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COVID Chronicle #1

Since the start of the pandemic and the lockdown in our state that began with sending kids home from school in March, I knew life would not be normal for a long time. I remember writing journal entries every day as a teenager and probably even before that, but I haven’t done any of that since college. Getting married, having children, and moving your parents and disabled brother into a single home will take a lot of time and energy. So I dropped the journaling habit.

This current public health crisis, however, has me wondering if I should return to the habit as a way to order my thoughts and release some of my stress, but I often fear that someone in my household will read it and take it too personally when really it’s just about me releasing emotions of the moment. So why write any entries that are on a blog for all to see? I ask this of myself. Perhaps because I know that my family doesn’t read my blog at all?

Some things I’ve noticed during this time, at least for myself, has been a ball of stress carried on my shoulders that I can’t seem to release even with yoga and meditation. Whether it’s the bills, the school work with distance learning (or maybe not learning) while I’m simultaneously trying to do my full-time job or it’s the stress of having six people in the same house day after day with little downtime for myself to be alone and think, I’m not sure. Perhaps it is a culmination of all those things.

What am I hoping to say or accomplish with these posts, which I doubt will be a regular affair? I’m not sure. But I thought I would give this a try and see if others were feeling the same bottled up, ready to explode feeling I have lately or maybe there’s some advice…I’m honestly not sure.

Feel free to chime in….

 

Afterland by Mai Der Vang

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Afterland by Mai Der Vang, whom I was lucky enough to hear read at a virtual event for Pedestal Magazine, explores the after effects of the Secret War in Laos, during which the Hmong people became a surrogate army of the CIA. The war and its effort to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail caused the significant displacement of numerous villagers over a nine year period. Der Vang opens her collection with “Another Heaven,” which sets the stage for her song of the Hmong people: “When funeral recites/The supper gardens of my forefathers,/Cross-stitch from my mother kin,// Then I will come to you/” Der Vang is stepping into the shoes of the Hmong, trying to make sense of a secret war and its consequences.

This initial poem sets the tone for the entire collection, an ethereal, out-of-body reminiscence of a people displaced from their homeland and they must learn to rebuild and grow again. “It’s when the banyan must leave/Relearn to cathedral its roots//” (“Dear Exile, pg. 22) Der Vang’s vision of the world will have readers imaging a world through new eyes. How do you regrow your roots in a new land? Readers will step inside the imagined journey and emotional roller coaster of being displaced. What is this “afterland” — is it a return to the old ways in a new country, the return to an old country, or the adoption of a new country and new ways?

One of my favorites in the collection is “Cipher Song”:

It's come to this. We hide the stories
on our sleeves, patchwork of cotton veins.

Scribe them on carriers for sleeping
babies, weave our ballads to the sash.

Forge paper from our aprons, and our
bodies will be books. Learn the language

of jackets: the way a pleat commands
a line, the way collars unfold as page,

sign our names in thread. The footprint
of an elephant. Snail's shell. Ram's horn.

When the words burn, all that's left is ash.

The poem reminds me of the family stories that are sometimes hidden because relatives aren’t asked or they are unwilling to share them, especially if they are painful. I recalled a time when my grandfather told us tales of the “old country” when he was willing to speak about WWII, but peppering him with questions would shut his mouth and the stories would stop. Der Vang is an archeologist bringing the Hmong back into the light, breathing life into their stories, like the “Phantom Talker” “with creosote mouth//hiding behind/your silent head/in the vermilion portrait.//”

Afterland by Mai Der Vang is full of haunted lines and ghosts, and her poems are beautiful like “a cello slinks/From every strand.//Vineyards ribbon/Inside the intimate air.” (To the Longhorn Hmong, pg. 59) Der Vang circles back to her own ancestral history in the penultimate, title poem. Readers get the sense they are coming full circle.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Mai Der Vang is an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. Her poetry has appeared in the New Republic, Poetry, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and her essays have been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. Her debut collection, Afterland, received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She lives in California.

The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, Illustrated by Aurore Damant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is another adventure in which Kaz must use his newly learned ghost skills to help Claire and his friends. Kaz finally learned how to pass through walls without feeling “skizzy” in the last book, but he’s still reluctant to use his skill, until his little brother “Little John” goads him into it. But now he has a new mystery on his hands in Beckett’s secret room inside the library.

There are a bunch of ghostly objects that don’t shrink when Kaz and his friends hold them while shrinking, and they are dying to know why. They also discover a secret envelop that they want to show Claire, but can’t because it won’t pass through the wall. Meanwhile, Claire goes on a class trip and learns a bit of history about the library before it was a library, as well as some family secrets.

My daughter loves this series of books from the mysteries to the funny antics of Kaz, Claire, and now his little brother and his dog. I’m not going to spoil any of the secrets in this one. The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a fun ride and will keep you guessing.

RATING: Cinquain

Mailbox Monday #596

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

The Haunted Library: The Ghost at the Fire Station by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant,which I purchased for someone’s good work on virtual learning.

With a lot of searching and a lot of luck, Kaz has found his dog Cosmo, his little brother Little John, his grandmom, and his grandpops. But what about his parents? Or his big brother Finn? Will he ever see them again? Kaz wants to keep looking for his family, but when Claire hears about a ghost at the fire station, Kaz knows it’s a case for C & K Ghost Detectives!

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan for review with TLC Book Tours.

It’s the season of Fallow, in the era of iron. In a northern misty bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, a settlement lies far beyond the reach of the Romans invading hundreds of miles to the southeast. Here, life is simple–or so it seems to the tightly knit community. Sow. Reap. Honor Mother Earth, who will provide at harvest time. A girl named Devout comes of age, sweetly flirting with the young man she’s tilled alongside all her life, and envisions a future of love and abundance. Seventeen years later, though, the settlement is a changed place. Famine has brought struggle, and outsiders, with their foreign ways and military might, have arrived at the doorstep. For Devout’s young daughter, life is more troubled than her mother ever anticipated. But this girl has an extraordinary gift. As worlds collide and peril threatens, it will be up to her to save her family and community.

Set in a time long forgotten, Daughter of Black Lake brings the ancient world to life and introduces us to an unforgettable family facing an unimaginable trial.

What did you receive?

Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott, which is the 13th book in the series, and thrusts Eva into a new friendship role once again. Eva and Sue tend to clash on things, and when Sue is cast as the lead in Treetop Owlementary’s new play, Snowy White, Eva is disappointed. But she is cast as the mirror and as Sue’s understudy (which was a new word for my daughter to learn) and she gets to help with making costumes.

Eva’s a creative little owl, but she gets disappointed and jealous like other kids. She even finds that telling a white lie to her grandmother weighs heavily on her, but she learns that telling the truth doesn’t mean that her grandmother will love her less. Her grandmother assures her that she’ll love her even if she’s the mirror and not the lead role.

My daughter really loves this series and while most of it is graphics/illustrations and diary entries, she really feels like Eva is a close friend and she gets to see what Eva is thinking and feeling. This is the kind of book that can help kids learn how to process their emotions. There are some words she has a tough time sounding out, but she eventually gets them down pat, as some of those harder words are repeated throughout the book. Teachers could use this series to teach kids larger compound words in a context.

Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott is another stellar edition to the series, and my daughter will likely continue reading this one. It’s easier for her to read and it’s a good in-between book when I have her read more on-grade-level books in the evenings. This series has been a real winner.

RATING: Quatrain

Other reviews of this series.

Mailbox Monday #595

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa from Media Masters Publicity.

With over 200,000 Instagram followers, Danielle Krysa has helped a lot of people overcome the fear that they “aren’t creative.” In books like Creative Block and Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk she calls out the self-criticism that keeps us from claiming and expressing our artistic abilities. Now she uses her characteristic playfulness, lively illustrations, and humor to help kids overcome negativity about their artistic endeavors–and to help them redefine what being an artist means. Every page delivers encouragement to the kid who thinks artists all live in cities, or that art has to look like something familiar, or that painting and drawing are the only way to make art. In a world that drastically undervalues creative freedom, Krysa’s whimsical paintings and collages joyfully proclaim that art is essential and that artists are everywhere. Additionally, a page at the back of the book includes ideas for art projects–because who wants fewer art projects? Nobody!

School by Britta Teckentrup from Media Masters Publicity.

Few authors move as easily between the different worlds children inhabit as Britta Teckentrup. Whether she’s leading the littlest readers through the seasons, or exploring the science of bird feathers, Teckentrup’s warm and wonderfully detailed illustrations are a marvelous portal to feelings, facts, and fun. In her newest book, Teckentrup takes readers inside a busy school to follow different students through their day–in class, during free time, at lunch, and through swimming lessons. We come across a variety of faces and expressions that reflect the enormous range of emotions and experiences that each school day brings. There are arguments and hurt feelings, encouraging hugs and deeply felt smiles. The gentle text explores issues that we’ve all encountered–bullying and loneliness as well as friendship and achievement. While the school in this book could exist anywhere, every reader will find a piece of her or himself in its beautifully and sensitively wrought story.

The Little Dancer by Geraldine Elschner and Olivier Desvaux from Media Masters Publicity.

Degas’s ballerina paintings are well known and admired and his sculptural work Little Dancer Aged Fourteen–the only sculpture he exhibited in his lifetime–is particularly beloved for capturing the essence of a ballerina. This book tells the fictional story of a young girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. Jeanne auditions at the Opera Garnier and moves with her mother, a laundress, to Montmartre where life becomes consumed by rehearsals and classes. One day she meets Mr. D, an artist who asks Jeanne to be his model. As Mr. D works on his sculpture, Jeanne prepares tirelessly for an important performance. The book culminates with Jeanne triumphing at the Opera–and Mr. D completing his sculpture with her help. Olivier Desvaux’s gorgeous illustrations, which recall Degas paintings, bring readers into Jeanne’s world–the studio where she spends her days, the tiny apartment where she sleeps with her mother, and Mr. D’s atelier, where he preserves her story forever. Readers will learn about the life of a young dancer in 19th-century Paris, and at the end of the book they will learn even more about one Degas’s most intriguing works.

The Magic Doll by Adrienne Yabouza and Elodie Nouhen from Media Masters Publicity.

In a small village in West Africa, a young girl explains the special way she was born. Her mother had difficulty getting pregnant, so she seeks help in the form of a doll which she treats like a human baby, carrying it on her back and covering it with kisses. Months go by and finally the woman’s belly begins to grow! This beautiful story explores the Akua-Ba fertility figures of the Akan people of Ghana, while also depicting the deep love a mother has for her children. Élodie Nouhen’s subtle, gorgeous illustrations combine collage and prints that are reminiscent of traditional African art, while remaining uniquely contemporary. Each spread communicates the look and feel of West Africa–the blazing yellow of the sun, the deep blue of the sky, the richly patterned textiles, and vibrant flora and fauna. Adrienne Yabouza’s text echoes the rhythms of life in her homeland–the Central African Republic. The book closes with a short introduction to African art and the importance of fertility statues in African cultures.

What did you receive?

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa hadn’t even been out of the package more than 10 minutes when my daughter snapped it up to read on her own after her first day of class. She is an artist, but sometimes she is not confident in what she chooses to create. In some cases, she creates something that is temporary and can be discard or transformed into something else. This is part of her process, I think, and I try not to interfere even if I want to keep her art permanently — this is where my phone camera comes in handy.

Krysa has created a book that artists and those who are just starting to get interested in art will love. It tells children that there are artists everywhere and that there a number of art jobs available for those who decide to make art their career. My daughter’s favorite part of the book is when it is interrupted for an important message about art bullies or as my daughter called the image on the page “the art blob.”

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa is a delightful read about being yourself and how art can turn into not only a career but also a lifelong passion. The goal of this book is to inspire kids to just create no matter what it looks like. The pictures are colorful and engaging, and the page on glitter is fantastic and so true. We really enjoyed this one.

RATING: Cinquain

When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
I am an Amazon Affiliate

When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a delightful novella with a meet-cute between Mary Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam at the wedding breakfast of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy at Longbourn. Mary is considered the religious one, but what if there was a bit of rebel in her too? Perhaps she’s more like Elizabeth than anyone suspects — she does do quite a bit of reading.

Zimmerman is always a delightful narrator and her inflections are fantastic. She makes the perfect match here as Mary’s voice, but even the men are narrated well. I expect nothing less.

Kincaid’s novella is short and sweet, and sadly that was the one drawback for me. I wanted to see more of them together and apart. I wanted more of the colonel in the battle scenes and more of his military mind explored on the battlefield. However, I did love the bits of impropriety here and thought that they worked out well. But once the cat is out of the bag, I suppose I expected a bit more “proper” response from Elizabeth and Darcy, but perhaps marriage has softened them.

Mary Bennet is full of surprises, and like her elder sister has a sharp mind and a bit of mischief in her. I was delighted to see a better side of Mary in this novella, and I loved that the Colonel could appreciate her. Their story is short and sweet, but there is no lack of tension when a lord comes to call at Matlock House and disrupts the whole will-they, won’t-they drama. This is the moment where having more would have helped the story line. I wanted to see how this Lord had become interested in Mary and what their interactions were like so when he arrives, I’m less surprised and confused by his sudden ardor.

When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a satisfying story for a young lady too often left in the background, but here, she is center stage and shines brightly, especially when she gets her happily ever after.

RATING Quatrain

See my other reviews.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Linda Kass’s Writing Space

Linda Kass is visiting the blog to share her writing space with us today. She has a new novel, A Ritchie Boy, out in the world today from She Writes Press. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll already know that I have an affinity for WWII era stories, and Kass’s novel fits into that desire to read about that historical period. Also, enter the giveaway below.

Synopsis:

In this moving and memorable novel-in-stories—inspired by her father’s life—Linda Kass shares the little-known account of the Ritchie Boys. Often Jewish German-speaking immigrants, the Ritchie Boys worked in US Army Intelligence and helped the Allies win World War II.

A RITCHIE BOY follows the life of Eli Stoff. From facing down the anti-Semitism of Austrian classmates in 1938 to his family’s lucky escape; from arriving and assimilating in America to joining the Allied war effort; from the heartbreak of leaving family behind in Austria to setting down his roots in the Midwest, this is the story of a boy becoming a man, and of Eli’s journey from one homeland to another. In A RITCHIE BOY, Kass crafts an achingly powerful, beautifully wrought novel about war, survival, immigration, and hope.

“I devoured A Ritchie Boy over a single weekend. What a rich, beautiful book Linda Kass has written. I found such poignancy and delight in every facet of these characters’ lives. This is first-rate historical fiction.” —Alex George, national and international bestselling author of A Good American and The Paris Hours.

Please give Linda Kass a warm welcome.

When I moved into our condo, I was determined that my writing space would allow me to be creative and comfortable. I wanted an entire wall to be a library for my prodigious book collection. Since I write historical fiction and do a great deal of research, it was important to me to have so many resources right at my fingertips. I even have a section of books on writing that includes everything from Robert Caro’s Working, about his experiences researching and writing The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson to Aristotle’s Poetics and The Art of Time in Fiction (Joan Silber).

Speaking of time, given how much of it I spend sitting in front of my laptop, I wanted a stand-up desk that raises up at the push of a button. That desk surface faces a window so I can look outside and imagine. I can also look to the right of my laptop and see a framed photograph of my father in his ROTC uniform before he left his university to join the US Army. His life inspired my new novel, A Ritchie Boy, about one young immigrant’s journey to American in 1938 and his role as one of the Ritchie Boys, often Jewish German-speaking immigrants who worked in Intelligence and helped the Allies win World War II.

I can also pivot in my chair to a much larger and prettier desk where I can spread out all my papers and books. Under this desk, rests my mini labradoodle, Wally, who keeps me company every moment I am writing. When I hear him moving about, I know it is time to take a break from my writing space and take a walk around the neighborhood!

Photo Credit: Lorn Spolter

About the Author:

LINDA KASS, who began her career as a journalist, is the author of the historical novel TASA’S SONG, which Booklist praised, saying “Kass depicts a heartbreaking time with great sensitivity and detail in this beautifully rendered historical drama." Publishers Weekly called it “. . . a memorable tale of unflinching courage in the face of war—and the power of love and beauty to flourish amid its horrors.” Kass is the founder and owner of Gramercy Books, an independent bookstore in central Ohio. Visit her website.

You can also read an excerpt of A Richie Boy.

I previously reviewed Tasa’s Song.

Enter below with a comment about why you want to read A Ritchie Boy by Sept. 7  Sept. 23 at 11:59 pm EST. Must be 18 years or older and a U.S. resident with a U.S. mailing address.

Mailbox Monday #594

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, an Audible freebie.

“Life changes fast….You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” These were among the first words Joan Didion wrote in January 2004. Her daughter was lying unconscious in an intensive care unit, a victim of pneumonia and septic shock. Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, was dead. The night before New Year’s Eve, while they were sitting down to dinner, he suffered a massive and fatal coronary. The two had lived and worked side by side for nearly 40 years.

The weeks and months that followed “cut loose any fixed idea I had about death, about illness, about probability and luck…about marriage and children and memory…about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion explores with electric honesty and passion a private yet universal experience. Her portrait of a marriage, and a life, in good times and bad, will speak directly to anyone who has ever loved a husband, a wife, or a child.

Listen to Joan Didion’s full-hour interview with Charlie Rose.

War Girl Ursula: A bittersweet novel of WWII (War Girls Book 1) by Marion Kummerow, a Kindle freebie.

In Berlin, 1943, compassion is a crime.

Newlywed Ursula Hermann is a simple woman, wanting nothing more than an end to the war and the return of her husband from the Russian front.

But some things are not meant to be.

The authorities determine that Ursula’s contribution to the war effort is to guard a prison for undesirables and political prisoners.

Then, the unthinkable happens. A prisoner, Royal Air Force pilot Tom Westlake escapes, and Ursula looks the other way. If her single act of mercy is discovered, her life is forfeit.

When the injured airman returns, seeking her help, it is her opportunity to turn over the enemy and save herself from destruction. In a world where right has become wrong, and wrong has become right, Ursula must make a decision: obey the fatherland, or follow her conscience.

Inspired by true historical events, War Girl Ursula is the unforgettable story of one young woman’s moral courage in the face of unspeakable suffering.

Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace, a win from Diary of an Eccentric.

Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley has the good fortune to be in possession of the first English firedrake egg laid in a century. Or, at least, he was until some miscreant stole it.

Mr. Darcy tracks the thief to Hertfordshire. Catching the thief, however, proves to be an entirely different kettle of brimstone, especially when he encounters fellow Dragon Keeper, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn.

Elizabeth Bennet’s deep connection to dragons and remarkable grasp of their lore make her the ideal companion for finding the egg. It’s too bad that from their introduction she finds Darcy arrogant, conceited, and selfishly disdainful of the feelings of others.

Time is running out for Darcy to win Elizabeth’s trust and recover the precious egg before it hatches, and the fragile peace between humans and dragons is lost forever.

What did you receive?

Giveaway & Interview with Elizabeth Grace, narrator of Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd

Welcome to today’s blog post for Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd. New out on AUDIO. Stay tuned for a few surprises and a giveaway!

Book Synopsis:

With timeless verve, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet, bares her intimate thoughts while offering biting social commentary through a collection of romantic re-imaginings, sequels, and prequels, set in the Regency to present day by ten popular Austenesque authors. Foreword by NY Times & USA Today bestselling author Tessa Dare. “I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print…” wrote Jane Austen in a letter, January 1813―and we think so too! Stories by Amy D’Orazio, Jenetta James, Christina Morland, Beau North, Joana Starnes, Karen M Cox, Elizabeth Adams, Leigh Dreyer, J. Marie Croft, and Christina Boyd.

Our guest will be the audiobook narrator, Elizabeth Grace.

Check out this awesome interview with Elizabeth Grace:

1. Have you always wanted to be an audiobook narrator or how did you “fall” into the work?

Long story – No! When I was kid I really wanted to be an actress and did a lot of amateur dramatics and drama exams. I was taught how to speak with received pronunciation and perform poetry and prose for exams. When I got older it was drilled into me that acting was more of a pipe dream for a little girl from the midlands in the UK and so, I took the sensible route. I studied American Studies at University and joined the Drama Society on the side which is where I met my now husband. When I graduated, I got a job in Marketing and stayed there, steadily progressing for six years. Last year, when I was reviewing the future of my career, people kept asking what my dream job would be and I reassessed that old pipe dream and wondered if it could become a reality. I am lucky enough to have a partner who believes in me and has a job that can support us both to an extent so after we got married, we planned a long honeymoon and I quit my nine to five with the idea to focus on my acting career full time on our return from a 3 month South American adventure which was due to begin at the end of February this year. In January, I picked up a few projects here and there including some voice over work and audio dramas. I was told my voice would work well for audiobooks and while I hadn’t really considered this as an option for me, I was intrigued. Skip forward 2 months, my brand new husband and I are sat in Chile having the adventure of a lifetime when we are pulled back to the UK after completing 1/3 of our trip due to Covid 19. During lockdown, I had a lot of time to contemplate my next move, I bought some recording equipment, started auditioning for audiobooks and managed to get involved with some amazing JAFF authors and I couldn’t be happier with where I have ended up so far.

2. What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?

I love that I can bring the characters to life in the story. I like to get a visual of what a character looks like and then start to work on their voice. They obviously have to sound distinct from each other for the listener to know who is talking, and while that could be just accent and pitch, largely the distinction will become apparent in their demeanour and how they are as a person. So much goes into a person’s voice and it’s fascinating to see how this comes and develops even over the course of narrating a book – I sometimes don’t know where I will end up until I am there!

Elizabeth Grace

3. How much control do you have over the tone of your narration? Does the director provide a lot of guidance? Is the author heavily involved in the process?

I usually like to ask the authors I am working with for a little summary which includes the narrator’s tone as well as the characters’. Coming from a marketing background, I understand the importance of a brief! Oftentimes people know already what they want to hear, they know their characters inside out having created them from nothing so it’s important to respect that. Sometimes, a character may require a very specific accent, for this having some sources of reference is really helpful. Using this as a basis and reading through the book, I will do a sample of maybe one or two chapters then based on this I will receive feedback from the author. I will tweak the recording where necessary based on that feedback but Ultimately however, you have to consider your range as a narrator too and what is sustainable for you so because of that, it is very collaborative and super important that everyone is on the same page before you get too into the recording stage so you don’t waste anyone’s time.

4. What are some of your favorite ways to prepare for a narration project? (ie. listen to certain music beforehand, gargle with salt water, etc.)

I have some voice exercises I do before I begin narrating which I have learnt through my training, nothing too intense but some things that work for me on a day to day. There’s a lot of humming and huge facial stetches that go on behind closed doors. Definitely keep some water at hand and being hydrated is key, sometimes a little mid paragraph gargle is helpful but more often than not, taking a quick break and some deep breaths can set you right again. Dropping your breath (or breathing into your belly rather than your chest) is something that has taken me some time to learn but is essential to making sure you can get through those long sentences. Listening to your body and letting it tell you what it needs is my port of call, some days I will need more warming up than others.

5. Do you read through a certain number of chapters before taking a break? What’s the process and how many hours do you spend on narrating one book?

I record almost everyday, I have found that my voice sounds the best in short bursts and can tire easily after too many hours behind the mic and this becomes really evident in the post production. For me, a couple of hours each day is ideal and then it can then take three times as much time to edit those recordings into a finished version ready for the author to review. It keeps me busy all day and I can usually work this around my other commitments. I like to make sure the author I am working for has a steady drip of chapters to review so there isn’t too much down time on either side. I have learnt the importance of maintaining some “me time” more recently so I do take at least one day off at the weekends.

6. What does your recording studio look like if you have one at home (share photos if you like)?

My recording studio is in the bay window of my bedroom! It’s a cute little set up with a desk, and I have pop up screen that fits just nicely behind me to reduce some of that reverb. I would love a swishy, purpose built studio but for now, this works well for me and hopefully sounds alright on the finished edit you all hear!

7. What has been your favorite narration project and why?

I have loved all the projects I have worked on for their own individual reasons. I have to give a mention to Elizabeth Adams who was the first author I worked with within JAFF though that first book was a modern fiction called Green Card. We have a great connection and the way she writes is so easy to read – I guess we are similar in the way we speak. Elizabeth opened the door for me into the JAFF world and without her I wouldn’t have been introduced to all the amazing women I have worked with since then. Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl was the first anthology I have narrated and it really allowed me appreciate the concept of short stories. I adored picking each of them up and finding new tones, pacing and personality within them while staying true to Jane Austen’s characterisations. It has been such a privilege getting to know these talented authors and I am thrilled to be working with some of them again.

8. What is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

It’s a super basic answer but I love Pride and Prejudice, though that has definitely been rekindled after reading Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl. Like a lot of you, I have such an affinity with Elizabeth – we do share the same name after all! Tessa Dare put it so well in her foreword – “she is just like me, but awesome”. However, I do have an affliction whereby I become the biggest fan of the thing I am engaging with at any one time. I have noticed the BBC are rerunning a series of Emma from a few years ago that I am about to settle into again so I am certain I will be reviewing the answer next week.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your insights about audiobook narrating. I loved reading this and I know that my readers will too.

About the voice actor:

Originally from the East Midlands in the UK, Elizabeth Grace now lives in South London (via two years in Amsterdam). She is a full-time actor, voice over artist, and narrator.

Elizabeth began her professional performing career a little later in life and has been studying at Identity School of Acting in London since 2019. Prior to that, she had a career agency side in Marketing which explains her penchant for client services.

Since 2019, she has been growing her professional portfolio on top of the amateur theatre work she began in her formative years. She has now been a part of many projects from short films and web series to audio dramas and audiobook narration. Visit her website: https://www.elizabethgraceofficial.com/

Here’s an extra treat, an audio excerpt from J. Marie Croft’s excerpt from “The Age of Nescience“.

About the audio snippet: “Character driven vignettes, Elizabeth looks back on her adolescence up to when she meets Darcy, and she comes to admit her own folly, how she has not been wise as she thought. In this short opening scene, Elizabeth is preparing for her coming out and what that means to her.”

The Audio Snippet excerpt:

“But in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable.
This is the last time I shall ever remember it myself.”—Chapter LIX

THE AGE OF NESCIENCE

J. Marie Croft

When I was ten, my father told me I was precocious.

Glowing with pride, I beamed at him.

Ten years later, another gentleman told me, “Where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will
be always under good regulation.”

Turning away, I hid a knowing smirk.

What becomes of pride, though, when real superiority exists purely in one’s own narrow mind?

Only now, after throwing a retrospective glance over my adolescence, do I comprehend how
prideful and energetically wilful was my youthful conduct, how flawed was my biased
discernment…and such it had been from the innocent age of ten to the equally nescient age of
twenty.

Coming Out
1806

In honour of a former merchant’s elevated status, a soirée was hosted in Meryton by my aunt and
uncle Philips. On that moonlit evening, I was permitted to attend in company with my parents
and older sister.

Those of higher circles might have argued I, at fifteen, was not of an age to be introduced into
society; but it was the country, and children often accompanied their elders to social events.
Upon any objection to the scheme, my mother defended the propriety of her decision by claiming
a certain right, as sister of the hostess, to bring whomever she pleased to the gathering.

Neither Mama nor I was satisfied with the results when I donned my first half-dress gown and
had my ringleted hair dressed rather than left loose. She lamented my looks were nothing to
Jane’s, and I experienced a mixture of excitement and mortification at being on display in such
an adult fashion…especially since boys I had romped with in childhood might be in attendance
as eligible men.

In the habit of running, I was saddened to relinquish spirited antics and submit to more ladylike
behaviour. How suddenly we are expected to emerge from girlhood to womanhood, from maiden

to wife. The thought of being viewed as marriageable was as uncomfortable as the hairpins
poking into my scalp and the lightly boned stays thrusting my bosom unnaturally upwards.

“Elizabeth Margaret Bennet! You are not leaving the house looking like that!”

“But… Mama!”

Tut-tutting, she removed the fichu I had tucked into my bodice and flailed the triangle of muslin
in my face. “What were you thinking, child?”

“Of modesty. You went against my wishes and had the bodice lowered. I cannot face our
neighbours with so much of my…with so much of me exposed. New meaning might be given to
my coming out.”

“Oh, pish! ’Tis the latest evening fashion. Every elegant lady wears that cut, and no daughter of
mine will be seen as a dowd. Compared to Jane, you must flaunt whatever meagre, redeeming
features you own.”

Despite my mother’s hopes upon launching a second daughter into the society of adults, my
coming out was not an overwhelming success. Although I had been well liked as a precocious
youngster, my new status was paid scant attention by the local populace. The guest of honour, Sir
William Lucas—my friend Charlotte’s father—did pay me a number of “Capital, capital!”

compliments; and, after imbibing too much port wine, Uncle Philips proclaimed my altered looks
charming.

Home from university, a friend bowed over my hand and, in doing so, his eyes came to rest on
my bodice. Eyebrows hitched, he smirked, saying little before turning to speak with my drunken
uncle. It took willpower to still my hand from cuffing the back of his stupid head. Being genteel
will require tremendous effort, I fear. Discomfited over my erstwhile playmate noticing the
changes in my figure, I was—as if of a contrary nature—annoyed he found me unworthy of
further attention. Well, I would not marry you anyway, William Goulding, even were you the last
man on earth.

 

 

⭐️Giveaway: The #OmgItsOHG (Oh-my-gosh, it’s Obstinate Headstrong Girl) Audiobook Tour begins August 18 with voice actress reading and we hope you will continue to join us and connect at each stop for continued readings, narrator interviews, excerpts, and giveaways. We’ve included a $25 Amazon gift card giveaway, open worldwide, so be sure to participate. Simply comment on the blog stops to be counted for the giveaway (you need not comment everywhere to be entered in that drawing, but we hope you’ll have your share of the conversation.) Ends September 8.

The Institute by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 18+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Institute by Stephen King, narrated by Santino Fontana, is a really long listen and probably would have went much faster if I had read the print book or ebook, but the audio was enjoyable. Tim Jamieson is a young man on the road, seemingly aimlessly wandering after something tragic happened. He lands in DuPrey, South Carolina, as a night knocker. But his story is put on pause once he gets there and starts talking with the police department and settling into his life. (He’s clearly a plot device)

Shifting the story to the trail to The Institute, we’re introduced to genius boy, Luke Ellis. He is the latest child taken to The Institute, which has a room that looks just like Luke’s, except there is no window. Luke is unclear what has happened and why. He begins wandering the sterile halls where he sees kids like him but who smoke cigarettes and behaving oddly. He vaguely realizes he’s been kidnapped and begins to puzzle out what has happened and what is going on in The Institute. His high intelligence enables him to determine what is going on, but when Avery Dixon comes on the scene, the ball game changes and the scales tip in favor of the kids — the kids with telekinesis and telepathy.

Luke makes friends with those kids in Front Half — Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. But like those before them, they will “graduate” to Back Half where the real work begins. From the sinister Mrs. Sigsby to Trevor Stackhouse, there are men and women pulling the strings of the institute, but there is clearly a larger organization or group of people behind the scenes. Kids are punished and given tokens when they’re good — tokens they can be used for candy, food, cigarettes, and alcohol.

The Institute by Stephen King, narrated by Santino Fontana, is part dig at Trump and the administration and the wide reaching conspiracy theories that have been bandied about for decades about secret government groups controlling the world. The only twist is that King leans on previous work like the clairvoyance and the need to save the future in The Dead Zone and other work. This one seemed too long in places and in need of editing. I think the political commentary about the current administration, though it isn’t much in the greater scheme of things (though some can draw parallels if they look hard enough), could be grating to some looking for an escape.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Other reviews can be found here.