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

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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.”

Website

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AudioBook Review: A Gentlewoman’s Chronicles (Galvanic Century #5 – 7) by Michael Coorlim

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Title: A Gentlewoman’s Chronicles: Galvanic Century
Author: Michael Coorlim
Narrator: Dawn Hyde
Format: Paperback, eBook and AudioBook
Publisher: Pomoconsumption Press
Audio Producer: Michael Coorlim
Pages: 122
Length: 4 Hours, 39 minutes
ISBN: 978-1481288750
Source: Author
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk / Mystery
Series: Chronicles of a Gentlewoman # 5 – 7
Best Read in Order: Not Required
Stars: Overall: 4 Narration: 4 Story: 4
Purchase Now:  Amazon  §  Audible  §  Barnes&Noble

About the Book:
Chronicles of a Gentlewoman is an action-packed thriller series set in an alternate history Victorian steampunk world. This collection of three novelletes takes her all the way from London, to the jungles of Mexico, to the Ottoman Empire.

This collection includes:

Sky Pirates Over London
London has been besieged by strange powerful airships targeting the city’s shipping. The poor starve and the rich must ration their luxuries, while the blockaders have made no demands. Parliament and the Home Office have done nothing to rectify the situation, and though it’s hardly proper, sometimes a gentlewoman must act while the men debate.

The Tower of Babbage
A motion-picture crew has gone missing in the mysterious jungles of Southern Mexico while filming ancient Mayan ruins. Desperate to learn the fate of an old friend, gentlewoman Aldora Fiske sponsors an expedition into the heart of the rainforest. Little does she realize that the filmmakers were not the only ones interested in the clockwork secrets that Charles Babbage left behind.

Fine Young Turks
Her loveless wedding of convenience approaching, gentlewoman Aldora Fiske is among the influential Europeans to accept a handsome nobleman’s invitation to show off the Ottoman Empire and its secularist reforms. After she alone escapes the devious plot to kidnap the foreign guests, she’s confronted with an Empire where women are given all the rights of men, and a man who treats her like an equal.

AudioBook Review:

This was a cleverly wrought collection of 3 short tales that have the character of Aldora Frisk at the center of the action. Aldora is a Victorian-era female, living a bit of a double life: refined and proper woman who dashes off to madcap adventures and encounters villains as well defined as are their bad intentions. A bit less satisfying was the speed of the stories: characters did not always seem to be completely flushed out, partly owing to the multiple twists and turns, and partly to the abbreviated length. Additionally, there is a fiancé of convenience for Aldora: his role seems to be background and cover: while the two have a friendship, he does not really know where she disappears to, and their attraction for one another is slowly growing to the point where answers and honesty will be needed. Those were almost the only issues I had with this set of 3 stories though: the action, setting, devices and twists in these stories were all presented with flair that kept interest and surprises moving in equal parts.

Three stories make up this recording, each one has the descriptive prose that provides easy imagery for the reader / listener, with a sense of enjoyment the author brings to the story and the setting he has created shining through. Steampunk can be really good when details are presented properly, and the characters provide a sense of reality in the fantasy. Coorlim manipulates these elements with finesse, playing with the fantasy while grounding it solidly to elements that are familiar and relatable.

Narration is provided by Dawn Hyde: her accent is easily understood and provides the character of Aldora with a voice that both fit her story and background. Subtle modulation of tone and delivery provide the other characters with their own voices, without becoming distracting or feeling as if she has worked to ‘create’ a character voice. Her delivery is clear and present, and provides no distraction from the story she is telling.

These stories are easy to listen to separately, breaking them up over a short time or to listen all at once. Two are just under one and one-half hours long: if you have a long commute this is the perfect listen to keep you amused. If you haven’t tried the steampunk genre: this is a good place to start: well crafted, well written and characters to enjoy.

I received an MP3 download from the author 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:

Though a prolific writer Michael Coorlim found the prospect and process of traditional publication daunting, often preparing query letters and researching markets only to never get around to submitting any of his work. It wasn’t until he reached his thirties that he took the steps to write professionally, and by then the self-publishing revolution had already begun.

He currently lives in the city of Chicago with his girlfriend and their cat, living his life-long dream of supporting himself as an author of fast-paced character-driven fiction about authentic people in fantastic situations.

Website  §  @mcoorlim  §  Facebook

 

AudioBook Review: The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee

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Title:  The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society
Author:   Darien Gee
Narrator:  Tanya Eby
Format:  Hardcover, eBook, Audio CD, AudioBook
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Audio Producer: Tantor Audio
Pages: 448
Length: 14 Hours: 16 minutes
ISBN:  978-0345525376
Source: Tantor Audio via Edelweiss
Genre: Woman’s Fiction / Relationships
Series: Follow up to Friendship Bread
Best Read in Order: helpful but not required
Stars: Overall:  4  Narration:4   Story: 4
Purchase Now:  Amazon  §  Audible §  Barnes&Noble § Tantor

About the Book:

At Madeline’s Tea Salon, the cozy hub of the Avalon community, local residents scrapbook their memories and make new ones. But across town, other Avalonians are struggling to free themselves of the past: Isabel Kidd is fixing up her ramshackle house while sorting through the complications of her late husband’s affair. Ava Catalina is mourning the love of her life and helping her young son grow up without his father. Local plumber Yvonne Tate is smart, beautiful, and new to Avalon, but finds that despite a decade of living life on her own terms, the past has a way of catching up—no matter where she goes. And Frances Latham, mother to a boisterous brood of boys, eagerly anticipates the arrival of a little girl from China—unprepared for the emotional roller coaster of foreign adoption.

Enter Bettie Shelton, the irascible founder of the Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. Under Bettie’s guidance, even the most reluctant of Avalon’s residents come to terms with their past and make bold decisions about their future. But when the group receives unexpected news about their steadfast leader, they must pull together to create something truly memorable.

AudioBook Review:

Being a fan of stories that tackle relationship issues and particularly how women relate to one another, I was excited to be provided with the opportunity to review this title. I had heard many positives about Darien Gee’s first book, Friendship Bread, and this one had a good buzz.

The book jumps right into the story: perhaps a tad confusing as the characters seem to have been introduced in Friendship Bread. While it was difficult at first to understand motivations, the motivations and personalities did start to become more clear and easier to understand as their tales unfolded. The only real complaint I have is with the sheer number of characters: this did become a bit less confusing as the story went on, but there were times it felt overwhelming.

Gee has a beautiful writing style that just dances on the line between overly sentimental and dramatic and unemotional retelling: characters are each voiced with specific patois and approach, and as they learn to work through the inevitable conflicts and personality clashes, they also learn that working together and the support that comes from a community that has a sense of the history and trials you have endured is a wonderful side-benefit to their time spent together.

This is a story of a small town, where everyone knows who everyone else is, and the opinions are often different. These are real people with real concerns and foibles, living lives that are eminently relatable to everyone. There are personality clashes, revelations and above all a sense of coming together to support their own: even when that person is a difficult sort. A real lesson in the power of community and creativity: reminiscent of the sewing circles and quilting bees that were a popular pastime in years gone by.

Narration for this production is provided by Tanya Eby. Ably narrated with a smooth delivery style and subtle changes in pacing and tone provide a sense of the characters through voice. Her characters all do sound slightly different, and by the mid-point in the book, I was able to know who was speaking, even before the narration told me. Eby is well-modulated and delivers lines smoothly, with emotional inflection that is relevant and adds impact to the words she imparts.

I truly did enjoy this AudioBook production, perfectly suited for travel or a few quiet afternoons spent in the town of Avalon. Grab a cup of tea and have a listen, you will not regret it.

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.

About the Author:
Darien Gee is the author of the novels The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society and Friendship Bread. She has also published novels under the pen name Mia King, including Good Things and Table Manners. Her short stories have been anthologized, and she also writes an occasional column, “From the Writer’s Corner,” for her local newspaper. Darien lives in upcountry Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband and three children.

Website § @dariengee

About the Narrator:

Tanya Eby has been a voice-over artist for over a decade. She has a BA in English language and literature and an MFA in creative writing. Besides narrating, Tanya spends her time teaching creative writing classes at the collegiate level, blogging, and working on her own novels. She has published four novels and is at work on her fifth.

Website § @blunder_woman

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AudioBook Review: Cat Cross Their Graves: Joe Grey #10 by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

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Title:  Cat Cross Their Graves
Author: Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Narrator: Susan Boyce
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook and AudioBook
Publisher:  Avon / Harper Collins
Audio Producer:  AudioGo
Pages: 400
Length:  11 Hours, 7 minutes
ISBN:  978-0060578114
Source:  Audio Producer via AudioBook Jukebox 
Genre: Mystery
Series: Joe Grey # 10
Best Read in Order: Not Required
Stars:  Overall: 5 Narration: 5  Story: 5
Purchase Now:  Amazon §  Audible § Barnes & Noble § AudioGo

About the Book: 

The beautiful, serene village of Molena Point, California is the type of place where people go to get away from the harsher realities of life––which is what attracted classic film star Patty Rose to buy the village inn, and settle down to enjoy her golden years. But as the town gathers to celebrate and honor the beautiful, aging actress with a festival of her old films, Patty is brutally murdered––to the horror and shock of this peaceful burg.

A gentle tortoiseshell cat, Kit, has been enjoying a retreat to the animal–loving actress’s inn, where she’s spending time with her feline friends Dulcie, and the slick tomcat sleuth, Joe Grey. But her relaxation is cut short when she hears the gunshots that end Patty’s life, and sees her dead body sprawled on the inn’s front steps. She glimpses the killer racing into the parking garage, and soon follows his trail.

Joe and Dulcie must now follow the naïve Kit’s trail, and keep her from getting into serious trouble. To complicate matters, Joe discovers that Dulcie has been hiding a runaway child––one of the lucky humans that these special cats choose to talk to––who has now been kidnapped, likely by the same man who killed their famous friend. In the end, the little girl’s abduction leads them to Patty’s killer, and the feline friends are all united––but they all must mourn a departed friend as they stand beside the newly laid grave of Patty Rose.

Book Review:

This is a deliciously clever story: murders, secrets, runaways and above all the three clever cats that drive the story forward as they work to solve the mysteries. This is my first introduction to this series by Shirley Rousseau Murphy, and it most certainly will not be my last. The mystery was cleverly plotted, if on the darker side as it touched on themes of missing and exploited children all kicked off with the death of an aging film star.

While the human characters are well developed and are developed in ways that serve their purpose in the story, their development in relation to the cats that are the stars of the story. Joe Grey is the ringleader of these sleuths, even if only in his own mind sometimes. His manner is completely well developed with even an eye for the “fantastical imaginings’ of the females he encounters. His romantic attentions are centered on Dulcie, one of the two female felines in his little group, and she is the more centered and grounded of the two, even as she is keeping a massive secret. Kit was the one to witness the first murder, although she never saw the killer’s face. Not unsurprisingly, the humans don’t realize that these cats not only can and do talk, but are working to puzzle out the mysteries that have been unearthed in this story.

Narration is provided by Susan Boyce and the pairing is spectacular. Susan’s voice is perfectly modulated without overuse of vocal manipulations to provide character distinctions, instead choosing pacing and inflection to indicate the characters. Particularly effective is the dreamy quality of Kit’s voice, and the sometimes exasperated tone that emanates from Joe Grey. Her narration was smooth and easily understood, with inflections and moments of tone variation that perfectly suited the text of the story.

The writing is so cleverly done that a listener / reader doesn’t even come close to missing a greater interaction from the humans in the story. There are enough twists and clues to nowhere that keep the mystery alive, this is no simple mystery that is a direct line to the killer. With the clever interjections from the cats, and the humans who exist in their investigations this was a story that flew by, and was wholly enjoyable.

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:
Shirley Rousseau Murphy is the author of Cat in the Dark, Cat on the Edge, Cat Under Fire, and Cat Raise the Dead, and has received five Council of Authors and Journalists Awards for previous books. She graduated from San Francisco Art Institute, has worked as a commercial artist and has exhibited paintings and sculptures extensively on the West Coast. She and her husband live in Carmel, California. Their cats have included a tom that twice warned them of burglars in the middle of the night by growling, and a cat that liked to ride horseback.                                                 Website

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Release Day! Letters from Skye: A Novel by Jessica Brockmole

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Title:  Letters from Skye: A Novel
Author:  Jessica Brockmole
Format:  Hardcover, eBook and AudioBook
Publisher:   Ballantine Books
Pages:  306
ISBN:  978-0345542606
Source:  Publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Historical, Woman Centric
Stars:  4.5
Purchase Now:  Amazon  §  Audible  §  Barnes & Noble

About the Book:

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

Sparkling with charm and full of captivating period detail, Letters from Skye is a testament to the power of love to overcome great adversity, and marks Jessica Brockmole as a stunning new literary voice.

Book Review:

When I read the premise of this story, I was instantly excited: I love books that manage to tell a story using correspondence from characters and many of my favorite reads have used actual correspondence from historical characters to elucidate the story and provide insight into the people that are long gone.

Brockmore creates that same elucidation in her fictional characters, giving us a sense of their voice and what is important to them as they impart stories of their daily activities in letters.  The use of the letters brings an instant connection to the character’s thoughts and approach as the text brings their voices forward, clearly and distinctly, and draws you into the story unlike a long introduction would have.

First up is Elspeth, a published poetess living in Skye.  Her correspondence starts when David, an American university student sends her a fan letter, and they begin to correspond as pen pals.  The contrast in the two styles, the scenery and life depictions are deliciously penned with a subtle use of voicing changes to illustrate the deepening connection between the two.  With screenshots that depict the Isle of Skye, and Elspeth’s rhythmical use of language both feel totally of the moment (early 20th century) and totally modern.  When the war intercedes and David’s tales are more filled with danger and that curious mix of bravado and fear, the moments are as clearly depicted as a film, and the slow revelation of the connection that is deeper than friendship starts to appear.

When Elspeth’s daughter Margaret discovers this cache of letters, her investigations and curiosity are also well documented as she delves into the mystery to discover the why’s of her mother’s hidden life.  While I could easily empathize with her curiosity, I didn’t feel as connected to her, which saddened me.  Not as eloquent as her mother and lacking that connection that was so apparent in the letters between her mother and David, her story was a necessary but less gripping part of the book for me.

Throughout the story the juxtaposition of now and then were running through my mind: the time between letters, the fully fleshed out thoughts and lyrical phrasing so missing in today’s email and text ridden times, and most of all imagining the letters themselves: creased and delicate with evidence of frequent reading.  This was a tremendously satisfying read that incorporated romance, history and even a touch of travelogue into a book that is the perfect read for a quiet afternoon.

I received an ARC copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review.  I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility. 

Find Jessica Brockmole
Website   §  Facebook  §  @jabrockmole