🎁 Once Upon a Time in Venice by Monique Roy

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Jun. 2018

Narrator: Kevin E Green
Length: 1 hours and 27 mins
Publisher: Monique Roy⎮2017

Synopsis: An intriguing, middle-grade audiobook that takes young listeners, ages 9-12, on a physical and emotional journey to Venice, Italy.

This enchanting story revolves around the relationship between Samuelle, a young boy, and his grandfather Leo. Leo has learned that he suffers from a terminal illness, and in his wistful skimming of artifacts from the past, he uncovers treasured mementos of his earliest years, growing up in the romantic city of Venice. Sharing them with Samuelle, he infects the boy with an infatuation for the city, one they will both share when Leo decides to accept an invitation to participate in the annual Regatta, a rowing festival that his own great-grandfather had competed in with great success. The two embark on their journey without Samuelle knowing about Leo’s illness, but Leo makes a promise to himself that it is in Venice, after he has passed on his knowledge and fondness for the city to his grandson, that he will reveal the truth about his fate. Venice becomes a special place in their hearts forever.

This beautiful, middle-grade chapter book will show young listeners, ages 9-12, the strong impact and importance of family, love, and the community in our lives. Listen to this preteen book with your kids, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, and you will be instantly transported to the romantic city of Venice, Italy! The vivid descriptions of Venice enliven the story. From the food and the architecture to the art and the magical canals, you are right there in Venice, without the long flight and the icky airplane food! All adventurers wanted: preteen listeners are taken on an emotional journey that is educational, sad, sweet, and heartwarming, and opens their eyes to geography and cultures.

Guest Reviewer Susan⎮While this is a short tale, Monique Roy packs quite a lot into it. Grandpa Leo and his grandson Samuelle take a vacation in Venice, a city Leo knows well. Samuelle’s parents are gone and Leo wants him to get to know his Venetian relatives. The city of Venice really shines in this story.

I loved the relationship between Leo and Samuelle. Gramps really cares about the boy and takes great joy in showing off his old stomping grounds. Even though Samuelle is young, he soaks it all in. Their combined excitement on this vacation is palpable throughout the story.

Leo has a secret he’s been holding back from Samuelle because he wants the lad to enjoy Venice and not be troubled by Leo’s health issues. This made the last quarter of the story really standout. I was worried what Samuelle would do if his gramps passed away, being as young as he is.

Meanwhile, Samuelle continues to make friends in Venice. His impromptu explorations of the old Jewish ghetto was interesting. I also liked that Samuelle got to know Leo’s old flame, the one that got away. All these people are scattered throughout Venice and that let’s the author show off her own knowledge of this beautiful and historical city. In the end, it was Venice that captured my heart (sorry Samuelle). 5/5 stars

The Narration: The Narration: Kevin E. Green was a great pick for the narration. He had a great old, slightly gravelly voice for Leo and a great kid voice for Samuelle. He also did Italian accents for all the Venetian natives. His female voice (I believe there was only 1) was believable. There were no recording or technical issues. 5/5 stars

 This audiobook was received at no-cost from Audiobookworm Promotions. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 White Silence by Jodi Taylor

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Elizabeth Cage, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed May 2018

Narrator: Kate Scarfe
Length: 10 hours 33 minutes
Publisher: AudibleStudios⎮2017

Synopsis: Elizabeth Cage is a child when she discovers that there are things in this world that only she can see. But she doesn’t want to see them, and she definitely doesn’t want them to see her.

What is a curse to Elizabeth is a gift to others – a very valuable gift they want to control. When her husband dies, Elizabeth’s world descends into a nightmare. But as she tries to piece her life back together, she discovers that not everything is as it seems.

Alone in a strange and frightening world, she’s a vulnerable target to forces beyond her control. And she knows that she can’t trust anyone….

White Silence is a twisty supernatural thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

4.75★ AudiobookWhite Silence was an amazing listen that I almost didn’t hear. I picked it up during a recent Audible 3-for-2 sale as a sort of “throwaway” book. I had already picked out two books that I really wanted but I needed to find a third in order to take advantage of the sale. I quickly read the synopsis for White Silence and listened to a bit of the sample before deciding that it sounded interesting enough to be my third selection.

It wasn’t until after I had already begun listening that I realized this book was authored by Jodi Taylor. I have nothing against Jodi Taylor, personally. But my one and only previous experience with her work was less than stellar. I tried listening to her St. Mary’s series last year and did not love it, to say the least. If I had noticed her name on the cover of White Silence, I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have gone through with the purchase out of fear of repeating my previous experience.

However, I’m so glad I went ahead with it. I absolutely adored White Silence. In my opinion, the writing and structure of the story were miles above anything I heard in St. Mary’s. Honestly, if I didn’t know that they were by the same author, I would not believe it. White Silence was incredibly well put together. It was inventive and original, all the while being extremely easy to follow. And, my god, was it creepy. Oh, and there was a bit of time travel too. White Silence was damn near close to being the perfect paranormal tale.

My favorite thing about White Silence was that Taylor didn’t take the easy way out. There were no witches, werewolves, vampires, or fairies. Pick up a paranormal title and odds are you will find at least one of those things included. Taylor designed her own type of paranormal character and made it work. I’m also usually pretty tired of the “Evil scientist/Corporation conspiracy” angle (à la Replica), but I’ll be damned if Taylor didn’t freshen that up as well.

My second favorite thing about White Silence was how Taylor broke up the larger story arc into approximately three semi-separate smaller arcs. One flowed easily into the next, but each felt somewhat succinct, like an episode of a TV series. I’ve seen got done with series installments, but never within a single installment. Again, it just worked.

Hearing White Silence has taught me a huge lesson about preconceived notions. I almost missed out on a great listening experience because of a previous encounter with the same author. It was still a risk, but I’m happy to report that this one more than paid off. I will absolutely be continuing on with the Elizabeth Cage series. In fact, I’d like it now please! In the meantime, I’m even considering checking out some of Taylor’s other works, or {gasp!} possibly giving the St. Mary’s series another go…

Narration review: Kate Scarfe appears to be a newcomer on the narration scene, as this is her only listed title on Audible. After this experience, I am hoping she comes out with more titles soon! I would love to hear from her again. I much preferred the narration of this title over that of the St. Mary’s series. Scarfe did everything perfectly, as far as I’m concerned. I was very pleased with her performance. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon

📚 Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

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Dumplin’, Book 2

Goodreads⎮Reviewed May 2018

Narrator: Erin Mallon, Kyla Garcia
Length: 11 hours 9 minutes
Publisher: HarperAudio⎮2018

Synopsis: The irresistible companion to the number one New York Times best seller Dumplin’, soon to be a major motion picture starring Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston!

Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a little girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream of being a newscaster – and to kiss the boy she’s crushing on.

Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend.

When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing that they might have more in common than they ever imagined.

A story about unexpected friendship, romance, and Texas-size girl power, this is another winner from Julie Murphy.

4.5★ Audiobook⎮ I devoured Dumplin’ last year. Everything about it was perfection. Despite knowing that sequels often fail to live up to the standards of their predecessors, I couldn’t help but be excited for Puddin’. I snatched it up within days of its release.

Puddin’ follows to different characters from the Dumplin’ universe. Millie Michalchuk was a minor character in Dumplin’ and I honestly don’t think I registered her presence. If I had known that Puddin’ would turn the spotlight her way, I would have paid more attention to her in Dumplin’. Millie was likable enough, but she was certainly no Willowdean. She lacked Willowdean’s vivaciousness and flair. I think if this story hadn’t been split between two protagonists, Millie could have been better developed.

Callie, on the other hand, was better developed, but not as likable. I enjoyed her part of the story, but still preferred Millie’s. The parts of Callie’s story that I really appreciate were when she explored the impact of her Mexican heritage and other peoples responses to it. Both of these characters felt deserving of their own stories. Forcing them into the same book, felt like an abridgment of both sides.

But where are those stories connected was pure gold. Unlike Willowdean and Ellen’s friendship, Millie and Callie’s friendship gets off to a rocky start. The friendship arc was the most endearing angle, by far. It felt very realistic and organic, as did the other relationships in the story. I think Murphy could have gotten away with telling this entire tale from Callie’s POV. She was the more interesting (better developed) character and had much more growth to experience.

I really enjoyed Puddin’, but it has nothing on Dumplin’. Looking back at my review of Dumplin’, I see exactly why I enjoyed it so much more. Puddin’ lacked the southern sass of Dumplin’. I know that both books take place in the same town, but it doesn’t feel that way. I appreciate Puddin’ as a sequel to a book that I loved, but the flavor just wasn’t there. It felt like a sequel of convenience. You know, one that was created in response to the popularity of Dumplin’, rather than planned from the start. Oh, and it definitely needed more Dolly Parton! That may seem like a little thing, but it’s the little things that count the most when developing characters and story. Dolly Parton is a huge part of what made Willowdean so memorable.

When all said and done, I’m still complete trash for this series. Julie Murphy is out there telling stories that no one else is telling about characters no one else will touch. Dumplin’ and Puddin’ are heartwarming, relatable stories about friendship and body positivity that just make you feel good. They also make you look at people a little differently and reevaluate your own biases and daily interactions, which is always a good thing.

Narration review: The biggest disappointment for me had do with the narration of this audiobook. I know comparison kills and I’m probably being way too hard on Puddin’, but Eileen Stevens did such a stellar job narrating Dumplin’, that it’s almost unfair to Erin Mallon and Kyla Garcia to have to follow her. I love that they brought on two narrators for the two POVs, which was totally the right call. Erin Mallon (Millie) and Kyla Garcia (Callie) are each an excellent narrator in their own right. For any other book, I would have nothing to complain about.

However, it didn’t feel like they fully grasped the spirit of this series. A big reason why Puddin’ felt so disconnected from Dumplin’ was because of the narration. What was so great about Stevens was how much she added to the story, atmospherically. Garcia brought a little of that to Callie, with her pronunciation of Spanish terms, but Millie didn’t feel Texan at all. Actually, there weren’t a lot accents to be found in the entire story. If I didn’t know the story took place in Texas, I could have easily forgotten. Stevens certainly set the bar high, but I really can’t find a reason to recommend the audiobook version of Puddin’ over the physical book. You’ll be getting just about the same experience either way with this one. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon, Scribd, and Audiobooks.com

📚 In the Blood by Steve Robinson

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Jefferson Tayte Genealogical, Book 1

Description⎮Reviewed May 2018

Narrator: Simon Vance
Length: 10 hours 56 minutes
Publisher: Brilliance Audio⎮2014

Synopsis: Two hundred years ago a loyalist family fled to England to escape the American War of Independence and seemingly vanished into thin air. American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to find out what happened, but it soon becomes apparent that a calculated killer is out to stop him.

In the Blood combines a centuries-old mystery with a present-day thriller that brings two people from opposite sides of the Atlantic together to uncover a series of carefully hidden crimes. Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and will stop at nothing to find them.

In the Blood is the first in the Jefferson Tayte mystery series.

4.5★ Audiobook⎮Genealogy probably seems like just about the mildest thing anyone could do…unless they are Jefferson Tayte. As soon as I read that In the Blood was a genealogical mystery series, I immediately purchased the first two installments. Now, I never download the second installment in a series until I’m certain that I like the first. There have been times when I’ve downloaded sequels within 5 or 10 minutes of starting a series, but this was a first. Sure, it was a gamble. But it just so happened to pay off.

I had never before heard of Steve Robinson, but I like his style of writing. It gives off a Dan Brown vibe that I really dig. This mystery was so layered, that it was almost hard to follow at times. But I can’t even complain about it, because that’s exactly how genealogy is. I credit my awesome amateur detective skills to the loads of genealogy research I’ve done over the past two decades (I’m not old, I just started young). So I know that there is a fine line between Genealogist and Private Investigator. I think most people probably overlook that and automatically write off genealogists as “nerds” instead badass detectives.

Jefferson Tayte is such an Indiana Jones. He’s really likable and has his own slow cooking identity plot just sitting on the back burner. He’s adopted and has no idea who his real family is and I need to know now! Besides having a really cool name, Tayte was a pretty likable protagonist. There were only one or two times when I was like “What are you thinking?!”. For the most part, his actions were plausible enough. He would throw around just enough genealogy terms to feed my inner geek.

The one thing I did wish, however, was that In the Blood had come with a family tree. I know I’ve said that before, but of all the audiobooks to have an accompanying family tree PDF, this should have been the one. It’s about genealogy, for crying out loud. As it was, I managed to sketch out my own based on the information gradually given. That helped my understanding of the intertwining plots tremendously. It felt like untangling a bundle of cords. Plus, it was way fun. I love genealogy.

The only bits I didn’t really care for were the alternating POV chapters. One chapter would take place in the 21st century and the next in the 18th. On top of everything else, it became very confusing and hard to follow along with. What really bothered me was that there was no basis for the time jumps. Sometimes, Tayte would be reading from a journal or letter, but usually the new chapters would just take the listener back in time without much premise, which required some suspension of disbelief. Having already begun the second installment, I can see that this is something Robinson will do in each book.

However, the mystery in In the Blood was fantastic. It kept me guessing until the end. There was nothing obvious about it at all. You start on the surface with Jefferson and dig deeper and deeper until you’re all wound up in a tangled knot. That’s exactly how real genealogy is. It’s not just about names on paper. Each of those names was a person with a life and secrets, connecting to all of these other family members, with their own lives and secrets. So, even if you start out trying to answer one particular question, a dozen more questions pop up before you ever find your first answer. Honestly, I’m amazed that Robinson was able to tie up the loose ends so nicely.

Narration review: I’ve heard of Simon Vance, but I’ve never heard him perform until now. Overall, I was very impressed with his performance and I’m satisfied that he’s reading the rest of the series. He appropriately differentiates between characters, even if the differentiations are sometimes a little off. I don’t particularly care for the way he voices female characters because they don’t sound obviously female. But I do love that he narrates the story with an English accent, but voices the main character as an American. It perfectly demonstrates that Jefferson Tayte is an American abroad. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon, Scribd, and Audiobooks.com

📚 George and Marina: Duke and Duchess of Kent by Christopher Warwick

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed May 2018

Narrator: Gildart Jackson
Length: 7 hours 35 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: For eight brief years, before he was tragically killed in a mysterious air crash during the Second World War, Prince George, Duke of Kent, son of King George V and Queen Mary, and his beautiful wife, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, were the British monarchy’s – indeed, high society’s – most glamorous royal couple; and as golden royal icons, they are still remembered. As a young man voraciously addicted to drugs and sex with men as much as women, marriage and parenthood for the impetuously wayward playboy prince, with his nightclubbing lifestyle and intimate liaisons, was seen as the only stabilizing influence. Enter the stylish and sophisticated Princess Marina, the cultured, artistic, and multilingual youngest daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and his Russian-born wife, Grand Duchess Yelena Vladimirovna. As Duke and Duchess of Kent, George and Marina were the Crown’s most glittering representatives, not least in the aftermath of the abdication of George’s adored elder brother, the briefly reigned King Edward VIII, the man not only with whom he had shared both home and high-flying lifestyles but who had helped cure him of his addiction to morphine and cocaine.

4.5★ Audiobook⎮ With the royal wedding approaching, I’ve found myself listening to more and more royal biographies lately. I’m always searching for anything happening to do with European royalty, because one can only hear so much about Queen Victoria. Finding George and Marina: Duke and Duchess of Kent, felt like the perfect opportunity to learn more about the Greek and Danish royal houses, even if it was only through their connection to the house of Windsor.

Not long ago, I read about the wedding of George and Marina through the eyes of Rhys Bowen’s fictional character Lady Georgianna Runnoch in Royal Bloodthe fourth installment in the series Her Royal Spyness. Obviously, that was a fictional account, but it was enough to pique my interest.

I’m fairly well acquainted with the life of Prince George, Duke of Kent. However, I knew very little about his wife before hearing George and Marina, especially about her life before marriage. Luckily for me, George and Marina focused heavily on Marina. I’m not sure if that was by design, since so much has already been written about the members of the House of Windsor, or if it was merely because Marina outlived her husband by more than two decades. Either way, it proved that I had chosen the right memoir for my interests.

Christopher Warwick did a fantastic job of detailing Marina’s European lineage and providing a plethora of anecdotal information on her family. This was the only time I wished I had a physical copy of this book handy. Whenever there is a long list of genealogy and the accompanying royal titles, I find it best to have at least a genealogical chart on standby. I wish it was common for audiobooks to provide downloadable PDFs outlining such information. It certainly would have helped me to cement what I was hearing. Thankfully, I already knew enough to follow along and digest what I could.

Warwick provided an even account of scandals of the time. We’ve all heard the rumors and Warwick addressed them head-on. This wasn’t necessarily an overly-flattering biography (one paying “lip service”), but I appreciated that it acknowledged both the contemporary and modern gossip surrounding the couple. It seemed more balanced than most royal biographies today, though not particularly in-depth.

George and Marina was the perfect length to scratch an intellectual itch. It held just enough information to satisfy my curiosity without boring me to death with unnecessary facts. I would recommend George and Marina to the casual historian, but it probably wouldn’t hold up to tougher standards. Unfortunately, it seems to be the only audiobook available about the couple.

Narration review: Gildart Jackson sounded like he was pulled straight from the set of The Crown. His accent and pronunciations were perfectly suited for a biography about old school royalty. Clearly a seasoned narrator, Jackson’s pace and timing kept me on the hook, something I always worry about with nonfiction titles. The audio quality wasn’t perfect, but I have to admit that it added a certain vintage vibe to the listening experience, like listening on an antique radio. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon, Scribd, and Audiobooks.com

📚 The Rise by Julie Plec

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The Originals, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Apr. 2018

Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Length: 7 hours 59 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2015

Synopsis: Family is power. The Original vampire family swore it to each other a thousand years ago. They pledged to remain together always and forever. But even when you’re immortal, promises are hard to keep.

Arriving in New Orleans in 1722, Original vampire siblings Klaus, Elijah, and Rebekah Mikaelson believe they’ve escaped their dangerous past. But the city is lawless, a haven for witches and werewolves unwilling to share territory. The siblings are at their mercy…especially after Klaus meets the beautiful and mysterious Vivianne. Her impending marriage is key to ending the war between the supernatural factions – and Klaus’ attraction to her could destroy the uneasy alliance. As Elijah works toward securing a piece of the city for his family, and Rebekah fights her unexpected feelings for a French captain, will Klaus’ volatile desires bring their world crashing down – and tear them apart for good?

3.75★ AudiobookThe Rise is the first installment in a trilogy by Julie Plec, best known as the writer for two CW television shows: The Vampire Diaries and its spin off, The Originals. I finished watching The Vampire Diaries last year and I also heard the first installment in The Vampire Diaries book series by LJ Smith. In that case, I loved the TV show, but was not the fan of Smith’s writing and did not continue on with it.

However, that was not the case with The Originals. I’m in the middle of binging its television counterpart on Netflix, so I decided to give the book series a shot when I discovered it was written by Julie Plec. It turns out that Plec is a much better writer than Smith. At the very least, The Rise did not have me cringing every other minute like The Awakening did. I think that had a lot to do with Plec and also a bit to do with the fact that this book series is based on the television series, not vice versa.

The Rise takes place in the 18th-century and reads mostly like historical fiction, with paranormal elements. That was one thing I didn’t really care for with The Rise. I would have preferred the series to be set in a more contemporary time, like the show. It still follows in the three primary Mickaelson siblings, Klaus, Elijah, and Rebecca, but other than that and a little backstory, there isn’t an obvious link to the occurrences of TV show. It’s more like one of the show’s flashbacks.

The Originals isn’t terribly consistent with its storylines and I was hoping Plec would take this opportunity to fill in some plotholes, but it’s really more like a pointless novella. Still, the reason I read novellas is because when I like something, I can’t get enough of it. The Originals is no exception. It was fun to be able to clearly picture the TV show’s cast when listening to this audiobook and it was easy to jump into because I am already well acquainted with the world of The Originals.

I would absolutely recommend this series to fans of The Originals, just don’t expect it to have a groundbreaking plot that will affect or shine new light on any of the show’s event. Books like this are inconsequential, but entertaining, especially to an existing Fanbase.

Narration review: I’ve heard and reasonably enjoyed Saskia Maarleveld’s past performances, but this one left me underwhelmed. Given the fact that this book series is based on a television show, I was expecting her to use it as a basis for her characterizations, but that did not happen. For example, in the show, Klaus and Elijah have very different temperaments and that’s reflected in how they sound. However, Maarleveld’s versions of the characters were virtually indistinguishable. Conversations between the two were confusing, as a result. Of course, Maarleveld is still a quality narrator, but in this case, I expected more from her. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon, Scribd, and Audiobooks.com

📚 Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

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Blue Bloods, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Apr. 2018

Narrator: Christina Moore
Length: 7 hours 2 minutes
Publisher: Recorded Books⎮2009

Synopsis: The first book in the New York Times best-selling series Blue Bloods introduces Schuyler Van Alen to the ancient world of the undead.
Schuyler is an outcast at her prestigious private high school filled with fashionable upper-class socialites. But this off-limits world opens up to her when Schuyler turns 15 and discovers that her peers, like her, are budding vampires. Then vampires start getting killed, and Schuyler realizes something else – they are being hunted.

4.25★ Audiobook⎮I’ve recently become a huge fan of Melissa de la Cruz. Blue Bloods is a series that has been on my radar and TBR list for a while and after loving The Ring and the Crown so much, I decided it was time to give it a go. I’ve also heard most of the Witches of East End series.

I was initially expecting Blue Bloods to be a run-of-the-mill vampire tale, but I should have known that de la Cruz doesn’t do anything “run-of-the-mill”. There’s always an unexpected underlying element of mysticism to her stories and in this case it happened to be a complicated version of reincarnation meshed with vampirism. The reincarnation aspect reminded me of Witches of East Endbut without Norse mythology being thrown in. It’s also somewhat similar to Jodi Meadows’ Newsoul series, which I liked, but couldn’t continue because only the first installment is available as an audiobook.

The setting of Blue Bloods (and some of its characters) could easily have been featured in Gossip Girl. The synopsis lets onto this a little, along with the vampirism, but it leaves out the “recycling of souls” entirely. If that had been mentioned, I would have started this series a long time ago, because its what makes this series standout amongst the Twilights and Gossip Girls of the world. There’s more to these vampires than meets the eye and it’s thrillingly refreshing.

Upon finishing Blue Bloods, I immediately began the next installment. The excitement of Blue Bloods had begun to wane a little after some of the mystery was unveiled and I soon found that my interest had waned some too. I’m not giving up on the series, just tabling it for now. I like knowing that there are several installments in this series, as well as a spinoff series waiting for me. I’m sure I’ll circle back around to it once my interest is renewed.

Narration review: Christina Moore is a great narrator, for sure, but I’m not sure she was the appropriate choice for this series. I’ve previously heard her narrate Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic from Alice Hoffman. I think those may have been her better performances. For Blue Bloods, Moore’s voice sounded too “mature” to pass for teenagers. This is a Young Adult book, after all, and she just wasn’t believable when voicing the large cast of teenagers. It’s not an overly huge deal to me, though. Moore is still a quality narrator and that’s worth a lot♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon, Scribd, and Audiobooks.com

📚 A Hiss-tory of Magic by Harper Lin

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Wonder Cats Mystery, Book 1

Goodreads⎮Reviewed Apr. 2018

Narrator: Anne James
Length: 4 hours 16 minutes
Publisher: Harper Lin Books⎮2018

Synopsis: From USA Today best-selling author Harper Lin: a paranormal mystery series about magic cats and modern-day witches.

Cath Greenstone, her cousin, Bea, and her hippie aunt, Astrid, live in Wonder Falls, a small town near the mystical Niagara Falls. They run the Brew-Ha-Ha café, and naturally, they’re witches hiding in plain sight along with their three magical cats, Treacle, Peanut Butter, and Marshmallow.

When Brew-Ha-Ha’s baker is burnt to a crisp, along with their beloved café, Aunt Astrid lets out a big family secret: A powerful spell book, a Greenstone heirloom from the Salem days, has been stolen from its secret hiding spot in the café. If it’s fallen into the wrong hands, black magic could destroy not only Wonder Falls but the world.

A secret society…. A new detective with a shady past…. A once-bullied local returning to town as a multimillionaire.

Who in town could know Cath’s family secret? Cath, Bea, and Astrid must use their witch powers to uncover the deadly truth. Cath communicates with their cats, also magically inclined, and they help uncover more than one secret lurking in wonderful Wonder Falls.

Fans are loving this charming, original, and spooky paranormal mystery series.

4.25★ Audiobook⎮Confession: I’m a crazy cat lady. With three rescues of my own, it’s fair to say I’m upset with all things feline. So, of course, A Hiss-tory of Magic was an automatic listen for me. It helps that I’m also interested in Paranormal fiction, specifically books pertaining to magic. The crossover between witches/magic and cats is my literary sweet spot.

I’ve never heard of Harper Lin, much less heard anything from her, so I had no idea what to expect from this. I was in the mood for something light and quirky and A Hiss-tory of Magic delivered. It turned out to be considerably more substantive than I was expecting. I’ve heard cozy mysteries where animals help their human familiars solve crimes, but they always end up being shallow and downright silly. A Hiss-tory of Magic was a fair bit more intellectual, as cozy mysteries go.

For starters, the writing was heads and tails above anything similar that I’ve heard. Lin dedicated significant time to world building and character development, while balancing the action and plot. There wasn’t a whole lot going on in the romance department, which suited me just fine. There’s plenty of time for something romantic to develop at a more natural pace in future installments.

A Hiss-tory of Magic felt more like the first installment in a series rather than a serial. It reminded me a lot Halfway Dead and somewhat of The Lazy Girls Guide to Magic. There’s so much potential here. A Hiss-tory of Magic set this series off to a great start. There’s a good chance I will continue with it.

Narration review: I have to consider the narration of A Hiss-tory of Magic to be its weakest point. Although, it certainly wasn’t terrible, by any means. Anne James has a pleasant timbre to her voice and she provided adequate characterization. But there was something off with her pacing and inflection that kept niggling the back of my mind throughout the production. It always seemed like she was over enunciating the words and her inflections seemed to rise at the end of statements, making them sound like questions.

Overall, this wasn’t a huge deal. But it did slightly detract from my listening experience, so it’s worth a mention. I will say, however, that it definitely wouldn’t stop me from hearing the rest of the series (once it’s released). ♣︎

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📚 The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Apr. 2018

Narrators: Alma Cuervo, Julia Whelan, Robin Miles
Length: 12 hours 10 minutes
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio⎮2017

Synopsis: Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

4.75★ AudiobookThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was the only good thing in an otherwise horrible week for me. Typically, when I’m having a bad day/week/month, my listening experiences are significantly affected. But my throrough enjoyment of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, in spite of my sour mood, is a testament to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s ability to provide escapism in the form of her writing.

I honestly can’t fathom a scenario in which I wouldn’t have enjoyed The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. It mostly reads like a memoir, with salacious Old Hollywood gossip keeping the listener’s undivided attention. I daresay it was more satisfying than a real Hollywood memoir could ever be. Most real life memoirs tend to hold back the really good stuff, for the sake of someone or other, but Evelyn’s does not. To be clear, Evelyn Hugo is a fictional character. But the way she’s written makes her seem oh so real and that makes her story even more intriguing.

As a main character, Evelyn was developed to perfection. She was multidimensional, realistically flawed, and extraordinarily complex. The present day Evelyn showed significant growth from her younger self  (as one would expect) and was able to provide insight gleamed from decades past.

Although Evelyn was a fictional character, the setting she inhabited was not. One could easily imagine a well known Hollywood starlet filling her shoes. Monique’s character, on the other hand, was indicative of a modern 21st-century woman. Her relative normality balanced Evelyn’s larger-than-life persona nicely. The semi-frequent shifts of perspective provided refreshing breaks from dramatic scenes. Near the end, the two women’s lives converge at an unexpected point, giving the story its final plot twist.

The final twist took me by surprise, but didn’t knock me off my feet. By that point, I was more engrossed in Evelyn’s tale than Monique’s. In my mind, Monique had firmly taken on the status of a supporting character, so the twist didn’t feel as “weighty” as it probably should have.

What I appreciated most about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was its intersectionality. Monique is biracial and Evelyn is Cuban-American. Bisexuality also heavily factors into the plot and is explored in an open and unapologetic manner. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo offered the unique experience of being able to view sexuality in both historical and modern context. In many ways, Evelyn Hugo was beyond her time.

Narration review: The narration of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was spot on. It increased the ease of listening tenfold. The POV shifts were accompanied by the narrator shifts, making them more pronounced. In addition to Monique and Evelyn, there were commentary insertions from gossip magazines, giving a more public viewpoint on the events of Evelyn’s life. A different narrator performed each of these shifts: Evelyn, Monique, and the commentary. It was absolutely the right call. Alternating timelines are tricky to pull off, so if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right. This was a phenomenal listen! ♣︎

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📚 Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Goodreads⎮Reviewed Apr. 2018

Narrator: Caroline Lee
Length: 16 hours
Publisher: Penguin Audio⎮2014

Synopsis: Pirriwee Public’s annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. One parent is dead. The school principal is horrified. As police investigate what appears to have been a tragic accident, signs begin to indicate that this devastating death might have been cold-blooded murder.

In this thought-provoking novel, number-one New York Times best-selling author Liane Moriarty deftly explores the reality of parenting and playground politics, ex-husbands and ex-wives, and fractured families. And in her pitch-perfect way, she shows us the truth about what really goes on behind closed suburban doors.

4★ Audiobook⎮ I turned to Big Little Lies after finishing and enjoying The Millionaire’s Wife by Shalini Boland. I was in the mood for another Suspense novel and decided to give Big Little Lies another go after having started it (and its HBO adaptation) several months before.

This time around was successful in that I was able to complete the audiobook, but I’m not sure I enjoyed it quite as much as The Millionaire’s Wife. Although, time may change how I remember this experience.

I enjoyed the Australian setting. I haven’t heard many stories set in Australia, so Big Little Lies was refreshing in that regard. With the possible exception of Jane, I can’t say that I was particularly endeared towards any of the characters. I found Madeleine Martha McKenzie especially irksome, but I think (or hope) that was by design.

Big Little Lies was well told and deeply unsettling. I would not recommend Big Little Lies to anyone sensitive to the subject of domestic violence, physical or emotional abuse, or bullying. Big Little Lies was deceptively invasive. I’m afraid I underestimated the impact it would have on me because I was not expecting to be so disturbed by this story. Moriarty distracts and disarms the listener with playground politics while slipping under their skin to find the right nerve to pinch.

I’m glad that I had seen a couple of episodes of the television series prior to really getting into this audiobook. I hadn’t seen enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book, just enough to give me clear mental images of the characters, which always enhances my enjoyment of any audiobook experience. From what I have seen so far, the television adaptation was pretty loyal to the spirit of Moriarty’s original work and the casting was fantastic. If you’re juggling in the book and TV show, be careful. Several plot twists are revealed towards the middle to end of the story.

Big Little Lies is a popular book club choice, but it would also make an excellent “Beach Read” (or listen) for anyone wanting something a little darker than typical “Women’s Fiction”.

Narration review: My initial reaction to Caroline Lee’s performance was “Australian accents are delightful!”. Her accent alone left me wanting more. Her tone was also pleasant and her pacing left nothing to be desired. Lee gave a continual vibe of “performing” rather than simply reading. Her characterization levels were above average, though not the best I’ve heard. Still, more than enough characterization was provided for distinction and overall ease-of-listening. ♣︎

$ Available at Audible/Amazon, Scribd, and Audiobooks.com