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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.

The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audiobook, 7+ hrs.
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The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a heart-wrenching variation of Pride & Prejudice. Following a disastrous proposal at Hunsford, Darcy is determined to improve Elizabeth Bennet’s opinion of him and hopefully win her love. But upon his arrival at Longbourn with Bingley, a terrible loss has separated him from his love forever. She has not married another, but is presumed dead in a ship explosion. The devastation is written on Darcy’s face and is plain to even the most obtuse Bennets. Without any hope, he has set his mind to revenge — to find the French spy who caused the explosion and her death.

Kincaid has crafted a heartbreaking scenario in which Darcy with no training is thrust into an enemy nation bent on revenge. He is clearly ill-prepared for the task and a local doctor sniffs out his true identity pretty easily, despite his impeccable French. What begins as a revenge story morphs into a story of redemption when Darcy finds that Elizabeth is not dead, but very ill and remembers nothing of her life, including her name.

This Darcy is able to demonstrate his feelings because his barriers were crushed when he thought she was dead. With her alive, he has not qualms about expressing himself and his love. Whether he realizes it or not, he can redeem himself by caring for her and returning her home, even if he must don the disguise of being her husband to escape enemy territory. The audio narration here is perfect. Each moment between them narrated for dramatic effect without being over the top, and Zimmerman engages the readers emotions as Elizabeth struggles to remember her past and how she came to marry Darcy.

The Unforgettable Mr. Darcy by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a wonderful variation full of drama, espionage, double-agents, budding friendship and love, as well as Austen’s trademark misunderstandings and prejudices. What readers will love here is how well the amnesia story line is laid out and how hard it is for Darcy to navigate the truth and fiction when his heart is so utterly lost to her and she does not remember him. Well done.

RATING: Cinquain

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.

Giveaway: President Darcy by Victoria Kincaid

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 11+ hours
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President Darcy by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Lucy Emerson, explores what would happen if Mr. Darcy was a single man from a wealthy family who became president with an agenda that Elizabeth Bennet and her family support, but then he slights her by calling her unintelligent and ugly. Kincaid has created an untenable situation for Darcy in which he has vowed not to date while president and professes not to be lonely, even though he is. When he misjudges Elizabeth and it becomes fodder for the Twitterverse, how can he overcome his ill-timed statements about Elizabeth and get her out of his heart and mind for the good of the country and his presidency?

Kincaid’s narrative is in defy narrative hands with Lucy Emerson, whose portrayal of both male and female characters is spot on throughout the book. Darcy is proud and snobbish, as well as quick to judge, but Elizabeth is stubborn and oh so oblivious to his attraction to her when he clearly takes his time to greet her warmly, apologize for his previous words, and have her favorite wine waiting on Air Force One.

I love how Kincaid navigated the restrictions of being the president in this one, even if there is one moment when protocols were thrown right out the window. The scandal that ensues makes it all worthwhile, even if it is wrapped up neatly. The scandals in this book are pretty tame compared to our daily news reports.

President Darcy by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Lucy Emerson, is my favorite of Kincaid’s books so far. I love modern variations, so if you are a puritan in the world of Austen, this is not for you. There’s humor, moments of sexual tension and release, and a lot of miscues between Darcy and Elizabeth. And Lydia….oh, Lydia…you’ll like her even less in this one.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Victoria Kincaid is the author of several popular Jane Austen variations, including The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth, Pride & ProposalsMr. Darcy to the Rescue, When Mary Met the Colonel, and Darcy vs. Bennet. All of her books have been listed in Amazon’s Top 20 Bestselling Regency Romances.  The Secrets of Darcy and Elizabeth was nominated for a Rone award and Pride and Proposals was recognized as a top Austenesque novel for 2015 by Austenesque Reviews.

Victoria has a Ph.D. in English literature and has taught composition to unwilling college students. Today she teaches business writing to willing office professionals and tries to give voice to the demanding cast of characters in her head.

She lives in Virginia with an overly affectionate cat, an excessively energetic dog, two children who love to read, and a husband who fortunately is not jealous of Mr. Darcy.  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 miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

***GIVEAWAY***

Victoria Kincaid is offering 1 audiobook copy of President Darcy to one lucky reader.

Leave a comment below with your email by March 13, 2019, at 11:59 PM EST.

But Seriously by John McEnroe (audio)

Source: Purchased from Audible
Audiobook, 8+ hours
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But Seriously by John McEnroe, narrated by the former tennis star, is a look at his life as a tennis commentator and in television, among other things. This is his second memoir, and I caution that I have not read the first one, You Cannot Be Serious. The introduction to this memoir from his current wife, Patty Smyth, is delightful, and I almost wanted more of her.

I thoroughly enjoyed his recaps of his rivalry with Bjorn Borg and his perspective on some of tennis’ current greats, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, as well as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Pete Sampras. He does talk about the Williams sisters but not as in depth. The tennis aspects of the story are melded (sometimes not well) with his adventures in television and outside the tennis world — including his own talk show. It was also fascinating to learn about his stint as an art dealer and buyer.

Because the narrative jumps around quite a bit, McEnroe’s memoir feels like it could have used some editing, particularly when he repeats things previously said in other chapters. It is clear from this memoir that he clearly still loves the game of tennis, and even though he’s no longer playing competitively, he still gets out on the court from time to time for charity or to just play around. His love of the game is apparent, especially when he comments on major tournaments.

But Seriously by John McEnroe still loves being the center of attention and commands that attention when he’s on the sidelines, in the commentator’s box, or even in charity events. His temper may have mellowed, but he’s still passionate about the sport and a number of other things. The memoir just suffered a bit from his inability to stay on one track or at least connect his train of thought better.

RATING: Tercet