About Jemma

Jemma's favorite things in life are audiobooks, Earl Grey tea and travel – preferably enjoyed all at once.

STAFF PICK: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Title: Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Narrator: Christina Moore

Whimsical, atmospheric, heartbreaking and lyrical, Practical Magic completely stole my heart. I fell head over heels in love with Alice Hoffman’s seminal text, and in doing so, ran headlong into the crux of the novel: love, of any kind, is dangerous, wonderful, and completely inevitable.

The story follows the beautiful-yet-troubled Owens sisters, Sally and Gillian. Orphaned at a young age, they are raised by their mysteriously powerful aunts, whose mild magic bewitches those of the townsfolk desperate for intervention in their petty problems. As the girls grow up, they become more aware of their aunts’ eccentric powers, as well as perhaps their own, and they rail against their abnormality in an unforgiving community. Although they both leave the aunts and go their separate ways into adulthood, when disaster strikes in the form of a haunting presence in Sally’s back yard, the sisters must reunite and face their own demons – literally – while embracing their magical ancestry for good. 

Heavy on charm and written with such delicate and exacting prose, Practical Magic is a true pleasure to read. Christina Moore’s effecting narration lends itself to Alice Hoffman’s uniquely written sentences. She makes the nine hour run time fly by. While also available in a three hour abridgement, I wouldn’t recommend. Allow yourself the time to revel in the exquisite details, like this advice passage, typical to every chapter:

Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.

Although originally published in print back in 2003, this modern literary classic deserves a #backlistbump. This spring, treat your heart and your ears to Practical Magic.


STAFF PICK: The Bear and the Nightingale by Jennifer Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Kathleen Gati

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses…

Such is the setting for Katherine Arden‘s debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale. A lush retelling of Medieval Russian folklore and the first installment in the Winternight Trilogy, this 13-hour-long audiobook will quickly have you rooting for its feisty heroine Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna. A country lord’s daughter with the gift of Sight, Vasya can see the household spirits and magical creatures that are invisible to the rest of her community. Tradition dictates honoring these spirits, but when a priest comes to town, he demands that the people forsake their old faith for the new. Now, the natural balance that harbors prosperity is in jeopardy, and Vasya must strike out on her own to reckon with some very dark forces.

Narrator Kathleen Gati‘s rich Russian accent transported me to the cold, snowy forests and quaint village life of Vasya and her family, making this the perfect book to listen to in the dead of winter. While the story starts out slowly with lots of background and exposition, patience through these sections pays off: my commitment to Vasya and my depth of understanding as the story started to quicken was due to its slow beginnings.

Central to the tale is Vasya’s frustration with being born a woman, and the limited options available in Russia c. 900 CE; she can get married, or become a nun. Her journey towards independence, empowerment and agency are the most exciting parts of this book, even better than the magic and adventure of the story’s fantasy elements. This passionate passage highlights that focus:

“All my life,” she said, “I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant … or I must hide myself behind walls. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing.”

I loved Vasya’s awakening as a woman with power, both in the sense of her realizing her Sight and what a curse and blessing it is to her, and in the sense of her coming into her own as a person with ambitions and the desire for self-determination. Arden’s descriptive writing lovingly takes listeners along Vasya growth from girl to woman, and perfectly sets up what’s to come in the sequel.

If you’re looking for a slow-burning fantasy to pass the time during these last days of winter, The Bear and the Nightingale is a great listen. Read more and sample the audio.


STAFF PICK: The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Title: The Rules Do Not Apply
Author: Ariel Levy
Narrator: Ariel Levy

Clocking in at just under five hours, The Rules Do Not Apply, I assumed, would be a poignant but generally light interlude between my typically much longer listens. Boy was I wrong with that one. Ariel Levy sucked me in deep with her expressive, artful prose, her sense of humor in the midst of sadness, and her ability to be gracefully self-aware yet painfully self-obsessed — all in one gulp.

My favorite quote from the novel presciently summarizes what is to come as Ariel Levy tells her story:

“Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It’s also a symptom of narcissism.”

In this memoir, Levy deconstructs the fine line she walked between her ambitious, youthful talent, and her delusion that life would always unfold on her terms. When she miscarries at five months pregnant during a reporting trip to Mongolia, she is forced to reckon with that which is out of her control — including her wife’s alcoholism, and their financial situation.

Levy handles the heavy heartache with elegance and a needed dose of self-deprecating humor. Sometimes, the memoir misses the mark: there are some troubling passages about racial minorities that hint at an unchecked white privilege, and the ending felt a little rushed and lazy. But predominantly I felt intensely connected to Levy’s emotional journey and completely swept up in the narrative of her life.

Essential to that connection, I think, was that Levy narrated her own story. The way she speaks makes it feel like a candid interview, or a (long) monologue at a dinner party: conversational, and with a depth that can only come from an author’s narration.

I would highly recommend this listen for anyone who enjoys books about writers and writing, emotional memoirs, or novels set in New York City. It really does pack a punch; be prepared to ask yourself, “If everything by which I define myself came crashing down, who would I become?”




GIVEAWAY: Brain Rules for Aging Well by John Medina

How healthy is your brain? Thanks to our friends at Pear Press, for the entire month of September, you can download Brain Rules for Aging Well written and read by John Medina for FREE! Simply open the Audiobooks.com app, search for Brain Rules for Aging Well, and click “Download”.

Here’s a little bit about the book:

In a book destined to be a classic on aging, Medina’s fascinating stories and infectious sense of humor breathe life into neuroscience. Brain Rules for Aging Well is organized into four sections, each laying out familiar problems with surprising solutions. First up, the social brain, in which topics ranging from relationships to happiness and gullibility illustrate how our emotions change with age. The second section focuses on the thinking brain, explaining how working memory and executive function change with time. The third section is all about your body: how certain kinds of exercise, diets, and sleep can slow the decline of aging. The final section is about your future: Medina connects all the chapters into a plan for maintaining your brain health. Each section is sprinkled with practical advice – for example, the fascinating benefits of dancing – and the brain science behind each intervention.

This giveaway ends on October 3, 2017, so don’t delay! To learn more about this title and sample the audio, find it in our app or click here. We also recommend that you sign up for a free trial membership if you aren’t already an Audiobooks.com subscriber. That way, your downloaded content won’t be local to your device – you can sign into your account from anywhere, on any device, and pick up right where you left off.


STAFF PICK: Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar

Title: Everybody’s Son
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Narrator: Josh Bloomberg

Born into the rough projects, Anton is only 10 years old when his single mother Juanita’s crack addiction sends him into foster care. His foster parents, David and Delores Coleman, are still reeling from the death of their own son a few years prior and grip onto Anton with a ferocity that ultimately sees them manipulate the law to keep Anton in their care – a dangerous decision for a family who works in politics and criminal justice.

The story is told in three parts: Anton’s boyhood, his college years, and his middle-age. Despite his role as the protagonist, we never really get to know Anton – largely because he doesn’t know himself. He serves as a passive everyman for us to see the development of the characters around him – the true architects of his life. And although Anton is smart, attractive and successful, he’s consumed by a crisis of identity as a black boy with a white family. Years down the line, it all comes to a head when Anton’s mother re-enters his life and he must decide who he wants to be: everybody’s son, or his own man?

I liked author Thrity Umrigar’s nuanced approach to the complicated morals and motivations of the major players in Anton’s life. While the characters’ skin tones are all black and white, nothing else is: this book deals with the grey zone of what’s right and wrong, where Anton belongs, and how far someone should go for the person they love. It all makes for great discussion (my book club had a thoughtful conversation dissecting it), but I’m still left without answers to some of the book’s plot points as well as overarching themes.

Over the 10 hours of listening, I was kept engaged by skillful narration from Josh Bloomberg. There was never any confusion about who was speaking: Bloomberg created a distinctive voice for every character, no matter how minor, and I was drawn in by his wide range of accents. I credit him for making Everybody’s Son a story worth hearing.

If you’ve read it, too, comment below with your thoughts!


New Minecraft audiobook lets you choose your narrator

The folks over at Random House have gotten pretty creative. Yesterday’s audiobook releases included two distinct versions of the exact same book, just with different narrators! Minecraft: The Island is now available with narration by Jack Black, and with narration by Samira Wiley, of Orange is the New Black fame.

It was important for the author and for the video game company that the protagonist not be exclusively male or female, but to give the listeners narrative choice. So, which narrator will you choose?

Minecraft Books

About Minecraft: The Island

The first official Minecraft novel! In the tradition of iconic adventures like Robinson Crusoe’s Treasure Island, the New York Times bestselling author of World War Z tells the story of a hero – stranded in the world of Minecraft – who must unravel the secrets of a mysterious island in order to survive.

Washed up on a beach, the lone castaway looks around the shore. ‘Where am I?’ ‘Who am I? And why is everything made of blocks?’ But there isn’t much time to soak up the sun. It’s getting dark, and there’s a strange new world to explore!

The top priority is finding food. The next is not becoming food. Because there are others out there on the island . . . like the horde of zombies that appear after night falls. Crafting a way out of this mess is a challenge like no other. Who could build a home while running from exploding creepers, armed skeletons, and an unstoppable tide of hot lava? Especially with no help except for a few makeshift tools and sage advice from an unlikely friend: a cow.

In this world, the rules don’t always make sense, but courage and creativity go a long way. There are forests to explore, hidden underground tunnels to loot, and undead mobs to defeat. Only then will the secrets of the island be revealed.