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11 July 2014

Alternating viewpoints between a young man saved from a village massacre and a young woman held captive within the land of her family's enemy, Across the Nightingale Floor is an epic and absorbing novel set in Japan. Combining mystery, politics, and love, this is one of the best audiobooks I've listened to, and easily makes my own "best of" list. Both narrators are intense and representative of the culture and time, and easily swept me up into this fictional fantasy world.

Takeo has only known the life of the Hidden, a cloistered community who follow a spiritual and peaceful path. When a warlord decides to brutally massacre this community, Takeo's narrow escape directs him into the path of Lord Otori, who chooses to save and adopt him. Takeo soon learns that his own mystical talents evolve as he grows up as Lord Otori's son, and finds that he has more to offer his adoptive land than simple dedication and loyalty.

I loved everything about this story, and both narrators excellently grasped the beautiful lilt and pacing I would anticipate for a story set in feudal Japan, for both Takeo and Kaede, the prisoner in the evil warlord's land. Since it's a trilogy, I already have the next installments in my Audible wishlist, and I'm ready to dive in.

Click here to listen to a sample. This story or narration may not be for everyone, but I would argue that if you're looking for something different and want to listen to a beautifully told tale of adventure, love, politics, and mystery, this might be just the story for you.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book on the audiobook website, Audible.com

Publisher: HighBridge Company
Release Date: 9/12/03
Audio Time: 8 hours, 25 minutes
Narrators: Kevin Gray, Aiko Nakasone

About the Author (from Bookbrowse.com)
Writing under the pseudonym of Lian Hearn, Gillian Rubenstein is a well-known Australian writer of children's stories. Born in England, Hearn grew up in both Nigeria and an English village and boarding school. She studied languages at Oxford University, travelled in Europe and worked in London, as editor, freelance journalist, script assessor and film critic. She emigrated to Australia in 1973, and came to live in South Australia in 1981.Rubinstein has had a long-standing interest in Asia and returned to Japan in 1999 on a residency to work on what would become The Otori Trilogy.

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About the Narrators
Kevin Gray skillfully voiced Takeo, and in my attempts to research more about him, learned that he unexpectedly passed at the age of 55 just last year. Also starring in the title role on Broadway for The Phantom of the Opera, his untimely death was felt throughout the artistic community. 




Aiko Nakasone is an accomplished stage actress. She was also part of the original cast of RENT, and even had a small part in Meet the Parents, which was sadly edited from the final film. Her audio credits most notably are represented through The Tales of the Otori Trilogy.

24 June 2014

14, by Peter Clines (Audio Review)


When Nate has to find a new apartment, he never thought one with such cheap rent in a great location with a view would fall into his lap. It's not a big deal that his apartment isn't perfect, but when he realizes that everyone else's also has an odd difference here and there, with quirks that just don't add up, Nate and his fellow building-mates decide to figure it all out. And what really is behind the door of apartment # 14? 

I loved this story. With recent selections for both audio and print missing the entertainment mark for me, 14 by Peter Clines was an absolute welcome relief. It completely knocked it out of the park. A combination of mystery, suspense, thriller, fantasy, and a whole heck of a lot of humor, I was completely whisked away into this sometimes creepy, but always interesting, fun ride into the mystery of why an entire apartment building has such cheap rent. With a thoroughly unique cast of characters who regularly referenced the Scooby gang, I adored them all, as they just wanted to figure out the mystery of their  building. Clines' story is a hit for any long road trip, and the narrator is INCREDIBLE. That's right, Internet. He's an ALL CAPS kind of awesome, and I seriously need to find everything Ray Porter has narrated and buy them all now. (He also narrated Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and I loved that one as well.)

I could probably share more, but I'm worried I'd spill the beans inadvertently. Suffice it to say that this is the most fun I've had with a story in a long time and I loved it. With pop culture references including everything from the TV show "Lost" to which recent Hulk movie was better (duh, the Ed Norton one), there's a little bit for everyone who enjoys getting thrown into a mystery that has a slight edge of creepiness to it. I've heard Peter Clines is a horror writer, and although there were moments that were a little freaky, I don't know if I'd tag this as horror. Mostly, it's a suspenseful thriller as a vibrant cast of characters decides to spend their free time trying to figure out their building's odd layout, quirks, and vibe. It's well worth it. Click here for the audio sample.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book on the audiobook website, Audible.com

Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: 6/9/12
Audio Time: 12 hours, 38 minutes
Narrator: Ray Porter

About the Author
Peter Clines is the author of numerous short stories, Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, –14–, The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe. For a more perfect bio to read, click here.

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About the Narrator
Ray Porter is an actor and casting director, known for Almost Famous (2000), Argo (2012) and The Runaways (2010).

18 June 2014

Catching Air, by Sarah Pekkanen


When two brothers and their wives get a chance to leave everything behind and run a bed and breakfast in Vermont, they leap at the chance, not knowing that what they once knew would forever change. With family relationships damaged by past pains, and a woman with a secret who helps them in exchange for a safe place to stay, their first major booking is a wedding with a spoiled bride-to-be. Sorting out the business end with personal issues can be a challenge, and for this family, it's no different.

A lot of characters fill the pages, and each one has their own backstory and talent to offer the bed and breakfast. The scenery and inn are ideal and the charm of each character blends well with their own desires to artfully run their new business together as a family. Their new employee with a secret brings a quiet mystery to it and even though there's a lot going on, the author deftly combines each story.

Many of you may know I was a big fan of Skipping a Beat so I admit I was hoping for the same emotional intensity and spark, and although there were several moments that tugged at my heartstrings, it did tie up a bit too nicely in the end for my taste. Portions of Dawn's story, a woman with a secret, and the brothers' relationship with each other, didn't feel as authentic as did Alyssa's and Kira's. Alyssa, with her once globetrotting spirit now finds stability as her comfort, and Kira's previously organized and ordered life is thrown upside-down by the business, felt more tangible and heartfelt than the other players to the story. It may not have captured the magic Skipping a Beat held for me, but I do believe Sarah Pekkanen's new novel has a little something for every reader, and is a sure choice for a beach read this upcoming hot summer. Check out other readers' reviews at Goodreads.com.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher: Washington Square Press, a division of Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 5/6/2014
Pages: 352

Sarah's other books are:
New York Times' bestselling Author Lisa Scottoline says, "Sarah Pekkanen is one of my favorite authors of women's fiction."
About the Author
Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally bestselling author of The Opposite of MeSkipping a Beat, TheseGirls, and The Best of Us as well as a series of linked short stories for ereaders. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. She lives with her family, including a rescue dog and cat, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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03 June 2014

I really wanted to like this. Turns out, I am extremely upset by the fact that I just did not. I'm harsh, but I can't sugarcoat. Usually, if I don't like something, I'll keep my comments honest but brief. In this case, I'm more comfortable bluntly expressing my dissatisfaction. 

Lately, I have been drawn to more diverse authors and story lines, and that's probably as a result of recent BEA sloppiness in selections for author panels. Forgotten Country, for all its promise in synopsis, just didn't meet the mark for me, and for several reasons. I tried to isolate if it was the story itself, the narrator, or both, and I'm confident it came down to both, but primarily the narrator. Reader be warned: Keep in mind that this is MY opinion only. Another listener/reader may connect with this much better than I did. I encourage you to Google the book and you'll find that most reviews are highly flattering, but I would cautiously recommend that it's likely a book better read than listened to. Always do your research to get a more well-rounded overview. For me, I just feel let down.

The promise in the story lies in the description which immediately pulled me in. "On the night Janie waits for her sister Hannah to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe." Curiously intriguing, especially when you know that Hannah does eventually disappear from the family.

There are two levels to this story. At its surface, two first generation Korean-American sisters come to America at a young age and later on, the older sister must find the younger sister who has disappeared. Both are now in college, but the younger sister's disappearance occurs at the most crucial time for the family, as the father has developed cancer and the prognosis is devastating. Traveling back to Korea to get treatment that isn't being done in the States is the only solution, so Janie and her parents leave without Hannah. It becomes Janie's responsibility to find Hannah and bring her to her father.

At the core of it is a complex and rather naive battle of ignorance, nonchalance, mostly laziness, particularly on the main character, Janie's, part. I must admit I was the most frustrated with her complete lack of common sense, not to mention her inability to just do what was right, instead of always layering ridiculous rationalizations, one after another. If I had to create a metaphor for this: Was she in a car, strapped in and always idling in neutral? When she would make a decision, it was always in the wrong direction, but again and again, she piled on excuses that even she knew were false, but it didn't matter. She still did it. Or didn't do it. In fact, the story felt like it came down to a series of moments in which Janie questions herself: Should I, shouldn't I; would I, could I; the end. That's the crux of it and I can't be plainer about it. There was so much more that I wanted. And for those who have read it, what was that random thing with her adviser? Huh?

But I wonder if the story itself, which most reviewers enjoyed, was lost in the audio experience. Would I have read it differently, applying a voice that didn't always sound so jumbled and confused? The narrator just didn't live up to initial expectations. The biggest annoyance was that she chose a voice for the father, a man with a courageous backstory, at a pitch so much higher than even his own daughters had when they were younger. He sounded perplexed, confused, pathetically hopeful, and ultimately weak. Honestly, with what he had to deal with throughout life, I expected a much stronger and thoughtful voice, who only becomes weakened by cancer, but still maintains his fortitude. I don't know why he was voiced in such a high, feminine tone. Come to think of it, I would have been annoyed even if a woman was voiced in this same pitch.

All in all, it could have been an interesting tale. Reflecting back on it now, I think I would have been much more interested in the story told from the perspective of the parents, instead of the annoying older daughter. I was fascinated with the history in Korea when her parents were younger and found them to be the most important characters. However, the father's voice would chime in and it was so high-pitched, I had to steel myself to continue to listen.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased and downloaded this from Audible.com

Publisher: AudioGO
Release Date: 3/1/12
Audio Time: 9 hours
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

About the Author (from her website)
Catherine Chung is the recipient of a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing, a Granta New Voice, and a fiction editor at Guernica Magazine. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Adelphi University, and currently lives in New York City.

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About the Narrator (from her website)
Emily Woo Zeller is an award-winning audiobook narrator, voiceover artist, actor, singer, dancer, and choreographer. Audiofile Magazine named Emily as one of the “Best Voices of 2013″ for her work Nonfiction and Culture. Awards include Audiofile’s August 2013 Earphones Award for narration of TIES THAT BIND, TIES THAT BREAK by Leslie Namioka, April 2013 Earphones Award for narration of GULP by Mary Roach, the 2009 Tristen Award for Best Actress as Sally Bowles in CABARET, and the 2006 Roselyn E. Schneider Prize for Creative Achievement.

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