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Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 8+ hrs.
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Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos, a memoir of creativity read by the author, explores a variety of political climates through the lens of an adult. When Amos was playing piano bars in Washington, D.C., the hotbed of political machinations, at age 11 in the 1970s, she was likely not aware of the political situation as much as she is as an adult. She brings her knowledge of now when she looks back on those experiences, but what sticks with her was how a marginalized group took a chance on her young talent as a pianist to provide entertainment for the political elite. Growing up in music bars throughout the city and in hotels where lobbyists made their deals with politicians provided Amos with a window into the truth of our Republic. Young people learning about our government and its structure often have a naive view of how our country is run, and I can tell you from experience that it is devastating when you learn how deals are struck and powerful men always seem to have the upper hand even if the side they are on is clearly wrong and devastating.

I love the structure of this memoir and how Amos uses her song lyrics to discuss her inspiration, the process of creativity, and what aspects of the wider world helped fuel her muses. While some of the songs may seem only tangentially connected to the world affairs she connects with them, that’s the beauty of art. It grows beyond the original intent or words to paint a wider experience of the world around us and help us to see our part in that world.

While Amos’ creative process will not be something that everyone can ascribe to or understand, it is an intriguing journey that she’s made with her family and alone. She speaks about the death of her mother briefly, which must have been particularly devastating. But it is clear that her strength as an artist and women comes from her mother and the inspiration and direction she received from her.

Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos is a memoir that I’ll remember for a very long time, and is definitely a step above compared to her first, Tori Amos: Piece by Piece. Each artist comes to their work in a different way, and while some may be excellent performers, there is a richness that comes with artists’ like Amos who create work that deeply affects their own soul, as well as those around them. Her memoir is even more relevant today that it was when it was written — before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the COVID-19 pandemic and ignorance of society about public health protections and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (audio)

Source: Publisher
Audiobook, 9+ hours
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The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, narrated by Richard Armitage, combines not only my love of Jane Austen and her novels, but also WWII. Armitage does an admirable job narrating all eight of the main characters from the steadfast and stoic Dr. Gray to the U.S. starlet of Mimi Harrison. Each of the characters’ lives — Adam, Adeline, Andrew, Evie, Frances, Dr Gray, Mimi, and Yardley — are revealed slowly throughout the novel and how they connect to one another reminds me of those moments in movies where chance meetings create a lasting bond. Some of these characters also mirror those in Austen’s novels, like the awkward shyness of Dr. Gray and the forward-thinking Adeline. WWII is a perfect time period for these characters because of the loss endured by those whose family die in the war and how Austen’s novels tangentially spoke about the tensions between England and France. Set in Chawton, England, what better place for a Jane Austen society to form?!

“I just feel, when I read her, when I reread her–which I do, more than any other author–it’s as if she’s inside my head. Like music. My father first read the books to me when I was very young–he died when I was twelve–and I hear his voice, too, when I read her.”

Jenner’s novel pays homage to Austen in a way that many other variations don’t. She understands the Austen characters and their motivations, but in creating her characters and their motivations they are not talking to us as Austen’s characters but fans of Austen’s words, her thoughts, her dreams. Jenner’s characters want to talk about Austen in a way that helps them deal with their own losses and pains, but they also want to preserve Austen’s great novels for generations to come and to do so by preserving her home in Chawton, even if it is against the wishes of the owner, Mr. Knight.

I loved how class lines are crossed in Jenner’s novel and how forward-thinking women drive the action, but the men can be so obtuse sometimes. The funny little moments of misunderstanding are definitely reminiscent of Austen, but I was irked that Mimi failed to see the opportunist streak in Jack Leonard after awhile. She saw it at the beginning, but once she got comfortable, she lost all sense where he was concerned.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, narrated by Richard Armitage, is a book not to be missed by Janeites. I really loved Armitage’s narration — he was so soothing to listen to and he carried the character-driven novel really well. Do not miss out on this gem.

RATING: Cinquain

Check out an excerpt from the audio read by Richard Armitage:

Spotify users can access a playlist for The Jane Austen Society.

About the Author:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads pages.

The Outsider by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Audible purchase
Audiobook, 19+ hours
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The Outsider by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton, is superbly narrated as always by Will Patton (he’s one of my go-to narrators for audiobooks). This king novel reads more like a crime novel in the first half after a young boy is discovered in the woods, mutilated and murdered. Terry Maitland, Flint City Little League coach and English teacher, is a pillar of the community, but he’s soon a suspect and arrested in front of the whole town. Detective Ralph Anderson, partially motivated by disgust because his son was once on Maitland’s team, now finds that some of the evidence may contradict, and a solid alibi causes serious doubts.

“Reality is thin ice, but most people skate on it their whole lives and never fall through until the very end. We did fall through, but we helped each other out. We’re still helping each other.”

The second half of the novel is pure King, a build up of creepy into an underworld of darkness and strange beings that cannot be easily explained and are often ignored because they call too much of reality into question. Have you ever wondered what your doppelgänger would look like? Most of us have, but what if that doppelgänger was just evil….pure evil? You’d probably want to know before you’re arrested for their crimes. The outsider is more than just a man who looks like Maitland, and there are many dark secrets hiding in his flesh.

The Outsider by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton, is a suspenseful horror novel, with a light horror feel for much of the novel. In the later three or four sections, the craziness ramps up and that’s when you know you’ve entered Stephen King’s world.

RATING: Quatrain

Drift by Alan King (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 1+ hrs.
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Drift by Alan King, from Audible and narrated by the poet, is a new experience in poetry, providing listeners with their own personal poetry reading. With jazzy music, sound effects, and the lyrical sounds of his poems, King transports listeners into an urban landscape where comic book heroes don’t live, but young boys still wish they would and that they could be them to battle the ugliness.

There is beauty in this collection, and it is a creative use of music, sound effects, and poetry. Tired of podcasts, depressing news, and television, enter the poetic world of Alan King and have your own personal poetry reading.

For more about the individual poems, my review is here.

Seed by Ania Ahlborn (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 6+ hours
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Seed by Ania Ahlborn, narrated by Eric G. Dove, is a creepy story that reminds me of the Exorcist in that there seems to be a demon child running around its pages. Jack Winter and his family live in Louisiana and they are far from rich, but they seem to be a pretty happy family. But following a car accident, something happens to his daughter, Charlie, that brings to the fore echoes of Jack’s past.

“The craziest of them all seem nice and normal and happy until some vital part of their brain fries like bad wiring.”

The narration is great, though there is one point in which he forgets to modify his voice for Jack’s wife but it didn’t deter me from listening to the story. I wanted the story to be creepier, but it definitely wasn’t gory, which is perfect for those who do not like those kinds of horror books. Charlie is creepy, but she really doesn’t become overly creepy until nearly the end of the book, so her change is very gradual and not as dramatic as I would expect from a demon-related story. The interconnection between Charlie’s story and her father’s past, however, gets really juicy.

Seed by Ania Ahlborn, narrated by Eric G. Dove, has elements of a good Stephen King novel like Cujo, but at the same time, it seemed to lack a certain amount of depth. The characters felt flat as I listened and I wanted more from Jack. His motivations to lie at every turn are murky at best, and why he lies seems to be a plot device. I wanted it to be more developed than it was. Charlie is definitely creepy, but her character also seems to act older than her six years even before the takeover. This was a quick read but had some faults.

RATING: Tercet

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hours
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Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, narrated by Nicole Lewis, is one of the “it” books of the year because it challenges readers to see interactions from the other person’s point of view. Alix Chamberlain is a wealthy, white, entrepreneur and mother who leaves her chic New York City life for Philadelphia. As she continues to work on her first book and maintain some sense of her successful self in a place she refuses to publicly acknowledge as her new home, she seeks out help with her two-year-old daughter Briar. Emira Tucker is a 25-year-old black woman who is unsure what she wants to do with her life after college — with some serious typing and childcare skills, it seems like she could find a full-time job and get health insurance but something is holding her back.

This book starts off with a bang in a racially charged incident in which a security guard attempts to detain Emira and Briar in a local grocery store near the Chamberlain home. Naturally, this incident is caught on video by a young, white professional who offers to post the incident on the internet to seek out justice. Emira is having none of it and her babysitting job is something she loves and she really cares for Briar. Her main focus is protecting this girl. As we take this journey with Emira and Alix, the interactions between the two are awkward from an objective viewpoint, but on closer inspection, Alix is trying so hard to be her friend, it borders on obsession. There’s nothing really untoward here between Alix and Emira, but the dynamics of this relationship are cringe-worthy in many ways.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is multi-layered and tension filled, highlighting cultural differences between blacks and whites, especially affluent whites with good intentions. Emira is a smart woman if a bit rudderless and under pressure to find a job and stable insurance. Alix should be a stable and savvy businesswoman, but she acts childish and seems not to have evolved much beyond her high school years. This would be a good book club pick for discussions about race and class. But I really did not like Alix. I found her character absolutely ridiculous and high-schoolish, trying too hard to be cool for her babysitter. Her need for acceptance and friendship from Emira is odd and obsessive. The introduction of her old high school boyfriend further complicates the story, but his character seems to be a foil for Alix’s character. The narrator, however, was a gem, very articulate, and great about differentiating between the characters.

RATING: Quatrain

The Joy Delivered Duet by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Audible Purchase
Audiobook, 19+ hours
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The Joy Delivered Duet by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Sebastian York, is a delectable treat with the uber sexy voice of Sebastian York at the help. The duet of books in the series follow Joy Delivered CEO Jack Sullivan and Co-CEO Casey Sullivan as they navigate not only sex toy business affairs, but also unexpected seduction. This steamy set of books will hear up your days and are what I would call ear candy. Very light on complex plots but heavy on seduction and play.

In “Nights with Him,” what can Jack Sullivan do when he realizes his one night stand is the same Dr. Milo he has a therapy appointment with the next morning? Sullivan is in need of therapy after losing his fiancée in a tragic accident for which he blames himself but not in the way the wonderful paparazzi and media think. Michelle Milo is a no-nonsense woman who is very focused on her career and earning respect from her colleagues. In a business deal, therapy is punted to another therapist while he pursues more than a one-night stand with Michelle. But perhaps this kind of therapy is what he needs.

In “Forbidden Nights,” Casey Sullivan has been direct and a true business leader, but some of her boyfriends have said they don’t like her controlling ways in the bedroom. Hotel mogul Nate Harper has been her friend for many years, and he’s her best guy friend, but what happens when they cross that invisible line when Casey asks for his help in letting go? Nate agrees because his fantasy can become reality but he knows he cannot be her true love. Being with his best friend, Nate soon begins to realize what he’s been missing since his divorce. How will they navigate their new relationship? Will they both back away and return to friendship land, or will they take a leap into the unknown, all the while screaming into the passionate night?What happens when years of desire and lust ignite a passion that can’t be denied?

Both of these are high on sex, low on plot and complexity. The characters become entangled with one another at any time, any place, and any where. The scandal with Michelle and Jack is wrapped up quickly and vanishes just as fast, even as it was the biggest obstacle to their kinky happily ever after. Meanwhile, Nate and Casey’s story is a bit more sweet, romantic, and sexy. The Joy Delivered Duet by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Sebastian York, is a piece of dark chocolate that you want to swallow whole while also wanting to let it melt in your mouth. Delectable, at times dirty and erotic, but entertaining.

Rating: Tercet

Other Reviews:

Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audiobook, 7+ hrs.
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Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is not as the cover suggests a battle of wills between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, which is a delightful departure. It is more reminiscent of the themes in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet meet before the start of Austen’s Pride & Prejudice at a masquerade ball, and while she discovers his identity, he only knows her Christian name. It is delightful to see them together falling in love even behind a mask, but they are soon separated and forced to forget one another by time and space, until they are thrust together again. Another wonderful twist of fate here is that Mr. Darcy’s father is alive and not as honorable as his son.

While I do adore when Elizabeth and her William are together stealing kisses, there are so many moments where they are too consumed with one another to remember that they need to be discreet to avoid scrutiny and detection by Mr. Darcy. I almost wanted to shout at them to break it up and use their rational minds, especially Mr. Darcy since he knows the scheming his father is capable of. Much of my irritation stemmed from the enormous buildup about his father’s efforts to keep his son from the Bennet daughter, but the end fell flat to me and was wrapped up much too quickly.

The battle between Mr. George Darcy and Mr. Bennet is in the background. Although it does cast a shadow on the romance and their ability to come together, I would have liked to see more of that in flashbacks and potentially how his father would have told the tale to his son, rather than just getting Mr. Bennet’s version from Elizabeth. I fear there could have been more obstacles and prejudices played with here given the long-held animosity of these two parents. These stories could have colored Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s perspectives, causing a great deal more tension when Elizabeth and Darcy had to reconcile what they knew of one another from the masquerade ball.

Zimmerman, once again, is a wonderful narrator for Austen-inspired fiction. She does well with each of the characters, including the new villain Mr. George Darcy. I enjoyed her dramatic portrayal of him and all of the other characters we’ve come to know well.

Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a delightful diversion and has a range of emotions and plots to recommend it. Do not let my qualms with the plot stop you from enjoying this wonderful romance between two of our favorite characters — Darcy and Elizabeth. There are stolen kisses and embraces, as well as wonderful confessions of love.

RATING: Tercet

The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
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The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York, is a short novella similar to a Hallmark movie in which a young professional finds a certain young man from another division at her company annoying. Riley Kennedy‘s emails keep being sent to Kennedy Riley, who works in another division at the same company. But rather than simply forward her replies, he has to offer his two-cents. Clearly, writing personal emails to an advice columnist is ill-advised from a work email account, but Riley’s really bummed about the holiday’s and her mother’s bragadocious Christmas letter to everyone in the family about her siblings.

Kennedy offers her an out — take him home for the holidays as her boyfriend.

Yes, Hallmark lane, here we come. Is it cheesy? predictable? Ultimately, yes. However, we all need that feel-good, hilarity once in a while, and this one fit the bill for me. It doesn’t hurt that my ears have a crush on Sebastian York’s sultry voice, either.

The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York, is fun, funny, and delightful. Complete with the white horse and city streets of New York.

RATING: Cinquain

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs
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I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss is a look back at the hard road of comedy and the bumpy road to stardom, but it is also explores Hart’s own life and how it impacted his future career and family. Hart pulls no punches in this one and lays everything bare, including his problems with alcohol, domestic abuse, and more.

Growing up near Philadelphia was hard, especially with a strict single mother and a father who was addicted to drugs and hardly ever home. His stories about his family are outrageous to say the least, and Hart will say that he couldn’t have made them up if he tried.

Throughout the book he offers advice he received from other comics on the scene in Philly, New York, and LA. But he also offers lessons from his own life. One takeaway that really resonated with me is that even though his mother forced them to take public transportation even when they had another option, trained him for his rigorous show schedule and the waiting on TV and movie sets that can be not only frustrating but tedious. His mother’s tenacity also inspired him to keep striving for his goals, as he faced empty bank accounts and non-paying venues.

Hart is funny throughout the audio, which he narrates, but there are moments of crassness early on when he talks frankly about becoming an adolescent boy and later in life when he’s in Hollywood. These are part of his story, and if you don’t like profanity or detailed information about sex, you may want to skip this one or those parts.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss was wildly entertaining, funny, and enlightening. I learned a great deal about where my own determination and drive comes from by Hart reminding me of those restrictive days as a kid in my parents’ home. I can now see how those restrictions helped me become the disciplined person I am. Hart’s still on a journey, but his journey is now aimed at improving the lives of his children, encouraging him in the way his mother did, and ensuring they don’t think they can skip school and do the things that he did. There were many laugh out loud moments, but there are lessons that you won’t soon forget.

RATING: Cinquain

When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audible, 3+ hours
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When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, explores a “what if” scenario regarding Jane Bennet’s reaction to when she learns the Bingley’s have been in London and that Caroline has effectively kept Mr. Bingley in the dark about her presence in the city. This novella will have you on your toes for a bit, especially as Jane Bennet becomes a bit more daring like her sister, Lizzy, and seeks to “bump” into Mr. Bingley on the streets of London.

Kincaid’s Jane has a bit more backbone that Austen’s original, and I enjoyed her “light” scheming. She’s no where near the level of Caroline Bingley, but she does give her a run for her money. We also find a different Mr. Bingley in Kincaid’s work. He’s prone to being led about in Austen’s novel, but when he learns that people he loves have meddled with his happiness look out! Although there are breaks in social convention, there’s nothing overly outrageous — just a pushing of the boundary here and there.

Zimmerman is a fantastic narrator as always, and I never lost interest in the story with her narrative lead.

When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a wonderful addition to Jane Austen-related fan fiction. My one complaint would probably be I wanted to know more of what Lizzy would have thought of Jane acting more like her. Wonderfully written and no loss ends. Kincaid has a talent for these kinds of “what if” stories.

RATING: Quatrain

Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 4+ hours
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Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine is a collection of four creepy camp stories written by others and introduced by R.L. Stine — The Werewolf in the Woods, The New Camper, Battle of the Bots, and The Ghost in the Cabin. The stories are sufficiently creepy and probably should be read with others if you get scared easily. I listened to these in the early morning hours while getting ready for work, and definitely got the chills a couple times.

My favorite of the stories was The New Camper in which a young man soon realizes that his new cabinmate is slowly usurping his personality and friends. Soon, his friends are calling his new cabinmate by his name. Battle of the Bots was a bit predictable, but it was still entertaining, as as The Werewolf in the Woods. The Ghost in the Cabin was spooky in all the right places, and the laughter was sufficiently creepy. However, to be more accurate, this should have been called “The Ghosts in the Cabin,” since there was clearly more than one (not a spoiler).

These are probably more frightening than the Goosebumps series of books, but they are definitely great campfire stories to add to your own tales in the woods. This is family friendly, and would be OK for younger readers, probably not under age 10. Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine would be a fun listen on a road trip, especially in the wilds of the Northeast or in the woods.

RATING: Quatrain