come immediately to mind. A few days later, I told her I had an idea but I wanted to discuss it over the phone. This was because despite her insistence that I know her well enough to have a good idea of what she might like, I still had my doubts. I thought that if she just read the publisher's summary for the first book that she would think I was crazy and move on to something else. But I thought if I gave her some background, nothing in the way of spoilers but something to explain the reason for my recommendation that it would carry more weight.

Of course, we don't talk on the phone very often and I certainly wasn't going to deliver my explanation over text. But eventually we did have that conversation and I sold her on the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz. It turned out, much to my surprise, that I didn't have to sell it all that hard. She said that my mere recommendation was enough. So will my mere recommendation be enough in the future? That is what you will find out in the rest of this review.

Orphan X

Book 1 Review

The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It's said that when he's reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them.

But he's no legend.

Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He's also a man with a dangerous past. Chosen as a child, he was raised and trained as part of the off-the-books black box Orphan program, designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence assets - i.e. assassins. He was Orphan X. Evan broke with the program, using everything he learned to disappear.

Now, however, someone is on his tail. Someone with similar skills and training. Someone who knows Orphan X. Someone who is getting closer and closer. And will exploit Evan's weakness - his work as The Nowhere Man - to find him and eliminate him.

Grabbing the listener from the beginning, Orphan X is a masterful thriller, the first in Gregg Hurwitz's electrifying new series featuring Evan Smoak.

Ohhh, buddy! I felt like I needed to catch my breath after hearing Orphan X. It was hands-down the best audiobook I've heard in a while. The funny thing is that it's probably not something I would have been drawn to on my own, if it hadn't been recommended it to me by a trusted friend.

I sped through this book in two days and it simultaneously felt longer and shorter than that. Orphan X was like a roller coaster ride that only goes up. There was no respite from the adrenaline pumping action and paranoia inducing twists until the end of the book. But this wasn't your run-of-the-mill action thriller. From the start, I knew there was something more to Orphan X.

My favorite thing about this book is that Evan Smoak (a.k.a. Orphan X) isn't just a government trained assassin. In fact, by the time we meet Evan Smoak, his days of running secret op missions are done. Those are all in his past and now he lives a life of vigilante justice, sort of like Batman. Evan uses the skills he learned from the Orphan program to help those in need. That's what makes the orphan X series unique. He's a spy, but he's not running spy missions. He's doing something better.

Other thing that made this book stand out to me was Gregg Hurwitz. His writing was superb, beyond what is usually found in this type of book. Hurwitz understands how to tell a story, better than most. I became so immersed in the details that I felt like I was in Evan's loft with him. The vivid descriptions of his security measures were both stimulating and comforting, if that's even possible. Orphan X was so intelligently written that every detail was by design.

Evan is my favorite protagonist right now. He's smart, resourceful, badass, and... Ahhh! I don't even know how to explain him. He's just so pure and good. His interactions with Peter, a child who lives in his building, were absolute gold. They provided a much-needed contrast to Evan's more lethal interactions with the bad guys in the book.

It would have been so easy for Evan to have been a one dimensional character. So many of the protagonists of spy thrillers are one dimensional. They are killing machines and that's all. It's all about the mission. But Hurwitz makes a point of repeatedly talking about and showcasing Evan's humanity. He is more than his job. He's a guy trying to balance what he does with what's right. We see the roots of this internal conflict in flashbacks to his childhood, before and after entering the Orphan program. Those briefs flashes give a sense of not only where he came from, but who he is because of it and how it impacts him currently. This same internal conflict pops up again in his relationship with Mia and Peter, a mother son do well living in his condo building. These interactions show us that Evan has never really learned how to effectively balance this juxtaposition and it leaves us (and him) wondering if it can even be balanced at all.

That sort of ambiguity reminds me of the way George RR Martin writes his characters. They are neither good nor bad, or rather, they are sometimes good and bad. There aren't always clear answers to the questions posed by the writing, sometimes There are no answers at all. In this way, the writing is reflective of reality. This type of writing holds up a mirror to the reader and encourages introspection.

The Nowhere Man

Book 2 Review

The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It's said that when he's reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them.

But he's no legend.

Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He's also a man with a dangerous past. Chosen as a child, he was raised and trained as part of the off-the-books black box Orphan program, designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence assets - i.e. assassins. He was Orphan X. Evan broke with the program, using everything he learned to disappear.

Now, however, someone is on his tail. Someone with similar skills and training. Someone who knows Orphan X. Someone who is getting closer and closer. And will exploit Evan's weakness - his work as The Nowhere Man - to find him and eliminate him.

Grabbing the listener from the beginning, Orphan X is a masterful thriller, the first in Gregg Hurwitz's electrifying new series featuring Evan Smoak.

As much as I loved the first installment of the series, the second installment fell victim to the sophomore slump. It wasn't terrible, by any stretch of the imagination. If it hadn't followed such a stellar debut, I probably would have liked it a lot more.

I listened to The Nowhere Man immediately after finishing Orphan X, so the two sort of flowed into one. This unintentional uniformity emphasized to the contrast between the two installments. The first major difference is the setting. Orphan X takes place mostly in California, but Evan moves around within it a lot. In The Nowhere Man, Evan is captured and imprisoned fairly soon into the start of the book. After that, the rest of the book takes place while he is in captivity.

To be honest, that was the main downer for me in this installment. Who would want to watch a movie where Batman is imprisoned the whole time? No. You want to see him out doing his thing. I don't have a problem with him Evan being captured, per se. It was a nice change of pace, for a while. The problem was that his imprisonment lasted too long. It wasn't just something that happened to him in the story, it was the story. It was intriguing at first, but it got old really quickly.

This installment introduced some new POV characters and did a great job of setting up a conflict that would arc throughout the next two installments. Hurwitz pulls a bait and switch with his villains. The main antagonist in this installment isn't the real threat. Instead, it's the one lurking in the background that should be focused on. Evan knows this, but still has to deal with what's right in front of him first.

What I'm describing here is the definition of a "bridge book". There's an episodic plot happening, but the more important plot is being set up for the next few books. Because of that, this installment isn't really something you can skip. If you did, you would miss a lot of background information regarding the Orphan program, as well as the development of the next "big baddie".

Hellbent

Book 3 Review

The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It's said that when he's reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them.

But he's no legend.

Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He's also a man with a dangerous past. Chosen as a child, he was raised and trained as part of the off-the-books black box Orphan program, designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence assets - i.e. assassins. He was Orphan X. Evan broke with the program, using everything he learned to disappear.

Now, however, someone is on his tail. Someone with similar skills and training. Someone who knows Orphan X. Someone who is getting closer and closer. And will exploit Evan's weakness - his work as The Nowhere Man - to find him and eliminate him.

Grabbing the listener from the beginning, Orphan X is a masterful thriller, the first in Gregg Hurwitz's electrifying new series featuring Evan Smoak.

Other than the first installment, Hellbent was my favorite book in the series. I was skeptical going into it because the previous installment was a bit of a letdown. But Hurwitz bounced back, all thanks to the inclusion of a new character named Joey. It's not surprising that Joey's introduction was such a hit with me, given how much I loved Evans relationship with Peter, a young boy and his condo complex.

Joey is a teenage girl Evan takes under his wing. He becomes a father figure to her, albeit reluctantly. Their dynamic was pure gold, providing comic relief at times and pulling on my heartstrings at others. It was funny to see how Joey could beat Evan at his own game, using her tech skills. That drove the point home that they needed each other, each possessing skills that the other lacked. There's certainly a generational lesson to be learned there.

There was something so heartwarming about Evan becoming a reluctant parent. He's only ever had one family member and has spent his life trying not to get close to anyone, and then here comes this teenage girl. I'm sure raising a teenager is difficult enough, without all of Evan's professional oddities to consider.

Joey was a fantastic character. She was written exceedingly well. Like an adult, but you know, younger. Which is exactly what teenagers are. She wasn't whiny or petulant. She certainly wasn't bratty. I've thrown a lot of complaints at teenage characters before, but none of them could stick to Joey. I became attached to her really quickly, almost as quickly as I became attached to Evan in the first book. Hurwitz develops his characters beautifully.

Out of the Dark

Book 4 Review

The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It's said that when he's reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them.

But he's no legend.

Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He's also a man with a dangerous past. Chosen as a child, he was raised and trained as part of the off-the-books black box Orphan program, designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence assets - i.e. assassins. He was Orphan X. Evan broke with the program, using everything he learned to disappear.

Now, however, someone is on his tail. Someone with similar skills and training. Someone who knows Orphan X. Someone who is getting closer and closer. And will exploit Evan's weakness - his work as The Nowhere Man - to find him and eliminate him.

Grabbing the listener from the beginning, Orphan X is a masterful thriller, the first in Gregg Hurwitz's electrifying new series featuring Evan Smoak.

I was fortunate enough to have begun listening to this series only a few months after the fourth installment was released and while I still had momentum from binging the first three books. Out of the Dark felt like the ending of a series, even though I'm told there will be more installments to come. If it wasn't the end of the series, I can only assume that Out of the Dark was the closing of a major plot arc.

Out of the Dark provides us with satisfying closure. If it was the end of the series, it would be a great final installment. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that Hurwitz is continuing this series and I can't wait for more Evan Smoak, but I have to wonder what's next. This installment concluded the major conspiracy storyline that was set into motion several books ago. With that concluded, what will Evan do now? Will there be fallout from the major events of this installment? Or will Hurwitz pick at one of the loose threads from The Nowhere Man?

With the main character still very much in play, there are plenty of options for further installments. I would like to see Evan go back to the beginning and continue his vigilante justice, on a smaller scale. Out of the Dark is the culmination of three books worth of events and it took place on a grand/national stage (in D.C.). The change of pace and setting was nice, but I'd like to see Evan back in his loft, helping everyday people.

Out of the Dark had a theme of government conspiracy and that's not really my jam, just because I've already read so much like it. This installment actually seemed more like a generic spy thriller, which is exactly what I didn't want. It was the complete opposite of the first book. Out of the Dark turned Evan Smoak into Jack Reacher type character and took away a lot of what I loved about him in the previous installments. I mean, he was still very much himself in the way that he did things, but it was almost like he was pretending to be a Jack Reacher type. He was doing Jack Reacher things in an Evan Smoak away, if that makes sense.

This is definitely a series worth returning to, possibly even pre-ordering. It has so much potential that I could see it going on for a very long time. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in "spy thrillers", but tired of the same old same. Evan Smoak is a breath of fresh air and Hurwitz's writing is unbeatable!

Buy A Bullet & The Intern

The Novellas

This series seems to have its ups and downs, with the downs not being super low, mind you. But I definitely have clear cut favorites, even among the novellas. Despite the fact that I accidentally read them out of order (I'm so ashamed), Buy A Bullet was so much better than The Intern.

If I'm being honest, you can probably skip The Intern all together. I'm not sure what, if anything was gained from it. Granted, novellas don't normally have a huge impact on the overall story of the main installments, but The Intern actually felt like a waste of time. Thank goodness it wasn't very long and it only cost a little over a dollar (definitely not worth a credit). However, I would be willing to eat these words if one or more of the seemingly random characters introduced in it were to show up in the main series.

On the other hand, Buy A Bullet fleshed out the main character enough to feel like it was actually serving a purpose. It tells the story of Evan's first vigilante mission, almost like an origin story. Especially if you think of his life in two parts, before his "pro bono work" and after. Buy A Bullet is the crossroads between those two paths of his life. It was his turning point, so to speak. The events that transpired in Buy A Bullet directed Evan down the path he is on when we first meet him in Orphan X. That's what made it so interesting to me and well worth the $1.87 I paid for it.

So if you're choosing between the two novellas, definitely go with Buy A Bullet.

🎙Narration Review

Scott Brick

I've heard Scott Brick narrate before, but never like this! I actually checked (more than once) to confirm that he was the same Scott Brick I heard narrate a World of Warcraft book last year. He was, and I'm not saying the previous performance was bad, by any means. But this just goes to show what a symbiotic experience audiobook listening is, because this character and this writing completely transformed my perception of Scott Brick's narration.

Scott Brick will forever be Evan Smoak to me. He epitomizes Evan Smoak, in my mind. While doing my digging, I actually ran across a photo of Scott Brick and had a hard time reconciling his image with the voice coming out of my speakers. I have a clear image of Evan Smoak in my mind (based on Hurwitz's writing) and I refused to believe that I was hearing anyone other than Evan Smoak speak to me. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but I'm hoping hard-core audio listeners will at least semi-understand what I'm saying!

Not only did Brick do a phenomenal job voicing Evan, but he provided a stellar overall listening experience as well. I binged all four books successively and still could not get enough of Brick's voice. I especially love the way he voiced Peter, who is a child, but is described as having a raspy voice. Not having been around a lot of children personally, I was confused by this description, but Brick still managed to pull it off.

I can't wait to hear him narrate the next installment in the series (he better be back as the narrator, so help me…). In the meantime, I plan on exploring more of his work to tide me over until then.

📚 Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

The Hollows, Book 1

Reviewed Feb. 2019

Narrator: Marguerite Gavin
Length: 13 hours 15 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Audio⎮2008

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

Summary

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

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 3.25 Stars

Dead Witch Walking was a big, flat disappointment for me. It took me several months and even more energy to get through it. I should have DNF'd it before the 50% mark when I already knew I wasn't enjoying it, but the plethora of glowing reviews on Goodreads made me think that this was a "me" problem, so I would table it for a while before returning to it. This "tabling" method has worked for me in the past, but each time I returned to Dead Witch Walking, I was more apathetic towards it than before. By the end, that apathy had nearly turned to contempt.

Honestly, the apathy was almost worse than out right hating it. I can't put my finger on the exact reasons I didn't connect with Dead Witch Walking and that's a big part of why I kept returning to it. There was solid world building, some character development, and an action-filled plot, but none of it was good enough for me. I think it boils down to the writing itself. Something about it fell flat. The characters were interesting on paper, but were poorly fleshed out within the story and that's why I failed to connect with them, so by the end of the story, I was merely going through the motions without caring at all. I started Dead Witch Walking during a paranormal phase in which I heard several successive paranormal titles. Some were hit and others misses, but Dead Witch Walking was the biggest miss by far.

Animal fight scenes and abuse play significant part in Dead Witch Walking. I realize that I am extremely sensitive to this topic, so it's not surprising how much of a turn off it was to me. It really turned my stomach and I did have to stop listening for a while after that. In retrospect, I should have stopped listening altogether at the first sign of it, but because it happens so far into the story, I felt that I was too far in to stop.

The most frustrating thing about Dead Witch Walking was its potential. All of my major boxes were checked. There were even some extras teased, such as the female/female witch/vampire flirtation, but nothing came of it. There was a lot going on, yet the story still seemed to drag on forever. The last hour seemed so excruciatingly slow that it was almost painful to finish. That's baffling considering the amount of action involved around the plot's resolution.

I had no problem following the action. There were a few, but not many, "What the hell is going on?!" moments- mostly because this audiobook failed to hold my attention and I was constantly spacing out. The worst part is that, after having just finished this audiobook minutes ago, I've already forgotten the main character's name (Ivy?). I think that says it all. Dead Witch Walking was an audiobook that I couldn't wait to finish and one that I will probably never give a second thought.

Narration review: Unfortunately, Marguerite Gavin's dry narration did nothing to enliven Dead Witch Walking for me. I do not fully hold her to blame for this, however. Separate from this particular story, Gavin's performance would be much more appealing. She gave distinctive performances for the many secondary characters, which helped in the understanding of the tangled web of a plot. I would not be opposed to hearing Gavin perform again in the future, but I'm fairly certain I will be steering clear of anything else from Kim Harrison. ♣︎

📚 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Millenium, Book 1

Reviewed Apr. 2019

Narrator: Martin Wenner
Length: 7 hours 28 minutes⎮Abridged
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2008

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

Summary

A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue....

It's about the disappearance 40 years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden...and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

It's about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet's disappearance...and about Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year-old, pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age, who assists Blomkvist with the investigation.

This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism - and an unexpected connection between themselves.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

I bought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo tattoo in paperback about a decade ago, but I can't ever remember starting it. It was one of those titles that was so hyped when it first came out and then again surrounding the movie adaptation. The hype is what originally compelled me to purchase the paperback, but it's probably also what kept me from reading it. With hype comes pressure and I'm always at least a little hesitant to start a super popular book for fear of not enjoying it the way I think I "should".

Yesterday, I finally decided to tackle this literary "boogie man" that has been sitting on my shelf for the past decade, albeit in a new form. I've somehow been able to avoid major spoilers for the last 10 years and have never seen the movie, so I went into this with a pretty fresh perspective. I've been wanting to hear something intense and edgy lately. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seemed to be just that. I was also intrigued to hear something set in Sweden. I don't think I've ever heard anything set in Scandinavia. I'm not overly familiar with that area, but I know enough to know that I wanted to know more!

On second thought, it seems like I did briefly begin listening to this maybe two years ago. I remember stopping a short way into it and being confused when no girl (who could presumably be the girl) appeared. I was looking for a kick ass female assassin lead and when she didn't quickly appear, I gave up. Not my best moment, but the point is that I did eventually return to it. I know now that Lisbeth Salander (the kick ass female lead) is not an assassin, nor is she the primary character. I probably would have enjoyed this more if she was either of those things, especially if she had been the main character. I found Salander to be a sympathetic character, if not entirely relatable. She's the kind of character you want to protect, even though she would never allow anyone to protect her. She's tough, flawed, prickly, and resourceful. Mikael Blomqvist made less of an impression, but I didn't dislike him. Salander was the star for me. She and Mikael made an odd team, but it still worked.

There was only one aspect of their relationship that made me uncomfortable, but I won't delve too deeply into that for fear of spoilers. The most noticeable flaw in the duo's relationship was that it seemed underdeveloped, as did other parts of the story. The book seemed to lack any smooth transitions which meant I had to listen very closely and even then, I still had trouble following from one scene to the next. I later realized this was because I was inadvertently listening to the abridged version of the story. The unabridged version clocks in at over 16 hours long, while the run time for the abridged version was around 7.5.

Get ready for a rant: The reason I accidentally began listening to the abridged version was because both versions use the same audiobook cover. This cover clearly says "An unabridged production" and it also says "Read by Simon Vance" on the cover even though Martin Brenner narrated the abridged version I was hearing. And no, this wasn't a case of switched covers. There is no cover for the abridged version of the book. This was clearly a ploy to save money by not having to create two covers, but it's the worst money saving, corner-cutting scheme I've seen in a while (in the audiobook world, at least), especially for a best-selling novel from a major publishing house. If I were Martin Brenner, I would be seriously pissed about not having cover credit. Not only does he not have cover credit, but another narrator is credited on the cover of an audiobook read by Brenner, from a major publishing house. That's inexcusable, in my opinion. I don't know if this is something that's common with abridged audiobooks, since I usually try to avoid them like the plague.

The realization that I was hearing the abridged version both infuriated me (for the reasons above) and relieved some of my worries regarding the smoothness of transitions in the book, since abridged versions are notoriously and haphazardly hacked to pieces and then glued together again. I have no doubt that I would have enjoyed this book exponentially more if I had heard the unabridged version. It very well could have been a 4.75 or 5 star book for me. It's definitely something I would want to hear more of. Just thinking about all of the details and background information I've missed out on pisses me off even more. Before this realization, I was debating whether or not to continue with the series, based on my enjoyment level at the time. However, now that I know how much of this audiobook I have missed out on, I feel compelled to at least hear the next installment. Unabridged, of course. I may also be starting a petition to ban, or at least clearly mark, all abridged audiobooks.

Narration review: To be completely honest, I was somewhat disappointed when I realized I wouldn't be hearing Simon Vance narrate. After finishing Fire & Blood, which was also narrated by Vance, I was eager to hear more from him. However, Martin Brenner did an admirable job narrating this version of the audiobook. I've never heard of him before, but I was very impressed with his narration, particularly his pronunciation of Swedish names and locations. It's clear why he was chosen for the job. On that note, I would recommend having a copy of the actual book on hand while listening, or at least familiar rising yourself with the character and location names before listening. The Swedish language is so foreign to me and Brenner's pronunciation was so authentic that I had a difficult time discerning what was being said until actively studying a list of character names. The only other thing I didn't care for was his voicing of Salander. She didn't sound even remotely female, which was especially a problem in her conversations with Mikael, because I couldn't tell who was talking. Other than that, Brenner did a wonderful job and he definitely has Vance beat when it comes to pronouncing Swedish names and phrases. ♣︎

📚 Fire & Blood by George R. R. Martin

A Song of Ice and Fire; A Targaryen History

Reviewed Apr. 2019

Narrator: Simon Vance
Length: 26 hours 25 minutes
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2018

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

Summary

The thrilling history of the Targaryens comes to life in this masterly work by the author of A Song of Ice and Fire, the inspiration for HBO's Game of Thrones.

With all the fire and fury fans have come to expect from internationally best-selling author George R. R. Martin, this is the first volume of the definitive two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros.

Centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones, House Targaryen - the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria - took up residence on Dragonstone. Fire & Blood begins their tale with the legendary Aegon the Conqueror, creator of the Iron Throne, and goes on to recount the generations of Targaryens who fought to hold that iconic seat, all the way up to the civil war that nearly tore their dynasty apart.

What really happened during the Dance of the Dragons? Why was it so deadly to visit Valyria after the Doom? What were Maegor the Cruel’s worst crimes? What was it like in Westeros when dragons ruled the skies? These are but a few of the questions answered in this essential chronicle, as related by a learned maester of the Citadel and featuring more than 80 all-new black-and-white illustrations by artist Doug Wheatley. Listeners have glimpsed small parts of this narrative in such volumes as The World of Ice & Fire, but now, for the first time, the full tapestry of Targaryen history is revealed.

With all the scope and grandeur of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireFire & Blood is the ultimate game of thrones, giving listeners a whole new appreciation for the dynamic, often bloody, and always fascinating history of Westeros.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

I wasn't originally intent on reviewing Fire & Blood. Moreover, I didn't even intend to finish it when I did. I started it as a casual listen late last year after it was released and then picked it up again last week. The Season 8 premiere of HBO's adaptation, Game of Thrones again inflamed my decade-long passion for this series and I needed more.

I decided to review Fire & Blood after it occurred to me that, although I have read all 5 primary installments of the series and every novella I can get my hands on, this was the first audiobook from George RR Martin that I have heard. I read the 5 primary books back in 2010 on my Kindle, way before I got into audiobook listening.

Side note: Yes, I am that person who points out that I've read all of the books in every Game of Thrones conversation. Have you seen the size of those things? I earned the right to brag. It's like if someone gives birth to a 10+ pounds baby. They have earned the right to talk about it for the rest of their life.

Side-side note: Now that I think about it, these books aren't as huge as I remember... But back in 2010, they seemed mammoth.

But back to my point: I was so pumped last week about the Season 8 premiere that I wanted to cram all the Game of Thrones/ASOIAF available into the rest of my week, which lead me back to Fire & Blood. I'm not sure why I went straight to Fire & Blood instead of A World of Ice and Fire, which I also have on audio and in hardback. Maybe because it's newer or maybe because its Targaryen-centric.  

The written styles of A World of Ice and Fire and Fire & Blood are nearly identical. If you're already familiar with the style A World of Ice and Fire is written in, you shouldn't have any problem with Fire & BloodHowever, if you're not familiar with either, allow me to clarify: 1) This is not the next installment of A Song of Ice and Fire (the main series) and 2) This is not written as a fictional narrative. It's written as if it is a history book from the Citadel. The style is that of a work of nonfiction and could therefore be offputting to more casual listeners.

Fire & Blood details the first 150 years of Targaryen rule in Westeros, starting with Aegon the Conqueror and ending midway through Aegon III's rule. [The Targaryens are Daenerys's family.] It was a really odd choice to end this 26-hour book in the middle of someone's reign, but we are talking about GRRM here and splitting books is nothing new to him. It really was as if he just split the Targaryen history down the middle. You think you would have at least finished the account of Aegon III's rule instead of ending it as his regency ended, but whatever, George...

That's why I said I didn't even mean to finish the audiobook when I did. The ending was completely abrupt, but it worked out nicely that I was able to finish it before tonight's episode. I'm actually pretty proud of myself for finishing this. As with A World of Ice and Fire, I thought Fire & Blood was going to be one of those large pieces of reference material that I casually peruse, but never completely consume. But I will say that Fire & Blood seemed more digestible for general consumption than did A World of Ice and Fire. I don't have a physical copy of Fire & Blood, but from what I can gather online, there are only a few black-and-white illustrations and possibly some family trees missing and I think you get PDF versions of the trees from Audible (I listened on Scribd). For that reason, I do recommend the audiobook of Fire & Blood.

However, you will definitely need family trees handy. At the very least, you'll need the Targaryen family tree and possibly the Velaryon and Baratheon trees as well. Trust me, a lot of frustration can be avoided by having these handy from the start. A World of Ice and Fire has a great Targaryen family tree, but make sure it is the updated one. GRRM made major changes to the children of Jaehereys I when writing Fire & Blood, so older editions of A World of Ice and Fire (like mine) won't reflect these latest changes.

It should be noted that Fire & Blood does not completely contain new material. I'd wager that most of it is recycled from the various novellas George has written through the years. For example, a large part of Fire & Blood details the "Dance of Dragons", the battle over succession rights after Viserys I's death. This bit may seem familiar, or even redundant (as it was to me), to those who have read the novella "The Princess and the Queen". This novella was part of the 2013 anthology Dangerous Women, edited by GRRM, and is also recounted in great detail in A World of Ice and Fire. Much of the other material is from previous novellas and A World of Ice and Fire too. Yes, that's disappointing, but I will say that it was nice to have all of this is previously scattered material now available from one source. Hard-core fans and collectors will likely enjoy what this audiobook has to offer.

Narration review: Simon Vance did a fine job narrating Fire & Blood. It wasn't his most impressive performance, but this also wasn't a title where he could show off his vocal skills because it was only narrated by one person (a maester). I can't compare his narration to that of Roy Dotrice, as I've only heard Dotrice's narration in bits and pieces. For what it's worth, I have no complaints regarding Vance's narration. It was a little on the dry side, but so was the material. ♣︎

📚 The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

Reviewed Apr. 2019

Narrator: Emily Lucienne
Length: 18 hours 28 minutes
Publisher: HighBridge⎮2015

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Summary

Maia D'Apliése and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, Atlantis - a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva - having been told that their beloved father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died. Maia and her sisters were all adopted by him as babies, and, discovering he has already been buried at sea, each of them is handed a tantalizing clue to their true heritage - a clue that takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Once there she begins to put together the pieces of where her story began.

Eighty years earlier, in the Belle Epoque of Rio 1927, Izabela Bonifacio's father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into aristocracy. Meanwhile architect Heitor da Silva Costa is working on a statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to complete his vision. Izabela - passionate and longing to see the world - convinces her father to allow her to accompany him and his family to Europe before she is married. There, at Paul Landowski's studio and in the heady, vibrant cafés of Montparnasse, she meets ambitious young sculptor Laurent Brouilly and knows at once that her life will never be the same.

In this sweeping epic tale of love and loss - the first in a unique, spellbinding series of seven books based on the legends of the Seven Sisters star constellation - Lucinda Riley showcases her storytelling talent like never before.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

After hearing a barrage of high impact, adrenaline rushing, plot driven stories, I felt the need to counter with something slower paced and character driven. The series premise for The Seven Sisters caught my attention immediately. Each installment follows a separate sister as she discovers her family background. I was intrigued by the idea of this and knew that it would sate my appetite for character driven stories.

The first installment, The Seven Sisters, is about Maia, the eldest of a set of adopted sisters. After the death of her adoptive father, she sets off from Switzerland to investigate her genealogical origins in Brazil. There was a very nice set up to the story involving Maia's life and upbringing in Switzerland. I particularly enjoyed learning about her relationships with her sisters. Maia leaves lots of loose ends in Switzerland and takes off for Brazil.

Once there, she begins to discover that her biological family has a long and sordid history, although she doesn't yet know how she fits into it. At this point in the story, we begin to receive historical POV chapters from Maia's great-grandmother Isabella. The majority of the story takes place in the 1920s and follows Isabella, whom is living at a point in time in which the Cristo is being constructed in Brazil. The Isabella chapters are admittedly slow, almost to the point of boredom, And it's hard to see the relevance to Maia's life until considerably further in the story.

The length and density of Isabella's story firmly places The Seven Sisters in the historical fiction category, as most of the book takes place in 1927, rather than 2007. Isabella's story was interesting, but it definitely dragged on much too long. I wish it had been broken up with more of Maia's chapters interspersed throughout. We return to Maia at the end of the book and finally see a resolution regarding the integration of the two timelines. Riley took an interesting approach to developing her contemporary character through an ancestor. It is mentioned multiple times how much Maia not only physically resembles Isabella but also shares her temperament, therefore we can use our considerable knowledge of Isabella to further develop the character of Maia, even when she is not speaking.

The Seven Sisters isn't a shock-and-awe type of book, so adrenaline junkies beware: This isn't for you. It took me a while to get through this audiobook, not only because of its length (18 hours), but also because of its sheer density and plodding pace. I found that it was best to take breaks from this title and alternate between listening to it and a faster paced audio. The Seven Sisters provided welcomed reprieves when other titles became too intense. I also found it to be a soothing listen, particularly when my anxiety was heightened. The upside to listening to a dense book is that it was refreshing to be able to immerse myself in it and let everything else melt away.

I am still more interested in the overall series arc rather than the individual stories. The ending of The Seven Sisters reaffirmed my intrigue with its cliffhangers and loose ends. Although Isabella's story concluded at the end of this installment, we are given the sense that Maia's has not. In fact, several questions surrounding her more recent past are raised towards the end of the book.

The ending of this installment introduced another sister's point-of-view, whom the next installment will be centering around. For me, this isn't a series that has me jumping out of my seat to grab the next installment, but I have no doubt that I will eventually listen to it. The writing was so beautiful and detailed.  I recommend this series to lovers of historical fiction!

Narration review: Emily Lucienne provided beautiful narration for The Seven Sisters. She didn't attempt distinct Brazilian accents, which may seem odd considering the book's setting, but the accents that she did provide were done very well. As far as I could tell, the pronunciations were done correctly and they lent an air of authenticity to the story and its setting. I'm pleased to note that each installment will have a different narrator, which seems appropriate for the sisters. I look forward to experiencing them all in the future. ♣︎

📚 Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Amelia Peabody, Book 1

Reviewed Apr. 2019

Narrator: Barbara Rosenblat
Length: 9 hours 54 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2004

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

Summary

Set in 1884, this is the first installment in what has become a beloved bestselling series. At thirty-two, strong-willed Amelia Peabody, a self-proclaimed spinster, decides to use her ample inheritance to indulge her passion, Egyptology. On her way to Egypt, Amelia encounters a young woman named Evelyn Barton-Forbes. The two become fast friends and travel on together, encountering mysteries, missing mummies, and Radcliffe Emerson, a dashing and opinionated archaeologist who doesn't need a woman's help -- or so he thinks.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I'm not crying, you are! Don't mind me, I'll just sit here composing myself after being destroyed by a completely unexpected (and premature?) HEA. I don't normally get like this over mushy stuff and this isn't exactly "mushy", it's just that I became so totally invested in Amelia Peabody, as well as Emerson, Walter, and Evelyn that any little victory of happiness for them has me in a heap on the floor.

I began listening to Crocodile on the Sandbank because I find egyptology and archaeology fascinating. I think I've seen every documentary that exists on the subject of egyptology, but I haven't read that many books pertaining to it. Going into Crocodile on the Sandbank, I thought the Egyptian setting and archaeology premise would be my bread and butter, sustaining me throughout the book. And although that didn't disappoint, it was actually the Peters' characters that proved most interesting.

While listening to Crocodile on the Sandbank, I related to Amelia Peabody hard. First of all, she's hilarious in a dry, sarcastic manner that oddly reminded me of Stephanie Plum, but in a more civilized 19th-century way. Amelia also kind of reminded me of Claire Fraser, in that she seemed at ahead of her time (in Claire's case, she is literally ahead of her time...).

Amelia was clearly written to be an avant-garde protagonist and she nearly pulls it off. Perhaps in the 1970s (when Crocodile on the Sandbank was written), Peabody would have been considered a strong female lead, but in the 21st-century, she doesn't entirely fit the bill. When Emerson enters the story, Amelia "no man is as sensible as me" Peabody slowly morphs into a more traditional 19th-century woman, gradually playing second fiddle to Emerson, personally and professionally. Still, my slight disappointment at this was largely overwhelmed by the hilarious banter between Emerson and Peabody and the fact that they still call each other by their surnames right up to the end of the book. Seriously, that cracks me up.

Overall, I liked Emerson as a character. Sure, he infuriated me to begin with, just as he did Amelia. But he played the role of 19th-century man with a British superiority complex perfectly. Honestly, it was almost hard to stay mad at him because he was being so ridiculously pigheaded that I couldn't help but laugh. And Amelia always put him in his place. But my favorite thing about Emerson was the growth he showed over the course of the book. The effect of Amelia's presence on him was obvious and refreshing. He hadn't done a complete 180 by the end of the book, because that would be unrealistic, but he had mellowed enough to show Amelia's affect on him and that' was adorable.

Minor spoiler: This was the ultimate enemies-to-lovers sub-plot and I am all about that trope! I really didn't see it coming until about 75% into the story. It was that well-developed, almost like a slow burn romance. The last few minutes of the book acted as an epilogue (which gave me all the feels), but also seemed premature, given that 19 more books follow in the series. It makes me wonder if Crocodile on the Sandbank was originally intended to be a standalone.

With all things considered, the mystery was the weaker part of the story for me. It wasn't necessarily a "weak" mystery or plot, just not as strong as the character development (which I was more interested in anyway). I thought the "who" part of the mystery was relatively obvious. It was rather comical when the characters made a big deal of revealing what I had basically known for the last three hours, but there were still some smaller details of it that I hadn't put together (the "how" and "why").

By the 75% mark, I was glued to the story, hanging on every word and fully invested in the characters. That's my biggest take away from Crocodile on the Sandbank. This is a 20 book series- If I'm going to be spending so much time with these characters, I'd better like them and care what happens to them. They are the common denominators between the installments. They are the cornerstone of the series. In Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters has laid a sturdy foundation for my enjoyment of the rest of the series.

Narration review: As many audiobooks do, Crocodile on the Sandbank opens with an introduction from an unknown reader, setting the scene and telling you what you're about to hear. However, in this case, the introductory reader was not so unknown to me. It was none other than Davina Porter, narrator of the Outlander series. Trust me, after spending literally hundreds of hours listening to her voice, I can recognize it at the drop of a hat. Anyway, I remember thinking that I wish I hadn't heard Davina's voice right before listening to an audiobook narrated by someone else, because that someone else had no hope of comparing to Porter... Boy, was I wrong.

There are two recordings of Crocodile on the Sandbank. I purposefully chose the one narrated by Barbara Rosenblat because I recognized her name from Orange is the New Black (she played Miss Rosa). After exactly one sentence, I knew I was in good hands. Audiobooks narrated by experienced actors are generally amazing anyway, but Rosenblat exceeded my expectations. She is incredible. I haven't even heard the sample of Susan O'Malley's version of Crocodile on the Sandbank, but I'm going to go ahead and recommend Barbara Rosenblat's to you because there's no way anyone could have done it any better.

Update- I just listened to O'Malley's sample and I was totally right. Besides, O'Malley only narrated the first six audiobooks in the series, so you would have to eventually switch over to Rosenblat's narration anyway. You may as well start with her from the beginning. ♣︎

📚 The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Reviewed Mar. 2019

Narrator: Andrew Wincott, Esther Wane, Sarah Feathers, Anjana Vasan
Length: 10 hours 32 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2019

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

Summary

A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?

A gripping contemporary Gothic thriller from the bestselling author of the Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries: Wilkie Collins and MR James meet Gone Girl and Disclaimer.

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare's life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer's works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn't hers...

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

I started The Stranger Diaries on a whim after reading the synopsis. It wasn't something that was sitting on my TBR list or on my radar at all. In fact, I've never before heard of Author Elly Griffiths, but The Stranger Diaries has certainly made me take notice.

On the night I started The Stranger Diaries, I stayed up until around 3 AM listening to it. The Gothic atmosphere was absolutely entrancing. There's nothing better than atmospheric writing and I do love a Gothic setting. Griffiths sets the scene beautifully. The setting is somehow creepy and intriguing at the same time, as are many old places. The Stranger Diaries somewhat reminded me of something written by Ruth Ware, except better.

I adored the inclusion of R.M. Holland, a historical figure Griffiths created to provide a backstory for the setting in the plot. He was so realistic that I had to check to see if he actually existed (he didn't). I kept expecting Holland to play a bigger part in the contemporary plot (instead of just inspiring it) and I was disappointed when he didn't. There are a couple of unsolved mysteries surrounding Holland at the end of the book, but I suppose that just makes it more realistic. Holland wasn't meant to be the focus of the book, just a catalyst for it.

I liked Clare Cassidy as a protagonist. I related to her and felt for her.  I especially appreciated her relationship with her rescue dog Herbert. On the other hand, Claire's daughter Georgie rather annoyed me, as teenage characters often do.

Unlike many other reviewers, I didn't have the "whodunit" figured out before hand. I'm not even sure I have it figured out now. It kind of feels like it came out of left field to me. The big reveal felt like a letdown. The first 3/4 of the book are building up this great mystery and there are several ways it could've played out, but the actual ending fell flat for me, which was especially disappointing considering how wonderfully Griffiths had set it up. But, then again, I can't complain too much about a book that had me listening until 3 AM. There's not much I would choose over sleep. I already have the first installment of Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series in my Audible basket.

Narration review: This book was beautifully narrated. It took me a while to figure out that there were three different narrators for the three different points-of-view. I was so consumed with the story that I assumed I was hearing one talented narrator voice Clare, Georgia, and Harbinder!

However, I did notice that the narrator for Georgie was sitting in a little too close to her microphone and it was picking up considerable "mouth sounds" (i.e. lipsmacking). I wouldn't rule out the possibility that it impacted my opinion of the character in some subconscious way. Other than that, this was a phenomenally produced audiobook and I wouldn't be surprised if it won an award or two. ♣︎