📚 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

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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

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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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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

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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

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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. ♣︎

📚 Circe by Madeline Miller

Reviewed Mar. 2019

Narrator: Perdita Weeks
Length: 12 hours 8 minutes
Publisher: Hachette Audio⎮2018

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The daring, dazzling and highly anticipated follow-up to the New York Times best seller The Song of Achilles

One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2018

"An epic spanning thousands of years that's also a keep-you-up-all-night page turner." (Ann Patchett)

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child - not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring, like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power - the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur; Daedalus and his doomed son, Icarus; the murderous Medea; and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and pause-resisting suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, and love and loss as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.75 Stars

My fascination with Greek mythology is something that I haven't visited in many years, yet I still jumped at the opportunity to hear Circe.

I didn't immediately recall the figure of Circe from my high school studies. Luckily, that didn't impact my experience with this audiobook at all. After Odysseus enters the story, I did remember Circe as the somewhat of an antagonist in The Odyssey. As an eighth grader, I was very much pro-Penelope while reading The Odyssey. Since Circe is presented as one of Odysseus's obstacles in returning to his wife and son, she certainly wasn't a sympathetic figure. However, Madeline Miller changes all that.

Circe is our protagonist here, so we are meant to root for her. Miller makes that increasingly easy as the story progresses. Circe is known throughout history as the goddess of sorcery, but Miller portrays her in a more recognizable light, introducing the label of "witch" to mythology. In fact, if you didn't know you were listening to the story of the goddess of sorcery, Circe could have been one of many wood witches in modern literature. That is not to say that this story was "run-of-the-mill", but that Miller puts a new spin on the story of Circe by combining two recognizable themes: Witchcraft and Divinity.

Circe is both a goddess and a witch. We recognize her as a "nature witch" or "woods witch". Circe's abilities may come from her divinity, but she uses fruits of the earth to channel them. She uses herbs and plants to create elixirs and potions. She communes with wildlife. These things tie her to the earth. Towards the end of the novel, Telemachus quotes his father Odysseus by saying that he had never known a goddess who reveled in her divinity less than Circe. Calling a goddess "down-to-earth" seems ironic, but that is exactly what Circe strives to be and it makes her all the more relatable.

But it was Miller's writing that most brought Circe to life. The story contains one point-of-view, that of Circe. By keeping the story as single point-of-view, it places us in the shoes of Circe, making it easier to connect with her. This was a story that could have easily become a tangled mess. The amount of names and relations bandied about could make your head spin. That was always the most frustrating part of studying Greek mythology. Miller's simplistic, yet beautiful, writing style eases this frustration. The story emits a sort of existentialism. From beginning to end, we cross centuries in time and see generations born and die, all through the same character's eyes. It was a unique experience, for sure. Miller did an excellent job of providing us an immortal's point-of-view, while at the same time presenting Circe with mortal problems (i.e. having a mortal son who can so easily be harmed).

From recent research inspired by the story, I know that Miller omitted certain key aspects of Circe's life, particularly towards the end. I find this interesting because it seems like she took such care to be true to Circe's story before that. It may be that tales of the end of Odysseus's life vary, but in the account I read, Circe plays a large role in the end of Odysseus' and Telemachus' lives. This deviation may be because Miller decided to downplay Circe's abilities as a necromancer. I'm very interested in further looking into the varying accounts of the key players lives.

Circe is a story that I will ponder for years to come. Having just finished it, I can't help but feel that I haven't yet experienced its full impact. The writing was exquisite; the pacing, perfection. I'm now eager to begin The Song of Achilles from the same author. Achilles is a figure I've always felt was over exposed, but I'm now curious to see what Madeline Miller can do with him.

Narration review: Perdita Weeks may possess one of the most chillingly beautiful voices I've ever heard. During this performance, I forgot that I was listening to an audiobook narrated by Perdita Weeks. Weeks became Circe and Circe was divulging the details of her life to me. Weeks slipped into the body of the character like slipping on a glove and told the story with Circe's voice. I can't recall a more perfect casting than Perdita Weeks as Circe. While listening to the audiobook, I could almost see Circe as well as hear her. The beauty in Weeks' voice stunned me almost as much as that of Miller's writing. The two combined to provide me with an memorably explicit listening experience. ♣︎

🎁 Tools To Succeed by Antonio Páez

Reviewed Mar. 2019

Narrator: Pam Rossi
Length: 1 hour
Publisher: Antonio Paez⎮2019

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This audiobook provides the listener with tips and techniques to improve business know-how. The author offers proven techniques from experienced businesspeople that will help you on the path to success.

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

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.25 Stars

I don't have a lot of time to review these days, but I accepted Antonio Páez's review request for Tools to Succeed for two reasons: 1) It's only an hour long and 2) I felt it was extremely relevant to me.

As a small business owner, I'm constantly looking for ways to improve. As soon as I heard the sample for Tools to Succeed, I knew that this audiobook would be an invaluable asset to me. I've never had any kind of formal business education, so Tools to Succeed was a welcome listen. As I was listening to the sample and debating whether or not I could get anything of value from listening to the entire audiobook, I found myself taking mental notes of valuable tidbits, just from the sample. I knew that if I was already deriving value from a <5-minute sample, the full audiobook was definitely worth hearing!

I was not wrong. Páez's concise writing style was extremely digestible. Some of the information discussed in Tools to Succeed is bound to be basic to those already well-immersed in the business world, but to me, it was enlightening. Tools to Succeed is a great introduction to business. Páez utilizes inspirational quotes from recognizable figures, primarily Albert Einstein, to motivate the listener and drive salient points home. He breaks the audiobook up into four main points, using the four Ms: Mindset, Money, Marketing, and Management.

Certain portions of the audiobook were more relevant to me than others. As a one person business, the bits about delegation and management don't necessarily apply to me right now, but they may in the future. I found the chapter on God out-of-place and distracting. As someone who does not regard herself as a faith-based individual, that chapter was not only irrelevant to me and even a bit disconcerting in a title that isn't specifically marketed to persons of faith. In an audiobook that's only an hour long, I was disappointed to have not been able to get anything out of an entire chapter in it. If I had been reading this of my own accord and not as a review request, I would have skipped over it entirely. However, I can see that religious individuals would gain inspiration from applying the "let go and let God" attitude to their business, as well as personal life. If you are a faith-based individual, this complaint will likely not apply to you. If you are not, I recommend skipping the chapter. It isn't very long.

Other than that, I can't tell you how much I got out of listening to Tools to Succeed. It's a one hour version of a Business 101 course at the cost of $4.86! I definitely plan on listening to it again, probably multiple times. I really want to internalize the individual concepts. I like that the audiobook download comes with PDF charts that are frequently referenced during the audiobook. During my first time listening, I was not in place to look at these reference materials, but I plan on studying them in detail during my next listen. While listening, I had the frequent urge to take notes. Páez offers multiple nuggets of wisdom that I want to remember. But since I was listening in the car, I'll have to take notes during my next listen, as well.

Páez not only covers 101 topics, but also some more in-depth business models and concepts. Towards the end of the audiobook, he begins referencing specific number related examples. I'm particularly eager to re-listen to and further process these sections. I view Tools to Succeed as valuable reference material and I will doubtlessly be putting the concepts learned in it to immediate use in my business.

Narration review: Pam Rossi provided a clear, articulate, and easy listening experience. Her pacing was natural and she held my interest effortlessly. She presented the concepts discussed in a professional manner that allowed me to concentrate on the topic at hand, rather than her narration. The recording was high-quality and contained no distracting elements. If you are interested in Tools to Succeed, the audiobook comes with my highest recommendation. ♣︎

📚 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games, Book 1

Reviewed Feb. 2019

Narrator: Carolyn McCormick
Length: 11 hours 11 minutes
Publisher: Scholastic Audio⎮2008

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Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I originally read The Hunger Games somewhere around 2008 in anticipation of the movies release. I read it on my Kindle, since that was quite a few years before my foray into the world of audiobooks. The Hunger Games has remained one of my most favorite series of all time. I'm not much of a re-reader, but 11 years seemed like enough time for me to forget enough of the little details so that I would be able to enjoy the story again, almost as new. I'm trying this new strategy to combat listening slumps. Whenever I'm in a listening slump, I'm going to reach way back in my library and find a book that I enjoyed before I began listening to audiobooks. Then I'm going to hear that book as an audiobook and see if/how the different format changes my view.

I initially gave the book five stars and I'm sticking to that for the story portion of this audiobook. While listening to it, the same emotions that I originally felt more than a decade ago flooded me once again. I think the story has aged well so far. I didn't see it with new eyes or anything like that. Maybe more time has to go by for that type of experience. But I did remember why I loved it so much to begin with.

And yes, I'm still #TeamPeeta.  I was from the very beginning, even though it was never as much of a debate as the Team Jacob versus Team Edward. I think that was my favorite part of this experience, or re-experience. Listening to The Hunger Games made me feel 20-years-old again. I was both relieved and thrilled to find that my excitement and appreciation of Suzanne Collins work was just as alive as it was in '08. It had just been lying dormant for a while. For me, this was a "somethings never change" kind of experience and it's great to have those now and then. I guess the word for it is nostalgia.

Next up: Twilight.

Narration review: Given the fact that I started listening to this audiobook just for the narration and to see if/how my experience with Collins' work would differ with the audiobook format, I was quite disappointed in Carolyn McCormick's performance. There was nothing egregiously wrong with her performance, but she very clearly was not the right choice to narrate the series. I'm especially confident in this opinion knowing that the majority of listeners seem to share it.

For starters, McCormick clearly did not get the memo that this is a young adult book. On one hand, I like that she didn't sound too young and innocent because that would have been wrong for Katniss and the hunger games as well. However, try as I might, no amount of suspension of disbelief could make me buy into McCormick as a teenager. I found McCormick's narration to be more than a little distracting. It wasn't a situation in which I considered stopping listening, but Susan Collins writing deserved a better performance, in my opinion. That's why I'm shaving .5 stars off of my total rating. The story itself is still five stars, the narration deserves about four stars, so my total rating is 4.5 stars for this audiobook.

My narration frustration was compounded after I realized that there is another version of this audiobook which is narrated by Tatiana Maslany. I'm still kicking myself for choosing the wrong version of the audiobook. Maybe, after another decade goes by, I'll give that one a try. The Tatiana Maslany-narrated audiobook is the one that I recommend to you. I wasn't expecting the audiobook to be narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, but Maslany  is certainly closer to that mark than McCormick. Unfortunately, Maslany only narrated the special edition of book one in the trilogy. If you want to hear books two and three, you'll have to put up with McCormick's narration. As for me, I think I'll skip them, at least until another anniversary edition comes out with a different narrator. ♣︎

📚 Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong

Casey Duncan, Book 4

Reviewed Feb. 2019

Narrator: Therese Plummer
Length: 11 hours 30 minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio⎮2019

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Watcher in the Woods is the next gripping installment of number-one best-selling Kelley Armstrong's riveting Casey Duncan series. 

The secret town of Rockton has seen some rocky times lately; understandable considering its mix of criminals and victims fleeing society for refuge within its Yukon borders. Casey Duncan, the town's only detective on a police force of three, has already faced murder, arson, and falling in love in the several months she's lived there. Yet even she didn't think it would be possible for an outsider to locate the town and cause trouble in the place she's come to call home.

When a US marshal shows up demanding the release of one of the residents but won't say who, Casey and her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, are skeptical. And yet only hours later, the marshal is shot dead, and the only possible suspects are the townspeople and Casey's estranged sister, smuggled into town to help with a medical emergency. It's up to Casey to figure out who murdered the marshal and why someone would kill to keep him quiet - before the killer strikes again.

The Audiobookworm's Review

Rating: 4.75 Stars

I effing love the Casey Duncan series so much. It will go down in history as one of my favorite series of all time, along with Harry Potter and ASOIAF. There, I said it. And yes, I did move heaven and earth (credit-wise) to get this audiobook when I could've waited two more weeks to access it through my Scribd account. But it was a give it to me now or I will implode type of thing and I regret nothing.

I ravenously tore through the first three books in the series last year. It was one of my most enjoyable binge sessions of 2018. Watcher in the Woods was on track to be just as good as its predecessors until the last 5% of the book. It ended more with a fizzle than a bang, but honestly, it didn't matter that much to me. The first 95% was so incredible that Armstrong really would've had to have sh*t the bed to upset me at that point. I should probably lower my rating to 4.5 stars to account for that, but this is such a solid series that I really don't feel like nitpicking it.

Objectively-speaking, this wasn't the strongest installment in the series. In retrospect, the plot formula was rather similar to previous installments, but I didn't notice that at the time (probably because I was too busy freaking out over puppy playdates and Casey's sister and how much I was enjoying it all of it). But I mean, if it's a good formula, why change it?

My obsession with the series kind of baffles me because I haven't connected with anything else written by Kelley Armstrong. I've tried several of her other series and nothing clicked with me. But Casey Duncan is life to me. She's one of my favorite characters of all-time and a serious badass. I didn't even try to pace myself with Watcher in the Woods. It would have been a futile effort and I knew it. I also knew that I was going to have one hell of a book hangover when I finished it. One which I'll be reeling from for days to come.

But, oh my God, it was so enjoyable. Once again, Armstrong blindsided me with the mystery. I love it when that happens. Watcher in the Woods did feel more like a set up installment (aka a "bridge" book), which could account for the weak ending and somewhat formulaic plot. A lot was set up in Watcher in the Woods that won't fully develop until the next installment or beyond. I'm totally fine with that. I'll sit right here, on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next installment.

Narration review: This series always reminds me of how much I enjoy Therese Plummer's narration. Narration had a lot to do with my underwhelming experiences with Armstrong's other work, which makes me even more grateful to have Plummer narrating this series. Her characterization for Casey is spot on and she also did a great job of voicing April (an individual with ASD). She gives subtle accents to certain characters, which goes a long way toward, not only distinguishing their speech, but providing added depth to the characters as well. ♣︎

📚 One For the Money by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum, Book 1

Reviewed Feb. 2019

Narrator: CJ Critt
Length: 8 hours 32 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2011

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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: 4.5 Stars

I know I must be the last person on earth to get to the Stephanie Plum series, but here I am! I've actually tried listening to One for the Money on a couple of different occasions, but it just never hit me right, for whatever reason. This time, I was in the perfect mood for Stephanie Plum, having already been primed by a recent paranormal mystery kick. To be clear, this series is not paranormal, but it seemed like a natural progression from the Charley Davidson series.

I've come to like Stephanie Plum a lot. I definitely like her more than Charley Davidson. I find Plum to be much more relatable and I vastly prefer Evanovich's writing style. I also LOL'd more while listening to One for the Money than I did and all of the Charley Davidson series. Evanovich's humor seems to come much more naturally and it doesn't feel forced. Stephanie isn't necessarily trying to be funny, although she does have a dry, sarcastic humor that I appreciate. Most of her funny moments happen incidentally.

It didn't take me long to realize how much I was enjoying One for the Money. Once that realization hit, I breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn't realized it before that point, but I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to enjoy this audiobook, simply because of its mass popularity. I also got this thrill of excitement, knowing that I had just found a new series to love and one that has 25 installments. This series has practically guaranteed the completion of my 2019 Goodreads challenge and it's only February! But mostly, I was just excited to know that I won't have to search for another great listen for several months while I enjoy this series.

One for the Money is really well written. Janet Evanovich's writing style takes a little bit to get used to, but after that's accomplished, this is actually a pretty easy listen. That is a huge testament to Evanovich as a writer because a lot of mystery novels require a great deal more mental energy to process what's going on, something that's usually harder for an audiobook listener, since multitasking is often involved. I was genuinely surprised at, not only how much I enjoyed One for the Money, but how easy the plot was to follow. I honestly don't remember a single time when I was confused about who was talking or what was going on.

The plot itself was highly engaging. It wasn't overly complex, but I still didn't entirely figure it out before the big reveal. I had a somewhat of an idea of who was behind the "whodunit", but I was never certain. The "big baddie" in this installment was pretty chilling and I could see how the theme of rape and violence against women could be disturbing to listeners particularly sensitive to those triggers. For me, it was definitely unsettling, but not unbearable. Evanovich toed that line very tightly. It was just creepy enough without being psychologically disturbing.

I've just started the second installment, Two for the Dough, and I'm glad to see Stephanie and Morelli team up again. I was worried that Stephanie would have a new male counterpart in this installment, so I'm happy to see Morelli reappear. He and Stephanie have a great dynamic together (I'm a sucker for the "enemies to lovers" trope!). My enjoyment of One for the Money was further amplified by viewing the movie trailer on Goodreads just after beginning the book. I liked being able to visualize the movie characters while listening to the audiobook. I plan on watching the movie sometime soon and continuing on with the Stephanie Plum series immediately.

Narration review: CJ Critt is a new-to-me narrator. Her characterization was excellent in this audiobook and it definitely aided in my processing of the story, especially when it came to knowing who was talking. I wouldn't hesitate to hear something narrated by her again. I know that she narrates the next couple of installments in this series. After that, it seems like Lorelei King takes over the series. Critt did an admirable job in this installment, but I am excited to hear Lorelei King again. She's one of my favorite narrators and I can't wait to get to the point in the series where she takes over, just because of my familiarity with her other work.

If you're one of the few who have yet to try this series, I highly recommend listening to it on audiobook. Not only is the narration superb, the listening experience is smooth and breezy, as well. ♣︎