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

Reviewed Jul. 2019

Witches of New Orleans, Book 1

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

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The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 Recursion by Blake Crouch

Reviewed Jul. 2019

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

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The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4 Stars

What. A. Whirlwind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury

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

Reviewed Jun. 2019

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

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The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 The Wonkiest Witch by Jeannie Wycherley

Wonky Inn, Book 1

Reviewed Jun. 2019

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

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

📚 The Lost Sisters by Holly Black

The Folk of the Air, Book 1.5

Reviewed Jun. 2019

Narrator: Caitlin Kelly
Length: 1 hour 30 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio⎮2018

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The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Let me start by saying I freaking love this series. However, The Lost Sisters wasn't a huge hit with me. Not that I expected it to be, of course. Taryn has always been my least favorite character in the series, but I was open to giving her the benefit of the doubt by hearing her side of the story in this novella. I hoped that I would hear something that would help me to better understand her motives and respect her character more. Alas, I did not.

I guess I do understand her motives a little better now that she has explained them in this novella, but it doesn't make me like her any better. The Lost Sisters recounts the events of the first book, The Cruel Prince, from Taryn's perspective. It's told in first person as Taryn is rehearsing a speech she intends to give Jude in hopes of justifying her actions.

Taryn's actions did a somewhat surprise me toward the very end of this novella and I almost thought I could like her maybe a little, but that ended up being only a tiny glimmer of backbone and not a huge revelation or turning point. My main problem with Taryn throughout the series is that she is treated more like a plot device than a fully developed character. The Lost Sisters does help in fleshing out her character a bit more, if only by allowing her to tell her tale first hand. There really isn't any more depth added to the character, which was disappointing.

Basically, The Lost Sisters is an hour and a half of Taryn making excuses for herself and justifying her betrayal of her family. There are no groundbreaking revelations. There aren't even any noteworthy insights given. It's just more of the same from a character I already didn't like. 1.5 hours was more than enough time to further develop this character, but I have a feeling the author doesn't know how to make that happen (maybe because the character is extraneous?!). Taryn seems sort of like a deadend character to me, so I'm glad this novella ended rather quickly, but it was already becoming circular in nature.

If I remember correctly, I picked up this novella when it was on sale. I definitely wouldn't have been happy if I had paid full price for it ($5) or {gasp!} a $15 credit. If you're super into this series like I am, you may still be interested in giving this a listen. But if not, you're not missing anything spectacular. I'm still holding my breath for a prequel type of novella about Jude and Taryn's parents. That would be far more interesting than rehashing events that have already transpired within the series.

Narration review: The one thing I can't complain about is Caitlin Kelly's performance. I continue to be amazed at how she differentiates between the characters of Jude and Taryn. Even though this novella was using the singular voice of Taryn, I was never in doubt of whom I was hearing. Kelly captures Taryn's voice and personality so well that she does more to distinguish the character in my mind of than the writing does.♣︎

📚 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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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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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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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

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

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".


Book 3 Review

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

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

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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. ♣︎