STAFF PICK: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Narrator: Blair Brown

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is my first foray into the author’s fiction and what a first experience it was. This book is everything you could want and more. There is tension, sex, subtlety; there is despair, there is realness, and there is life.

Gilbert’s narrator is Vivian, an old (in age only) woman who is looking back at her life with clear eyes and telling her story in all its gritty glory. Blair Brown’s performance as Vivian is steadfast yet spunky, capturing perfectly the airs that Vivian exudes as she shares her stories. We are transported back to the world of the New York theatre in the 1940s with such depth and layers that you feel the fabrics, people, and joie de vivre of the era.

Vivian is 19 when she is sent to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg in New York City after she failed out of Vassar College. She is self-assured in the sense that she knows who she isn’t and is open to who she is about to become. She throws herself into the life of the theater and she puts her sewing skills to good use. Through parties and engaging with nightlife, Vivian ends up perfecting a few other skills as well. This lifestyle, however, doesn’t last for long. As we have the benefit of Vivian telling her story from old age, we get to see how she moves past scandals, the war, and the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s.

The first two-thirds of the book are upbeat, carefree, and almost flippant. But it’s the last part that drew me in the most. Vivian in her middle age is a true treasure. She continues to live by her own rules but does so with such poise and determination that you can’t help but cheer her on and wish she could impart more life lessons on you.

Gilbert expertly transports you to another time and place, and they consume you as Vivian’s story unfolds. Don’t be disheartened by the switch in the pace of the book. It is here in the slowness that we truly see the beauty of a woman building her life, her values, and her family. And it is here that we are treated to perhaps the most endearing part of Vivian’s life. It is here that she offers the best of herself to us, dear reader: she offers a reminder of the value in the love of friendship.

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STAFF PICK: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Title: Daisy Jones & the Six
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Narrator: Jennifer BealsJudy GreerBenjamin BrattPablo Schreiber

Believe the hype. Daisy Jones & the Six will seduce you, then chew you up and spit you out with raw emotions. It will leave you in a state of wonder as to how this amazing rock band could let the unthinkable happen. How could the legendary band Daisy Jones & The Six break down and eventually break up? Well, Taylor Jenkins Reid is about to let you in on their story in her latest novel, Daisy Jones & the Six.

It’s a tour de force of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that will make you forget the fact that the band you’re reading about is fictional. I found myself pausing from listening to google a song of theirs, or to google an event mentioned in the book, only to stop short and remind myself that the book was fiction. It’s gritty, it’s real, and Daisy Jones & The Six is about to take you on a whirlwind ride. There are moments of true 70’s rock and roll: you’re partying with the band and you’re recording in the studio at all hours of the day. But, there are quiet moments too, where we get to watch pure creativity happen between two musical geniuses as they collaborate on songs, along with glimpses into the personal, tender moments of the band and their families.

The list of narrators is long and perfectly cast. Jennifer Beals and Pablo Schreiber take on Daisy and Billy, and they let you feel every high and every low. It truly is a unique listening experience which complements the unique story of Daisy Jones.

This book plays out like a Rolling Stone magazine interview or TV special. This is the unspoken story of a fictional rock band that will leave you wanting to listen to their albums and to be among the lucky fans at their concerts who chant Daisy’s name until you’ve lost your voice. And it completely works.

Publisher Summary:

Everyone knows DAISY JONES & THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity…until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

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STAFF PICK: The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Title: The Huntress
Author: Kate Quinn
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld

Oh my goodness. Dear reader, you will not be able to stop listening to Kate Quinn’s latest book, The Huntress. I found myself so engrossed in this book that I would sit in my car once I’d arrived at my destination just to finish a chapter—and sometimes this was for 15 minutes or more.

The Huntress is story of how the lives of a Soviet Night Witch, a British war correspondent, and a young American photographer’s lives are impacted by a Nazi murderess, known only as the Huntress. As some spend their days haunted by her actions and longing to bring her to justice for her crimes, others spend their days welcoming her in their lives, unaware of her past and her true story.

Not only is the premise for the book well thought out and impeccably researched, Kate Quinn has also created a cast of characters who are believable and well-rounded. She has crafted the bold, headstrong Nina—our Night Witch Soviet bomber—to be vulnerable but true to her spirit. We meet Jordan, a young woman who catches a glimpse through her camera that reveals all is not what it seems, and we watch her struggle to make her own choices and learn to trust her herself. And Ian, our reliable British war correspondent who is wrestling to come to terms with his own experiences in the war and his own demons.  Not to mention The Huntress herself, who, while trying to live a quiet life after the war, has obviously not shaken off her past. All of these characters are brought to life through Saskia Maarleveld’s marvelous narration. She has treated not only the characters with perfect tone, but her overall pacing and treatment of the work are all on point.

Told through alternating perspectives and years, The Huntress will leave you asking “how?” How does this all fit together? How are they going to find her? How can I not have heard of the Night Witches before? How could someone do this? How did Kate Quinn craft such an excellently paced, fascinating, informative, gripping novel with everything from romance to suspense, to humor? I, for one, will not question Kate Quinn’s writing abilities but be forever in awe of them.

Publisher Summary:

In the aftermath of war, the hunter becomes the hunted…

Bold and fearless, Nina Markova always dreamed of flying. When the Nazis attack the Soviet Union, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on the invading Germans. When she is stranded behind enemy lines, Nina becomes the prey of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, and only Nina’s bravery and cunning will keep her alive.

Transformed by the horrors he witnessed from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials, British war correspondent Ian Graham has become a Nazi hunter. Yet one target eludes him: a vicious predator known as the Huntress. To find her, the fierce, disciplined investigator joins forces with the only witness to escape the Huntress alive: the brazen, cocksure Nina. But a shared secret could derail their mission unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Growing up in post-war Boston, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride is determined to become a photographer. When her long-widowed father unexpectedly comes homes with a new fiancée, Jordan is thrilled. But there is something disconcerting about the soft-spoken German widow. Certain that danger is lurking, Jordan begins to delve into her new stepmother’s past—only to discover that there are mysteries buried deep in her family . . . secrets that may threaten all Jordan holds dear.

In this immersive, heart-wrenching story, Kate Quinn illuminates the consequences of war on individual lives, and the price we pay to seek justice and truth.

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6 Classic Christmas Audiobooks to Revisit this Season

I truly love everything about Christmas: the lights, the family time, the movies, the books, the chaos, and the overall spirit of the season just makes me happy. Here are some of my favorite books from Christmas seasons past that I know will help bring the delights of the season to your reading lists.


1. The Christmas Train by David Baldacci, narrated by Tim Matheson

The Christmas Train.

Baldacci has created a magical holiday story with a hodgepodge of wonderful characters that will leave you enchanted, and wanting to take a train ride of your own.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy this journey on The Christmas Train.
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2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, narrated by Barbara Caruso

Little Women.

For me, Little Women is a Christmas story. There is something about the March family that inspires all the best of the Christmas season in me. It’s a wonderful time of year to listen to this classic story and get lost in a time not so long ago.
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3. Dashing Through the Snow by Debbie Macomber, narrated by Allyson Ryan

Dashing Through The Snow.

A Christmas season ‘meet cute’ of magical proportions awaits you in this audiobook. You’ll be taken on a hilarious hectic journey through the hustle and bustle of the season as two strangers make their way home for the holidays. You’ll be laughing all the way, I promise.
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4. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub, narrated by Edward Holland

Silent Night.

An amazing story that shows that even during the chaos of war, the Christmas spirit is felt and embraced worldwide — even by enemies. This book touched me in so many ways, and while it is a little more somber in topic, I consider it a must read for anyone with a passion for history and the holidays.
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5. The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans, narrated by January LaVoy

The Mistletoe Promise.

You can’t experience Christmas in books without reading a story by Richard Paul Evans. The first in the Mistletoe collection, The Mistletoe Promise will leave you believing in the ‘why not’ magic of the season.
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6. Last Christmas in Paris by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor, narrated by Greg WaglandAntony FergusonDerek PerkinsMary Jane WellsBillie Fulford-BrownAlex WyndhamJane CoplandMorag Sims, and Gary Furlong

Last Christmas in Paris.

A touching story told through letters over several years during World War I, Last Christmas in paris brings to light the harsh realities of war both at home and the front. Christmas is not the main focus of this story, but it perfectly embodies the spirit of the season.
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STAFF PICK: 11/22/63 By Stephen King.

I’ve listened to extremely long books before so I know it can be daunting at times.  For the month of May, my book of choice was 11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King. Well, the 30 hours and 45 minutes flew by and I was pleasantly surprised! Having not picked up a Stephen King book since the early 90’s (and even then having only read the popular horror stories, Dolores Claiborne, Misery, The Shinning and It), 11/22/63 was not at all what I was expecting.

11/22/63 audio book by Stephen King

Stephen King takes the listener on fantastic voyage through time back to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, with the goal of preventing the assassination of JFK. But as our time-travelling hero takes multiple trips through the rabbit hole, he discovers that by changing one moment, one tiny little event, his life in the present time does not always work out the way he’d hoped for. For me, this book was a surprise to say the least. I was expecting some sort of horror elements.  Nope!  None to be found. I was expecting some elements of science fiction, as this is a book about time travel. Nope! King treats time travelling in a very straight forward manner: there are no mad scientists, or huge machines. It’s simply a man with a portal in the back of a sandwich shop that you have to walk through to be transported. What I did find in 11/22/63 was a tragic love story and the cold hard truth that changing the past does not always make the future a better place.

The story starts quickly and continues at a great pace throughout. This is partly due to the talents of the narrator Craig Wasson.  I don’t think I could have finished a book this long if the narrator wasn’t perfectly cast.  And thanks to this great first experience with Craig, I would not hesitate to pick up another book where he’s at the helm.

11/22/63, is so much more than a story about trying to stop the assignation of JFK.  In fact, for me that was just a side story for the wonderful that Stephen King took me on.  This book has something for everyone; mystery, history, politics, and romance.  With 11/22/63, we are offered an amazing glimpse into history, so don’t let the extraordinary length of this book scare you off.  It’s well worth the time.

Let me know what you think!

STAFF PICK: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf has always been a favorite author of mine.  Her flowing prose, her introspection and her stream of consciousness writing style all appeal to me greatly.  My paperback copies of Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, The Voyage Out and A Room of One’s Own are well worn and full of marginalia and post it notes.

How would my beloved Virginia Woolf’s style translate into audio?  Would I be able to get as much out of the audio version as I would the paperback?

To the Lighthouse audiobook by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse is considered to be the most accomplished novel written by Virginia Woolf.  Yet for some readers, it’s much too dull and slow moving.  I wouldn’t argue that it can be trying at times–because let’s face it, not much actually happens in this one.  The story focuses on a group of family and friends visiting their summer house just before World War I and then jumps to a decade later as some of the group return to the summer house after the war. In both visits, a trip to the lighthouse that sits just offshore is proposed. But what makes this book so wonderful is not what happens (or what doesn’t happen, for that matter).  It’s the way in which Woolf weaves her character’s thoughts together to create a deeply reflective commentary on small conflicts between individuals, large conflicts between societies, memory, perceptions, and time.

Juliet Stevenson does a marvelous job in her narration.  I cannot say enough about her wonderful delivery of a dense book.  I wholeheartedly believe that thanks to Juliet Stevenson’s reading, this book was somewhat easier to follow and enjoy.

So how did I fare trying out To the Lighthouse in audio? Wonderfully. Did I get as much out of Virginia Woolf in audio as I would have in paperback?  Absolutely. A great book is not always a great book in different formats; but, thanks to Juliet Stevenson’s wonderful reading and Virginia Woolf’s lyrical prose, the book was just as thought provoking, entertaining, enlightening as any other that I’ve enjoyed by Woolf. Now I just have to find a place for all of my post-it notes that I wrote while listening!

Let me know what you think!