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Colleen T.

Land O Lakes, FL
  • 15
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  • 24
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  • The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

  • By: Jennifer Kincheloe
  • Narrated by: Moira Quirk
  • Length: 12 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 42
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 40
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 40

It's 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc is the kind of young woman who devours purloined crime novels, but must disguise them behind covers of more domestically-appropriate reading. She could match wits with Sherlock Holmes, but in her world women are not allowed to hunt criminals. Determined to break free of the era's rigid social roles, Anna buys off the chaperone assigned by her father and, using an alias, takes a job as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Wonderfully Researched and Delightfully Told

  • By The Audiobookworm on 01-06-17

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-08-17

Reading the synopsis of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, I was instantly drawn to it as it has so many components that I love in historical fiction: a look into the customs and culture of the time period in which it takes place; a resourceful, intelligent female battling against the set stereotypes of the time; some sort of drama/action/adventure to keep me interested. I've also been hearing great buzz about this audiobook version and was delighted at the prospect of finding another delicious audiobook to make my commute less frustrating and boring then it typically is. I'm happy to say that I did enjoy listening to Anna's story unfold very much, even if I did have some issues with the main heroine herself.

Speaking of Anna Blanc (or Anna Holmes or Ami Amour depending on whether she was using one of her aliases or not), I'm sorry to say that I wasn't a huge fan of her as a character. She was quite selfish, impulsive, and arrogant and this all served to undermined her natural talents at detective work and obvious intelligence. She seemed to act without any regard for how her actions would effect other people and even destroyed the property of other people without seeming to care. She also came off as somewhat flighty at times, which made for a really odd dichotomy between her obvious abilities and her ditzy persona. She seemed shocked when people didn't take her seriously, but then did things over and over again that would make anyone not take her seriously! I'm not sure if I missed something by this being a listening experience over reading the actual book but I just had the hardest time wrapping my head around Anna Blanc.

Now, that being said, I loved almost all of the other characters! Joe Singer was an amazingly charming character and the brothel girls were hilarious. Actually, there was quite a bit of humor amongst most of the characters and I found the banter to be very entertaining. The actual search for the killer of the brothel girls was interesting as well and I can honestly say that I had no idea who the killer was and was surprised when he revealed himself.

Even with the delightful secondary characters, my absolute favorite aspect of this audiobook would have to be the narrator, Moira Quirk. She was amazing! Her ability to change her voice and make every single character distinct was unlike any other narrator I've listened to before. She was easily able to express the humor and danger and romance wherever it needed to be and made me excited to keep turning it on to listen to a little bit more whenever I could.

Anna Blanc herself aside, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc was very entertaining. While I didn't connect with this particular heroine I can see how others might really enjoy her contradictory nature and, regardless, her adventures searching for a killer definitely keep your attention.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Plague and I

  • Common Reader Editions
  • By: Betty MacDonald
  • Narrated by: Heather Henderson
  • Length: 8 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 56
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 49
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 49

" The Plague and I" recounts MacDonald's experiences in a Seattle sanitarium, where the author spent almost a year (1938-39) battling tuberculosis. The White Plague was no laughing matter, but MacDonald nonetheless makes a sprightly tale of her brush with something deadly. "Anybody Can Do Anything" is a high-spirited, hilarious celebration of how "the warmth and loyalty and laughter of a big family" brightened their weathering of the Great Depression.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Interesting

  • By Jean on 04-20-16

The Plague and I

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-30-17

I have to admit that I had never heard of Betty MacDonald before listening to The Plague and I, her memoir regarding her experiences in a tuberculosis sanitarium and her sometimes serious/sometimes comical adventures in health and illness. I'm so glad I decided to listen to this audiobook as the author's world, told through this wonderful story and by a remarkable narrator, was really interesting and gave me a view into an experience and setting I never would have been able to experience otherwise.

The story begins with MacDonald's recap of the opposing attempts at health education and application between her father and grandmother as she and her siblings grew up. Her father was quite strict regarding exercise and diet while her grandmother sort of made up her own rules regarding health and illness and classified the children's illnesses into set diseases regardless of their symptoms. Ironically, in the end her most serious illness, tuberculosis, was inflicted on her by no fault or lack of discipline of her own.

The bulk of the story takes place in the sanitarium and it was fascinating learning the odd yet strangely effective treatments and rules employed to hopefully cure the many patients at The Pines. I was amazed at the humor MacDonald was able to demonstrate given her situation and what she was expected to do - or not do - in the name of a cure. They were made to spend the vast bulk of their time lying in a cold bed without speaking or coughing and without making any relationships that could hinder their progress. I'm so glad that MacDonald played a little loose with the rules and we were invited along for the ride.

My favorite part of the narrative would have to be the many quirky and therefore humorous characters MacDonald met at the sanitarium. Her roommates, especially the soft spoken Kimmy with the biting wit, made her time in bed as fun as possible. The other patients were a myriad of the absurd - from hypochondriacs to Negative Nancy's to unusually optimistics - and it was so fun watching them on their own journeys through this memoirist's eyes. The nurses and doctors were not very friendly (with the exception of a few) and their strict rules became almost comical as they seemed to think they were working with robots instead of social creatures like humans. This insulated world and its strange cast of characters were unlike anything I'd seen before.

The narrator (Heather Henderson) was excellent. My favorite qualities of a good narrator are their ability to alter their voice based on the various characters and to express the emotions appropriately that the author meant to express with their words. Henderson did an excellent job of changing her voice up based on who was speaking, which is amazing because there is quite an extensive cast of characters. I never had to guess at who was speaking and I really appreciate that when listening to an audiobook. Henderson also easily expressed the humor intrinsic in each line of the story and it kept the mood light and breezy when it could have easily taken on a darker tone.

The Plague and I was the perfect story for an audiobook. It's interesting, informative, and oh so funny. I'm curious to learn more about the author and am definitely planning on listening to more audiobooks by this narrator. All in all a very pleasant listening experience.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Cryptic Lines

  • By: Richard Storry
  • Narrated by: Jake Urry
  • Length: 4 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 220
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 204
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 204

Lord Alfred Willoughby is deciding what is to become of his vast fortune after his death. Whilst his head is telling him to leave nothing at all to his wastrel son, Matthew, his heart is speaking differently. After much deliberation, in a last-ditch attempt to try and show to his son the importance of applying himself to a task and staying with it to the end, he devises a series of enigmatic puzzles cunningly concealed within the lines of a poem - the cryptic lines.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Great atmosphere

  • By Leslie F. on 08-29-16

Twisty Plot with Great Narration

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-10-16

Every year when the seasons begin to move towards longer nights and cooler weather, my reading and listening mood starts shifting more and more towards the scary, dark, and mysterious. When I saw this cover and read the synopsis I thought it sounded like the perfect eerie mystery to listen to on my commute to and from work. I just can't get enough of gothic mansions and hidden secrets! While the story wasn't necessarily as "spooky" as I anticipated, it did present an exciting and twisty adventure that was full of family drama and revelations.

One aspect I found very well done was the attention given to building a truly ominous atmosphere around the mystery at the heart of the story. The setting being a dark, isolated, windswept mansion by the sea, slowly falling apart around its aging owner - a rich and eccentric sort of man - sets up the perfect backdrop in which to have characters skulking around corners and through family cemeteries. The house itself almost becomes it's own character with a sort of decrepit opulence and I absolutely loved following along as our two main characters, Lord Willoughby's son, Matthew, and his solicitor, Charles, explored it and the surrounding grounds. While it became clear pretty early on that this wasn't a ghost story, I did keep expecting to see something spectral pop up around every corner!

The grand hunt Lord Willoughby sets up for Matthew and Charles was also very well constructed. Setting the two on a task to find a sapphire, using clues with double meanings and a time limit in place to ensure they work quickly, the men must use all of their wits and resources to find the sapphire first. The man who finds the sapphire will inherit the Lord's entire fortune...the man who comes in last gets nothing. And the clues left for them are anything but easy! Let's just say there are plenty of twists and turns, hidden passageways and secret rooms to discover and explore before the end is finally in sight.

What I really didn't expect, but still enjoyed, was how wrapped up in family this story and quest became. There's a lot of love and hurt, heartache and disappointment, floating around these characters and quite a few family secrets that are revealed by the end. I have to admit that I suspected the biggest reveal pretty early on but there were still a few that I never saw coming. There was also mention on and off about Charles's ex-fiancé and why she left him, but that plotline didn't seem to go anywhere and I'm not really sure it needed to be included. I'm also not sure I agree with all the choices the characters made, however the intentions and motivations behind these choices were easy to see.

I have to commend the narrator (Jake Urry) for his ability to keep the atmosphere tense and dramatic. I loved his voice for this sort of story (he sounded to me a lot like Vincent Price) and he kept things very low and ominous throughout most of the narrative. I was also impressed with his ability to keep the pace even and not rush or bog down the portions of the story that were more about the characters thinking about the clues then anything really happening. I would have possibly liked a little more variance between characters as it sometimes was hard to distinguish who was talking, but this was only a minor issue and I was really impressed overall.

The Cryptic Lines was so much more than simply a chilling gothic mystery, although it did have a good bit of that as well. The mood and atmosphere was perfect for this time of year and I genuinely enjoyed trying to unravel the clues along with the characters. I recommend this for anyone who likes a quick, twisty tale about the lengths some people will go to for family.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Traitor's Daughter

  • By: Barbara Kyle
  • Narrated by: Barbara Kyle
  • Length: 11 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7

In 1582, England is gripped by the fear of traitors. Kate Lyon, tainted by her exiled mother's past treason, has been disowned by her father, Baron Thornleigh. But in truth, Kate and her husband, Owen, are only posing as Catholic sympathizers to gain information for Queen Elizabeth's spymaster.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Thornleigh series

  • By Terrie McCain on 07-13-16

The Traitor's Daughter

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-28-15

I absolutely love this book series! I actually began with the fifth book in the series (Blood Between Queens) and have since continued on, reading The Queen's Exiles before going back and starting at the beginning with The Queen's Lady. This is a must-read historical fiction series for those that love seeing the events of the Tudor era unfold through the eyes of fictional characters that are always very close to the danger and conspiracies surrounding the throne. The Traitor's Daughter, the newest installment, does not disappoint and continues the tradition of exhilarating storylines and captivating and multifaceted characters.

The Traitor's Daughter focuses the spotlight on Kate Lyon (nee Thornleigh). When we last saw Kate in The Queen's Exiles, her father, Baron Thornleigh, was rescuing her from her horrid Catholic mother's clutches while having to leave behind Kate's brother, Robert, during the rescue. A number of years have past while Kate grows up in England and, when the novel opens, she is meeting up with her husband, Owen, as he is released from prison. Her father has disowned her, believing Owen is a Catholic working against Queen Elizabeth's rule (which was actually quite upsetting to me after the lengths he went to to rescue Kate and bring her home). What Baron Thornleigh doesn't know is that Owen and Kate are actually double agents, pretending to be working with the Catholics in their cause to bring down Elizabeth and rescue and put on the throne the imprisoned Scottish Queen Mary, all while delivering this valuable information to Elizabeth's spymasters. This double dealing keeps the tension tight from the beginning of the novel until its tragic end and means that danger and heartache are never far behind these two. This becomes even worse when Kate's long lost brother, Robert, is discovered in England and Kate has to wrestle with whether or not Robert is who he says he is. Is he really glad to be home in England and at service to its queen? Or did their Catholic mother and her traitorous comrades influence him to come to England and help bring down Elizabeth? This becomes the crux of the novel and I was completely transfixed watching the action unfold.

The author, Barbara Kyle, is the narrator of this audiobook and I have to say she is perfect at it. You can tell when listening to her spin the tale that her background is in acting as she knows exactly when and how to build drama and tension, draw the reader into the passions of the characters and even break their hearts a little when the characters' lives come crashing down around them. Every single man in Kate's life seemed to hurt her in one way or another and I especially felt drawn to Kate and Robert's storyline as I loved their connection and relationship in The Queen's Exiles. Somehow Barbara Kyle was able to make me feel that connection as well as the others, and I was taken aback at how emotional listening to the story became. I actually felt quite disappointed in some of their actions too, which usually doesn't happen to me unless I become as invested in the story as I did here.

Tudor history is well covered in novels and therefore can sometimes come across as same-old-same-old. When reading or listening to a Thornleigh saga story I never feel like that, always knowing I am in for an emotional treat that will give a new light to the history already well known. While anyone can pick up the story at any point in the series I do recommend starting at the beginning, and listening to the audiobooks if that's an option for you. In the author's deft hands you will surely have hours upon hours of worthy entertainment, and, for those not familiar with the drama surrounding the Tudors, maybe learn a little something at the same time.

  • Sisters of Treason

  • By: Elizabeth Fremantle
  • Narrated by: Georgina Sutton, Rachel Bavidge, Teresa Gallagher
  • Length: 15 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 36
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 31
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 30

Penguin presents the unabridged, downloadable audiobook edition of Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle. Lady Jane Grey has just been executed by her cousin Mary Tudor and her two younger sisters, Mary and Catherine, live in the shadow of their sister's tragic demise. Lady Catherine's fatal flaw is her compulsive desire for love, while clever Lady Mary is burdened with a crooked spine and tiny stature - and both have inherited the curse of royal blood.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Tudor History at its Finest!

  • By Colleen T. on 10-22-15

Tudor History at its Finest!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-22-15

Tudor history is one of those time periods that has been written about every possible way, with just about every person of note highlighted and nearly every corner unearthed to try and present the history in a new and interesting light. While I still can't get enough of the Tudors I do understand why many readers have all but banned them from their reading lists....there's just been such an over-saturation of the subject matter! So what could draw a reader familiar with the time period back? Simply put, exceptional writing and a story that, while familiar, is still poignant and alluring. This is exactly what you will get in Elizabeth Fremantle's Sisters of Treason, a novel that is so well written you cannot help but be drawn in and captured by the characters even as you know the inevitable paths their lives will take.


I switched back and forth between the Kindle version and the Audible audiobook version of Sisters of Treason but I must note that the audiobook was so captivating that I listened to the majority of the story. The narrators (Georgina Sutton, Rachel Bavidge and Teresa Gallagher) were perfect and did a phenomenal job of giving Lady Catharine, Lady Mary and Levina Teerlinc their own voices and personalities. So often with audiobooks there is one narrator that does their best to create distinct voices for multiple characters, but having the three separate narrators eliminated any possible confusion between characters and gave each her own story within a story. Whichever narrated Lady Mary was PERFECT and was able to somehow give us this higher, innocent sounding voice laced with steal that perfectly personified the Lady Mary within the story. I was so disappointed whenever I had to stop listening and do anything else.


Choosing to tell this story from these three points of view was excellent. The story as a whole covers the time period from Jane Grey's execution through a good part of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The royal blood that flows within the two surviving Grey sisters meant they would never be too far from the court or the intrigues that surrounded the thrones of Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, especially Lady Mary as her deformity and small stature made her less of a threat to both queens and made it so she was nearly invisible to many. She was almost a pet to these queens and was witness to many conversations and intrigues that wouldn't have happened in front of others. Lady Catharine, on the other hand, did present more of a threat so was closely watched and punished for any personal freedoms she sought without the queens' permission. Levinia also presents a great point of view as she shifts from the fringes of the court as a painter into the grime and dirt of the streets, giving a way to show what all level of person would have felt and experienced during this turbulent time. These shifting perspectives gives a constant feeling of tension overlaying the story as danger and grief is never far behind any of these women.


Individually, each woman's story is laced with loss, heartache and, ever so briefly, small glimpses of joy. Lady Katharine wants nothing more than to love freely and be loved and, for anyone who knows the story already, her actions toward this end bring her years of imprisonment and indescribable loss. Lady Mary wants peace and security away from court and, while she eventually finds a small taste of this, faces her own losses of love and happiness before getting there. Levina sacrifices much of her own love and family in the pursuit of her art and to protect the Grey sisters and, while I wasn't familiar with her as a court painter, watching her tug-a-war between her home life and her court life was fascinating. All of these characters are brought to life in such a way that it was impossible not to feel for them and ache a little for all they lost.


The secondary characters are just as well brought to life. I was amazed at the detail given to Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and Ms. Fremantle does an exceptional job of showing the mental and physical unraveling of Mary as well as the whip-smart and vindictive nature of Elizabeth. I was a little surprised at the sympathetic presentation of the Grey sisters' mother, Francis Grey, as I have always seen her presented as a cruel, cold and manipulative woman, but I enjoyed seeing her as a more loving and kind mother to Catharine and Mary and supportive friend to Levina. The entire story, from character development to period detail, is just perfectly presented.


Even though I have all three of Elizabeth Fremantle's novels this is my first experience with her writing and it is just superb. I am now prepared to dive right into Queen's Gambit (the first in her Tudor Trilogy with Sisters of Treason being the second) and Watch the Lady (the third book in the Tudor Trilogy). I can't imagine a better way to spend my time and recommend her writing to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or just a wonderfully spun story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Stillwater Rising

  • By: Steena Holmes
  • Narrated by: Amy McFadden
  • Length: 6 hrs and 57 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 46
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 36
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 37

After losing her son in an elementary school shooting that devastates the tight-knit community of Stillwater Bay, Jennifer Crowne finds herself unable to settle back into her role of perfect stay-at-home mom and committee organizer. Meanwhile, her best friend, Mayor Charlotte Stone, struggles to keep the town together, and Charlotte’s husband, the school principal, may not be the hero everyone thinks him to be.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Imaginative

  • By Kindle Customer on 02-05-17

Stillwater Rising

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-01-15

I have discovered a wonderful new way to enjoy the reading experience: a Kindle edition that allows you to flip seamlessly between the eBook version and the Audible audio version. Maybe others have known about this for a long time, but Stillwater Rising was my first experience with this format and I have to say I loved it! It allowed me to listen to the story on my long commutes and as soon as I was able to stop and actually read the story it would deliver me to the exact spot I left off on. The narrator, Amy McFadden, did a wonderful job of giving a different edge to the voices of many of the characters and this helped differentiate them in my mind. And, Stillwater Rising being a very emotional read, this also helped to endear me to these character and to really feel the loss, sadness and anger that so many of them felt.

I should warn anyone who has had a treasured child in their life that this novel will fairly gut you at times. My son is soon to be ten (the same age as Jen's son in the story) and as I progressed through the story I could not help but put myself in Jen's place and found myself tearing up more than once because of it. Steena Holmes does a wonderful job of placing the reader into the head and heart of each of the main characters and making you empathize, even if you can't necessarily relate, to how each of them is trying to survive and move on after this tragedy.

The character I related to most, clearly, was Jen. I was rather shocked that only a month (yes, one month!) had passed since the terrible shooting that killed a number of students and teachers in this tight-knit community and that most people were expecting everyone to have begun to move on by this point. So many were trying to get the town back to normal before the busy summer season began and even had plans to have an annual summer celebration like usual, and all I could keep thinking was "really?! Already?!". Jen was one of the last to start the process out of mourning and I kept wanting to shout at the characters that were pushing her to begin moving on.

Beyond Jen, each of the other main characters presented different viewpoints on this tragedy and realistic and legitimate perspectives on how to handle the complex emotions remaining as they faced a future very different than anything they could have imagined. The most complex of these characters was Julia, the mother of the teenage shooter who also killed himself. The level of guilt, grief and emptiness she was feeling was palpable and, while I could understand why some of the people in the community blamed her somewhat for the tragedy (why didn't she see any signs that her son was this troubled? Why did she allow him to have access to a gun?) I couldn't help but feel for her as she struggled with her guilt over what her son had done and her deep need to mourn this child of hers that everyone was calling a monster. There are a lot of complicated feelings going on in this story and Steena Holmes does a great job of showcasing them all.

The story ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger and leaves a good amount of unanswered questions regarding the many relationships that have either begun to build back up or fall apart after the tragedy and what will happen next for the community. There's also a tease regarding the principal of the school that leaves you to believe we don't know everything about what happened the day of the shooting. I am very intrigued to see where the author takes the people of Stillwater Bay next.

  • J

  • By: Howard Jacobson
  • Narrated by: Colin Mace, Adjoa Andoh
  • Length: 11 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 10
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars 9

Two people fall in love. Kevern doesn't know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. He doesn't ask who hurt her. Hanging over the lives of everyone is a past event shrouded in suspicion, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • J

  • By Colleen T. on 10-01-15

J

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-01-15

When Kevern and Ailinn meet and fall in love they aren’t entirely sure if it is fate or someone else’s machinations pushing them together. Both come from such mysterious backgrounds, neither knowing really where they come from nor being entirely sure where they are going, and the fact that they have found each other in the brutal and secretive world they live in seems quite astonishing. As certain acquaintances of theirs draw closer and begin dropping information about their families’ pasts the lovers begin to realize their relationship was not an accident and there are those who would use them to make up for a horrible wrong done in the past that the world has long been trying to erase from memory and history. But is this a wrong that can be corrected or has it all gone too far? And if it can be corrected, should it?

Does my description above seem rather vague and mysterious? Well it should! J deals almost exclusively in suggestions and innuendoes, leaving the reader to discern what actually happened in the past that no one in the present story is supposed to talk about or remember and exactly how Kevern and Ailinn fit into the plan to make up for that past wrong. This shroud of mystery makes every revelation that much more delicious and startling and the casual way the situation is discussed by the secondary characters well aware of what happened makes the actual horror of what happened that much more chilling.

This is what we, the reader, know: the world the characters live in is some future time where something horrible happened in the past that has been essentially erased from history and barely lives in the minds of most of those now living. Everyone refers to what happened in the past as “what happened, if it happened” and are discouraged from discussing it or keeping things from this past time period while never being forcibly told to not do so. There are those that would like to try and correct the injustice of this past horrible act and Kevern and Ailinn are the key to starting towards this correction. The reader will figure out what this horrible act was by the end of the story but I don’t want to give it away here…the punch to the gut wouldn’t be as strong if you know ahead of time what heinous crime was committed!

I listened to J as an audiobook and I feel this is the perfect venue for this story. The main narrator did a remarkable job of giving each character their own voice and delivered this slow burn of a story perfectly so the listener is shocked when hints as to what happened are delivered amidst casual conversation or a character’s internal dialogue. The secondary narrator, voicing the diary entries of the person tasked with watching over Kevern, served throughout to show that these main characters are being monitored and also, towards the end, to highlight that the hatred and prejudice that caused the horrible incident in the past still burned within at least some of those that remained.

A part of me wishes I could give more concrete information but another part of me wants everyone to experience this story for themselves without knowing exactly what to expect. It will remind us all how far hatred can go and just how true the statement that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” is. This story will appeal to a wide range of readers and I would recommend it to most everyone as I found it to be a very entertaining experience.

  • Juliet's Nurse

  • By: Lois Leveen
  • Narrated by: Nicola Barber
  • Length: 10 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 23
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 22
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 22

In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappellettis’ darkest secrets. Those secrets - and the nurse’s deep personal grief - erupt across five momentous days of love and loss that destroy a daughter, and a family.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Good try but no go

  • By Pita on 10-13-14

Juliet's Nurse

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-01-15

Like just about everyone else who experiences an American public high school education I remember reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and really enjoying it even if I found the language rather difficult to get through. After almost 20 years my memory of the intricacies of plot and character development are somewhat blurry but the overall image I retain is of an all-consuming love between two young and naïve members of two feuding families against a backdrop of greed, power and jealousy. Beyond that things get hazy. With Juliet’s Nurse the reader is drawn back into this world of corruption and political rivalries and given the opportunity to view this much-read story from a new perspective, that of Juliet’s wet nurse and strongest advocate, with its world coming to life like never before in a way that is impossible to forget.

When Angelica loses her one day old daughter, a daughter she wasn’t even aware she was pregnant with, she is beyond bereft. Having already buried her sons, who died during the plague, she feels empty even with her caring and always attentive husband, Pietro, by her side. When she is whisked off on the same day she lost her daughter and employed as wet nurse to the newborn daughter of the rich and powerful Cappelletti family, her new charge becomes a balm for her battered heart and her new position as young Juliet’s everything gives her a new purpose in life. Her new life isn’t always safe and happy, however, and her unique position within the walls of the Cappelletti’s home allows her to see the vice and extravagance of a world she was not born into and one she doesn’t much want to be a part of. But her all-consuming love for Juliet keeps her there, ready to defend and do what is right for this daughter of her heart. And when it comes time for Juliet to marry and her young charge goes against the wishes of her father to be with the boy she loves, Angelica will try and do what she thinks is right for Juliet even as events unfold that she could never have anticipated.

I listened to Juliet’s Nurse as an audiobook and found it to be absolutely enthralling! The narrator did an excellent job of giving each character their own voice and perfectly captured the rollercoaster of emotions they all went through throughout the story. Her inflections and pacing was spot on and had me eager to get back in my car so I could get back to the story that had me completely captivated.

The author did a wonderful job as well, breathing new life into the complicated relationships and allegiances surrounding Romeo and Juliet. Having the focus be on Angelica is just brilliant with her unique and always present position not only within the opulent halls of the Cappelletti household but on the grimy and dangerous streets of Verona. I also loved that the author spent the majority of the story before the events of Romeo and Juliet even occur, giving the reader a better sense of what brought about the strong bond between Angelica and Juliet as well as a greater sense of the actions and jealousies that brought about those fateful days dealt with in Shakespeare’s classic story.

I cannot recommend Juliet’s Nurse enough for those looking for a new spin on a much told story. Historical fiction and classics lovers will just eat this one up and it would also be appealing to anyone looking for a novel with a spitfire of a main character or one that fully encompasses and expands on the world Shakespeare created centuries ago.

  • The House We Grew Up In

  • By: Lisa Jewell
  • Narrated by: Karina Fernandez
  • Length: 13 hrs and 25 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,923
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,758
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 1,757

The Bird children have an idyllic childhood: a picture-book cottage in a country village, a warm, cosy kitchen filled with love and laughter, sun-drenched afternoons in a rambling garden. But one Easter weekend a tragedy strikes the Bird family that is so devastating it tears them apart. Many years later something will call them home, back to the house they grew up in - and to what really happened that Easter weekend all those years ago.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Intriguing but rough

  • By Taylor on 01-26-16

The House We Grew Up In

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-01-15

Oh how I loved this story! I purchased the book as a Kindle/Audible Audio version but to be completely honest I didn't read a page. The narrator (Karina Fernandez) was so spectacular that I wanted nothing more than to listen to her weave the story with each character's individual personality and voice and had trouble pulling myself away when I had to get anything else done. That isn't to say the story itself isn't as wonderful as the narration. This was a perfect combination of an excellent story and the right narrator able to pull off the complicated emotions and circumstances it presented.

The story weaves back and forth in time, from Meg, the oldest Bird child, her daughter and, eventually, her father, sister and brother Rory, cleaning out their mother Lorelei's home back to various Easter weekends over the course of their lives. When we first meet Meg in 2011 we discover that Lorelei was a hoarder (think of the worst possible episode of Hoarders and you'll have a good idea of how badly she lived). As we go back in time we see her sickness evolve from a sort of whimsical, free spirited quirkiness into a brutal, sometimes aggressive need to keep everything until there is literally walls of junk and only one chair she can sit in. She pushes everyone away and refuses to bend or compromise with anyone. This sickness, along with the tragic incident that happened one Easter, pushes each member of the Bird family in opposite directions and effects how each of them develops as a person. We get to see each character battle with their guilt and lack of control and the author really does an astonishing job of presenting the heartache and damage done to them (and that they do to each other) by the circumstances of their lives. We get to see first hand the vicious cycle of mental and, in some cases, physical damage that can cause generations to pass on this sort of problem even as they swear they will be different.

The story also incorporates the email correspondence between Lorelei and an online romantic interest and it is within this correspondence that we get to peek inside Lorelei's scarred heart and mind and see how her life imploded from her own point of view. We learn what really happened that one horrible Easter and her attempts to try and fight her mental illness as much as she can. These parts really broke my heart! The narrator does such a great job of inflecting a false happiness into Lorelei's words as the listener can hear the pain and sadness crack through. Even though Lorelei had hurt those she said she loved most, quite badly at times, I couldn't help wanting to give this fictional character a hug and try to help her. Even being done with the story I still can't get her out of my head!

While I know this sounds just horribly sad it isn't all bad. We do get a sense that things could be different in the future for some of the Birds, if they are willing to get help and help each other heal and move on. Regardless of where these characters might have gone after the story technically ended, the time spent with each of them was quite the journey. I'm always amazed when an author can make me truly feel for their fictional characters and Lisa Jewell definitely did that. I am so excited to see what else she has to offer!

28 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • The Panopticon

  • By: Jenni Fagan
  • Narrated by: Gayle Madine
  • Length: 9 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 45
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 40
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 38

Anais Hendricks, 15, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais' school uniform. Smart, funny, and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat. She is also a child, who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad hoc family there.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A Girl with a Shark's Heart

  • By linda on 08-15-13

The Panopticon

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-01-15

I was first drawn to The Panopticon after reading the synopsis. Right after college I worked with "troubled" kids, first as a Mental Health Associate in a Behavioral Health Center and then as a Behavioral Specialist at an alternative school, and Anais sounded like many of the kids I came into contact with during those years. I worked with kids that had experienced unspeakable childhoods and some that did horrible things, but what I learned from all of them was that each had learned how to survive and cope with the world they lived in the best they could. Many had been let down, time and time again, by those adults and institutions that were supposed to help them and keep them safe and were therefore incredibly suspicious of any that came into their lives. How could anyone blame them for that? This aspect of the story, combined with the mystery of whether or not Anais had harmed the policewoman and what part "the experiment" played in the whole thing, drew me in. While I can't say all my questions were answered by the last page I can say this character-driven story was powerful and heartbreaking, and important reading for anyone trying to understand the mind of children let down by the same society that views them as the problem.

I purchased The Panopticon as an eBook/audiobook combo but ended up listening to the audiobook for the majority of the story. The narrator (Gayle Madine) has a very heavy British accent and this, combined with the profuse slang used, made it difficult at first to keep up with what was happening. Once I got used to this, however, I really enjoyed the inflections and feelings she put into the story. Even with the heavy subject matter being discussed, the lives of these young offenders are infused with humor and love that felt very real and made me hope they would somehow all come out the other side of their tangled young lives happy and healthy (which, of course, is not realistic). While some readers might find the slang, heavy cursing, violent actions and drug use discussed a turnoff, I think it was completely necessary to present this world of damaged and neglected children as realistically as possible.

The majority of the story takes place in Anais's head, which is an interesting perspective as it makes some aspects very fanciful or gritty while also making some of what she tells us unreliable. As the synopsis points out, Anais has been moved around from one home to another since she was a baby and she has developed a long list of habits and rituals to help her cope and control what she can, as I imagine most children in her situation would do. Anais is a remarkable character, clever and sensitive (about certain things at least) but also cynical and desensitized given her experiences. I spent much of the story going back and forth between believing she had severe mental issues - with her believing she is part of an experiment where she is constantly watched and manipulated by unseen people that want to see her locked up for life, panic attacks were she sees faces on the walls and feels like she is shrinking, her inability to remember what happened at the time the policewoman was beaten so badly she ends up in a coma - and feeling like she had a better handle on this world than most adults do. She's caring, abusive, generous, selfish...in other words she is a complex and flawed person like everyone else. It isn't often I come across a character that is as destructive as Anais and that I wholeheartedly cheer for nonetheless, but that is exactly what happened.

My only real issue with The Panopticon was the author's failure to wrap up the various threads she started in the story. Two of the main aspects - the policewoman in a coma and the experiment tracking Anais - sort of drifted off by the end. The reader isn't given any concrete answers to either issue and this made the drama and mystery just sort of deflate for me. There are other more minor threads, like the disappearance of a fellow Panopticon resident and the fate of Anais's incarcerated boyfriend that used her in a most horrible way, that are left unresolved as well. The fate of Anais herself is left somewhat unresolved and, while I can see that the author is leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions, I would have preferred a little more resolution when it came to the future of these captivating characters.

Author Jenni Fagan clearly knows how to get inside the heads and hearts of young people who are forced to cope with things that no human should have to cope with and I think she presents these mistreated and neglected children perfectly. The family that develops at the Panopticon is remarkable and I absolutely loved spending time with them. While I would have preferred more concrete resolutions, those readers that enjoy drawing their own conclusions will revel in the material given. I won't soon forget Anais or her compatriots and I will definitely watch for more novels by Ms. Fagan.