Best of 2013 Audiobook Blog Hop


January 1st kicks off the Best of 2013 Audiobook Blog Hop hosted by The Book NymphoHot Listens, and Geeky Bloggers Book Blog and I’m excited to join in and share my top listens from the past year.

Even as I write this I can imagine all the audiobooks in my TBL queue muttering about how they could have been one of my top three listens of 2013 if only I’d stopped continuously adding to the pile and actually listened to more of them. I feel a little guilty picking favorites when there were so many I never got to. That’s one of the things I like about “Best of…” blog hops, though: not only does it point me toward something I might not have tried otherwise, it reminds me of what I might already have but have been ignoring. I look forward to what you might have to share as your favorites but in the meantime and in no particular order, here are my top three listens of 2013.

Best of 2013 Audiobook Blog HopThe Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Published by Random House Audio on 4/30/13
Genres: Literary Fiction
Format: Audiobook


How much success do you have when you venture outside your usual listening tastes? My reading habits this year altered somewhat and this book was partially to blame. I don’t read a lot of literary fiction and after I finished The Woman Upstairs, I had to ask myself why. Beautiful use of language, pages and pages of highlight-worthy lines, complex characters, and intricate emotional dynamics can be found in this story of a woman who – like most of us already have or will do at some point – questions what she’s done (or more importantly, hasn’t done) with her life.  The listener knows that the steps she takes to push beyond her quiet and secure life are bound to end in disaster but I could only watch in fascination as it all came together and then fell apart. Cassandra Campbell turned in an excellent performance with her narration of this audio and her delivery let me experience the content of this book very differently than I would have if I’d read it, to my clear benefit.

Thirteenth ChildThirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
Series: Frontier Magic #1
Read by: Amanda Ronconi
Length: 9 hrs 30 mins
Published by Audible, Inc. on 6/5/13


Although I chose not to review this one on the site, it was one of my favorite 2013 listens. I’d read the book several years ago but was hesitant to try the audio for a re-read because I associate the narrator, Amanda Ronconi, so closely with Molly Harper’s books. I consider Harper/Ronconi to be one of the best pairings in audio and I wasn’t sure if her voice and delivery style could make the transition from goofy romantic snark to alternate-history frontier America YA. Foolish me – that’s a narrator’s job, after all.

This coming of age story uses the emotional impact of being unable to work magic and being thought of as an unlucky thirteenth child as stand-ins for the emotional uncertainties of adolescence. There’s vivid and creative alternate-world-building where magical creatures occupy the American West – held back from the civilized territories by a magical barrier that follows the Mammoth river – and it’s the ever expanding westward march of settlers that gives Francine “Eff” Rothmer a chance to shed her thirteenth child reputation and find out who she really is. Ronconi settles into the personalities, voices, and accents of a large cast of characters with ease and perfectly captures the sibling dynamics of the very large Rothmer family as well as all the emotional nuances of Eff’s transition from insecure adolescent to mature adult. This is the first in an immersive audiobook trilogy.

The Sea of TranquilityThe Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
Read by: Candace ThaxtonKirby Heyborne
Length: 13 hrs 10 mins
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on 6/4/13


Angst, trauma, drama, romance, high school, family conflict, fitting in… it sounds like a stereotypical YA book, right? This one stands out from the crowd in oh so many ways for me. The tragedy that drives the protagonist happens prior to the opening of the story and the listener witnesses both the slow unfolding of Nastya’s past and how she deals with that damage in the present. Nothing happens quickly in this book: no insta-love, no magic boy or healing sex that makes everything better. It’s a story with some pretty solid psychology in character motivations and actions and it’s a slow process for both Nastya and Josh to work their way back to functional, let alone “normal.” Despite that (or perhaps because of it) each scene still manages to contain enough character reveal or emotional tension to drive the story forward and engross the listener.

Kirby Heyborne gives Josh a (character appropriate) almost detached mien for much of the book which left me unprepared for the emotional impact of that mien shattering. Candace Thaxton wowed me with a conversational and intimate delivery that alternated between Nastya’s brittle protective facade and glimpses of the fragile house of cards that was her coping mechanisms. The combined power of the story and the narration caught me by surprise and this one rounds out my top three listens of 2013.

If you’re not participating in the blog hop, I’d love to hear about your favorite listens of the past year in the comments.


The blog hop hosts are giving away a six month membership (entry form just below). In addition, I’ll gift an audiobook of your choice to one random commenter on this post. The winner must be able to redeem a gift audiobook at either or and will be drawn on 1/15/14 and notified via e-mail. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t forget to check out the other blog hop participants:

Audiobook Week – Day 5

Oh Audiobook Week, have you really come to an end? I’ve had a great time checking out the terrific blogs that participated in the fun this week and a big thanks go out to Jen @ for hosting this event.

The final topic for the week is:

Listen Up!
Where do you learn about great audiobook titles? Find reviews? Buy your audiobooks? Share your secrets with the rest of us!

Being something of an audiobook ho’, a better question for me might be where don’t I get my audiobook suggestions? Anywhere books are being talked about I’m bound to pick up a recommendation. Even if the talk is about traditional hard copy books, I’ll always check and see if there is an audio version and hop on over to Audiobook Jukebox to look for an audio-specific review; I am eminently suggestible when it comes to audiobooks.


Exhibit A: Twitter

My current iPod listen was selected after this tweet went drifting by on my screen:


Kathe, you had me at “wonderful mess of a deep protagonist”


Exhibit B: Any of the blogs linked on the right of this page plus a whole bunch more.

My current “at work” listen was selected after reading The Guilded Earlobe’s interview with narrator Khristine Hvam yesterday.


Exhibit C: Goodreads

Goodreads is my go-to for one-stop-shopping general reviews.  I am most often found hanging out in the Romance Audiobooks group.

Exhibit D:

Although I do download audiobooks from my library, they don’t have a very large selection so Audible is where I buy most of my listens. I scan the New Releases on a daily basis to see if anything catches my eye.

(If I ever learn to write concise reviews that fit within Audible’s character limitations I’ll post them there too!)


How about you? Are you as suggestible as I am or do you do intensive research into your next listen? Who/where is your go-to for reviews or recommendations?


Audiobook Week – Day 3

Day three of Audiobook Week finds Jen at thowing a quick mid-week meme at us:

Current/most recent audiobook:

Emissaries From the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro, narrated by Kata (Käthe) Mazur


I’m only an hour into this audiobook with a new-to-me narrator but I’m enjoying my return to science fiction as well as the presence of an anti-hero – something I don’t see a lot of in my reading/listening.

Current/most recent favorite audiobook:

My most recent listen that really delivered the whole package of story and narration was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. It’s true that I have an inexplicable weakness for books that make me cry and my literary Kryptonite will always be those stories that tangle the protagonists up in all the tragic and messy complications of life and seem to leave them to fend for themselves but the combination of humor and pathos in this story about two adolescents fighting cancer was a brilliant mix.  Casting Kate Rudd as the narrator (someone I hadn’t listened to before) was an inspired choice. She seemed to effortlessly embody the youth, vulnerability, crazy humor, and, ultimately, resilience and strength of Hazel and Gus.

Favorite narrator you’ve discovered recently:

Hands down, this would be Bianca Amato who also records as Rebecca de Leeuw. In late November (after hearing some Twitter chatter about it) I picked up The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. The audio is a split narration by Jill Tanner and Amato and I was hooked by her style of performance. While I may adore emotional drama in what I read, vocal dramatics don’t work well for me. In addition to nailing all the performance markers I look for, Bianca Amato manages to deliver an emotional payload that seems to seethe under the surface in the tight control of the characters… until is just isn’t any more. This provides a terrific slow-build followed by an explosive resolution to scenes of high drama.

One title from your TBL (to be listened) stack, or your audio wishlist:

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold has been in my queue since it was released in October of 2010 (Holy cow! 2010? Really?) and I’ve actually listened to the first two hours. I’ve listened to every book in this series and really like both the stories and Grover Gardner’s narration but I know something about the end of the book (thanks a lot, Interwebz!) that is making it impossible for me to pick it back up and finish.

Your audio dream team (what book or author would you LOVE to see paired with a certain narrator, can already exist or not):

You know, I don’t often cast books in my head. I have (more often that I should admit) thought of books I’d try to acquire the audiobook rights for if I ever won the lottery but I rarely assign a narrator to them. I have mad love for the Liaden series of books by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee (I think of them as “if Jane Austen wrote sci-fi”) and just read that they were picked up by Audible and are in production. I’ve been reading them since I was a teenager but as much as I love them, I simply cannot envision the ideal narrator so I’m just going to burn an offering on the altar of the audiobook casting gods and hope I can deal with the outcome like the mature adult I like to think I am.

Audiobook Week – Day 2 – What’s in a Review?

Welcome to the second day of Audiobook Week. Today’s topic as provided by Jen at is:

So You Want to Review Audiobooks…
Discuss the essentials of audiobook reviewing. What do you make sure to include? What do you want to see when you read other people’s reviews?

I firmly believe the answer to the questions above is… “it depends.” There are some very high level standard items that should be included in any audiobook review but there’s also some information that’s dependent on who your (I’m going to just use a general “you” so I don’t have to keep typing “the audiobook reviewer”) audience is. I’m writing this post with the assumption that the review is intended to help me make a choice about whether to listen to an audiobook and I’m speaking mostly from my perspective as a listener.

I always like to read some type of story summary, even if it’s very brief. I know there are differing opinions on whether to include one but as long as you put it in your own words, not only do I often find unexpected plot information in there (I don’t mean spoilers, just things that might catch my interest that the back cover copy doesn’t include) but I also gain insight into what you found important enough to bring up or what caught your attention. I also like as many specifics as possible regarding what you liked and didn’t like about the story. I want to know your thoughts on characterization, plot progression, how unique the story was, and quality of writing. Hopefully you’ll give me specific examples as well as commentary on your general tastes and how the book met or didn’t meet them.

Although I like to read random reviews, what I really enjoy is to get a sense of your preferences and try to figure out where we match up and where we don’t. Honestly? I follow just as many reviewers whose opinions rarely match mine as ones that do because I find just as much value in picking up an audiobook that a reviewer I’m similar to went all fan-girl over as I do staying away from an audiobook praised by someone whose tastes differ from mine.

It’s the part of the review that deals with the audio and narration that are critical for me because realistically, I can find reviews of the text anywhere but I can only get a sense of the narration from you, my trusted (or, you know, not, please see above) audiobook reviewer.

Ideally there’s some basic bibliographic information such as abridged/unabridged and length of the audiobook. At a minimum, I absolutely need to know the narrator’s name and whether you liked their performance or not. I won’t come back for another review if the first one I read doesn’t have that.

The next level of detail I look for includes:

  • Did the narrator clearly differentiate the characters?
  • Were the emotions in the story conveyed to the listener?
  • Did the men sound like dudes, the women, women, and the children childish? Even small pitch changes can accomplish this so I’m not necessarily talking about overall vocal range
  • Were there any sound or production issues like a hiss to the recording? Poor editing where you can hear a splice between sections or a significant change in sound quality? Real-world noise bleeding into the recording? Annoying mouth noises? Rampant mispronunciation?

Finally there’s the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty details of the narration. We’re now talking about my nirvana of audiobook reviews. I’ll try to summarize but everything I’m going to talk about now can be found in this amazing post by audiobook producer/director Paul Alan Ruben. He outlines a suggested reviewer’s template and while there’s a lot of density to the information he gives, it’s worth a close read. He talks about specific performance markers that define how the narrator connects with the listener.

As a reviewer, I may write a review that doesn’t specifically reference any of these performance markers but I always have this list sitting on-screen next to my review while I’m typing to remind me to really think about why a narration worked or didn’t for me and try to explain it to the reader.

These performance markers (including my poor attempts at describing them. Really, go read that post. I’ll still be here when you come back. Promise.) are:

Chewing the syntax

Does the narrator give each word the author wrote their full attention and effort? They wrote those words for a reason.

The here and now

Does it sound like the narrator is experiencing events RIGHT NOW rather than reporting on them after the fact?

Point of view

Do you believe the narrator actually is the person speaking or are they just reading to you?

Discovery (playing the ‘wow’)

Do you hear the story unfolding? Does the way the narrator speaks sound like the natural flow of dialogue that’s being spoken miliseconds after it was thought or are they ignoring punctuation and true-to-life inflections?


Does it sound real or is the narrator just manipulating his/her voice to try to make you feel or understand something?


Do these characters sound like they are responding to what the other person just said and in a way that takes into account not only the emotional state they are supposed to be in but also any past history they have?


Do the accents sound real? Do they match the style of the book? Sometimes a light accent works better than a thick one.


All of this is really just about finding a way to analyze and describe why a narrator’s performance works for you or not.

Most of that is about what should be included but what about what shouldn’t be? That goes back to who your audience is. Strictly as a personal preference, I avoid reviews with a lot of unnecessary pictures or flashing GIFs (but then, I’m old(er) and crotchety). I love amusing or clever reviews as much as straight-forward factual ones but I’m still looking for information to help me make a decision; I respect your opinion and how you want to present it but bashing an author/genre/narrator doesn’t really help me as a listener find my next audiobook so a certain amount of professionalism is helpful. I always hope there aren’t major spoilers or that they are clearly marked if you need to include them in order to talk about the book effectively and I think the general rules of good grammar, spelling, and clean formatting make a review easier to read in its entirety.

Thinking outside the box of just words on a page, what are your secrets to writing reviews? How about in terms of process or organization? Are there any website formats, plug-ins, or WordPress widgets that you think make it easier for a reader to navigate a review site?

Here’s a a bit about how I write and organize my reviews and posts; think of it as getting to know me better…or maybe just as a strange little glimpse of how my mind works.

I use a program called Scrivener to keep my reviews and anything post-related all together. It’s basically a word processor on steroids and I didn’t get it with the intention of using it to write audiobook reviews but I’ve since set up a separate project file for that. It works for me because it’s a very flexible writing program that keeps many smaller documents (posts, notes, ideas, web pages, etc) all in one place and in one file. Why not just write directly in WordPress? For one thing, it’s amazing the number of misspellings or similar structural problems you suddenly discover when you move text from one font/format to another.

Below is a  screenshot of my Scrivener audiobook file open to a review that will post later today. If you want the full “in your face” size, just click on it but the key elements for me are as follows:

  • You can see a template file in the top left. I use it as the format for 99% of my reviews (although not the review that’s in the screenshot – it is the 1%)
  • Right below that are files where I jot down sentences I might want to use to describe an audiobook at some point
  • Below that are ideas for future non-review posts
  • Reviews are ordered by year and then grouped in month folders under that
  • Each file in the research section actually opens in a built-in browser window and is a link to the publisher’s web page for that specific book so I can check the sample, pull an ISBN, refresh my memory on the story blurb, etc. Research documents can also be cover images, sound files, or just general documents
  • The notecard section in the top right has basic information on who published the audiobook, who narrated it, how long it is, and anything else I might need to quickly reference
  • The yellow-tinted section is where I keep a list of the Performance Markers (and their full definitions) covered earlier as a reminder to put some thought into why the narration worked/didn’t work
  • The small open window on top of the review is a built-in word analysis tool that I use to try to rein in my tendency to overuse words like “story”, “narrator”, “cadence”, and “characterization.”
  • I often use the search window at the top right to see if I’ve used a particular description in any of my other reviews without having to go to my blog and search

I would love to hear how you organize your reviews or what your writing process is; I’m always looking for ways to improve.

Audiobook Week 2012 – Day 1

Welcome to Audiobook Week! This is an annual event hosted by Jen from and it’s a fitting cap to the June Is Audiobook Month (JIAM) celebration. In addition to encouraging bloggers to post a review each day, Jen has posted daily discussion topics (click the Audiobook Week image on the right to learn more) so without any further ado, let’s jump right in.

Today’s topic is:

 2011-2012, Your Audiobook Year
Are you new to audiobooks in the last year? Have you been listening to them forever but discovered something new this year? Favorite titles? New times/places to listen? This is your chance to introduce yourself and your general listening experience.


I discovered audiobooks sometime in the mid-90s but I have to admit, I’m a little fuzzy on exactly when or which particular book was my introduction to what has now become an obsession. Like so many audiobook fans, I started listening in order to while away the hours while commuting to work. At the time I was driving 70 miles each way and although I’m usually perfectly content singing (for certain values of “singing”) at the top of my lungs while zipping down the road, I wasn’t happy about the bite out of my reading time the new job was taking and audiobooks seemed like the perfect solution.

Fast forward to 2011, a year that marked my entry into the world of audiobook reviewing. I joined Goodreads in late 2010 and in early 2011 decided to start talking about the audiobooks I listened to. Connecting with other audiobook enthusiasts in a social media setting was a revelation to me and I was enjoying it so much that when June Is Audiobook Month  rolled around in 2011, it was just the nudge I needed to dive into my own brand of audiobook evangelism. In August of 2011 I launched The Oddiophile website with a review of A Long, Long Sleep – Anna Sheehan’s marvelous re-imagining of the Sleeping Beauty story. I continue to recommend this book not just because it holds a special place in my heart by being my first review here but because it is creative, thought-provoking, well-narrated, and aspects of it still refuse to stop demanding my attention at odd moments.

2011/2012 is also the time-frame where my reading life took two major turns. Not only was my audiobook consumption outpacing my hard-copy/e-book reading for the first time but I was unexpectedly finding myself immersed in the world of YA books. From that period of immersion comes the second of my favorite listens of the past year: Laini Taylor’s lyrical, amusing, and extremely well-crafted book Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Now that my daily drive-time commute is a thing of the past (I’ve been telecommuting to work for the past five years) I’ve been “forced” (ha!) to expanded my list of “audiobook activities” and although I’ve traded watching TV for listening to an audiobook before going to bed at night, I’d be lost without an audiobook to  keep me distracted while going about my usual household chores, gardening, or exercising. The exception to that last one being my decision to leave the iPod at home when hiking – you only have to be followed home by a mountain lion once to decide it’s probably best to maximize your awareness of your surroundings.

I hope you’ll be sharing your reviews and audiobook experiences this week (and every week), either via a comment on an Audiobook Week post or with your own post.