AudioBook Review: A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials by Ann Rinaldi

Title: A Break with Charity: A story about the Salem Witch Trials
Author:  Ann Rinaldi
Narrator:  Laura Hicks
Format:  Hardcover. Paperback, eBook, AudioBook
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (11 and up)
Audio Producer: AudioGo
Pages:  298
Length:  7 Hours: 13 minutes
ISBN:  978-0439872188
Source:  AudioBook Jukebox
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade and older
Stars: Overall: 4  Narration:  4 Story: 5 
Purchase Now:  Amazon §  Audible § Barnes & Noble

About the Book:

Susanna desperately wants to join the circle of girls who meet every week at the parsonage. What she doesn’t realize is that the girls are about to set off a torrent of false accusations leading to the imprisonment and execution of countless innocent people. Susanna faces a painful choice. Should she keep quiet and let the witch-hunt panic continue, or should she “break charity” with the group–and risk having her own family members named as witches?

AudioBook Review:

I’ve long held the belief that an Ann Rinaldi book opens the door to a younger reader, teaching them that they can connect and enjoy history. My daughter loved her books, and it fed her ability and willingness to explore more history, and not fear the research. What holds true with every book that I can name from this author, the characters are easy to understand and get to know, particularly for younger readers who are not as concerned with a rigid conformance to historical accuracy. While she takes liberties in speech and behavior, each story has a solid grounding in the event, and then uses modern conventions to explain the errors of behavior then and now.

In this story, set in 1692, and dealing with the circumstances of the Salem Witch Trials, we meet Susanna, a 15 year old girl who is desperate to be included in the popular girls meetings. Nothing new or different, people all want to belong, unfortunately the girls in this group are highly imaginative and vengeful, and are the genesis of several false accusations of witchcraft in the town. What emerges is a story about standing up for what is right and truth, and whether or not Susanna can actually face the adults and her new friends and speak the truth as she knows it.

While there is a great deal of dither in Susanna, the whole ‘what would / could’ you do in that situation is really the great play in the story. While providing a sense to young readers that history and the adults of the time may just have gotten everything wrong, for a variety of reasons.

Narrated by Laura Hicks, her clearly enunciated delivery and careful pacing feel comfortable and confident, delivering the story without excess embellishment or overly dramatic changes in pitch, tone or delivery to specifically delineate different characters.

All of the characters introduced are actual people, lived during the time and can be found in documents of the time, including information about the trials and the accusers. In an addendum to the story Rinaldi explains her use of Susanna in the story, the inclusion and use of simple elements, and her own liberties with the facts. This actually provides some interesting facts that many may not be aware of, and as an introduction to the time, and a less difficult read than The Crucible, which is all based on the trials themselves, this was an enjoyable story and perfect for readers 12 and up.

I received an MP3 download from AudioGo via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review for the Heard Word. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

About the Author:

Ann Rinaldi (b. August 27, 1934, in New York City) is a young adult fiction author. She is best known for her historical fiction, including In My Father’s House, The Last Silk Dress, An Acquaintance with Darkness, A Break with Charity, and Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons. She has written a total of forty novels, eight of which were listed as notable by the ALA. In 2000, Wolf by the Ears was listed as one the best novels of the preceding twenty-five years, and later of the last one hundred years. She is the most prolific writer for the Great Episode series, a series of historical fiction novels set during the American Colonial era. She also writes for the Dear America series.

Rinaldi currently lives in Somerville, New Jersey, with her husband, Ron, whom she married in 1960. Her career, prior to being an author, was a newspaper columnist. She continued the column, called The Trentonian, through much of her writing career. Her first published novel, Term Paper, was written in 1979. Prior to this, she wrote four unpublished books, which she has called “terrible.” She became a grandmother in 1991.

Rinaldi says she got her love of history from her eldest son, who brought her to reenactments. She says that she writes young adult books “because I like to write them.”


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Review: Vanguard of Hope: Sapphire Brigade Book 1 by Kathy Steinemann


Title: Vanguard of Hope
Author: Kathy Steinemann
Format: eBook
Publisher: Self-Published
Pages: 313
ISBN: 978-0988089754
Source: Author
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Series: Sapphire Brigade # 1
Stars: 3
Purchase Now:  Amazon § Barnes&Noble § iBooks CA § Smashwords § Kobo

About the Book:

LISETVILLE, 1890 — Murders are committed; homes are burned; family secrets are buried; an unexpected romance complicates lives. Amid the mystery and violence, a vigilante brigade emerges to administer justice.

Flowing through the intrigue and drama is a dark undercurrent that will touch your heart as you empathize with the victims.

Book Review:

I apologize in advance, but this will not read like one of my normal reviews. I just couldn’t bring it together in a cohesive format, and I am still undecided about my final feelings on the story. Firstly, Steinemann has crafted a story that is told in diary-entry from, which provides an interesting point of view to the story, although it is not without difficulties. There is a great deal of confusion and time hop in this story, that don’t really ground it solidly in any timeframe. While some of the current issues spoke greatly to the late 19th century, societal conventions, speech and even the concern with the issues raised were not even present at that time in most of society, not to any great extent. This misalignment of terms to time and the reactions kept me unsure of the date and not able to comfortably believe in the trials the characters were facing.

There was also no truly clear grounding to place in this story: the blurb starts in the south, but there are several passages in British English, using a ‘marriage to an English man’ as the justification. If these passages were meant to derive an ‘otherness’ for the character, it was not effective. Lastly, vigilante justice was neither a concept nor a term used until more recently. Frontier justice possibly, but vigilante-ism is a more modern construct. Several other instances of modern language and use appear, marring the feel of the story and keeping date/time confusion the most memorable part of the story.

Sadly, this was a struggle for me to read: the action, questions and romance may have been more compelling had I found a solid sense of place and time before the conflicts in plot points appeared to throw me. Now, being perfectly aware that much of this could be entirely my prejudice I did try to find the positives that struck me as unusual or unique and well done. Hope, as a main character was far more modern and sophisticated than many of her time, although she is horribly damaged from abuses in her past. That leads to disconnected relationships, and ultimately her issues also affected my thoughts about her as a reader. Coming through strongly, however, is the tension and the questions that surround Hope and her thirst for retribution, losing her secrets and attempting to make a romantic connection with the most unlikely source. Those are compelling elements, and will please many readers who like suspense and darker themes to their reads.

I was provided with an eBook copy from the author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.


About the Author:
Kathy Steinemann won provincial public speaking and writing awards during her early years, wrote the school news column for the community paper, and was a regular contributor to her high school newspaper.

She has always eagerly embraced new technological advances, creative projects, and continuing education. Her career has taken varying directions, including positions as editor of a community weekly, computer-network administrator, and webmaster. She has also worked on projects in commercial art and cartooning.

Website  §  Facebook  §  @KathySteinemann


AudioBook Review: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar: A Novel by Suzanne Joinson


Title: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar: A Novel
Author: Suzanne Joinson
Narrator:  Susan Duerden
Format:  Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, AudioCD, AudioBook
Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA
Audio Producer: Tantor Media
Pages:  384
Length:  10 Hours, 21 minutes
ISBN:  978-1452657523
Source:  Tantor Media via Edelweiss
Genre:   Historical Fiction
Stars: Overall: 3 Narration: 4 Story: 3
Purchase Now:  Amazon §  Audible   §  Barnes&Noble § Tantor Media

About the Book:

It is 1923. Evangeline (Eva) English and her sister Lizzie are missionaries heading for the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar. Though Lizzie is on fire with her religious calling, Eva’s motives are not quite as noble, but with her green bicycle and a commission from a publisher to write A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, she is ready for adventure.

In present day London, a young woman, Frieda, returns from a long trip abroad to find a man sleeping outside her front door. She gives him a blanket and a pillow, and in the morning finds the bedding neatly folded and an exquisite drawing of a bird with a long feathery tail, some delicate Arabic writing, and a boat made out of a flock of seagulls on her wall. Tayeb, in flight from his Yemeni homeland, befriends Frieda and, when she learns she has inherited the contents of an apartment belonging to a dead woman she has never heard of, they embark on an unexpected journey together.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar explores the fault lines that appear when traditions from different parts of an increasingly globalized world crash into one other. Beautifully written, and peopled by a cast of unforgettable characters, the novel interweaves the stories of Frieda and Eva, gradually revealing the links between them and the ways in which they each challenge and negotiate the restrictions of their societies as they make their hard-won way toward home. A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar marks the debut of a wonderfully talented new writer.

AudioBook Review:

This is a debut novel for Suzanne Joinson, and contains sections of prose that describe the scenes to perfection. Occasionally there are moments that work less smoothly in the story and narration; a sense of self-awareness of the literary nature of the prose gets in the way and the passages aren’t as smooth. Those moments tend to overuse descriptive words that remove the reader’s sense of input into the visualization: a stylistic affectation that will, I believe, disappear with time and attention. The story carries a dream-like quality in the writing, providing a sense of remove from the characters. Unfortunately, this quality doesn’t necessarily stand up to close scrutiny of the characterizations or their connection.

Separated by nearly a century Evangeline and Freida are the two women we come to learn from and watch as they learn and grow in their adventures. Evangeline was a half-hearted missionary with her more pious sister and an acquaintance: her real intent is to pen the book A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. Alternately, Freida is a single woman, functioning in the modern world as a travel writer. Her bicycle is her mode of transport through the often gridlocked London traffic.

What emerges is a slow to develop convergence of the two women: both are striving for freedom, independence and empowerment as they self-direct their lives. Eva has a richer life emotionally and experience wise, and is more intriguing when contrasted to the often overly emphatic characters in her travel companions. Frieda is emotionally guarded and rather dry, and feels as if she is there to simply pull parallels from past to present, forcing the connection between the two women. Tayeb is interesting and brings with him a new perspective, but only momentarily is his position primary to Frieda’s journey, and their connection never seems to develop into a solid one, ending with a whimper and not a bang. Sadly the connected threads of experience from past to present characters did not develop as solidly or as strongly as I hoped, being shadows at the edge of consciousness rather than fully formed analogies.

Narration for this story is provided by Susan Duerden: she has a very precise and deliberate speaking style, which may feel to some listeners as if she is over-enunciating. In fact, the style is not dramatically distracting, if you are familiar and comfortable with the British accent and the minor pitch and tempo changes that are used to delineate characters are not over-done.

I would be curious to see if reading the book brings another perspective, but it was certainly an interesting and intriguing story with some beautiful details and descriptions and a unique presentation of east meets west.

I received an MP3 download from Tantor Audio via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review for the Heard Word. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

Morning’s Journey : The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles #2 by Kim Headlee


Title: Morning’s Journey
Author: Kim Headlee
Format:  eBook
Publisher: Lucky Bat Books
Pages: 447
ISBN: 978-1939051271
Source: Author
Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy
Series: The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles # 2
Best Read in Order: yes
Stars: 4
Purchase Now:  Amazon § Barnes & Noble § Smashwords

About the Book:

Picking up where the first in the series left off, Headlee returns to her reworking of the Arthurian legend with her uniquely crafted cast of characters.  Gyanhumara and Artyr are married and soon to be separated: the struggle to unite Britain is ongoing.

Gyan and Artyr are learning to cooperate: being raised as a leader Gyan is unwilling to cede to Artyr’s primacy without a battle. Fortunately, Artyr is coming to realize that much of what Gyan fights for makes an odd sort of sense: and her planning and battle sense is second to none.

Still Urien is looking to cause trouble: like a child who lost his favored toy to a sandbox bully his ability to work a slight into a grievous concern and hold a grudge are legendary.  Still wholly without redeeming features, his upcoming marriage to Artyr’s half-sister is less reason for rejoicing as the two have designs on the pendragonship.

With a threat from other kings in the region, potential mutiny from Urien and the constant need to juggle the competing desires, including their own: this installment is action-packed for both Artyr and Gyan.

Again the writing is lovely, and the insertions of moments of the newly developing Christianity combined with legends and gods of old, manx and gaelic phrasing and characters that have a familiarity from the old legends all combine to make a page turning story that gives a new life to old stories.  Mixing in the familiar with the reworked and redefined characters is a tricky and risky prospect, but works to perfection in this book.

You cannot, however, pick up this book without reading the first: you will be hopelessly lost in the plot: and you will have missed the great character of Gyan: her input and prior information is integral to the flow of this installment.

I received an eBook from the author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

Book Review:

Read my review of the first in this series: Dawnflight here 

About the Author: 

Kim Headlee lives on a farm in southwestern Virginia with her family, cats, goats, and assorted wildlife. People & creatures come and go, but the cave and the 250-year-old house ruins — the latter having been occupied as recently as the mid-20th century — seem to be sticking around for a while yet.

Kim is a Seattle native (when she used to live in the Metro DC area, she loved telling people she was from “the other Washington”) and a direct descendent of 20th century Russian nobility. Her grandmother was a childhood friend of the doomed Grand Duchess Anastasia, and the romantic yet tragic story of how Lydia escaped Communist Russia with the aid of her American husband will most certainly one day fuel one of Kim’s novels. Another novel in the queue will involve her husband’s ancestor, the 7th-century proto-Viking king of the Swedish colony in Russia.

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Audiobook Review: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

Title:  A Hundred Summers
Author:  Beatriz Williams
Narrator:  Kathleen McInerney
Format: Hardcover, eBook, AudioBook
Publisher:  Putnam Adult
Audio Producer: Penguin Audio
Pages:  368
Length:  11 Hours, 35 minutes
ISBN:   978-0399162169
Source: Penguin Audio via AudioBook Jukebox
Genre:  Historical Romance
Stars: Overall:  3  Narration:  4  Story:  3
Purchase Now:  Amazon  §  Audible §  Barnes&Noble

About the Book:

Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her after heartbreak.

That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.

Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancé, now recently married—an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily’s friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction…and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations.

Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever.

AudioBook Review:

This book was a slow starter for me, and sadly I did not connect with it as I had hoped I would. Essentially the story of a love and a friendship lost, the story winds together a summer in 1931 and the summer of 1938 before the hurricane that devastated the New England coastline.

In 1931, lifelong friends Budgie and Lily spent their summers in adjoining homes on the Rhode Island coast. We get to see their bond, and the boy that caused the fracture through well-crafted flashbacks to that summer. The writing is very smooth with plenty of beautifully descriptive prose, but the characters are missing that little element of “oomph” that makes them compelling. In fact, the most compelling character was also the most stereotypical Aunt Julie: drinks too much, speaks too freely and has a penchant for living large.

In 1938, Lily is stuck in the past and unable to move forward because her best friend has married her first love, Nick. This is where the historical fiction elements come into play: the anti-semitism that was rife in the country in the 30’s is evident in speech and discrimination against Nick, and the wagging tongues that speak softly of “those people” in the Greenwald house. Again, though secrets are revealed, the predictability of these secrets were far less interesting to me than wondering if perhaps KiKi the 6 year old child, purported to be Lily’s sister was in fact her child.

Beatriz Williams has created a story that is not particularly demanding for a reader: the perfect beach read or listen, it flows by smoothly and elegantly, providing a nice diversion that is easy to pick up or put down at will.

The narration provided by Karen McInerney is smooth and pleasant. Her voice manages to capture the patois and inflections of the varying cast of characters without overly dramatic inflection or tonal changes, and most voices are quite distinct and clear. Easy to listen to, when combined with the story she is presenting this is a relaxing listen for a few subsequent afternoons.

I received an MP3 download from Penguin Audio via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review for The Heard Word. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.