A Dangerous Place [Audiobook Review]

Title: A Dangerous Place
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Narrator: Orlagh Cassidy
Genre: Mystery; Historical Fiction
Pages: 320
Audio: 9.7 hours
Year: 2015
Publisher: Harper Audio
Source: Public Library
Book Rating: 4/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Publisher’s Summary:

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way.

My Thoughts:

This book starts much differently than any other Maisie Dobbs book. There is a big time jump and we are given a quick timeline in correspondence form. I felt a little cheated that I didn’t get to experience all of these things, but I understand why it was done this way.

I enjoyed the change in scenery. This story takes place in Gibraltar (and Spain). But I missed some of the familiar people and I am hoping that the next book takes us back to England and familiar characters.

One thing I love about Maisie Dobbs novels is how much I learn about that time and place. This book was no exception. I even found myself doing extra research on the side.

I almost wish I weren’t caught up on this series. I hate waiting for the next one.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Orlagh Cassidy is excellent as always. I wouldn’t think about reading Maisie Dobbs any other way.

Fairest [Audiobook Review]

Title: Fairest
Author: Marissa Meyer
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Pages: 272 pages
Audio: 6.7 hours
Year: 2015
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Source: Public Library
Book Rating: 4/5
Audio Rating: 5/5


Fairest tells Levana’s story: how she becomes a wife, a stepmother, and, eventually, a queen. It takes place on Luna and prior to the events of the other books.

My Thoughts:

I usually hate these half-step series installments. This is one of my favorite series and I haven’t read any of the short stories that go along with it. But Fairest seemed a little more legit and a reputable friend recommended it.

Queen Levana is an interesting character to develop. She seems so cold and calculating in the other novels, but this one definitely gives her a little more complexity. I found myself slipping into pysch major mode and trying to diagnose her with various personality disorders. Her story is often sad, but at the same time, she makes terrible decisions that prevent readers from feeling too much empathy. This book was much more a character study than the others, which are much more fast-paced and plot-driven.

I’m now anxiously awaiting Winter’s release in November.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Rebecca Soler continues to do a fantastic job. I recommend this series a lot and I always recommend it in audio.

On Immunity: An Inoculation [Audiobook Review]

Title: On Immunity: An Inoculation
Author: Eula Biss
Narrator: Tamara Marston
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 216
Audio: 6.4 hours
Year: 2014
Publisher: Highbridge
Source: Public Library
Book Rating: 3.5/5
Audio Rating: 4/5

Summary (from the publisher):

Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear—fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.

In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected—our bodies and our fates.

My Thoughts:

I went into this one a very strong vaccine supporter, so I didn’t need convincing, but I found the history of the vaccines and the science behind it an interesting study.

I didn’t necessarily love her storytelling style, though. She approached this in a personal way, as a mother making her own decision to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. She then tries to relate to all mothers and very clearly has the universal mother in mind as her audience. I wanted something a little more…objective.

I also didn’t quite get what all of the Dracula references added. Perhaps that’s me being dense. Or tired.

This is a quick read and definitely a worthwhile one.

I don’t think this book is going to change anyone’s mind. The people I know who really believe that vaccination is a personal choice that doesn’t affect anyone else or that the CDC and “Big Pharma” are conspiring against us are not going to be persuaded by this book. It seems our society, or at least a not-insignificant faction of it, will continue to deny science, whether it be vaccines or climate change or a myriad of other things, despite insurmountable evidence backing it. This book isn’t going to stop that. But I applaud the effort.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Nothing much to say here. Tamara Marston does a fine job with this, which is all you really want in nonfiction.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? [Audiobook Review]

Title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Author: Maria Semple
Narrator: Kathleen Wilhoite
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 352 pages
Audio: 9.7 hours
Year: 2012
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Source: Library
Book Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary (from the publisher):

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Quick Thoughts:

I want to thank whoever recommended this one to me. I know I’m behind the times, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.The characters were whimsical and the plot pushed the boundaries of reality. I was hooked early on and through all of its crazy antics, I just kept hanging on for the ride.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Fellow Gilmore Girls fans will recognize Kathleen Wilhoite’s voice immediately as that of Luke’s sister, Liz. She has an excellent voice for this novel, with the ability to portray both 14-year-old Bee and an array of adults.

Summer Shorts ’14: A Discussion with Author Jane Cawthorne and Narrator Dawn Harvey

June is Audiobook Month and the audiobook community is giving back! Spoken Freely, a group of more than 40 professional narrators, has teamed with Going Public and Tantor Media to celebrate June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) by offering Summer Shorts ’14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.

Throughout June 2014, 1-2 stories, poems and essays will be released online each day via Going Public, as well as on various author and book blogs. As a “Thank you!” to listeners, pieces will be available for free online listening on their day of release. As a bonus for those who purchase the full collection from Tantor Media in support of ProLiteracy, there are over 20 additional tracks only available via the compilation download. You can purchase the collectionHERE. Special pricing of $9.99 through June 30th, in celebration of JIAM. $14.99 from July 1st forward. You can read more about the project here.

Today I have the pleasure of hosting author Jane Cawthorne and narrator Dawn Harvey. Their contribution to this project is Something as Big as a Mountain. Since I had both Jane and Dawn, I thought I would host a little discussion about the making of an audiobook and the interaction of author and narrator.


As an author, what is it like to have your book turned into an audiobook? Do you struggle sharing your words to another voice?

Jane: No because I wrote a couple of plays and one was produced many times. I got used to hearing my work interpreted in a variety of ways. It was a really important thing for me to learn as a writer. I try my best to write in a way that conveys my intention, but readers bring their own experience and knowledge to the text and they interpret it in their own way.  The tone, inflection and delivery of the words can change everything. Often these changes are for the better. Most of the time, I don’t know how a reader is interpreting the work as he or she reads, but with an audio book, it’s right there.
How do you ensure that you do your best to capture the voice created by the author?

Dawn: Before I even think to go anywhere near a microphone, I have spent a lot of time reading and analyzing the work.  I pull out character and story information, research places and names, research accents and dialects, find voices for the characters and make a note of anything that I don’t understand or that doesn’t seem right to me.   I’ve been quite lucky in that, with several of the books/stories that I have narrated, I have been able to communicate with the author prior to recording.  By the time I get into the recording booth, I know the stories and the characters almost as well as the author does.   Many times while preparing books I have found errors or discrepancies in the material that had been missed by the author and his/her editors.  You know that you’ve studied the material very well when you catch things that all other have missed!   By discussing with the author anything that has me confused or that doesn’t sit right, I ensure that I am telling the story that they want to have told.  At the end of the day, by working together in this way, we create a better reading experience for readers (where I have helped to correct the manuscript) and a better listening experience for listeners because I have told the story that the author was trying to tell.  When you can’t clarify things with the author, you do the best you can with what you’ve got.  The internet helps sometimes.  In either case, and particularly with a good writer, their voice speaks to you through the writing itself.  If you get the story, you hear the voice.

Can you describe the author/narrator interaction? Do you work closely with each other?

Jane: Dawn had me listen to an early take. She invited me to comment and I felt free to make suggestions. But really, it was great so I think I might have made a correction on a place name pronunciation or something minor like that. Dawn’s voice is really deep and sonorous and she has a very serious take on this work, probably more serious than me. I can be a little self-deprecating. But the serious take is appropriate because it is about a big challenge. When I first wrote it and did a public reading, I got  kind of choked up. Of course Dawn can keep things on a more even keel and stay professional. In other words, Dawn can read it better than I can.

Dawn: I work as closely with the author as the author will let me!  I try to collaborate with them as much as possible.  But I can add that Jane’s case was different from the other works I have done because I have known Jane for a long time.  Several years ago, I was in a play she had written called “The Mother Auditions”.   We bonded during that show and have kept in touch ever since.  As well as being friends, we support and appreciate each other’s professional works.  So, working with Jane was easy.  I was never afraid she would be offended by my questions or comments (always scary when you point out imperfections in someone’s baby!) nor I by her’s.  We both wanted to create the best listening experience we could and egos can get in the way of that.  Neither Jane nor I operate that way and I knew that going in so that helped to make this a really great experience.

Tell us a little bit about Something as Big as a Mountain. It is autobiographical, yes?

Jane: Something As Big as a Mountain is about my experience as a novice mountaineer. I have always been a back country hiker and I had started doing some climbing and I decided at almost fifty years old that I’d go mountaineering for the first time. Who does that? I wasn’t consciously aware of my real motivation. Part way through the trip, I realized I was trying to prove to myself that I could accomplish something so physically demanding after recovering from cancer. I was trying to prove that I was better and the illness was behind me. As a mountaineer, I was a bit of a disaster, but in terms of showing myself I had moved past a bad time in my life, it went pretty well.

How did you approach Something as Big as a Mountain? Is it a challenge to narrate an autobiographical story?

As I have already mentioned, Jane and I have known each other for several years.  I went to a public reading she did a few years ago where she read an excerpt from “Something as Big as a Mountain.”  I loved the piece.  When you listen to the story, if you haven’t already, you’ll be taken by Jane’s style of writing.  Her descriptions of the scenery and her experiences in it are so incredible.  So, when Xe Sands invited me to take part in this project, I immediately thought of the story I’d heard Jane read.   I contacted her to ask if I could use that story I had heard her read at the public reading.  I was thrilled when she immediately said yes.  She sent me the story right away – but it was the wrong one.  She had sent me “Weight”.  I read it but I knew it wasn’t the story I had been thinking of, the name of which I didn’t remember.  Turns out that I must have gone to two readings and Jane and I were each thinking of different ones.  She then sent me “Mountain.”  Subsequently, Xe indicated that she was looking for some bonus pieces so “Weight” ended up in the bonus material.  Well, that was a good story but a major digression from the question.  I knew Jane but I didn’t know about her fight with cancer until I read the whole story.  The excerpt I’d heard her read didn’t mention the cancer if I recall correctly.  I can’t imagine I would have forgotten.  So, I knew Jane and now I had found out this thing about her past that she has had to live through.  I lost my best friend to cancer a few years ago and that sits just in the back of my mind all the time so this story hit home with me in terms of what Jane had gone through because I knew what Deb had gone through.  I think that being Jane’s friend made me even more connected to the story than I might otherwise have been.  As a narrator, being connected to the story is the key to any good narration and I have never felt so connected to a story before.   I am very proud of how this story turned out and I’m sure my connection with Jane is why it worked so well.

It is necessary to have this connection in all stories.  In autobiographical ones, there is a feeling of greater responsibility in “getting it right” because these are events that really happened, not a fiction.  Fiction can be interpreted by the reader.  Best not to be “interpreting” too much in autobiographies or you can get away from the truth of the author.  I guess that would be the biggest challenge of audiobooks in general but I didn’t feel that challenge in this particular case for the reasons I stated above.


Thank you Jane and Dawn for taking part in this project and giving us a little inside look at audiobooks.  Something as Big as a Mountain is fantastic, and I urge you all to take a list. Plus, if you purchase the full collection, you’ll get an additional short story, Weight, written by Jane and narrated by Dawn (which I, personally, think I liked even more).
Listen to Something as a Big as a Mountain:
A little about Jane Cawthorne:

I’m a Canadian, living in Boston and am currently completing an MFA in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. When I first started writing professionally, I wrote opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines, taking up the topics that haunted me as a teacher. My shift into fiction started with a few creative non-fiction essays. I tried my hand at short fiction and wrote a couple of plays as well. Now, I’m working on a novel. I don’t talk about work in progress because, in the immortal words of Gord Downie, “no one’s interested in something you didn’t do.” I’ve also recently joined the Crabapple Mews Collective, a group of writers helping each other publish great work.

A little about Dawn Harvey:

I am also a Canadian and I live in Calgary, Alberta.  I’ve been performing most of my life but somehow along the way I also picked up both Bachelor and Master of Laws degrees.  Sometimes life leads us in strange directions but mine, thankfully, led me straight back to the arts several years ago after a short hiatus.  I began narrating audiobooks about 3 years ago and am absolutely loving it.  Take a girl who loves to read, talk and act and give her a job as an audiobook narrator and you pretty much have bliss!  I am so thrilled to have been included in the Summer Shorts program this year with so many talented narrators.  Thanks Xe Sands – sure hope we can do this again next year!

Check out yesterday’s posts

Mike ChamberlainThe Statement of Randolph Carter, by H.P. Lovecraft @ MV Freeman’s blog
Dufris/AudioComics, Audio Theatre: Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allan Poe @ Jenn’s Bookshelves
John McLainThe Black Cat, by Edgar Allan Poe @ Going Public

and don’t miss tomorrow’s:

Tanya EbyThe Girl at the Gate, by Lucy Maud Montgomery @ Miss Susie’s Reading & Observations

And, finally, a big thank you to Xe Sands for organizing this HUGE project and, as the month is wrapping up, a big congratulations as well!

Madame Bovary [Audiobook Review]

Title: Madame Bovary
Author: Gustave Flaubert
Narrator: Kate Reading
Genre: Classic
Pages: 384 pages
Audio: 13.8
Year: Original – 1856 | Edition – 2010
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 1.5/5
Audio Rating: 4/5


Charles Bovary had a tough childhood but he eventually becomes a doctor anyway. Sort of. He gets married to a girl but he falls for another. Lucky for him, Madame Bovary number one dies and he can marry Madame Bovary number two. But, she’s not quite as crazy about him as he is about her. And she feels pretty stifled in her country life. So she cheats on him. A lot. And it doesn’t end well.

My Thoughts:

Ugh. This book. I don’t get it – why are we still reading this?

Perhaps I am not intelligent or cultured or patient enough to appreciate how amazing this novel is. The wikipedia entry for Madame Bovary states: “Long established as one of the greatest novels ever written, the book has often been described as a “perfect” work of fiction.” 

I disagree.


I can understand why, at the time it was written, this book would have been shocking. But how can it still be so widely read and highly regarded 150 years later?

It’s boring. I actually have no idea how a book about adultery can be this boring. I was listening to this one when I was training for my 10k and it actually made my long runs even worse.

Beyond the fact that it is really boring and the characters were miserable companions for 14 hours of my life, I don’t have much else to say. If you want my opinion, find another classic to read. If you want an adulteress, go with Anna Karenina – it’s well worth the additional pages.

Audiobook Thoughts:

The audiobook was fine. I have no complaints. And I certainly wouldn’t have finished this thing in print.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters [Audiobook Review]

Read my reviews of the first two books: Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Days of Blood & Starlight.


Title: Dreams of Gods & Monsters
Author:  Laini Taylor
NarratorKhristine Hvam
Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult; Supernatural
Pages: 624
Audio: 18.2 hours
Year: 2014
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Source: Review copy from publisher
Book Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Rating: 5/5


[Warning: Don’t read this summary if you haven’t read the rest of the first two book. The remaining sections are spoiler free].

Karou is still trying to find a way to move past Akiva’s destruction of her family, but the two must work together to unite the Misbegotten and Chimera forces to stop Jael from destroying Earth.

As Jael descends on the Vatican, with anything but angelic intentions, Eliza Jones, a PhD student with a past she’s been running from for years, must fight off her always-recurring dream of monsters.

As world’s collide, enemies become allies, and the real past, the one that everyone but Razgut has forgotten, must be told in order to protect the future of both Earth and Eretz

My Thoughts:

This is a rare day: I loved the finale of a series that is very dear to me.

First, these have got to be among some of the best-titled books ever. Daughter of Smoke & Bone? Days of Blood & Starlight? Dreams of Gods & Monsters? Fantastic, catchy, and appropriate.

As for the actual books, I just ate them right up. There is so much action, emotion, and tension packed into every page (or every minute of the mp3 in my case) that it forces the reader to race on. These are not short books (this audio is more than 18 hours long!) but practically every word is necessary. Taylor does write with a descriptive style, but not to the point where you’re asking the story to move along already.

The only fault I found in this one – and I felt it in the others as well – is that it jumps around from POV to POV a lot. I had to listen closely for fear of getting lost along the way and there was a fair amount of rewinding.

I am going to miss Karou and Akiva and Zuzana and Mik and Ziri. I am going to miss Eretz. I am a little devastated (if one can be a little devastated) that I don’t have another book to look forward to. But, did the ending hint at the possibility of more? I’m going to rest my hope on that.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Kristine Hvam is probably my favorite narrator. She continues to excel in the conclusion of this trilogy. She captures everyone, from human to angel to chimera perfectly. She is the kind of narrator who could make me pick up an otherwise questionable book.