Audiobook quick takes: An Austen retelling and some less-than-perfect “getaways”

With a trip coming up and limited time this week, I decided to listen to a bunch of Audible’s free short stories rather than start a full-length audiobook. It was a mixed bag overall — here’s what I listened to and what I thought:

Imagine if you made one little mistake when you were young and were punished for it for the rest of your life. Well, that’s what happened to Lydia (yes, that Lydia, the youngest Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice), and she’s here to set the record straight. Hold on to your teacups and get ready for sophisticated (and a little bit naughty) hot takes and witty banter that’ll make you laugh—and think.

We meet Lydia just as she is denounced by her family, exiled miles from home, and married to the rogue George Wickham, who seems to love all women…except his own wife. She must learn to summon great bravery to carve out a place for herself in the society that has brutally rejected her.

Lydia isn’t the traditional Austen heroine, and this isn’t a traditional, polite period drama. Lydia is a badass. A trailblazer. She’s fierce and fiercely funny. And she might inhabit the Regency period, but she’s fighting the same battle many of us are today—having to defend the decisions she’s made and the person she chooses to love, to shut out the “trolls” and gossips, to hold her head high in a world that will judge her for any mistake she makes.

Starring Academy Award nominee Jessie Buckley (Fargo, The Lost Daughter) and Johnny Flynn (Lovesick, Stardust), this hilarious and timely listen is for fans of classics with a twist. Writer and creator playwright Sarah Page says that she wrote Mrs. Wickham to “entertain people with a romantic, optimistic, and seductive comedy,” but that there’s also a “message held at its heart to treat each other with kindness.”If you binged Bridgerton, this one’s for you.

I’m always up for a Pride and Prejudice spin-off, and was intrigued by the idea of following Lydia after her marriage. I’m not sure that this story actually needed Lydia Bennet, though — it’s a cute gimmick, but really, this could be the story of any woman surviving scandal and finding redemption (and somehow, even falling in love with her own husband). I didn’t realize in advance that this would be a full-cast audio play, rather than narrators reading an audiobook. The cast as a whole is entertaining and funny, but some of the production elements are decidedly weird (loud rock music in bar scenes, for examples) or icky (hearing Lydia vomit after a bout of ill-advised drinking). Overall, I was entertained enough to finish, but that’s about it.

Audible Original: 2 hours, 3 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Three more from Amazon’s Getaway collection — six short stories described as:

Perfect vacations or last resorts? In this collection of short psychological thrillers, bestselling authors bring trouble to paradise. Today’s itinerary: surfing, sailing, hiking, facing your worst fears . . . Most dream vacations never live up to expectations—but few cause this many nightmares.

Of the six, I picked stories by authors I already was familiar with:

On the New England coast, an irresistible vacation rental draws a woman into the sinister secrets of her past in a cunning short mystery with a gothic twist by a New York Times bestselling author.

Clea McAllister returns to the Newport haven of her childhood, a gilded mansion by the sea once owned by her beloved grandmother. Now she is a paying guest at her own ancestral home, and Clea’s vacation hides a darker intention: to confront the estate lawyer who stole her rightful inheritance. But wicked games are still being played at Belle Mer, and Clea uncovers more than she ever intended.

Quick entertainment — this is a suspense story about a stolen inheritance, a fight to regain control of the family mansion, loyal servants, a missing lawyer… There’s a lot going on here, and it all comes together well by the end. This is a fast listen, and the author uses the short story format to quickly build tension and intrigue before a sudden shock at the end.

Audible Original; 1 hour, 21 minutes

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

An extravagant anniversary trip turns into a desperate scramble for survival in an unsettling short story about desire, manipulation, and revenge by a New York Times bestselling author.

Psychiatrist Olivia Cole is a shell of herself after only two years with her tyrannical husband, the outwardly perfect Sebastian. On their two-year anniversary, she’s subjected to one power move too many when Sebastian whisks her away on a surprise trip—first to the charming capital of Sweden, then to an unexpected final destination. Miles from home and help, the only way for Olivia to wrest back control of her life is to give Sebastian an even bigger, shocking surprise.

Ummm, not sure what to make of this one. It’s suspenseful and creepy, but overall, it’s such a disturbing look at a woman whose lost all semblance of self-determination to her cruel, controlling husband that it’s impossible to actually enjoy listening to the story. Then again, I’m not particularly a fan of thrillers in general, so this may have been just a step too far for me in a genre I’m not always comfortable with. Your mileage may vary, but I found the plot details too awful to actually consider it entertainment.

Audible Original: 1 hours, 11 minutes

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

“Speak your truth.” An icebreaker leads to unintended consequences for two strangers aboard a luxury yacht in this seductively twisty short story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Sister.

When Ella boards a sumptuous charter off the coast of Australia, she feels…dread. Her husband, Mac, the social butterfly who makes these wellness retreats so much easier to navigate, is stuck at work, leaving her exposed to the other passengers. Luckily, she forms an instant bond with the charismatic Chloe, a newly single woman salving a broken heart. But as the friendship grows, Ella discovers they share more than the need for an escape, and their devastating connection has the power to forever alter their lives.

Sally Hepworth is so terrific at creating interpersonal dynamics that are something other than what they initially appear to be. In this short story, the main character’s sea voyage takes a dramatically different direction when she meets another passenger whose story has just a few too many familiar elements to it. The psychological drama and tension build throughout, although I was expecting a much darker resolution to it all. I wasn’t entirely comfortable once I realized that infidelity would be a major theme — that’s not something I particularly enjoy or look for in fiction, but given that the Getaway collection seems to be squarely in the thriller/suspense genre, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Overall, this quick listen held my attention and was well performed — not a bad piece of entertainment, for what it is.

Side note: I would absolutely hate to go on this wellness sea voyage! Only eight passengers, too many touchy-feely sharing sessions, intrusive challenges… so not my idea of a fun vacation!

Audible Original: 1 hours, 44 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

As I’ve said many, many times on this blog, I am not a big fan of short stories. I deliberately chose to listen to shorter works this week, but I’m not particularly surprised that none of them actually wowed me. Still, they passed the time and held my interest! Who knows? Other readers may really enjoy these, especially (with the Getaway stories) for those who love suspenseful fiction.

Book Review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, The Nowhere Child is screenwriter Christian White’s internationally bestselling debut thriller of psychological suspense about a woman uncovering devastating secrets about her family—and her very identity…

Kimberly Leamy is a photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia. Twenty-six years earlier, Sammy Went, a two-year old girl vanished from her home in Manson, Kentucky. An American accountant who contacts Kim is convinced she was that child, kidnapped just after her birthday. She cannot believe the woman who raised her, a loving social worker who died of cancer four years ago, crossed international lines to steal a toddler.

On April 3rd, 1990, Jack and Molly Went’s daughter Sammy disappeared from the inside their Kentucky home. Already estranged since the girl’s birth, the couple drifted further apart as time passed. Jack did his best to raise and protect his other daughter and son while Molly found solace in her faith. The Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal fundamentalist group who handle poisonous snakes as part of their worship, provided that faith. Without Sammy, the Wents eventually fell apart.

Now, with proof that she and Sammy are in fact the same person, Kim travels to America to reunite with a family she never knew she had. And to solve the mystery of her abduction—a mystery that will take her deep into the dark heart of religious fanaticism where she must fight for her life against those determined to save her soul…

The Nowhere Child is a contemporary mystery with a premise that reminded me of some teen thrillers that were popular in the early 2000s. What happens to a person who discovers that the life she thought she knew is built on a lie? What if it turns out that your parents aren’t really your parents? How would you handle finding out that you were kidnapped, way back before you were old enough to remember, and that you have an entirely other family out there in the world?

Kim’s life is turned upside down when a stranger shows up claiming that she’s his long-lost sister. DNA testing quickly proves that they are in fact siblings. But Kim knows that her mother was a good, loving person — how could she be a kidnapper?

Kim agrees to go to the United States with Stuart to meet her biological sister and parents, to see the Kentucky town where she was born, and to try to unravel the mystery of her disappearance. What happened all those years ago? Who took her, and why? And how did she end up growing up in Australia with woman she believed to be her mother?

The town of Manson, Kentucky has its own creepy secrets, among them a formerly popular pentecostal congregation with an outsized influence on its members, including Sammy/Kim’s mother Molly. Church members bear their snake bite scars as badges of honor — those who survive, anyway. As the narrative switches back and forth between Kim’s present trip to Manson and the past, almost thirty years earlier, when Sammy disappeared from her home, the clues and connections start to add up. And while Kim/Sammy’s kidnapping happened so many years ago, there’s still a threat lurking in the town when she comes too close to uncovering the truth.

I enjoyed the story and the puzzle of trying to figure out exactly what happened to Sammy, and the description of the different family members, townspeople, and their secrets. Some of the threads between “then” and “now” seemed a little flimsy to me, but overall, the plot is pieced together in such a way that the answers aren’t too obvious. I had a pretty good idea of whose stories had holes and where the missing connection might be, but it was still interesting to see it all come together.

We never really see much of Kim’s life in Australia, and I would have liked that piece of her life to be better fleshed out, especially to have seen more memories of her time with her mother. It felt like an important piece was missing, to see how Kim was raised and what her relationship with her mother was like. Likewise, it wasn’t entirely clear to me why some of the people in Kentucky in the “now” timeline acted as they did, and even once we had all the answers about the kidnapping, I’m not convinced that the motivation for taking and keeping Sammy made a whole lot of sense.

There’s a truly disturbing scene toward the end of the book that absolutely made my skin crawl. I mean, super icky and scary. Let’s just say that if you have a problem with reptiles and rodents, you should proceed with caution!

Overall, The Nowhere Child is a good, solid read that held my interest, even when I didn’t quite buy every element of the story. If anyone else has read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!



The details:

Title: The Nowhere Child
Author: Christian White
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley





Book Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

Book Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

The Girl with All the Gifts

The synopsis for The Girl With All the Gifts is certainly intriguing:

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

Melanie is a very special girl.

What kind of gifts does Melanie have? Superpowers? Some sort of incredible strength? A secret radioactive aura?

Nope, nope, and nope.

Stop reading now if you don’t want to know!

Bottom line?

(Look away now! Last chance!)

The Girl With All The Gifts is an incredibly inventive, original, and unpredictable… zombie story.

Yes, it’s a zombie story. And I kind of wish I’d known that from the start. Instead, I began the book wondering what was so special and important about this one little girl and what makes her so dangerous, expecting… oh, I don’t know, outbursts of deadly gamma rays or the ability to kill people with her brain.

But before long, we start to hear about “hungries” — the bands of undead, hungry for human brains, who’ve been preying on the remaining live people in the twenty years since the global disaster known as the Breakdown. Melanie and other children are being held as part of a scientific study conducted at a secure army base, the subjects of experimentation designed to test the fungus responsible for destroying host bodies and taking over. Most hungries are mindless beings, driven only by their need to feed — but Melanie and the other children are something more: Actual, sentient beings with the ability to think, to learn, and to feel. Are they human? Hungries? Or some sort of hybrid?

Teacher Helen Justineau is drawn to Melanie’s quick mind and sensitive heart, and feels compelled to shield her from the cruelties of Sergeant Parks and the cold laboratory of Dr. Caldwell. When the base is overrun, Justineau, Parks, Private Gallagher, Dr. Caldwell, and Melanie form a small band and attempt to survive on the road to the only safe place left in Britain, a sanctuary city called Beacon. But the road is dangerous and deadly, and the odds are very much against them.

As The Girl With All The Gifts moves into road trip territory, we get to know each of the characters as individuals and see them fleshed out from one-dimensional stock figures (teacher, soldier, scientist) into people with histories, desires, pains, and complexities. There are surprises along the way, and all are proven to be much more nuanced than they originally seemed.

The adventure aspects are well-drawn and suspenseful — sometimes almost unbearably so. There’s danger, and lots of skin-crawlingly disgusting encounters with the undead. Unlike the hungries, the plot never shambles — instead, it’s a fast-paced tear from one deadly scene to another. Survival is not guaranteed. Heck, it’s not even very likely. And as the body count rises, we get more and more clues into the origins of the Breakdown, who Melanie really is, and what the future may hold.

I absolutely could not put this book down. With echoes of The Road and Never Let Me Go, The Girl With All The Gifts tell a chilling tale of a future that’s scary and almost — but not quite — hopeless. A recurring theme of this book is the myth of Pandora, who unleashes all manner of woes upon the world but also introduces hope. Melanie herself is but the newest iteration of the disaster that’s destroyed the world as we know it, but she does also represent some sort of glimmer of hope for a world that’s fundamentally different, but perhaps not entirely horrible.

With an ending that’s completely unexpected and yet surprisingly fitting, The Girl With All The Gifts is a fascinating, thrilling read that should not be missed. Whether you’re a fan of zombie stories, post-apocalyptic worlds, or just plain good storytelling, this is one book that you definitely should check out.


The details:

Title: The Girl With All The Gifts
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: June 19, 2014
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Science fiction/horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of Orbit via NetGalley