About Jemma

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

BACKLIST BUMP: Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

Title: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Narrator: Various narrators

Here is a book that has languished on my (incredibly long) to-be-read list for years. It’s been recommended many times; indeed, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has read this book and not adored it. I’m here to say that if it’s been on your to-be-read list too, then read it now. And if it wasn’t on your radar before, then skip adding it to your to-be-read list, and just dive in immediately.

The year is 1946: Britain is recovering from the Second World War and the mail service has finally been restored to the previously German-occupied Channel Island of Guernsey. Dawsey, a pig farmer turned booklover, connects with Juliet, a recently successful London author looking for a new story to tell, all thanks to the inscription inside of an old book. A lively correspondence begins, and it doesn’t take long before Juliet is exchanging letters with all of Dawsey’s best friends and neighbours, and planning a trip to the small Channel Island to visit.

What ensues is mix of delightfully quaint small-town moments mixed with sobering recollections of the horrors of war. The Occupation lasted for five years in Guernsey, and its nuances are brought to life in the most human of ways by the author’s gorgeous writing and the talents of the narration cast. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows wrote in epistolary form, i.e. storytelling through letters, diary entries and the like. Perspectives, and therefore narration, constantly rotate depending on the letter-writer. Far from being confusing, this narrative style is utterly compelling, and in the hands of such expert voice talent, make for a sparkling listening experience.

A laugh-out-loud, heartbreakingly bittersweet modern classic, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a testament to and a celebration of the power of books.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win by Jo Piazza

Title: Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win
Author: Jo Piazza
Narrator: Tavia Gilbert

In Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win, the hotly anticipated new novel from bestselling author Jo Piazza, Charlotte Walsh is dedicated, ambitious, and, you guessed it – likes to succeed in her endeavours.

She’s been applying her skills as a high-powered executive in Silicon Valley (Charlotte is positioned as a Sheryl Sandberg type), and happily raising her three young daughters alongside her equally hardworking husband. But when the opportunity to run for political office comes her way, her contentedness gives way to new ambition.

Charlotte runs for Senate, but not in California: the opportunity is in Pennsylvania, and requires relocating the family to her tired hometown, which until recently, she was all-too-happy to leave behind. That’s where her troubled brother (and her ray-of-sunshine sister-in-law) live, and serve as a microcosm for the kind of class politics and economic issues that Pennsylvania faces – and that Charlotte has vowed to fix.

Charlotte’s opponent, aging Republican incumbent Ted Slaughter, is as archetypal a villain as his surname suggests: he’s old-school sexist, shamelessly bigoted, and more than ready to run a vicious counter-campaign. Joining in the cast of characters are her wunderkind campaign manager, her endearing long-time assistant, her savvy social media manager, and her supportive family… Sort of.

Charlotte’s marriage makes for much of the emotional drama. With their relocation, her husband Max has moved into the stay at home dad role, but hasn’t taken to it. Gender politics, in which the personal is very much political, play out here in interesting ways. I found myself liking and disliking these complicated characters in equal measure as the story built to its fraught climax.

Narrator Tavia Gilbert does an expert job with the novel’s many personalities. She effectively conveys the pressure Charlotte is under, the exhaustion she feels, and the ominous sense of how high-stakes the election is – for the country, for the state, and for the personal lives of the people most involved.

Part homecoming narrative, part behind-the-scenes thrill-ride, part domestic drama and part political farce, Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win is a uniquely compelling story that could not be more timely. I highly recommend.

Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: Spymaster by Brad Thor

Title: Spymaster
Author: Brad Thor
Narrator: Armand Schultz

It’s summertime, and to me, that means road trips, poolside lounging, twilight walks, and breezy, easy reads. Brad Thor’s new thriller, Spymaster, is just what I’ve been looking for.

It’s a classic political thriller romp through Scandinavia, Europe and the Baltics as special agent Scot Harvath leads a team of elite operatives on a mission: thwart the Russians’ plan to sabotage NATO, destabilize the Western world, and invade and conquer unsuspecting countries (Hitler-pre-WWII-style).

Told in short chapters that jump between Washington, Russia, and Harvath’s current location, Spymaster’s pacing is quick and never drags. Brad Thor sprinkles plenty of cliffhangers throughout, and the question of “what’s going to happen next?” reverberated around my head for the whole 10 hour listening experience.

The whirlwind settings and a cast of interesting characters make for a fun listen. We meet Jasinski, the Pole who may-or-may-not have a thing for Harvath; Oleg, the Russian terror orchestrator; Ryan, the gorgeous and well-connected Washington ex-CIA director; and we learn more about Scot Horvath, the Navy SEAL turned covert counterterrorism operative who has been around the block, to say the least.

With a long list of major characters – each with unique accents, veteran Brad Thor narrator Armand Schultz really has the opportunity to shine. He’s a familiar voice to fans of the Scot Harvath series, having narrated the past 10 or so titles. Spymaster is number 17. For a newbie like me, Spymaster was an easy entry point into Thor’s colorful world, and I never felt that I was missing out on any of the action because I didn’t have a background in the series.

Whether you’re a stalwart fan of the author or just looking for something new, Spymaster is a great accessory to summer – especially when paired with a cold beer and your feet in the sand.

Spymaster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New to Audiobooks.com? Get a free audiobook when you sign up for our one month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobook!

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STAFF PICK: Providence by Caroline Kepnes

Title: Providence
Author: Caroline Kepnes
Narrator: Paul MichaelMacLeod AndrewsEmily Rankin

Elementary school students Jon and Chloe are besties in a world that doesn’t understand them. They spend innocent time at their playhouse in the woods, and they both seem aware in a childlike way that they’re romantically destined for each other. But when their evil substitute teacher kidnaps Jon to run experiments on him that make him fatal to anyone with whom he shares an emotional connection, their fated romance is in serious jeopardy.

Jon’s kidnapping spans several years, and while he doesn’t have any memory of his time away, Chloe has had to struggle through high school without him. She has fallen in with the popular crowd, and fallen in love with the archetypal high school enemy: a jock who used to bully Jon. When Jon is finally released (or perhaps a more fitting verb would be unleashed) into the world by the teacher, he, Chloe and the jock have some reckoning to do.

“I am Providence.”

That line, along with other Lovecraftian homages, echoes like a mantra throughout this eerie read. Indeed, fans of H.P. Lovecraft, the O.G. of American horror writing, will probably find the most enjoyment in this third novel by Kepnes. It centres heavily on the 1929 Lovecraft title The Dunwich Horror, which Jon is convinced holds the key to understanding what happened to him during his kidnapping, and how to reverse its monstrous consequences.

The book is told from switching perspectives; each chapter is alternately told by Jon, Chloe or “Eggs” – the aging, obsessive investigator self-assigned to Jon’s case. Narrators Paul MichaelMacLeod Andrews, and Emily Rankin do a great job of capturing the main characters, adding a yearning, plaintive humanity to each of their struggles.

If you like unrequited YA romance with a hint of the supernatural, then Providence by Caroline Kepnes is the perfect summer read.

Providence: A Novel, Caroline Kepnes

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New to Audiobooks.com? Get a free audiobook when you sign up for our one month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobook!

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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.

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STAFF PICK: The Bear and the Nightingale by Jennifer Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Narrator: 
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.

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