STAFF PICK DEAL: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Oh my goodness, this is an absolute treasure of a book. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss tells the story of monstrous women: characters from classic literature who were barely considered noteworthy, infused with lives and voices all their own. While the respectable Mary Jekyll and the untameable Diana Hyde begrudgingly explore what it means to have a sister so unlike yourself, they are joined by Catherine, the unlucky creation of Doctor Moreau; Justine, the would-be bride of Frankenstein’s monster; and Beatrice, the tragic daughter of the botanist Rappaccini. The women adventure throughout Victorian London with varying degrees of enthusiasm, trying to unravel the mystery of a secret society of alchemists that seems to hold the answers to each of their respective origins.

The book is narrated with all five distinct voices telling the same story, often interrupting themselves and each other in the margins to let us know exactly how vexing the process is. Goss manages to weave this together with a simple elegance that masks how ambitious and nuanced the writing style truly is. They bicker as fiercely as they support each other, in a way that feels purely human and heartwarming.

These “monstrous” women, all by-products of men with too much power and too little humanity, are brought together by the need for answers about their origins, and stay together with the bond of chosen family. With them, we walk through familiar male-dominated worlds of classic sci fi and horror, reanimated by the vibrancy, agency, and aspirations of these five beautifully well-rounded, engrossing characters who have finally been given the space to flourish.

And, until February 11th, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is on sale! You can get this book in a BOGO with Himself–another charming, quirky mystery that draws inspiration from classic folklore. Jump on the deal here, under “Inspired Fiction”!

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STAFF PICK: Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright

Title: Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them
Author: Jennifer Wright
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Disease isn’t funny. But this book made me laugh. If you listen to Get Well Soon, you’ll understand. Jennifer Wright takes us on a journey through some of history’s worst plagues, descriptively noting their symptoms, causes and cures, but more importantly noting the reaction of society and of medical professionals.

She talks about pustules and lobotomies, of death and corpses. She talks about cultures that created an atmosphere conducive to healing as well as those that made the situation far worse. She draws parallels to modern society and hints at ways we’re susceptible if another plague was afoot. That doesn’t sound amusing at all, but the ridiculousness of “cures” and “expert opinions” truly are. Wright’s matter-of-fact tone, laced with dark humor, makes it all the better. Some of the images conjured by her explanations really made me laugh aloud on my drive. Here’s one such excerpt :

‘The dancing plague of 1347 was supposedly halted by a priest holding open the mouth of each suffering person and shouting into their mouths, “praise the true God, praise the Holy Ghost, get thee hence, thou damned and foredoomed spirit.” (When your boss suggests you try new ideas and think outside the box, you could consider yelling into your coworkers mouths.)’

My entertainment was amplified by Gabra Zackman’s narration, which was both straightforward and sassy, breathing extra hilarity into the remedies of yore. Her voice is steady and very enjoyable, even when I sped her up to 1.25x.

We learn history so we don’t repeat its mistakes. This audiobook lends a hand toward that goal, describing how societal reactions to disease have not grown much since the 1600’s, despite medicine’s leaps and bounds. It will benefit any listener by spreading awareness of what helps and what harms. Even if you have a firm grasp of plague best-practices, this book will lend perspective from history. I promise it’s worth it if just for the laughs… but maybe don’t listen during lunch.

Get Well Soon Audiobook Cover

 

Listen to a sample (and then the full title) here: Get Well Soon

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STAFF PICK: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Narrators: Jenna Lamia, Cassandra Campbell, Bahni Turpin, and Octavia Spencer

Hey audiobook lovers! I must share my latest listen with you all. I just finished The Help, which I finally downloaded thanks to my sister’s recommendation. It had been idling on my wishlist before that nudge I needed to start. The novel follows three ladies in Mississippi during the 1960’s as they embark on a risky plan to have the voices of colored maids heard. The book is set during the time of segregation in the US, and we are reminded of how much progress has been made, as well as how much has stayed stagnant. Secrets and motivations of the characters are revealed as the book unravels and it truly was hard to stop listening. I loved the three main characters; they were well developed and layered with wit, sass and smarts. 

I loved it even more as an audiobook. The narrators portray each character’s accent, background and personality to a tee. Minny, my favorite character is bold and hot-headed, and her volatile, no-nonsense attitude spills through your ears. This contrasts Aibileen, the other maid in the tale who makes decisions with level-headed calculation. The third main character, Skeeter, is a white lady from the town who uses what advantages and smarts she has to give a voice to the other ladies. Whether you’re determined with Aibileen or tense and worked-up with Minny, the narrators keep you submerged in the story. By the end of the book I was sad to see them go, but very satisfied by a good listen.

The Help is similarly adored by our listeners, with 4.5 stars for the story and a 5-star narration. If you’ve been looking for a new story to dive into, please give this one a listen and let me know what you think!

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STAFF PICK: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Narrator: Dominic Hoffman

My listening choices tend to be quite random, but for this title I made the decision after it won the Audie Award for Literary Fiction. I haven’t previously chosen a book based on an award, but after this I’ll do it more often! Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a novel that takes you through seven generations of a family that’s separated in eighteenth-century Ghana. After the separation, one branch of the family continues living in war-torn Ghana, while the second branch endures slavery in America. I fully enjoyed the story told generation by generation, each touching on the impact of slavery and colonialism from a different perspective. Fourteen individual lives along the lineage casts light on 14 ways that the effects trickled down the family tree.

The narration is done by Dominic Hoffman, who beautifully performs different accents as the story switches from Ghana to America, and the voice changes from African tribe leaders to American slavers to British soldiers. When the accent transitions, I did not feel taken out of the story as is sometimes the case in other books – a talent I really value in a narrator.

I found the book touching and thought-provoking and it introduced me to a side of the story I’d never learned about. If you like fiction inspired by real history, this is a tale for you.

Listen to a sample of the audio here.

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STAFF PICK: Bread, Wine, Chocolate by Simran Sethi

Title: Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love
Author: Simran Sethi
Narrator: Therese Plummer

My interest in this book began right away when I saw the beautiful cover, and kept increasing the more I read. The subtitle of the book is, “The Slow Loss of Foods We Love,” which refers to decreasing diversity as the food industry turns more and more toward mass production. Sethi guides us through her travels from Ethiopia to Ecuador, explaining where diversity is decreasing as she explores the production of bread, wine, chocolate, beer and coffee.

Each food’s section follows a similar pattern. First she describes insights gleaned from farmers, manufacturers, breeders, seed bank scientists, and a slew of other experts. After stressing where diversity is at risk, she provides a beginners guide to tasting the food in question, which emphasizes the amount of different flavors that are at stake.

Therese Plummer does a fine narration job. Her voice is steady and conveys the passion behind the words. She reads at my preferred pace, and still enunciates with enough clarity that there is little distortion when increased to the next speed.

If you enjoy experiencing new flavors, if you’ve ever been curious about food production, or if you respect the value of quality food, I recommend that you give this book a listen!

Fun addition: This audiobook comes with a PDF as a reference for certain parts of the book. One of the PDF inclusions is a “flavor wheel” for tasting different foods, to encourage you to appreciate fuller flavors. I found this guide fun to glance at while I listen, but personally could detect neither butterscotch nor geranium in my wine when I tried. I have a ways to go.

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STAFF PICK: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

What a journey. OH man. For past 5 months I’ve committed myself to the magical adventure that is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and it’s safe to say I’ve been on a 5-month high. The story is captivating, I love her writing style, and I have yet to enjoy a better narration than that of Davina Porter. Now, I’m not about to summarize 8 books worth of plot. I’m just here to gush a bit and hopefully convert you into an Outlander fanatic like me.

Notoriously hard to categorize, the Outlander series is a cross between romance, historical fiction and war, with a sprinkling of action, fantasy and time travel. Possibly a strange mix but it works fantastically. It begins with the heroine, Claire, a WWII nurse that finds herself transported back to 1743, where she has to put her trust in Scottish Highlanders to stay alive. She falls in love with a man named Jamie and gets wrapped up in war and politics, all the while trying to adapt to 18th century living. Gabaldon does a good job of maintaining historical accuracy. She paints a vivid picture of Claire applying modern medical knowledge in a time that lacks basic sanitation as she to recollect her history lessons in the midst of war.

The pace of the story shifts from a gentle meander to heart-pounding action and back, keeping you hooked with plot twists and sassy wit, all of which is conveyed masterfully by Davina Porter’s narration. Her changing voice pitch and accents portray the characters perfectly. When called for, her voice has the right edge or drips with sarcasm. She IS Claire. She IS Jamie. She brings the story to a whole new level. I like to listen to her best at 1.25x the speed and her voice is still steady and clear.

I’ve seen complaints that there are too many side plots and the descriptors are too detailed. I entirely disagree. I enjoyed every side story that unrolled before me, feeling appreciative just to be welcomed along for the ride.

I do not know when the next book is out (other than Gabaldon’s “it will not be in 2017”), but I am MOST excited to get my ears on it. Have you read the series? If not, are you convinced to try? Let me know!