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Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 13+ hrs.
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Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, is a true-crime look at murder in Los Angeles through the lens of one reporter and a case of black-on-black crime that was solved. The murder of a black cop’s son, Bryant Tennelle, by a gang member and a young man trying to fit in and stay on the good side of a gang member is not the case I expected to hear about in this book. With all Leovy’s talk about black-on-black crime and how there is a sort of lawlessness and take-it-in-their-own-hands mentality there, I expected to hear about someone other than the “good” son of a cop who chose to raise his family in the district where he worked as a homicide detective and police officer.

The case does highlight a bit of hero-worship on the part of the author with regard to Detective John Skaggs, who led the investigation. Skaggs is a persistent investigator, and Leovy does mention that his skills have closed many cases, which made me wonder why she focused on the case he helped solve related to the death of a cop’s son. Although it seems she is trying to suggest that the case wasn’t solved effectively because the victim was the son of a police officer, her entire book does the opposite, especially when there is no counterpoint to this case. As a reader, I would like to have seen another case in parallel involving another black man who was not the son of a police officer and how that case unfolded in the department.

The most enlightening part of the narrative is the commentary on how the criminal justice system has devalued the lives of all black men in these communities by failing to invest the time and resources necessary to investigate their murders. In her passages about how departments were merely pushing papers around and closing cases without putting the time in — unlike Skaggs who persistently visited and revisited communities to find evidence and witnesses — it is clear that real police work was not being done and that the officers gave up easily and had too little resources to follow-up on evidence or tips, etc. This is not to say that there were not officers and detectives in those departments who were not dedicated to finding the murderers, but without appropriate resources, the deck can be stacked against them actually closing cases.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, takes on a large problem in America — black-on-black on crime. The topic is a bit broad, and while she uses one case as an example, it might be the wrong one for her to have used. In the author’s note, it is clear she relied heavily on reports she wrote for news outlets, and she did offer a great many statistics. But what she espouses is a tougher state-based control over enforcement, and I’m not sure that’s the right answer, especially given many cases of bias, policy brutality, and the over enforcement/sentencing of minor crimes involving black men. This book has a lot of discussion points, however, and would be fantastic for book clubs.

RATING: Tercet

The Journey by Jan Hahn (audio)

Source: Meryton Press
Audible, 10+ hrs.
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The Journey by Jan Hahn, narrated by Leena Emsley, places Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in the hands of road bandits who kidnap them for ransom as they make their way to London. In an effort to save Elizabeth from the rogues, Darcy proclaims that she is his wife, placing them in close quarters as they await rescue or a ransom payment. Elizabeth and Darcy try to come to an agreement about how to share a room, despite the impropriety of it all.

As you can imagine, there is danger from Nate Morgan and his bandits, but there is also danger in being so close to someone you admire and love. Darcy must fight his feelings as Elizabeth makes it clear that his character is not admirable, especially given Wickham’s tales. This adventure from Hahn is high in tension but there also is more intense emotional tension, as Elizabeth comes to know the real Darcy. She begins to admire him, but she also admonishes him when she feels he is arrogant or high-handed.

Without spoiling the adventure for readers, I will say that what happens after they are recovered is a bit ridiculous. Elizabeth Bennet’s reputation hangs in the balance, as does her family, but yet she makes the most awful choice. I fear given the societal norms at the time even Elizabeth would not have made the decision she does in the book. She would have felt the pressure and the love of her family and sisters most acutely. However, with that said, perhaps her PTSD from the situation made her act rashly and without practicality.

Hahn’s Darcy and Elizabeth are like opposites most of the journey, but once flipped, their attraction is undeniable. Emsley is a suitable narrator and she does the characters justice, enabling readers to tell them apart. There are instances where the Austen dialogue should have been shifted more away from canon to suit the story, but it didn’t detract much from my enjoyment.

The Journey by Jan Hahn, narrated by Leena Emsley, is a good adventure for our favorite couple with dashing rogues, danger, and time alone that will change their hearts.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Jan Hahn is fascinated by Jane Austen, 19th Century England, and true love. Having spent years in the world of business, she is now content to leave it behind and concentrate on writing about Austen’s characters finding true love in 19th Century England. A storyteller since childhood, she’s written skits and plays for local organizations and owned a business recording, writing and publishing oral histories. Jan is a member of JASNA and began writing novels based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 2002. Jan’s first novel, An Arranged Marriage, won the award for Best Indie book of 2011 from Austen Prose.

 

The Child by Jan Hahn (audio)

Source: Meryton Press
Audiobook, 8+ hrs.
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The Child by Jan Hahn, narrated by Neil Roy McFarlane, imagines that Mr. Darcy is so heartbroken by Elizabeth Bennet’s rejection of his proposal at Hunsford that he drags Mr. Bingley on a European tour to forget about her. Upon his return, things have changed for the worse for the Bennet family and an illegitimate child has been born. He assumes that Elizabeth Bennet is the mother when he sees her on the streets of London with the child. It is this child that has driven a deep wedge between them, and Darcy must not only address Elizabeth’s assessment of his character, but also just how much, if at all, he had changed.

The narration was well done, and McFarlane was a convincing Darcy, as well as other characters. I loved that he brought a passion to Darcy’s inner thoughts. Something that is rarely seen or heard in other novels.

Told from Darcy’s point of view, we get an inside look at how heartbroken he was when he was rejected and how hard it is to see his unrequited love with a child that is not his own. He must learn to suppress his renewed desire for her, as he also strives to eliminate the blight on the Bennet family name. Unfortunately, in doing so, Darcy sinks to disguise (something he abhors) and in many ways falls below Elizabeth’s already scathing assessment of him. This was a bit tough to like, as was his sudden proposal at a time when his own reputation would be harmed. I do see how he was desperate, and those in love will do foolish things.

The Child by Jan Hahn, narrated by Neil Roy McFarlane, was a treat in terms of ingenuity on the part of the author and her rendering of the characters given the situation they found themselves in. Without giving too much away, Elizabeth and Darcy have even more obstacles to overcome, especially as Wickham plays a pivotal role in what could keep them apart forever.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Jan Hahn is fascinated by Jane Austen, 19th Century England, and true love. Having spent years in the world of business, she is now content to leave it behind and concentrate on writing about Austen’s characters finding true love in 19th Century England. A storyteller since childhood, she’s written skits and plays for local organizations and owned a business recording, writing and publishing oral histories. Jan is a member of JASNA and began writing novels based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 2002. Jan’s first novel, An Arranged Marriage, won the award for Best Indie book of 2011 from Austen Prose.

Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hours
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Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely — narrated by Andi Arndt, Sebastian York, and many others — is an audiobook I just had to listen to after listening to the short, Lucky Suit, which involves Lulu Diamond’s best friend Cameron. Blakely’s Leo Hennessy is smokin’ hot in a suit and for some reason, Lulu is just noticing this now, at a chocolate convention, after more than 10 years of friendship and a marriage to his best friend. But Lulu is a new woman who is laser-focused on the career she’s always wanted and felt held back from, and she’s not about to let romance get in the way of that again. Leo, on the other hand, has been ripe for romance with Lulu and his opportunity is now, but will guilt hold him back?

The main narrators — Arndt and York — have a believable chemistry and I loved that this audiobook has a full cast of narrators for a lot of characters. I would love to see this as a series of romance movies with all of these characters — Hallmark would definitely have to tone down the smut though.

Leo and Lulu solving riddles together is a delight — another case of witty repartee between characters. Blakely’s dialogue is lovely, and you can see how easily these two fall back into their friendship. There’s a comfort in how well they know each other, but they also are discovering so much more.

Leo and Lulu are endearing together, and I love that they are friends who find they cannot live without each other, but will self-imposed rules get in their way? Or can they learn to reach for the golden chalice? Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely — narrated by Andi Arndt, Sebastian York, and many others — is like decadent chocolate that you can’t tear your eyes or mouth away from.

RATING: Cinquain

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hours
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The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams is a quick look at the effects of being out in nature and how it can “calm” the brain. Cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah, found in his studies that creativity increases after three days spent in natural settings and his subjects improved in cognitive testing.

She takes several nature trips with different groups of people. The first group of veterans tackles the obstacles and hardships of nature easily, while the second group of women who have faced abuse in the past have a harder time dealing with nature’s struggles. Williams also takes a trip in Utah with her city friend, who writes about the benefits of city living.

Williams clearly sees the benefits of nature, but the 3-day effect may not have the same impact on everyone. The veterans took to the hikes and time in nature as a way to get some peace from the PTSD they normally experience at home with their friends, family, and others. The second group of women needed a bit of modification to see the benefits of nature, as they lived in fear for many years, reinforcing those fears in the elements was not the best option. One women who had been homeless and lived outside expressed serious concerns about camping outside where wild animals would be. Williams’ friend struggled with some of the hiking and was less than convinced that the effort to reach summits was worth it.

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams offers some scientific data and testing, but I wouldn’t call this a scientific study as there are no control groups for comparison and many of the data sets are too small. I also wouldn’t recommend this to people who are likely to take these anecdotal experiences and drop their medications and treatments on a whim without medical advice from a professional. I did find the book interesting to listen to and see how people reacted on the hiking trail and sleeping in nature, as well as how they felt afterward and what effects the stint in nature had on their productivity and real life.

RATING: Tercet

Killer by Nature by Jan Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 4+ hrs.
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Are serial killers born or made? That’s one of the questions that emerges throughout the narrative of Killer by Nature by Jan Smith, narrated by Angela Griffin, Robert James-Collier, Katherine Kelly, Will Mellor, and Thomas Turgoose. This audible original drama reminded me of the old radio shows my dad and grandfather used to talk about. In this audio drama, Dr. Diane Buckley is a forensic psychologist sent to interview Alfred Dinklage, “The Playground Killer” when a series of similar murders occur while he’s behind bars. Can this killer walk through prison walls or is there a copycat striving to finish the serial killer’s work.

Dinklage is seriously creepy and can make you shiver with any nursery rhyme he utters. In her one-on-one sessions with Dinklage, Dr. Buckley must sift through the manipulations and lies to find the truth and help the police find their suspect before more murders are committed. Meanwhile, life at home is no picnic with a teenage daughter acting out at school and home, leaving little room for calm. Buckley has her hands full.

The killer is creepy throughout until the end when he appears more sympathetic, but in many ways, this is how psychologists can disarm psychotic killers — finding what button to push to either turn themselves in or do what the police want them to do. Dr. Buckley is very clinical until the end, and I fear there are layers of her character that are not addressed in this short episode. She clearly has things in her past that are not dealt with properly in this short production. It would be good to see her and her family in a longer production, even with Inspector Winterman, who also has some things in his past to deal with. These characters are too multilayered to be dealt with in such a short production, which is why the audio focuses on the search for the killer.

One complaint is that in the middle of chapters the narration repeats the title and author of the book, which can break up the narrative and take the reader out of the tense suspense. It was quite obnoxious. I’m not sure why Audible would go that route, but in future audiobooks of this nature, I hope they don’t repeat it.

Killer by Nature by Jan Smith, narrated by Angela Griffin, Robert James-Collier, Katherine Kelly, Will Mellor, and Thomas Turgoose, is suspenseful, but a bit predictable. However, the production is well rendered with music, sound effects, and splendid voice actors.

RATING: Quatrain

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hrs.
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A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain, narrated by Hillary Huber, is a short introduction to Marie Skłodowska, who later marries Pierre Curie, and becomes one of the most famous physicists and chemists of our time. McLain introduces us to a young Marie, who has made it to France to study at the Sorbonne — one of the only women in the sciences. She faces a great deal of criticism from male students who feel she does not belong there, but she also finds that there are those who are willing to help her and believe in her education and work.

This story is relatively short, but it provides a sketch of Curie’s determination and persistence, but also how dealing with prejudice on a daily basis can skew our perceptions of other people’s intentions, particularly those people who actually support us. McLain delves lightly into the subject of overcoming these internal biases to see the good in front of us.

The narration was good, though I felt there was little emotion in the narration. Perhaps due to Curie’s character and her scientific manner, but I would have liked a bit more emotion.

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain should be its own novel. Curie is a fascinating woman of science who had to overcome a lot and who suffered a great deal for her discoveries. My one complaint is that it should have been a full-length novel.

Rating: Quatrain

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 2+ hrs.
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Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Zachary Webber and Andi Arndt, is a quick listen high on humor and romance. Think Hallmark movie with witty dialogue and flirting. Kristen Leonard has had it with blind dates and looking for love in all the wrong places, but her gramma won’t hear it. She thinks there’s a guy out there for her scientific wiz grandkid and she won’t stop until he’s found. There’s just one kink in the chain, Kristen has decided to place her fate in the hands of internet algorithms and data.

Cameron whisks into town to his uncle’s car auction to visit while in Miami on business. Little does he know that a hot little lady is interested in him and the cars — the cars for herself and him for her granddaughter.

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Zachary Webber and Andi Arndt, is a hot little read with playful dialogue, flirtation, and a lightheartedness I needed.  It had me smiling every time Kristen and Cameron were chatting away.  Her grandmother is a fiery one too, and there is no end to the witticisms involving science. Looking for a fun read to relax with, this is for you. I was smitten with these characters and I might just check out Blakely’s longer works when I need another pick-me-up.

RATING: Cinquain

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal is another Audible original that will delight listeners. The comedy begins at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but the subject is at once unexpected and humorous. With Kevin Cline, Annette Benning, and so many others (including a star from Moana), the anonymous and unexpected nature of death is explored through humor and ridiculous situations in the public eye, as President David Murray appears to be losing his mind as he talks to himself in grocery stores, etc. Even as his conversations appear one-sided, he actually spends a great deal of time speaking to the anonymous grim reaper (Billy Crystal) and coaching him on how to be a good angel of death.

Even though there are twists in the story, which I found a bit predictable, I laughed a number of times while listening to this comedic story. It’s a tale of humor, but also demonstrates how we never know when death comes for us and we should live our lives with purpose and be sure things are in order before the angel of death does come. There are no second chances or do-overs for most of us.

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal was a delightful surprise. With the award winning cast, it should not have been. Aesop in comedic form.

RATING: Quatrain

Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is an Audible original that mixes  Smith’s memoirs, poetry, and music into one live performance. In spoken-word style and deadpan tone, Smith takes listeners on a journey into her creative life where they will meet Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, and so many others. She talks about her early nomad days in New York and the freedom it afforded her, but also the deep hunger for food she couldn’t afford. Working to feed her belly became an early goal.

Her children, Jackson and Jesse Paris Smith, accompany her performance as well, making this a delightful family affair. Even though I’ve read her memoirs, I really loved hearing them spoken aloud in her own words and accompanied by her music. It creates an intimate portrait of the singer and writer. Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is a great addition to her memoirs on the shelf and the music in your ears.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred debut albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 26+ hours
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These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston, narrated by Leena Emsley, is a novel that catches Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in a ancestral dispute with ties to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s past in Portugal as an soldier. Clarkston’s supporting characters in Portugal and England will keep readers on their toes with suspense and a mystery to unravel. All the while, their hearts will be ringing out with pain for the anguish off Elizabeth Bennet who fears the man she loves will never know her true heart and for Mr. Darcy who languishes, imprisoned against his will with no inkling of why.

In the darkness, Mr. Darcy reaches for the Elizabeth he hopes can love him after he’s tried to right the wrongs to her family before his capture, and in turn, she spends many sleepless nights searching him out in the dark prison. She fears she’s losing her mind over these ghostly encounters, but she does not want them to stop because she aches for him to live. He believes his dreams to be just that as he fears she will find another before he can escape and return to her.

Meanwhile, Colonel Fitzwilliam takes center stage and has his hands full with manipulative relatives trying to wed him to a grieving niece and a mystery surrounding the death of his cousin. Clarkston has ramped up the tensions in her novel, creating a web of lies and mystery for readers and the Colonel to unravel together. Lest we forget about Wickham, he rears his ugly head as well, though he’s not as irredeemable as we think.

I was riveted the entire time, and though the audio seems longer than most, it was well worth every minute. I was never bored or wishing for the pace to pick up. Emsley does an admirable job in narrating each of the Portuguese characters and the English characters, making each on distinct, which was a tall order with this large cast. Her grasp of the Portuguese was pretty close to what I remember of my grandparents’ speech. It was wonderful to hear.

These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston, narrated by Leena Emsley, is angst inducing, will make you cry, will make you scream at the injustice, and will have you deliriously happy when it all ends. My only wish is that there is a sequel to explore Colonel Fitzwilliam’s days in Portugal before this saga even began.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Nicole Clarkston is a book lover and a happily married mom of three. Originally from Idaho, she now lives in Oregon with her own romantic hero, several horses, and one very fat dog. She has loved crafting alternate stories and sequels since she was a child watching Disney’s Robin Hood, and is never found sitting quietly without a book of some sort.

Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole’s books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.

Christmas at Darcy House by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audible, 5+ hrs.
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Christmas at Darcy House by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Julia Eve, is a variation that takes some liberty with Darcy’s reserved character when it places Elizabeth Bennet directly in the path of Mr. Wickham and a marriage proposal. Darcy unexpectedly finds Elizabeth to be in London, and his efforts to forget her after removing him and the Bingleys from Hertfordshire are for naught. Her fine eyes are there beckoning him to get closer, but for her part, she cannot understand why Darcy would want to dance with her at a Christmas ball or even be in her company after the things he’s said.

Darcy’s character is impulsive at just the wrong moment, but for the right reason, as he sees no other way to save Elizabeth from Wickham and his advances. Despite his uncharacteristic behavior, Elizabeth’s response is spot on in many ways. How can they resolve their differences and learn to meet in love when so much has been said and misunderstood?

Kincaid has pushed the envelope here with her Darcy character, but as the story evolves you can see how desperate he is at the prospect of losing Elizabeth to Wickham. The narrator was a bit odd when speaking male parts, as if she tried too hard to deepen her voice. Darcy’s narration came off less reserved and more harsh, but so too did Elizabeth’s narration at times.

Christmas at Darcy House by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Julia Eve, is a fun Yuletide variation that will keep readers on their toes. If you want something close to the original character of Mr. Darcy, this is not for you.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

The author of numerous best-selling Pride and Prejudice variations, historical romance writer Victoria Kincaid has a Ph.D. in English literature and runs a small business, er, household with two children, a hyperactive dog, an overly affectionate cat, and a husband who is not threatened by Mr. Darcy. They live near Washington DC, where the inhabitants occasionally stop talking about politics long enough to complain about the traffic.

On weekdays she is a freelance writer/editor who specializes in IT marketing (it’s more interesting than it sounds) and teaches business writing. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. Visit her website. View her blog, visit her on Facebook, GoodReads, and on Amazon.