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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

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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

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hours
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The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins, narrated by the author, is a long narration of how to use the 5-second rule to change your behavior and achieve your goals. In addition to a short explanation of how the rule works and how to apply it, she does offer some answers to frequently asked questions she’s received over the years and information about the psychology behind why the rule works.

Much of our indecision and regret are tied to our emotional responses to thoughts and goals — we effectively talk ourselves out of acting on our goals or ideas. Count down from 5 and then act — this leaves no time for your emotions to talk you out of accomplishing your goals or taking action. This advice can be life changing, and her examples demonstrate how it can change behaviors and build confidence in yourself. Invaluable advice and information.

However, there are far too many testimonials and it ends up sounding like a long-winded sales pitch. This could have been much shorter and succinct, with a link to a bunch of testimonials on her website for those who were interested.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins is a little long-winded and promotional, but if you want the CliffNotes version, view her TEDTalk.

RATING: Tercet

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace (audio)

Source: Purchased from Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
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A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace, narrated by Barry Shannon, is well researched, offering tidbits about Regency versus Victorian traditions. Whether Jane Austen would have had a Christmas tree, is one big question many wonder about — you’ll find out in this volume. I love that the length of the holiday celebrations are longer than our own — imagine taking several weeks to spend time frolicking, playing games, and more. Sounds like a child-like illusion, doesn’t it?

A time when Christmas was not just about presents and kids, but about adults and enjoying one another’s company. On audio the cooking and recipes are not as interesting as seeing them in print, but getting a chance to see how things really were in the past, is an eye-opener.

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace, narrated by Barry Shannon, is a book that any writer in the Jane Austen spinoff/continuation realm must have on the shelf.

RATING: Quatrain

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (audio)

Source: Audible Purchase
Audiobook, 5+ hrs.
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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson takes elements of Buddhism and westernizes them in a way that most readers can relate to them. This is an approach to life that requires an individual to take a hard look at themselves, realize their own limitations, and keep those in mind as they make choices about their work, play, and relationships. Unlike the generations he talks about in his book, I was not treated as special simply for showing up and I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons. Some of the lessons I learned may not be as hard as lessons learned by others, but they have provided me with a certain perspective on my own limitations.

We all have flaws and limitations and we need to accept them. Point taken.

Manson expresses himself with his no-holds-barred language and jokes — some of which may make you cringe — but his points are these:

  1. Deal with the bad and the good equally.
  2. Stop relying on outside forces or values to make you happy.
  3. Establish value priorities and stick to them. (not like earning more money)
  4. Be honest with yourself and others.

I do feel the author relied a little too much on a certain four-letter word, but even with that, the book offers some advice that many people might need. Do I think those people will pick up this book? Maybe, but most likely not. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is an interesting listen, but much of the Buddhism is lost in the tropes and the humor.

RATING: Tercet