HausfrauHausfrau Jill Alexander Essbaum Narrated by: Mozhan Maron Random House Audio March 17 2015

Jill Alexander Essbaum
Narrated by: Mozhan Maron
Random House Audio
March 17, 2015

Anna is a housewife. A bored housewife. She feels alone in a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language. Her husband’s friends are her whole social circle. She even feels distant from her children at times. She feels as though she has nothing that’s her own. Nothing that she can control. And as her shrink says, “A bored woman is a dangerous woman.” So Anna has an affair. And then another. And then another.

It is easy to judge Anna. It’s easy to dislike Anna. Even if you take away the affairs she’s not a particularly nice person. She’s cold to those who are kind to her. She’s selfish and withdrawn. That is clearly communicated, not only through her actions on the page, but also through Maron’s narration. Her voice and her tone were a perfect fit for this story. But no matter how you may feel about Anna personally it’s easy to get lost in the scandal and the drama that follows her. Anna’s secret rendezvous may provide her with some relief, but it’s clear from the beginning that she’s ultimately headed down a self destructive path.

I loved that this novel was so focused on Anna. It was about her journey, her pain, her lies, her marriage. There was no alternating chapters with her husband. No second part from the perspective of one of her lovers. It was dark, and twisty, and completely hers. I appreciated that the text made no real apologies for her actions. She was a complex woman and her story reflected that reality back to the reader. Hausfrau won’t be for everybody, but it’s perfect those who devoured Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff or The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

—Christa

A Darker Shade of MagicA Darker Shade of Magic V.E. Schwab Narrated by Steven Crossley Tantor Audio April 21, 2015

V.E. Schwab
Narrated by Steven Crossley
Tantor Audio
April 21, 2015

I love when authors use magic in interesting ways, especially when they develop their own elaborate systems of how magic works within their worlds. A Darker Shade of Magic doesn’t so much give me an elaborate magic system—its use of blood magic, power words, etched symbols, is common enough—but where it does shine is in the way magic is viewed and used between the different versions of London the main protagonist travels between.

Kell is a rare magician, one of the few able to travel this way, and we mostly see Red, Grey, Black, and White London from his perspective. Schwab does an amazing job of describing magic using all of Kell’s senses, making the moments of magical use that much more powerful. The story itself is a fairly simple one: Kell, a smuggler of magical items, is tricked into returning a powerful artifact to its rightful London. But there is, of course, so much more at play, with some from the other worlds seeking dominance through power and blood. Kell is joined on his quest by a cutthroat thief named Delilah Bard who, though usually only interested in saving her own skin, is compelled to aid Kell in hopes of finding some interesting adventure. I’m all for romance between main characters, but only if it actually works. I love that Schwab does not dwell on romance between them. In fact, the only problem that I have with the couple is, unfortunately, the voice Crossley uses for Delilah. Otherwise, his narration is very good, particularly Kell’s rough, throaty tone, and the sing-song cunning of the deadly king and queen of White London.

—Wendy

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness, Harper Audio, 2015

Patrick Ness
Narrated by James Fouhey
HarperCollins
October 6, 2015

This is a YA book for YA readers. It takes familiar plot lines and tropes and satirizes them. It’s a book about the background characters. The characters who are just trying to live their life while the “chosen ones” are running around trying to save the world. It’s an interesting premise for a novel, and one that almost works.

This book somehow manages to roast the typical YA novel while still using many of those exact same tropes. It’s cute at first, but then it gets stale. Each character in this book comes with their own special set of circumstances, and while that may be true of most teens out there, in The Rest of Us Just Live Here, their situations came across more “after school special” than “realistic teenagers.” The book didn’t feel long enough to fully flesh out what each of them were going through, and how it affected their daily lives and their relationships, so the issues Ness was trying to present ended up feeling shallow.

The one exception to this was Mikey. Mikey suffers from anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, and the representation of his mental illness is so well done—both in the text and the audiobook narration. Mikey’s mental illness is always treated seriously and honestly. He gets stuck in cycles of hand washing that he can’t get out of, even though he knows he’s hurting himself. The world may literally be coming to an end around him, but to him it’s hard to focus on anything outside his own mind.

Despite my mixed feelings towards this novel, James Fouhey provided some solid narration. He made the character’s voices unique enough without over-exaggerating them. And his voice was smooth and easy to listen to. It made the six hours and twenty three minutes of this audiobook fly by. 

—Christa

Gameboard of the GodsGameboard of the Gods Richelle Mead Narrated by Emily Shaffer Penguin Audio June 4 2013

Richelle Mead
Narrated by Emily Shaffer
Penguin Audio
June 4, 2013

Gameboard of the Gods, is a bit of a departure for Richelle Mead. Instead of vampires and urban fantasy, she has constructed a futuristic world destroyed by religious extremists. The star of this new series is Justin March. He is an investigator into religious organizations and “supernatural cults” for the Republic of the United North America (RUNA).

Everything in this novel feels typical. The worldbuilding was exactly what I expected. A combined North America, over-the-top technological advances and not a lot of history to explain how everyone got to this point. And there’s a fairly typical romance as well. Justin is assigned a military escort, Mae, for his investigations. They start out hating each other but of course they eventually fall for one another. The only thing that wasn’t typical was the way the novel approached religion. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what the story was trying to say about religion and the themes felt inconsistent and poorly constructed.

Emily Shaffer, however, was the redeeming factor of this audiobook. Her narration style was engaging and she spoke evenly and clearly. It’s fair to say that her narration style was the reason I was able to finish the book. I may not continue with Mead’s Age of X series, but I would listen to another book narrated by Emily Shaffer.

—Christa