Down By the River by Robyn Carr

down by the river

  • Title:  Down By the River
  • Series:  Grace Valley, #3
  • Author:  Robyn Carr
  • Narrator:  Therese Plummer
  • Genre:  Contemporary Romance
  • Published:  2013 – Recorded Books
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  June Hudson is the town’s doctor, a caring, capable woman who now has a bit of explaining to do. People are beginning to notice the bloom in her cheeks – and the swell of her belly. Happily, DEA agent Jim Post is back in June’s arms for good, newly retired from undercover work and ready for new beginnings here in Grace Valley. Expecting the unexpected is a way of life in Grace Valley, and the community is overflowing with gossip right now. Who is the secret paramour June’s aunt Myrna is hiding? Does the town’s poker-playing pastor have too many aces up his sleeve? But when dangers, from man and nature, rise up with a vengeance to threaten June and the town, this community pulls together and shows what it’s made of. And Jim discovers the true meaning of happiness here in Grace Valley: There really is no place like home.  (publisher)

My take:  The publisher’s synopsis perfectly describes this final book in the Grace Valley trilogy. I enjoyed all three books that cover the arc of June’s journey from a single, thirty-something, overworked small town doctor to a life she hadn’t expected.

Robyn Carr wove threads of minor story lines through June’s story that enhanced the novel. Grace Valley is populated with people down on their luck, people of means who share unselfishly, and regular, flawed people just doing their best to get by. As this is the last book  I’m going to miss them all.

As usual, Therese Plummer’s narration was perfect for the book. I always enjoy her performances.

_____

This is the first series I’ve finished for the 2014 Finish The Series Reading Challenge!

Almost Perfect by Susan Mallery

fg3

  • Title:  Almost Perfect
  • Series:  Fool’s Gold, #2
  • Author:  Susan Mallery
  • Narrator:  Tanya Eby
  • Genre:  Contemporary Romance
  • Published:  June 2010 – Brilliance Audio
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  Back in high school, Liz Sutton was the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Then she’d stolen the heart of the most popular boy in town and their secret romance helped her through the worst of times. Until Ethan Hendrix betrayed her and everything they’d ever meant to each other. Devastated and pregnant, Liz left Fool’s Gold, California forever, she thought. Now Liz must return to town and face the man who doesn’t know of their son’s existence. And this time she won’t have the option of making a quick getaway. Ethan and Liz can’t deny their passionate attraction, even after all these years. But will their desire be enough to spark a second chance at love? (publisher)

My take:  Almost Perfect is the second book in the Fool’s Gold series. I’ve read a few books out of order but I’ve found they can stand alone and I always enjoy my visits to Fool’s Gold. I thought Tanya Eby did a fine job with the narration.

I liked Liz. She’s an author who really doesn’t want anything to do with the town where she grew up. When she’s called home to Fool’s Gold for a family matter she drops everything and returns. Once there she deals with more than the family matter – she sees Ethan and stuns him with her news. I found Ethan  not very likable. I get why he’s upset but he was kind of a jerk through most of the book.

Susan Mallery’s story held my interest throughout. I had to see how Liz and Ethan would find their way to a happy ending. Woven into the main story was the thread about Liz’s nieces who’ve been abandoned by a stepmother. They depend on Liz to save them.  Familiar characters from the first book make appearances and, along with a few new ones, set the reader’s expectations for future books.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

trp

  • Title:  The Rosie Project
  • Author:  Graeme Simsion
  • Narrator:  Dan O’Grady
  • Genre:  Fiction
  • Published:  October 2013 – Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  MEET DON TILLMAN, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. 

Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.  (publisher)

My brief take:  The Rosie Project is Graeme Simsion’s charming novel about a socially awkward professor on the search for the perfect wife. When he meets Rosie he quickly determines she’ll not be a candidate for the Wife Project. These two people seem about as far apart on the compatible scale as two people could be so they don’t even think about a romantic involvement. That made their story even more enjoyable. It’s a bit of a comedy of errors at times that had me laughing as I listened. To that point – I’m glad I listened to the audiobook. Dan O’Grady did a great job voicing the various characters. His narration added to my enjoyment of the novel. Recommended.

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

The Supreme Macaroni Company audio

  • Title:  The Supreme Macaroni Company (#3 Valentine series)
  • Author:  Adriana Trigiani
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Narrator:  Cassandra Campbell
  • Published:  November 2013 – Harper; Harper Audio
  • Sources:  Publisher (print copy); I purchased the audio

Synopsis:  For over a hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This historic business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the school teacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret. 
A piece of surprising news is revealed at The Feast of the Seven Fishes when Valentine and Gianluca join her extended family on a fateful Christmas Eve. Now faced with life altering choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: “A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything.” The proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves-the bitter and the sweetness of life itself.
Romantic and poignant, told with humor and warmth, and bursting with a cast of endearing characters, The Supreme Macaroni Company is a sumptuous feast of delights: a portrait of a woman and the man she loves, her passion for craftsmanship, and the sacrifices it takes to build and sustain a family business while keeping love and laughter at the center of everything.  (publisher)

My take:  The Supreme Macaroni Company is the final installment of the Valentine series. I’ve been a fan since I first met Valentine Roncalli in Very Valentine. She’s a modern, sometimes confident, usually headstrong woman who is intent on keeping her family’s shoe company in business.

Val knows what she wants and one of those wants is Gianluca – the love of her life. Where Val is modern, American and in her 30s, Gianluca is a traditional Italian and in his 50s. These two don’t always see eye to eye but they never lose sight of their love for one another. When they marry Valentine must learn to compromise – easier said than done. Gianluca wants to take care of her and sometimes makes decisions without consulting Val. This causes some rocky times in the early days of their marriage.

What Val learns is that a willingness to sacrifice and compromise from a place of love will be a blessing to them both. Adriana Trigiani’s story is emotional and at times had me in tears so have some tissues handy. I’m going to miss the Roncallis and all the rest – maybe in five or ten years we can convince the author to let us know what’s going on in their lives.

Audio:  Cassandra Campbell’s narration is first rate. Her performance of Valentine and the other characters enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

Audiobook: Ocean Beach by Wendy Wax

  • Ocean BeachTitle:  Ocean Beach
  • Author:  Wendy Wax
  • Narrator:  Amy Rubinate
  • Genre:  Women’s Fiction
  • Publisher:  October 2013 – Tantor Media
  • Length:  11 hours 50 minutes
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  Unlikely friends Madeline, Avery, and Nicole have hit some speed bumps in their lives, but when they arrive in Miami’s South Beach neighborhood, they are all hoping for a do-over. Literally. They’ve been hired to bring a once-grand historic house back to its former glory on a new television show called Do-Over. If they can just get this show off the ground, Nikki would get back on her feet financially, Avery could restart her ruined career, and Maddie would have a shot at keeping her family together.

At least, that’s the plan – until the women realize that while having their work broadcast is one thing, having their personal lives play out on TV is another thing entirely. Soon they are struggling to hold themselves, and the project, together. With a decades-old mystery – and the hurricane season – looming, the women are forced to figure out just how they’ll weather life’s storms.  (publisher)

My take: Once again Wendy Wax delivers a novel that, partnered with Amy Rubinate’s narration, thoroughly entertained me. The ladies of Ten Beach Road are back and trying to make a go of renovating another grand Florida home – this time on the Atlantic coast.  They hope to turn the filmed experience into a home-reno show for a cable channel. What they didn’t notice when they signed on for the pilot was the fine print. Every minute will be filmed and the show will be presented as a reality show. Yikes! Couple that aspect with a mystery the homeowner would like to solve and you’ve got the makings of a good story. 

There’s drama in each woman’s personal life too. I won’t go into each one but suffice it to say that the drama moved the plot and at the end of the novel there are enough unwrapped stories to make me think there could be another novel in this series. I’m hoping.

If you enjoyed Ten Beach Road I think you’ll like Ocean Beach. Amy Rubinate’s narration enhanced my enjoyment of the novel.

Audiobook catch up

a hundred summers

  • Title:  A Hundred Summers 
  • Author:  Beatriz Williams
  • Narrator: Kathleen McInerney
  • Genre:  Women’s Fiction; Romance
  • Published:  May 2013 – Penguin Audio
  • Length:  11 hours 35 minutes
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her after heartbreak.

That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.

Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancee, now recently married – an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily’s friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction… and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations.

Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever.  (publisher)

My brief take:  Beatriz Williams’ story of wealthy people and soap-like drama was a good beach read. I love the era. It was  post-1929 crash and pre-WWII which encompassed financial difficulties, prejudice, and people ignoring much of what was happening in the rest of the world. Add in the personal issues of failed friendships, betrayal, a broken engagement and an uncomfortable summer season that brings Budgie, Nick and Lily back together and you’ve got a juicy story. I enjoyed listening to A Hundred Summers. Kathleen McInerney’s narration was top notch.

*  *  *

the firebird

  • Title:  The Firebird
  • Author:  Susanna Kearsley
  • Narrator:  Katherine Kellgren
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction; Paranormal; Time Travel
  • Published:  January 2013 – Audible, Inc.
  • Length:  14 hours 39 minutes
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird – the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.
Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna who leads her into the past on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.  (publisher)

My brief take:  I enjoyed this follow up (continuation) to The Winter Sea. I’m a fan of these adventures Susanna Kearsley takes us on. I rate it 4.5 stars and the fantastic narration by Katherine Kellgren moves it up to 5 stars.

I also followed the Kindle edition from time to time. An added bonus of the print book are the author’s notes at the end. Kearsley answered questions I’d had in mind while reading such as what is historically accurate and what is filled in to connect dots. I always wonder about those things while reading historical fiction. I don’t care what the answers are if the story grabs me – something that is never a problem with Kearsley’s novel. Like I mentioned, I’m a fan!

This book is part of the Slains series and I realized too late that I was reading them out of order. No matter, I have The Shadowy Horses on my shelf and look forward to reading it. Can’t wait to meet the sigh-worthy Rob from the beginning :)

Audiobook: The Best Man by Kristan Higgins

the best man

  • Title:  The Best Man
  • Series:  Blue Heron, #1
  • Author:   Kristan Higgins
  • Narrator:  Amy Rubinate
  • Genre:  Contemporary Romance
  • Published:  February 2013 – Tantor Media
  • Source:  purchased from Audible

Synopsis:  Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she’s ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family’s vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there’s some great scenery there….

Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief – and best friend of her former fiancé. There’s a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it’s not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she’s having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.  (publisher)

My take:  Kristan Higgins is an auto-buy author for me. I pre-ordered The Best Man months ago and finally got around to listening to the audiobook.  When I buy a Kindle book there’s a good chance the audiobook edition will be offered at a reduced price at Audible. That was the case for The Best Man.

Kristan Higgins had me alternately laughing and sighing the more I got into the book. I loved listening to Amy Rubinate’s narration. She voiced the characters perfectly and her timing was a good match for Higgins’ story.

I loved Faith and Levi. They’ve known each other since early school days and then Levi was the best friend of Faith’s  fiancé. He’s also the reason Faith was left at the altar but not for the reason you’d think.

Both Faith and Levi had been wounded by the loss of a loved one when they were young. Despite that, or maybe because of that, they seemed a good match – first as verbal sparring partners and then as romantic partners. Their path to a ‘happily ever after’ was a bit twisty but I knew Higgins would wrap it up perfectly – and she did.

The Best Man is the first in the Blue Heron series and I can’t wait for the second, The Perfect Match. Good thing I don’t have to wait too long. It’s set to publish at the end of October.

Audio: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax


while we were watching downton abbey

  • Title:  While We Were Watching Downton Abbey
  • Author:  Wendy Wax
  • Narrator:  Orlagh Cassidy
  • Published:  April 2013 – Penguin Audio
  • Source:  I purchased the audiobook

My take:  Wendy Wax had me at Downton Abbey :)  HOWEVER, you don’t need to have watched the series to enjoy this novel.

When the British concierge of the Alexander, an upscale Atlanta apartment building, alerts residents of weekly screenings of Downton Abbey in one of the common rooms no one is sure what to expect. Certainly unexpected is the resulting friendship of three women who’d not met until the first screening.

Samantha is a wealthy woman in her forties who seems to live an easy life. She’s very good at putting on a good face for all who know her but below the surface there’s family drama and turmoil.

Brooke is a divorced mom of two young daughters. After working hard to put her ex-husband through medical school and setting up his office he decided he didn’t want to be married to her anymore. Now his girlfriend is pregnant and wearing a huge diamond ring.

Clare, an author, is a divorced empty-nester. With her daughter away at college Clare has given herself a year to concentrate on her writing – no day job. Trouble is, she has writer’s block.

Edward, the concierge, is a warm and intuitive man who does his best to make sure the residents enjoy the weekly screenings. He also befriends the three women. Edward has a bit of a story himself but would never divulge it to anyone in the building.

When the unthinkable happens their friendship is put to the test. As usual, Wendy Wax’s story completely entertained me. Orlagh Cassidy did a good job voicing each character. I really liked her performance. She kept me walking or knitting – always signs of a good audiobook.

If you like women’s fiction I think you’ll enjoy While We Were Watching Downton Abbey.

Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

letters from skye

  • Title:  Letters from Skye
  • Author:  Jessica Brockmole
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction; Epistolary
  • Published:  July 2013 – Ballantine Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.
 
June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.  (publisher)

My take:  When a poet living on the Isle of Skye receives a letter from a fan in the US neither has a clue to what has begun – a friendship that will become much more. Letters from Skye is an epistolary novel about Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn and American David Graham. She’s in her mid-twenties and married and he’s a few years younger – still in college. But they are on equal ground in most other things. Their letters begin during WWI before the US enters the war. Elspeth’s husband soon enlists and leaves for the front. David and Elspeth continue to correspond sharing their secrets, hopes, and dreams.
I loved reading their letters that told everything from the goings on of their everyday lives to life-changing world events. Woven into the book are letters from Elspeth’s daughter Margaret (a young woman in her twenties) to her sweetheart Paul a (WWII) RAF pilot. So the eras have changed but some of the circumstances have not. The reason for the inclusion of their letters becomes clear as the novel progresses.
This is a very romantic novel – not romance in the modern sense (although there is that as well) but rather mostly in tone. There’s such longing in the letters. That longing was heightened by the lack of immediacy that comes from waiting weeks for another letter. For me that added to the enjoyment. I won’t say more about the novel because I think readers should find out what happens on their own.
If you like epistolary novels and this era I think you’ll like Letters from Skye.  Highly recommended.

Note:  A few pages in I decided to purchase the audiobook. I listened while I followed along with the print edition. If you like audiobooks I highly recommend you experience Letters from Skye that way. The narrators’ wonderful performances increased my enjoyment of the novel even more!

Audiobook info:

  • Title:  Letters from Skye: a novel
  • Author:  Jessica Brockmole
  • Narrators:  Elle Newlands, Katy Townsend, Lincoln Hoppe
  • Published:  July 2013 – Random House Audio

The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank

the last original wife

  • Title: The Last Original Wife
  • Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Narrator: Robin Miles
  • Published: June 2013 – HarperAudio
  • Source: Purchased

My take:  When Leslie falls into an unmarked manhole while following her husband, his best friend and his new wife (who happens to be half Leslie’s age) down a street in Edinburgh and they all fail to notice – that is the first sign that she is no longer cherished. The second sign is when her husband leaves her hospital room to play his planned round of golf at the Old Course.

When Leslie and Wesley (no, really) return to Atlanta she decides to put some space between them and accepts her brother’s offer to stay at his Charleston home while he’s in Italy. While away from her family Les does a lot of thinking about her relationship with her husband of 30 years and whether she wants to stay in the marriage. She also considers her two grown children and how they take her for granted as much as their father. What Les needs most is the courage to put herself first for once.

I laughed a lot but Dorothea Benton Frank addressed some serious issues as well. I can’t say I related to Les and Wes’s marriage problems but I’m about the same age as Les and think that’s what made me like her all the more! It’s the first of Frank’s books I’ve read so I’m happy to see she has a nice back list.

Narration: After reading a few reviews on Audible I understand some southerners took issue with the narrator’s accent. I’m not from the south so I couldn’t tell you if the narration is correct in accent or not but Robin Miles’ performance kept me listening and walking (and often laughing). I was thoroughly entertained.

Audiobook: The Good House by Ann Leary

the good house

Synopsis (Publisher):  The Good House tells the story of Hildy Good, who lives in a small town on Boston’s North Shore. Hildy is a successful real-estate broker, good neighbor, mother, and grandmother. She’s also a raging alcoholic. Hildy’s family held an intervention for her about a year before this story takes place – “if they invite you over for dinner, and it’s not a major holiday,” she advises “run for your life” – and now she feels lonely and unjustly persecuted. She has also fooled herself into thinking that moderation is the key to her drinking problem.

As if battling her demons wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Hildy soon finds herself embroiled in the underbelly of her New England town, a craggy little place that harbors secrets. There’s a scandal, some mysticism, babies, old houses, drinking, and desire – and a love story between two craggy 60-somethings that’s as real and sexy as you get. An exceptional novel that is at turns hilarious and sobering, The Good House asks the question: What will it take to keep Hildy Good from drinking? For good.

My take:  Hildy Good is like that neighbor lady who knows everybody and will tell you everything about them. She’s lived in the quaint New England village of Wendover her entire life and knows all the secrets of the town’s major players. She has a big chip on her shoulder due in part to her family’s intervention which made her feel betrayed and downright angry. Also, the real estate market has suffered in recent years and Hildy needs to sell some houses.

Now, as crusty or salty as Hildy may seem she does have a softer side. She will quietly help people in need without making a big deal out of it. BUT pity the person who crosses Hildy or suggests she might want to stop drinking because she will turn on the poor soul and lay him or her out in no uncertain terms. Hildy sometimes feels as persecuted for her drinking as she might imagine her ancestor felt when she was tried for being a witch in Salem!

As the novel progresses, drama unfolds in Wendover that involves people who are close to Hildy. I began to wonder if certain characters were who I originally thought they were. This is Hildy telling the story so how reliable can she be given she’s still drinking. Ann Leary kept me guessing in the second half of the book.

I enjoyed The Good House and look forward to reading more of Ann Leary’s books. Hildy Good is a character that will stay with me and will undoubtedly bring a smile when I think about the book. I love it when that happens. Recommended.

Narrator:  I adored Mary Beth Hurt’s performance. The voice she gave to Hildy Good was perfect. I also liked how she voiced Frank, the man who was Hildy’s boyfriend when she was a teen. I’m so glad I decided to listen to this book!

  • TItle:  The Good House: A novel
  • Author:  Ann Leary
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Narrator:  Mary Beth Hurt
  • Published:  January 2013 – Macmillan Audio
  • Source:  I bought it

The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden

The Richest Season

Synopsis (Publisher): After more than a dozen moves in 25 years of marriage, Joanna Harrison is lonely and tired of being a corporate wife. Her children are grown and gone, her husband is more married to his job than to her, and now they’re about to pack up once more. Panicked at the thought of having to start all over again, Joanna commits the first irresponsible act of her life. She runs away to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, a place she’s been to just once. She finds a job as a live-in companion to Grace Finelli, a widow who has come to the island to fulfill a girlhood dream. Together the two women embark on the most difficult journey of their lives: Joanna struggling for independence, roots, and a future of her own, as her family tugs at her from afar; and Grace, choosing to live the remainder of her life for herself alone, knowing she may never see her children again. Entwined is Paul Harrison’s story as he loses his wife, his job, and everything that defines him as a man. He takes off on his own journey out west, searching for the answers to all that has gone wrong in his life. One thing remains constant: He wants his wife back. Joanna, however, is moving farther away from her old life as she joins a group dedicated to rescuing endangered loggerhead turtles, led by a charismatic fisherman unlike anyone she’s ever met.

My take:  The Richest Season is a beautiful story about two women striking out on a new path in life. Joanna is starting over on her own terms. She’s not sure where she’s going but if she has to leave her home she’ll go where she wants this time. Grace knows where her path will lead and she’s determined to do things her way. She has a plan.

After Joanna makes her life-changing decision life throws her husband a curve ball that sets him on his own journey of change. It’s an important facet to the story that I thought ultimately made the novel’s resolution possible.

Maryann McFadden’s book is one of discovery, reflection and forgiveness. The two women support each other through difficult times as each navigates her way through challenging circumstances.  I loved the setting, the characters, and the themes. I think book clubs would have lively discussions about the choices made by Grace and Joanna in The Richest Season.

Narration:  I thought Cassandra Campbell’s performance was wonderful. She’s quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators.

  • Title:  The Richest Season
  • Author:  Maryann McFadden
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Narrator:  Cassandra Campbell
  • Published:  2008 – Tantor Audio
  • Source:  I bought it.

The Next Always (audio) by Nora Roberts

The Next Always

 

My take:  The Next Always is the first book in the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy. Nora Roberts’ descriptions of the inn left me wanting to make a reservation asap! The three Montgomery brothers are making their mother’s dream a reality – turning the vacant old hotel on the town square into a beautiful inn. Beckett is the architect, Owen is the accountant/expediter (I think), and Ryder is in charge of construction.

This is Beckett’s story. He’s a great character. Growing up he had a huge crush on Clare. She ended up marrying one of his good friends and they moved away because he was in the military. Years later, after her husband was killed in war, she moved back home with her young sons. A single mother, Clare has her hands full with parenting as well as running the bookstore. She barely has time to breathe much less date and Beckett has his hands full with overseeing the inn project. Timing and circumstances eventually present Clare and Beckett with a chance to get reacquainted and for Beckett to get to know her boys. That’s enough for one book but there’s some drama too (no spoilers here). Oh, the inn appears to be haunted!

I liked The Next Always. It’s a romance filled with good characters, humor, and I loved the setting of the small town inn. I’m sure I’ll read the second book at some point.

Narrator:  MacLeod Andrews did a great job voicing the male characters. I thought he did ok with the female voices but I wasn’t a fan of the little boys’ voices. It must be hard for men to do children’s voices. I’ve listened to a couple of books with child characters but they were narrated by women – and I wasn’t bothered by those performances. But, since the main characters of the series are the Montgomery brothers, I can see why the Inn BoonsBoro books are narrated by a man.

  • Title:  The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro trilogy, Book 1)
  • Author:  Nora Roberts
  • Genre:  Romance
  • Narrator:  MacLeod Andrews
  • Published:  2011 – Brilliance Audio

Source:  I bought it

The Underside of Joy (audio) by Seré Prince Halverson

the underside of joy

Synopsis (publisher): To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the Northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. Yet one summer day, Joe breaks his own rule - never turn your back on the ocean - and a sleeper wave strikes him down, drowning not only the man but his many secrets.

For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known and has believed that their biological mother, Paige, abandoned them. But when Paige shows up at the funeral, intent on reclaiming the children, Ella soon realizes there may be more to Paige and Joe’s story. “Ella’s the best thing that’s happened to this family,” say her close-knit Italian-American in-laws, for generations the proprietors of a local market. But their devotion quickly falters when the custody fight between mother and stepmother urgently and powerfully collides with Ella’s quest for truth.

The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of stepmotherhood pitting good Ella against evil Paige, but an exploration of the complex relationship of two mothers. Their conflict uncovers a map of scars-both physical and emotional-to the families’ deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during World War II and postpartum psychosis.

Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the glorious natural beauty of the novel’s setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotion-grief and anger, shame and forgiveness, happiness and its shadow complement . . . the underside of joy.

My take:  I listened to The Underside of Joy in three days. Halverson’s characters, story, and setting pulled me in and kept me listening for long stretches of time. I knit while I listen and I’m much further along on my current project than I expected to be because of this book!

The story is told from Ella’s point of view so it was easy to understand her perspective. What I didn’t expect was to be able to sympathize with Paige. Halverson reveals backstory of the two women (as well as supporting characters) throughout the novel. Little by little I realized my impressions of several characters had shifted. I don’t want to risk a spoiler so I won’t say more – except that I ended up wondering if I could resolve things as Ella and Paige had. For that reason I think this would be a good book club selection.

I really enjoyed Halverson’s descriptions of the various locations in and around the small California town. I could easily visualize the forest of towering Redwoods, for example, and wished I could experience it in person. I thought her writing was beautiful and look forward to her next book.

Geneva Carr did a fine job with the narration. Honestly, along with the compelling story, she’s one of the reasons I found it so difficult to stop listening. She became Ella. I’ll be looking for more of her audiobooks.

  • Title:  The Underside of Joy
  • Author:  Seré Prince Halverson
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  January 2012 – Penguin Audio – 9hrs. 29min.
  • Narrator:  Geneva Carr

Source:  I bought it.

Audiobook Brief: Churchill: The Prophetic Statesman by James C. Humes

churchillSynopsis: (Publisher) Churchill: The Prophetic Statesman reveals the astonishingly accurate predictions of Britain’s most famous prime minister and how his critics’ perceptions of them shaped his political career. Who could have foreseen the start of World War I twenty-five years before the assassination of a Serbian archduke plunged Europe into war? Who could have predicted the rise of al-Qaeda nearly eight decades before anyone had heard of Osama bin Laden? Winston Churchill did. Now for the first time, bestselling author James C. Humes reveals these and other shocking predictions made by this legendary figure. Churchill didn’t need a crystal ball to tell the future. Using his skills as a historian, he studied patterns of the past to make his eerily accurate forecasts, including the rise of European fascism, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the exact day of his own death as he entered his final years. In fascinating detail, Humes’ astonishing biography documents the spot-on prophecies Churchill foretold and the political consequences he endured for sharing them.

“The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward”  Winston Churchill, 1944

My take: If you are a fan of Churchill you’ll want to read or listen to this book. It would also be a great gift! I found it interesting as well as informative – both on a level that forced a “Wow!” out of me from time to time. Although I enjoyed listening to the book I would recommend also reading the print book. I had to stop and ‘rewind’ more than a few times to get the full gist of what had just been said. If I’d been reading the actual book there would have been a lot of highlighting involved.

That said, I thought narrator Matthew Brenher did a wonderful job with James C. Humes’ book. His Churchill voice was  very good and fit perfectly into the narrative of each passage.

I find myself wanting to read more about Churchill and I see that Mr. Humes has written a few more so I’ll add them to my TBR list. Recommended.

Source: I purchased the audiobook.

Mailbox Monday

November host: Kathy at BermudaOnion

I bought a couple of audiobooks last week:

Publisher’s Summary: Churchill: The Prophetic Statesman reveals the astonishingly accurate predictions of Britain’s most famous prime minister and how his critics’ perceptions of them shaped his political career. Who could have foreseen the start of World War I twenty-five years before the assassination of a Serbian archduke plunged Europe into war? Who could have predicted the rise of al-Qaeda nearly eight decades before anyone had heard of Osama bin Laden? Winston Churchill did. Now for the first time, bestselling author James C. Humes reveals these and other shocking predictions made by this legendary figure. Churchill didn’t need a crystal ball to tell the future. Using his skills as a historian, he studied patterns of the past to make his eerily accurate forecasts, including the rise of European fascism, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the exact day of his own death as he entered his final years. In fascinating detail, Humes’ astonishing biography documents the spot-on prophecies Churchill foretold and the political consequences he endured for sharing them.

James C. Humes, a former White House speechwriter for five presidents, is a Pulitzer Prize–nominated author of more than thirty books. He is currently a historian at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Goodreads Synopsis: Deirdre Griffin has a great life; it’s just not her own. She’s the around-the-clock personal assistant to her charismatic, high-maintenance, New Age guru brother, Tag. As the family wallflower, her only worth seems to be as gatekeeper to Tag at his New England seaside compound. Then Deirdre’s sometime boyfriend informs her that he is marrying another woman, who just happens to be having the baby he told Deirdre he never wanted. While drowning her sorrows in Tag’s expensive vodka, Deirdre decides to use his massive online following to get herself voted on as a last-minute Dancing with the Stars replacement. It’ll get her back in shape, mentally and physically. It might even get her a life of her own. Deirdre’s fifteen minutes of fame have begun.

What was in your mailbox?

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Title:  Beautiful Ruins

Author:  Jess Walter

Narrator:  Edoardo Ballerini

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – HarperCollins

Synopsis (from the back of the ARC):  The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a slender blonde woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot – searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

What unfolds from there is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, teeming with Jess Walter’s trademark unforgettable characters: the Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically cynical film producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; and the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. . .

My brief take:  I enjoyed Beautiful Ruins so much I knew it would be on my 2012 Favorites list as soon as I finished reading it.  You get a sense of the novel from the synopsis but really it must be experienced. I loved how Jess Walter wove the various characters’ stories together. I wasn’t sure where they would all end up but I had faith I’d be satisfied with the conclusion. I was.

I’m so glad I decided to listen to Beautiful Ruins (I also read a print review copy) . There’s no way I could have voiced the characters’ accents, language, etc. in my mind anywhere close to the narrator. Edoardo Ballerini’s performance is perfect.

Recommend?  Yes! Read the book and if you enjoy listening, I highly recommend the audiobook.

Note:  I appreciated the Author Q&A included at the end of the audiobook.

Disclosure:  My review copy was from the publisher. I bought the audiobook. See sidebar for disclosure statement. I was not compensated for my review.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Title:  The Chaperone

Author:  Laura Moriarty

Published:  June 2012 – Riverhead

Narrator:  Elizabeth McGovern

Audiobook:  Penguin Audiobooks: 13 hours 14 minutes

Genre:  Fiction

My take:  In the summer of 1922 Cora Carlisle agreed to chaperone fifteen-year-old Louise Brook from Kansas to New York City where she would study dance for one month with two prominent instructors. One would think this novel might be about Louise but it’s definitely Cora’s story. There is a reason she was so willing to chaperone Louise. As the story unfolds we learn a lot about Cora. The novel, and Cora’s life, really take off in New York.

She would owe this understanding to her time in New York, and even more to Louise. That’s what spending time with the young can do – it’s the big payoff for all the pain. The young can exasperate, of course, and frighten, and condescend, and insult, and cut you with their still unrounded edges. But they can also drag you, as you protest and scold and try to pull away, right up to the window of the future, and even push you through.

The Chaperone, page 156

The Chaperone is an interesting story that spans Cora’s life – a style of novel that appeals to me. Given her start in life it was easy to sympathize with her. But I also liked her pluck. She refused to let Louise steamroll over her. She also knew if things were going to happen in her life she had to assert herself. And that she did!

I loved Elizabeth McGovern’s performance. She just seemed the perfect person to voice the 1920s characters – maybe because I’m a fan of Downton Abbey. I listened to the audio while reading the print edition. I’m finding that combination really works for some books. Although the audio would be great on its own I enjoyed reading along.

Source:  I bought the audiobook and the book.

An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd (audio)

Title:  An Unmarked Grave (Bess Crawford #4)

Author:  Charles Todd

Narrator:  Rosalyn Landor

Genre:  Mystery (series)

Published:  2012 – Harper Audio

8 hours 31 minutes

Synopsis (from publisher) In the spring of 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic spreads, killing millions of soldiers and civilians across the globe. Overwhelmed by the constant flow of wounded soldiers coming from the French front, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford must now contend with hundreds of influenza patients as well.

However, war and disease are not the only killers to strike. Bess discovers, concealed among the dead waiting for burial, the body of an officer who has been murdered. Though she is devoted to all her patients, this soldier’s death touches her deeply. Not only did the man serve in her father’s former regiment, he was also a family friend.

Before she can report the terrible news, Bess falls ill, the latest victim of the flu. By the time she recovers, the murdered officer has been buried, and the only other person who saw the body has hanged himself. Or did he?

Working her father’s connections in the military, Bess begins to piece together what little evidence she can find to unmask the elusive killer and see justice served. But she must be as vigilant as she is tenacious. With a determined killer on her heels, each move Bess makes could be her last.

My take:  I thought the 4th book in the Bess Crawford series had a different feel to it than the others. Yes, we read about Bess’ work as a nurse at the front and her unofficial detective work back in England while she’s on leave but there’s a menacing danger in this mystery. It’s one that threatens Bess, all of her loved ones, and some unsuspecting soldiers.

Revenge is one thing. Indiscriminate killing is another.

from An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

I had no idea who the murderer was until the reveal. This mystery took turns that completely confused me! I can accept the solution but it wasn’t what I’d expected – even though I wasn’t sure what I expected :)

What I enjoyed about An Unmarked Grave was that we see more of Simon Brandon and Bess’ father in this book. It made me think that the series could continue after WWI. I would definitely read more about Bess solving crimes in post-war England. I also appreciated the descriptions of the front where Bess treated soldiers who’d been wounded, suffered the effects of gas, and  those who became ill with Spanish flu.

Rosalyn Landor’s performance was great. There’s a definite distinction between male and female voices that made me question more than once if there was a male narrator as well!

Source:  I bought it (Audible)

Note:  My thanks to Jennifer at Book Club Girl blog. If not for the Read-Along I may never have met Bess Crawford. I’m so glad I did!

Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski

Title:  Objects of My Affection

Author:  Jill Smolinski

Narrator:  Xe Sands

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  2012 – Blackstone Audio (9cds – 10.5 hours)

My take:  Organizer Lucy Bloom had to sell her house and most of her possessions in order to pay for her son’s stay at a drug rehab facility. She also broke up with her boyfriend over her son’s behavior. So she’s without a home, son and a relationship – pretty much everything is gone. Her new job is a challenge. She is to organize and clean out a famous artist’s (Marva Meier Rios) home which is filled to the brim with stuff.

Lucy and Marva begin to see segments of their lives in a different way as they help each other figure out how to let go. I was surprised by how much I liked this novel. At times it was deceptively light – I laughed several times – but if you ever saw one of Oprah’s hoarders shows you know there are some deep issues there. Sure the lessons seem obvious but it’s much more than that. These characters are complex and maybe a bit like people we all know. I also enjoyed the supporting characters – Marva’s son Will and Lucy’s ex-boyfriend Daniel to name two.

There are small twists and turns that had me listening way past the point where I’d planned to stop. I kept walking, cleaning, driving… you get the picture. I was pulling for Lucy and Marva right through to the end. I love it when that happens.

There are those things you keep, things you let go of, and it’s often not easy to know the difference.

from Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski

Xe Sands did a fine job voicing Jill Smolinski’s characters – both male and female. It was so easy to listen to her – again with the walking, cleaning, driving :) She conveyed the emotions of the characters perfectly. This is the first time I’ve listened to Sands read a book and in the future there’ll be no hesitation to grab audiobooks with her name listed as narrator.

I recommend this audiobook to fans of Fiction – women’s or otherwise, Jill Smolinski, and Xe Sands.

Source:  Blackstone Audio; Audio Jukebox

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.