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Accomplished by Amanda Quain (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hrs.
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Accomplished by Amanda Quain, narrated by Deva Marie Gregory, focuses on high school-age Georgiana Darcy who is struggling to find herself after Wickham entangles her in his drug-dealing scheme at her private school.She is a bit dramatic, probably too many regency romance shows for her.

Gregory is an excellent narrator for this young adult’s redemption story. She provides different voices for Georgie, Fitz, Avery, Wickham, and others.

Georgie is crumbling under the pressure of the Darcy name and its expectations. She’s unsure of who she is and unable to rectify her reputation at the private school where everyone hates her for taking away their best trombone player and drug dealer, Wickham. Even though she had nothing to do with the drug dealing and her room was all Wickham needed, her brother is severely disappointed and ramps up his helicopter parenting.

Georgie, on the other hand, is eager to get out from under the glare of her classmates, Wickham’s threats, and her brother’s oppressive supervision. Her lavish family lifestyle is something she wants to get past but even those around her see her like her ancestors and even her brother — untouchable, able to throw money at problems, and so many other privileged trappings.

Accomplished by Amanda Quain, narrated by Deva Marie Gregory, is a charming story of a young woman looking for herself as forces outside of herself try to force her to be someone she isn’t. She’s artistic, musical, and creative, and clearly not the business/medical mold of the Darcy legacy. While Georgie is a bit obsessive and full of anxiety, which can get tiresome, her gradual evolution in this story is delightful, even when she stands up to her brother, not quite in the most rational or tactful way. Quain is a talented writer, and I look forward to others in this series.

RATING: Quatrain

The Wehrwolf by Alma Katsu (audio)

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Audible, 2+ hrs.
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It’s been a Grimm’s Brothers kind of month of reading for me.

The Wehrwolf by Alma Katsu, narrated by Jim Boeven, weaves in myth from Germanic folklore about wolves and sets it just nearing the end of WWII.

Even as Berlin tries to tell its people that the war is not over, even the villages outside the cities can sense the tide is not in the motherland’s favor.

Uwe Fuchs has always considered himself a weakling and unworthy as he was unable to serve for the Reich and stayed behind to care for his own ailing mother. Despite his lot, he cared for his daughter and loved to share with her the dark fairy tales of the wood and wolves, though he feared she missed the point that the wolves represented the bad in the world. But in many ways it seems he missed the point as well.

The narration by Boeven was a bit stilted in the audio, which kept me from really falling into Katsu’s story fully. That was a real drawback for me. But the story itself is definitely a reaction to the political climate we find ourselves in and how it mirrors that of Nazi Germany with its fervor and us vs. them focus. The story itself is a cautionary tale that has roots in reality.

Katsu has knack for creating characters who are flawed and find themselves in otherworldly situations. Uwe is definitely flawed and those flaws are amplified by what happens to him, especially when he takes matters into his hands with the village fighters against the Allies in an effort to be part of the community. Will he be a man who cannot return to his former life?

The Wehrwolf by Alma Katsu, narrated by Jim Boeven, is a short story set in a historical period that highlighted much of the worst in humanity from eugenics to mass extinction efforts. Uwe is a man who is struggling with his own place in society and his community until he finds his pack. But will his one decision to join those working against the allies at the end of the war ruin his life forever?

RATING: Quatrain

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About the Author:

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent. She has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a contributor to The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Prior to the publication of her first novel, Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King (audio)

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Audible, 24+ hrs.
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Fairy Tale by Stephen King, narrated by Seth Numrich and a bit by King himself, is a dark Gothic story in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm. In a parallel world beneath an Howard Bowditch‘s shed, Charlie Reade‘s worldview and his promise to be a better man if only his father would stop drinking alcohol. Reade’s blossoming relationship with Mr. Bowditch is touching and odd all at once, but I expect nothing less. But the fairy tale doesn’t begin until Reade learns about what’s in the shed and what it could possibly mean for the dog, Radar, they love.

In an adventure that Reade never expected to have when he sought to save the life of an old dog, he learns a great deal about human frailty and how dreams and ideals do little in times of crisis. Even Mr. Bowditch was aware of those failings, noting that cowards bring gifts. King is so adept at creating flawed characters and adventures to strange worlds where young men must test their metal against the deep dark evil of an unknown and scary place.

Reade comes of age in this story and he is not as too-good-to-be-true as he seems. He faces untenable situations and tough choices throughout his travels. I don’t want to give too much away, but the character not only evolves but even more clearly understands his own limitations. Dark and horrible things happen here, and are their moments of crassness from the evil characters that make you cringe, of course. These elements make this dark world seem even more real.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love reading Stephen King’s books. Not all of them capture my full attention, even if I love them. I even conned my friend Anna (aka Diary of an Eccentric) to read my favorite King book (IT) in a read-a-long. But some of King’s books have not totally absorbed me from start to finish like IT. Fairy Tale is an exception and has entered the pantheon of King favorites.

RATING: Cinquain

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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.

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor (Audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook; 1+ hrs.
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Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor, narrated by the author, is an Audible Original that contains story and musical story. Taylor explores his childhood and his journey to music, against the medical path laid out before him, and explores how his life finds its way into his songs.

There is no shying away from the struggles with drugs, nearly killing a man with a car, or his brief encounter with a killer. He explores his mental illness and drug abuse, and how those stemmed from a childhood that was a struggle for him. I loved how he interspersed his songs and playing with his story. That was the best part of this audio. It was definitely well blended. It was definitely too short of an audiobook, and it left you wanting more.

Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor is a delightful listen if you enjoy his music, and the interwoven stories that inspired his songs make his story sing. Definitely worth checking out if you like his music.

RATING: Quatrain

More Bedtime Stories for Cynics Presented by Nick Offerman (Audio)

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Audible, 3+ hrs.
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More Bedtime Stories for Cynics Presented by Nick Offerman is a collection of bed time stories based on fairy tales and twists them toward tragic endings. These stories are innovative. One story looks at what it would be like to be a princess turned into a frog who is unsure if she would even know how to be human if she found her prince. Another story looks at the veterinary tasks from a dog’s point of view and the story that results is creepy. Not all of these stories are creepy, but many of them look at the darker side of fairy tales.

I enjoyed the multitude of narrators for the stories – Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat, Elliot Page, Jane Lynch, John Waters, Anjelica Huston, Wendell Pierce, Mike Birbiglia, Rachel Dratch, Matt Walsh, Nicole Byer, Harry Goaz, Aisling Bea, and Gary Anthony Williams.Yes, you read that correctly, the lead of NAILED IT!, Patrick Stewart aka Captain Picard, and John Waters! Nick Offerman is a delight with his asides and conversational style when introducing these stories.

Would you want to listen to these at bedtime? You might; nothing is overly horrifying. What these cemented for me is that I have a dark sense of humor sometimes. Yes, I chuckled at some of these stories.

More Bedtime Stories for Cynics Presented by Nick Offerman is a fun collection of stories that will leave you guessing. I really enjoyed these and will probably pick up the next collection of these stories.

RATING: Quatrain

Beach Read by Emily Henry (audio)

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Audible, 10+ hrs.
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Beach Read by Emily Henry, narrated by Julia Whelan, is laugh-out-loud funny, but also deeply serious. While both January Andrews and Augustus Everett are struggling with writer’s block and personal traumas, there’s a quirkiness to their interactions with people. Henry has a knack for creating oddball situations. How does one broke romance author find herself broke and living her her father’s house on Lake Michigan where he romanced another woman while married? And how does a curmudgeonly literary fiction author find himself in such a small town where his friends take over his house once a year to throw him a birthday party he doesn’t want? Oh, did I mention they are now neighbors?

What do writers who don’t have anything particularly in common do? Why they make a bet that they cannot write a book in each other’s genre! Typical writers, challenging each other with seemingly insurmountable tasks.

I’m not going to share much more than this about the book because I want you to discover all the quirkiness for yourself. My one quibble was that the writing challenge seemed to fizzle out and the reveal was not quite as good as the other resolutions. But this did not detract from my enjoyment of the banter between these two writers and the unraveling of their past hurts and more.

Beach Read by Emily Henry, narrated by Julia Whelan, is a fun summer read that will have you laughing, shaking your head at these two, and smiling all the way to the beach. But you won’t catch me jumping into a cold lake for anyone.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Author:

Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the now-defunct New York Center for Art & Media Studies. Find her on Instagram @EmilyHenryWrites.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens (audio)

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Audible, 10+ hrs.
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Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens, narrated by Charlotte Beaumont, is a delightful weekend getaway with Laura, a writer for a lifestyle platform (read sponsored content). She heads to Jersey, England, from London to seek out her parents’ love story. on the plane she ends up meeting an attractive man who stoops to pick up her tampons. But she thinks nothing of this meet cute as she strives to find all the places her parents took pictures during their summer of romance. As a writer of happily ever after (HEA) stories, she has a cinematic notion of love.

While Laura is clearly to focused on HEA stories and finding love, her story demonstrates that she needs to learn to accept reality and learn how to find her own direction. When she falls into Ted’s cab and commissions him on her quest, she has no idea how things will change for her.

I cannot tell you how many times I laughed during this book. There are so many hilarious moments. Laura does have her cringy moments where I wondered what on earth she was thinking and whether she is really that clueless. Her boss, Suki, is a maniac and hard-nosed editor. Laura gets herself in hot water when her priorities shift away from that of Suki’s.

Is Laura’s meet cute with the man, Jasper, whose suitcase she ends up with after her flight to Jersey or is it something less cinematic? Jasper is a well-mannered perfect fit in terms of likes and dislikes, but there’s just no zing. Along the way, Laura meets plenty of colorful relatives and Ted’s family and friends. She finds herself immersed in Jersey’s culture and falling in love with the horizon again — much like that summer of love her parents had.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens, narrated by Charlotte Beaumont, is a delightful romantic comedy that I couldn’t help smiling as the narration continued. Laura does grow throughout, and some of that is painful. Ted is a scruffy man at the start who improves upon acquaintance. Cousens is an author I’ll definitely read again.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Sophie Cousens started her career in television, where she produced, among other things, The Graham Norton Show, Big Brother, Ant and Dec and Russell Howard’s Good News. Sophie currently lives in Jersey where she now writes full time. She lives with her husband Tim and has two small children who keep her occupied with important questions such as ‘but did Cinderella have a toothbrush?’ and ‘do giraffe’s know they have really long necks?’ She yearns for a time when she will be able to add a miniature dachshund to the party.

Kill It With Fire by Marianne Bellotti (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hrs.
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Kill It With Fire: Manage Aging Computer Systems (and Future Proof Modern Ones) by Marianne Bellotti, narrated by Katie Koster, is an audiobook I read to prepare for an interview with the author for work. So this review will be a bit unusual. Bellotti’s book is about modernizing technology, but not for the sake of getting the latest and greatest. Her book is about enterprises taking a careful look at their current operational systems, which are the backbones of many businesses today, and determining how best to maintain, upgrade, or modernize them for current business needs and the future of the business.

I found this audio to be at times engaging and circular. There are arguments made early on that are reiterated later in the book, which makes sense when you consider this is a business focused book making an argument for interdisciplinary teamwork in the world of technology that focuses on ensuring technology is not only maintained but evolved over time to meet future business needs.

Bellotti offers a lot of wonderful advice on how to work to modernize systems without burning down the entire place and starting over from scratch. Like she says, technology that is doing the job most effectively is the best option for the business, but for that technology to be at its best, it also needs to be updated and maintained.

Kill It With Fire: Manage Aging Computer Systems (and Future Proof Modern Ones) by Marianne Bellotti, narrated by Katie Koster, is a good resource for businesses trying to get a handle on the latest systems and options out there while still ensuring their business hums along as effectively as it can.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Marianne Bellotti is a software engineer and relapsed anthropologist. Her work focuses on how culture influences the implementation and development of software. She runs engineering teams and teaches other people how to tackle complex systems. Most of her work has focused on restoring old systems to operational excellence, but she also works on the safety of cutting edge systems and artificial intelligence. 

Finding Me by Viola Davis (audio)

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Audible, 9+ hrs.
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***trigger warnings for those who have suffered sexual abuse or child abuse***

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis, narrated by the author, is what I want in a memoir every time – not simply name dropping or a recounting of events, but an in-depth look at one’s life and all its dark corners and bright lights. I want it to be reflective, and I want it to ring true. I want to hear everything that a person believes makes them who they are today. Davis brings that and much more.

I have loved Davis as an actor for so many years. When I see her name on the list, I’m watching that movie. She is that powerful and phenomenal, and now I can see why. She’s one of those actors who has the innate ability to channel the past and mold it into her roles and provide her characters with motivation, but she’s also a keen observer of people around her and their emotional and physical struggles.

I did not know that Davis grew up in Rhode Island! I lived in Massachusetts, but like 20 min. from the border of Rhode Island as a girl. When she talked about places, I knew where she was. That made this a not-so-great treat because I was completely unaware of the horrors there, but I was a kid…most of us don’t notice those things.

What I loved is that she stays true to the woman I believe her to be, pulling no punches about discrimination or racism or even sexism in the Hollywood business. Her story is a story for all Black women who struggle with perceptions of others and who they are. I want all women to feel loved for who they are, not who we perceive them to be.

She is very candid about the abuse, molestation, and more that occurred in her childhood and the effects that it had on her as an adult. Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis is one of the best memoirs I’ve listened to in a while, and I highly recommend this one. I cannot tell you how riveting this was, you need to experience this for yourself.

About the Author:

Viola Davis is an American actress. The recipient of various accolades, including an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The cover of The No-Show by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Evanna Lynch, Heather Long, Kathryn Drysdale, and Luke Thompson, is misleading. O’Leary’s latest is not a ron-com; it is far more serious. Each of these women — Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane — is stood up on Valentine’s Day by Joseph Carter. The narration shifts between the three women, which makes it very hard for listeners and readers to like Carter very much. Jane is a pushover, and Siobhan is a strong woman on the outside, but Miranda is too busy trying to be one of the guys.

***I would warn those who have been harassed at work or by a professional in a partnership-type situation that this book could have triggers for them.***

This book was a long and winding trail through Joseph Carter’s love life. These three woman all play a role in his life, with two of them helping him to heal. What I didn’t enjoy was the manipulative nature of this plot and the cover image. This was not comedic at all, and the relationships here are very off-kilter. It’s almost like the author wanted us to hate Joseph from the start, only to try and redeem him through the voices of these women. I felt icky about the whole book. I preferred the side characters more than the protagonists.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary is not at all what I wanted or expected in this book. I feel manipulated by the plot and the timelines and that doesn’t leave me with much to like about the book. The peripheral characters are great, but they are not in it enough to make this much better. I did like when Miranda gets her happy ending, but I could have cared less about the others.

RATING: Couplet

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hrs
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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, begins in school with Georgina, who is voted most likely to succeed, struggling to stay just popular enough and not as popular as other kids in her class. When her teacher realizes she is not trying as hard as she should, she pairs her with Lucas McCarthy, who sits in the front of class and is incredibly quiet. They soon fall in love over literature and Wuthering Heights. While they are clearly smitten and spend every moment together, neither makes an effort to be public with their love or share their relationship with their parents.

Fast forward to when they are adults, they meet again at a newly renovated pub where Georgina is the barmaid and Lucas is the owner. For 12 years, she’s moved from job to job and man to man since school; is it because she lost her father to an unexpected death or is there something more? Top it all off, Lucas doesn’t seem to remember her at all, which signals to her that their relationship was not that memorable.

Everything begins to unravel when her new employer offers space for writing competition about moments of shame. Georgina has been harboring a big secret from everyone and trying to blame all that is wrong in her life on the wrong thing. Unless she strives to deal with her past, her life will plummet even further.

This is the first book I’ve read written by McFarlane, and I wasn’t disappointed by the character development, pacing, or story. Georgina’s boyfriend at the start of the novel, Robin, will make you so angry and fed up with her, but clues throughout the book will have you cheering her on as she strives to put him off and keep him away. Her friends are quirky and definitely British, but they are loyal. Her roommate is a bit gruff, but her advice redeems her. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, is not as fluffy a read as I expected, but it was certainly worth it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Mhairi was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree. After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels. It’s Not Me, It’s You is her third book. She lives in Nottingham, with a man and a cat.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hrs.
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The Switch by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Alison Steadman and Daisy Edgar-Jones, finds Leena Cotton agreeing to swap lives, computers, and phones with her grandmother, Eileen Cotton, in Yorkshire. The swap has Leena stepping back from her cutting edge technology and fast-paced life, while Eileen is stepping into her first London adventure. The title and the swapping of lives seems like it would be comical and funny, but like other O’Leary books, there’s much more to the story. Leena and Eileen are just two of the people affected by the death of Leena’s sister. Both have been living their lives by rote, while Leena’s mother has fallen apart a number of times, struggling with the loss of her daughter and the absence of another. Eileen has been there for it all, trying to hold her daughter together, without interfering too much.

I loved Eileen’s story of navigating online dating long after her divorce from her cheating husband, and Leena’s time in her grandmother’s shoes reignites her passion for event planning and connecting with other people in the community. Leena has to learn that she can rely on others and feel the emotions she’s been bottling up, while Eileen needs to find her own life and passions. These two are more alike than they think. The narrators did a fantastic job of differentiating between the characters, bringing life to the emotions the two women feel, and navigating the interactions of O’Leary’s characters, making them feel real.

I love that O’Leary tackles heavy topics in her books, while still making them fun reads with some comic moments. The Switch by Beth O’Leary will not disappoint. I loved the older people in Yorkshire and their interactions from the busybody to the woman who is at her husband’s beck and call. The city people that Eileen meets run the gamut, including a cat fisher. There’s a lot to juggle, but O’Leary does well to keep every story line on track.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.