📚 Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

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Passenger #1

Description ⎮Reviewed Jan. 2016

Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Length: 13h 28m
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2016

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮This was my first Alexandra Bracken story. I haven’t gotten to The Darkest Minds series yet, but reading Passenger encourages me to move it up on my TBR. I’m no stranger to time travel fiction. In fact, it kind of seems like that’s all I’ve been interested in lately. Bracken’s take on time travel was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was a wee bit confusing and I’m still not sure I have completely grasped her concept of time and the rules of traveling through it, but I am intrigued enough by its uniqueness to carry-on.

Fondness for this audiobook sort of creeped up on me. I wasn’t immediately hooked, nor was I ever on the edge of my seat with excitement, but that is not its style. This story doesn’t need cheap thrills because it has quality. It has so much promise that I don’t blame Bracken for not giving away all of the goods at once.

Overall, I felt this was a very balanced story. There wasn’t a ton of action and it wasn’t super fast-paced, but I was never bored with it. There was so much to digest, that I came to appreciate the slower pace. It gave me time to develop genuine interest in the plot and tethered me to the welfare of the characters. By the end of the novel, I had developed pretty strong opinions on each of the characters (one way or the other), except the main character Etta. My indifference towards her began to worry me as the story progressed until Rose described her as “a blank slate” near the end of it. It dawned on me that Etta is probably supposed to be somewhat underdeveloped at this point in the story since it’s only the first installment (I had to keep reminding myself of that). This allows the author to develop Etta along the way and let future events in the series mold her further.

Although the romance in this story did have me swooning at times, I’m not in full “shipping mode” just yet. I won’t say it was “insta-love” (thank goodness) because it seems more like lust than love right now anyway. However, I can see how it could develop into a great romance in the coming installments. I am oh so grateful to Alexandra Bracken for not forcing a gag-worthy romance down our throats. I’m even more grateful to her for rejecting an all too common YA plot device, the love triangle.

Nicholas is a very well-developed character and I appreciate how the author uses his race both as means of propelling the “forbidden” angle of the romance forward (in earlier centuries) and using the social injustices done to him to give his character extreme depth. There is so much room for exploration on that front alone. Of the other characters, I am most interested to learn about Rose’s backstory. The tiny tease of her we were given at the very end only left me wanting more of her in future installments. Her sheer badass-ery makes me hope that Etta’s character will mirror it (at least somewhat). And, just spitballing here, I wouldn’t complain about a spinoff series or at least a novella from Rose’s POV…

Narration review: Saskia Maarleveld did an outstanding job narrating. Her character voices were so distinct that I never had any trouble distinguishing points-of-view. Her accents were also very enjoyable and not at all overdone. Just with this one story, she has proven herself to be a very diverse narrator and I am looking forward to hearing her again! ♣︎

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📚 Series Review: The Robert Langdon series

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Installments (4): Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, Inferno

Recommended for lovers of: History, European history, Conspiracies, Mystery, Religious history, Symbols

Suggested age group: 17+

{I’m doing a compiled review for this series because I completed it before becoming a full-time reviewer.}

960 Individual rating: 5 
Although Angels & Demons is known as Robert Langdon #1 in the series, it was actually published 3 days after The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon #2). But don’t ask me why! I read this back in 2006 (and I do mean read, as in the physical version) after immediately finishing (and adoring) The Da Vinci Code, which was being hyped like crazy then. When I first picked up The Da Vinci Code, I had no idea it was part of a series. You can imagine my delight upon learning of this installment and eventually coming to love it even more than The Da Vinci Code. I’m usually a stickler about reading a series in order (it’s a serious pet peeve), but this series was written in such a way that each installment could almost be a standalone novel. I read it 10 years ago, so I won’t do a detailed review. But suffice it to say that even though #1 and #2 are both worthy of receiving these 5 stars, this one edges out The Da Vinci Code by just a nose hair.

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968 Individual rating: 5 
As stated above, this was the book that started my obsession with the Robert Langdon series. I know it gets spit on a lot, but I really, really, enjoyed it. I can see how it might not be suited for those with serious religious affinities, but I’ve always viewed it as an alternate take on religious history. I would recommend it for someone who loves history, but it doesn’t take things too seriously and is able to see this for what is, a work of fiction. To my amateur eye, Brown really seemed to have done his history homework. There were no significant inaccuracies that really bugged me or kept me from being able to enjoy the overall plot. To this day, I have never read anything else like this and it remains one of my favorites.

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6411961 Individual rating: 4 
By the time The Lost Symbol was released, I was an avid fan of Dan Brown. I had its release date marked on my calendar for months. For some reason, I just didn’t enjoy this installment quite as much as the previous two. Maybe it was because so much time had passed between my successive reading of installments #1 & 2. I guess I was expecting it to be sort of like the movie National Treasure, but better. It turned out that I wasn’t as captivated by the Freemason storyline as I should’ve been in order to fully enjoy the story. However, it’s still a good installment to the series and I can definitely see how someone more interested in the Freemasons and Founding Fathers would love this. It just wasn’t my favorite.

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17212231 Individual rating: 5 
After being slightly disappointed in The Lost Symbol, I was worried that my interest in this series was waning. Years went by, I became exceedingly busy, and the release of Inferno somehow slipped under my radar. I stumbled across it in late 2014 and was excited to see that Brown decided to send Robert Langdon back to Italy, where my favorite of his books is set. This was the first of his books I’ve ever listened to on audiobook and while I was a little disappointed that Tom Hanks (who portrays Robert Langdon in two film adaptations) wasn’t narrating, Paul Michael did an excellent job. This installment takes place in another part of Italy than Angels & Demons and focuses on a mystery surrounding the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. When compared to the ratings on Goodreads, it seems that I always tend to enjoy Dan Brown more than the average person and this installment was no exception. It felt like the Dan Brown of old, the one that originally reeled me in with The Da Vinci Code in 2006! ♣︎

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Overall series rating: 4.75 

📚 Series Review: The Raven Cycle

Installments (3*): The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue

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*Fourth and final installment to be released on April 26, 2016

Individual ratings:

The Raven Boys: 4 

The Dream Thieves: 4 

Blue Lily, Lily Blue: 4.5 

Recommended for lovers of: Southern Gothic, Paranormal, Mysticism, Psychics, Welsh Mythology

Suggested age group: 14+

{I’m doing a compiled review for this series because I completed it before becoming a full-time reviewer.}

I initially gave each of these installments four stars when I read them last August (2015). Looking back, I can remember why I gave The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves those ratings, but I can’t recall anything significant enough to detract a whole star from Blue Lily, Lily Blue. The first installment starts off a little slowly, but only to build the incredible setting. This is difficult to appreciate as a first-time listener (or reader) because the setting and context for this story are so unlike what is traditionally seen in the YA genre. The Dream Thieves changes perspective just a bit and focuses more on Ronan, which I’m sure delights his multitude of fans, but Ronan was never my favorite.

Overall, the second installment interested me slightly less than the first, but was still extremely enjoyable. The third (but not final!) installment was much more action-oriented and where the story really seemed to pick up momentum. I’ve decided to bump it to 4.5 stars because this really is one of my favorite series. Over time, the appeal of this series has greatly increased in my mind. The Raven Cycle is like molasses. It’s thick and slow and smooth and rich and completely worth the wait. It’s the good kind of slow. The kind that builds up over time and has more of an impact on you after already consumed. It’s the kind of slow that seeps into your soul and sticks to your ribs. The kind you can’t shake. The vivid imagery of the setting Stiefvater created has withstood the test of time and remains almost just as vivid in my mind today as it was in August. Her writing is so uniquely impassioned that I just can’t help but *Blanche Deveraux swoon*. I’m looking forward to the fourth installment almost as much as I’m looking forward to The Winds of Winter, which is to say one hell of a lot.

Narration review: The other point that really stands out to me is the narration. Kudos to M. Stiefvater (or whoever is responsible) for choosing Will Patton to narrate The Raven Cycle. Whenever I think about The Raven Cycle, I still hear his voice in my head. The writing and the narration are so perfectly paired that it was hard to separate them for review. I don’t think either one would be quite as powerful without the other. Based on voice narration alone, this is quite possibly my favorite narrated series.

Patton’s voice is so soothing, with a sleepy Southern drawl that fits the setting perfectly, without being overly twangy or playing up to stereotypes. Either this guy is really a Southerner or he is just a fantastic actor. He somehow manages to capture the essence of each of the characters individually, while maintaining the same overall reverent, but eerie tone that the story evokes. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the musical additions to the audiobook. If I remember correctly, the author herself composed, arranged, and performed all of the original music for this series, which did so much to set the “feel” of the story and imprint it in my soul. I cannot begin to tell you how much the voice narration and the original music enhanced my audiobook experience with this series. I can count on one hand the number of series that are so improved upon by voice narration that they are actually better than their physical forms. This is in the top three.  ♣︎

Overall series rating: 4.25 

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com and Audible (Kindle Box Set)

💬 Thursday Thoughts & Opinions: Are Audiobooks Right For You?

Are audiobooks right for you?

Pros:

Multitasking

This is my number one reason for being an audiobook addict. There is no way I could have read 15+ physical books last month. I just had too much going on. But with audiobooks, I can dedicate almost 75% of my day to completing a book. How? By listening in the car, while exercising, cooking, cleaning, etc. I play audiobooks the way most people play music. I always have it on. It takes me approximately 2 days to finish an audiobook, without ever sacrificing time for anything else.

Cost-effectiveness*

If done correctly, satisfying an audiobook habit can actually be more cost-efficient than feeding a regular book habit. This will be more true for rapid readers than occasional readers. Audiobook subscription services like Scribd offer ways to listen to audiobooks and read eBooks each month for a flat fee (Scribd=$8.99/mo). Amazon’s Audible is a more expensive choice (starting at $14.95/mo), but it regularly boasts sales and special offers. For more detailed info about how to get the most book for your buck, check out my post overviewing paid audiobook services here.

Less clutter

This one is pretty self explanatory and is particularly beneficial for those with smaller living spaces.

Accessibility

Can’t wait until morning to buy that sequel? If you have an Internet connection, then you have fingertip access to practically any book ever published and can be enjoying it in a matter of seconds.

Proper name/term pronunciation

For the most part, audiobook narrators pronounce character names and terms the way the author intended. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know that Chaol is pronounced Kay-all and not Kale. Bad example, but you get the gist. This may not matter to some people. But for pronunciation sticklers, like me, it’s a perk!

Characterization

To put it simply, narrators do voices. Some actually do them very well and it greatly enhances the listening experience.

Great for auditory learners

If you are an auditory learner, meaning you absorb and retain information better from hearing it, you will probably take to audiobooks like a fish to water. 

Great for those with visual or reading impairments

Also pretty self explanatory, but shouldn’t be overlooked.

Portability

There’s nothing wrong with taking a book everywhere you go, but isn’t it easier to take your phone?

Cons:

Less traditional

From what I understand, this is the biggest drawback for most readers. Some people simply enjoy the feel of a physical book in their hands. I admit that there is something nostalgic about perusing a bookstore for hours and leaving with a new treasure.

No physical collection/bookshelf

Likewise, most readers take pride in arranging (and constantly rearranging) their bookshelves.

Narrator Detractions

This is the biggest drawback for me, personally. Everyone has their preference, but for every great narrator you find, there are two horrible ones you must suffer through. I will say however that an annoying narrator has never caused me to be unable to complete an audiobook.

More expensive for occasional readers

If you only read one or two books a month, and audiobook subscription service may not be worth the cost.

Easier to zone out

This may just be me, but sometimes I will find myself completely “zoning out” (not listening) to an audiobook. That’s usually a cue that it’s time for a break.

Some books lose their “written effect”

Some books have a unique visual style that can lose its effect when read aloud. Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, for example, is largely written as email correspondence between two coworkers. Although I am still enjoying listening to this audiobook, I can’t help but feel that I’m missing some of the author’s intended effect when writing it this way. On the flipside, I think some books are actually enhanced by narration. Books that deal with music or poetry (ex: The Beautiful Creatures series), tend to come to life when read aloud.

 

Are Audiobooks Right For You?
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📚 Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

231649311Description⎮Reviewed Nov. 2015

Narrator: Jot Davies
Length: 13h 43m
Publisher: Random House Audio⎮2014

4.5 ★ Audiobook⎮I thoroughly enjoyed every second of Time and Time Again. After reading so much YA/Fantasy, Elton’s novel was extremely refreshing. This story was somewhat reminiscent of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (one of my all-time favorites) and leagues beyond The First 15 Lives of Harry August. The twists were jaw-dropping, down to the very last sentence. The reader is constantly fooled into thinking they know which way up and which way is down, only to be turned on his or her head by the next chapter. Exciting is a word often overused, but I feel it describes this story perfectly. The pace never slowed, but the listener is always able to keep up. Even throughout all of the twists and turns, I never felt lost. I especially recommend this to anyone with a passion for history and perhaps also to fans of Doctor Who! ♣︎

$ Available at The Book Depository (paperback) and Audible

📚 Series Review: The Luxe series

Installments (4): Luxe, Rumors, Envy, Splendor

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Individual ratings:

Luxe: 4 

Rumors: 4 

Envy: 3.5 

Splendor: 4 

Recommended for lovers of: Historical Fiction, Gossip Girl, 19th century New York, Downton Abbey

Suggested age group: 16+

{I’m doing a compiled review for this series because I completed it before I became a dedicated reviewer.}

The above ratings were given immediately upon finishing each installment. In retrospect, I have apparently grown to love The Luxe series much more since completing it, because I now think my initial ratings were a bit conservative. I have fond memories of The Luxe series and its characters. Diana Holland may actually be one of my favorite characters of all time. The setting for this series still vividly stands out in my mind a year after listening to it. If I had to re-rate, I would probably bump each of the ratings up by .5 stars for nostalgia. I enjoyed this series so much more than Godbersen’s Bright Young Things. It had an incredible narrator and was extremely easy to follow. I was completely wrapped up by the majesty of The Luxe series. I wouldn’t have expected a story about young women in the late 19th century to have been so exhilarating, nor the romances so tantalizingly juicy. This series was basically the 19th century version of Gossip Girl! The more I think about it, the more I love it. ♣︎

Overall series rating: 4.25 

$ Available at The Book Depository (Paperback Box Set), Audiobooks.com and Audible (Kindle Box Set)

📚 Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

7719248Bright Young Things #1

Description ⎮Reviewed Nov. 2015

Narrator: Emily Bauer
Length: 9h 58m
Publisher: Harper Collins⎮2010

3.5 ★ Audiobook⎮My opinion of this dramatically increased during the last two chapters. If the entire book had been as action-packed as those chapters, this easily could have been a four-star book. However, Godbersen devotes most of the story to character-building and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t crazy about any of these characters. They come off as vapid and vain, not to mention child-like (all things that annoy me). These women pale in comparison to those in the Luxe series. I can’t imagine what Diana Holland would think of Astrid Donal. Towards the end of the story, I (thankfully) began to become invested in these characters enough to actually want to pick up the second installment. Cordelia finally elicited a response other than a groan from me. At one point, I was even cheering for her. I just wish that point (and the catalyst for it) had come much sooner in the story.

Narration Review: For the longest time, the narrator (Emily Bauer) was the most enjoyable thing about this audiobook and her narration is what kept me listening. Actually, I can’t say enough about Emily Bauer’s narration skills. Her voice is soothing like silk.  ♣︎

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com and Audible

📚 Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

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Throne of Glass #4

Description⎮Reviewed Oct. 2015

Narrator: Elizabeth Evans
Length: 20h 18m
Publisher: Audible Inc.⎮2015

4 ★ AudiobookQueen of Shadows is huge and I enjoyed every single second of it. Looking back, Maas throws some serious high-fantasy curve balls (and plot twists) but she does so in a way that the reader never misses a beat. She very easily could have worked a love triangle into this book (all the ingredients were there), but she did not. I kept expecting it around every corner, but thankfully, it never came to fruition. Believe me, that is refreshing. Queen of Shadows was the book (#4) that made me fall head over heels in love with this series. I started it immediately after Heir of Fire and was on a high the entire time I read it. When does #5 come out?! ♣︎

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com and Audible

📚 Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

20613470Throne of Glass #3

Description⎮Reviewed Oct. 2015

Narrator: Elizabeth Evans
Length: 20h 18m
Publisher: Audible Inc.⎮2014

3.5 ★ Audiobook⎮For some reason, the first half of Heir of Fire was a little bit slow for me. I read a few books in between Crown of Midnight and Heir of Fire and I think that’s why it took me a little while to get back into this world and the characters. But at least I’ve learned to continue straight on with a series (whenever possible) for maximum enjoyment, which is why I started Queen of Shadows immediately after finishing this one. This installment was action-packed! The third installment in a series tends to be my favorite and this is no exception. I loved the change of scenery and introduction of new characters to keep the plot fresh. It’s already evolved so much from the first book. Maas’ world building skills are wonderful, in my opinion, and I’ve enjoyed her take on character development. Recent plot twists make me want to reread the first two books. I feel like I didn’t enjoy them as much as I could/should have. Those saying that this series only gets better with each new installment are not lying! ♣︎

$ Available at The Book DepositoryAudiobooks.com and Audible

📚 The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

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Fire and Thorns #3

Description⎮Reviewed Dec. 2015

Narrator: Jennifer Ikeda, Luis Moreno
Length: 12h 58m
Publisher: Harper Collins⎮2013

5 ★ Audiobook⎮I started this series a couple of months ago when I was reading several popular fantasy stories and this one was my favorite out of all of them. I loved the character of Elisa from the very beginning. She is beautifully written and so relatable that you can’t help but adore her. In a world of Bella Swan’s, it is incredibly refreshing to read a female character like Elisa (that’s not a knock against Twilight; I’m just contrasting). It’s appropriate that I wrapped up this series while #ReadWomen is trending, because Elisa is not the typical YA female character, mentally or physically. Her character development throughout the series is a beautiful thing to watch. I felt as if I were being vicariously empowered through her as she came into her own.

Needless to say, this series satisfied all of my feminist desires for a YA character, but not in an over-the-top way. It really was beautifully done. I especially liked how the author gently wove spirituality and religion into the story line without ever singling out a particular religion. All the better to please everyone with, I suppose. There was always enough action in The Bitter Kingdom to keep me interested, but not never too much to overwhelm me.

Narration Review: This freaking narrator (Jennifer Ikeda) has the voice of an angel. Her soothing voice nearly lulled me to sleep more than once. She instantly made it onto my favorite narrators list. Without this particular narration experience, I am not sure I would have enjoyed The Bitter Kingdom to the degree that I did. ♣︎

$ Available at The Book Depository (paperback), Audiobooks.com and Audible