Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s co-authored epistolary novel has a very long title: Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: being the correspondence of two young ladies of quality regarding various magical scandals in London and the country. Please don’t judge it by this wordy title or by its tragically hideous cover. It’s great!

It’s Regency England, magic is real, and cousins Cecelia (Cecy) and Kate correspond over the course of a summer, unraveling alone and together the mystery surrounding the titular enchanted chocolate pot and the “Mysterious Marquis.” The action is very exciting, the letters brisk and forthcoming, the characters sympathetic, the romance delightful, the magic subtle and delectably menacing. It’s a delight – the only complaint I can offer to temper my enthusiasm is that Cecy and Kate are virtually indistinguishable. I cannot recall a single difference between them, whether in temperament, opinion, age, physical appearance, or letter-writing style. The only difference between them is that Kate is in London and Cecy in the country; or did I switch that around? I’ll have to look back at the letters to check.

By sheer good luck, my reading of this novel overlapped with my listening to the also epistolary, also long-titled, also co-authored, and also excellent The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This was an enormous hit with book clubs a couple of years ago, but if you missed out on it then, treat your ears to this audiobook right away! It has become my standard audio fiction recommendation, even surpassing At Home and Twenties Girl. Juliet Ashton corresponds with and befriends the people of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel which was occupied for 5 years by the Germans during World War II. Each character’s letters are read by a different voice actor, and the result is entirely winning. It’s a lovely book read by lovely people, and it’s about resilience and friendship and bravery and the love of books. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Liza Klaussmann’s debut novel, Tigers in Red Weather, follows two cousins, Nick and Helena, throughout the decades after World War II and chronicles the twists and turns in their lives.  The girls grew up spending much of their time together on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard and return over the years with husbands, children and family secrets galore.

Told from the point of view of five characters (with each character’s version of reality differing greatly), Tigers in Red Weather’s concludes with a stunning twist, which was just slightly evident  throughout the novel.  I enjoyed Tigers in Red Weather for the banter between the characters on life pre and post World War II but when I began to see the true nature of one of the characters, the book moved in an entirely different direction – a direction that is as much frightening as it is shocking.

I found this book in a roundabout way, but I’m so glad I landed on it! On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Julia Quinn’s What Happens In London to read on an upcoming vacation, so I was familiar with the author: her books focus on 19th century London society, clever dialog, and spirited characters. So, when I saw A Night Like This on a search of audiobooks read by my favorite narrator, Rosalyn Landor (a reader I fell in love with for her perfect reading of Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella), and it happened to be on the shelf not 10 feet away from my desk, I snagged it immediately!

I’m very glad I did. A Night Like This is a terribly fun romance; a genuine connection between two likable people, explored in an enjoyable book with a bearable quota of romance cliches. Anne Wynter, the main character, is probably my new all-time favorite romance heroine. She is brave, intelligent, and kind, and she is factually, genuinely self-sufficient in a way that most historical heroines are emphatically NOT (though the author may try to trick you into thinking they are). After a scandalous incident in her teen years, she is sent away from her modest gentry family to live as a governess under an assumed name; during this novel, she has been succeeding at this career for eight lonely years, isolated from her family and unable to create any new connections of her own status. That she still manages to be bright and positive is inspirational, and when she falls in love with the Earl of Winstead, a man way out of her league as a “ruined woman,” you’ll root for them all the way. Daniel, her beloved, is a pretty boring version of the romance-hero-pretty-boy trope, and his instant lovesickness is tiresome, but this book is worth reading just to get to know Anne.

Good news! This audiobook is available for download via WILBOR!

Beds, organizers, Adirondack chairs, a play table, and more! It’s easy to build inexpensive, quality furnishings with The Handbuilt Home, an indispensable collection of woodworking projects from Ana White, the popular blogger who has inspired millions of homemakers with her stylish furniture plans and DIY spirit.

As a young mom on a tight budget, Ana learned to make her own well-designed pieces, inspired by the styles in her favorite stores and saving thousands of dollars in the process. Now, in this reference for woodworkers of all skill levels, Ana shares everything she has learned along the way. Inside The Handbuilt Home you’ll find plans for 34 versatile furniture projects for every room in your house from beginner-friendly home accessories to sturdy tables, a media center, kids’ items, and storage solutions and comprehensive information on using off-the-shelf lumber and basic equipment.  Almost every project can be made with a drill, a saw, and some hand tools.

You don’t need to be physically tough or super strong to make your own furniture, and it’s okay if you don’t know that a 2×4 doesn’t actually measure 2 by 4 inches. All you need is the determination to create a better home for yourself or your family and the confidence to say, I can build that. (description from publisher)

If you adore Harry Potter, do yourself a favor and check out Harry Potter: Page to Screen, the Complete Filmmaking Journey. It’s a big, heavy, hardcover behemoth absolutely stuffed with photographs and text from all 8 Harry Potter films. Interviews with the cast and crew give insider information, and viewpoints from the set designers, costume designers, directors and actors show how meticulously the details of these movies were planned. From the small things – Hermione doesn’t wear red or green, as “those are Ron colors,” the story behind Harry’s blue eyes (a controversial change from the books’ oft-referenced bottle green), and the talon design of Bellatrix’s wand – to the big things: hours of makeup for dozens of actors cast as goblins; the complex design of the set for Snape’s final scene; the massive miniatures built to stand in for Hogwarts castle, and the equally massive undertaking of covering those miniatures with “snow” for the winter scenes (and then meticulously brushing and cleaning that “snow” away before the salt it was made of could corrode the material beneath).

Whether you’re into the boy wizard or just into movie magic, you’ll adore this book. It inspired me to re-read the novels and re-watch the movies, which of course launched a relapse of full-on Potter mania at my house! These are some of the other library items I’ve been checking out:

For this installment of Amazing Audiobooks, I have a jumble of fun, funny, exciting, just-plain-great fiction that didn’t fit with the previous three categories. But you have my word: all these are winners!

  • Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. You’ll laugh out loud at this one, in which the Apocalypse goes all wrong when an angel and a demon accidentally swap out the Antichrist for a normal human boy.
  • The charming Flavia de Luce Mysteries by C. Alan Bradley, beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  • Calico Joe by John Grisham
  • 11th Hour, the latest from James Patterson (or if you’re new to the Women’s Murder Club series, start at the beginning with 1st to Die)
  • …In Death series by J.D. Robb: a futuristic police procedural – particularly recommended for those who like listening to sexy, seductive, lilting Irish accents.
  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, a novel about a college baseball phenom (I reviewed the novel in June)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: A deeply sad but very sweet and rewarding novel; tells the story of a girl who learns about death and love while helping her parents hide a Jewish man from the Nazis in a small German town. Appropriate for teens and older kids as well as adults.
  • Stephen King’s latest hit, 11/22/63, about JFK’s assassination and time travel.
  • The Night Circus, a lovely atmospheric love story brought to life by Jim Dale. Lexie reviewed this on the blog back in October. There’s a movie version in development scheduled for a 2013 release, so get in on the ground floor of opinionated ‘book-was-better’ arguments by reading the book first!
  • Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella: listen to Lara, a twenty-something Brit, spar with the ghost of her great-aunt Sadie, whose 23-year-old form has come straight out of 1927 to beg the living girl to track down her missing necklace. It’s a hoot!

These true tales range from the funny and flippant to the gritty and gruesome. Give nonfiction audio a try! You may find that nonfiction (which doesn’t always have a strong narrative thread you need to follow) is ideal for listening in stops and starts.

  • Devil in the White City by Erik Larson; this gripping tale of a serial killer at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is so spellbinding, you’ll want to extend your commute to hear more!
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author: this book is shriekingly funny. Truly one of the best audio books around – Fey is witty and direct, never sappy, and always gut-bustingly hilarious.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; a universally praised book that mixes science with history and family drama.
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling Lexie reviewed the book, and I agree with her: this book is FUNNY. You’ll want to be best friends with Mindy by the end.
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron: Ephron’s candid observations on life and getting older are enjoyable and crisply humorous.
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: The gritty true story of the tribulations of Abduhlraman Zeitoun and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • At Home by Bill Bryson, read by the author: see my review for a longer rant on the excellence of this very excellent book.
  • The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, read by the author: You know Sarah Vowell’s voice already – she vocalized for Violet in Pixar’s The Incredibles. You’ll also recognize the many luminaries/musicians/comedians/TV personalities who make cameos in her delectable book – Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert, for example. Oh, and it’s full of intelligent and interesting essays about history and American culture, too.

For this segment of Amazing Audiobooks, I’m focusing on the behemoth novels that fill up disc after disc of listening material. These exciting, immersive *bugcrushers will eat up time spent on the road, on the treadmill, or doing chores – listen while you cook dinner or fold the laundry; listen when your knitting needles click or break out your headphones when you want to keep reading but your partner insists on lights out!

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, read for you by John Lee: A beloved gargantuan novel of the people building a cathedral in 1100s England – filled with mystery, suspense, rich historical detail, and captivating characters. This 32-disc novel is a winner! Its sequel, World Without End, is similarly enthralling.

 

A Game of Thrones, written by George R.R. Martin and masterfully performed by Roy Dotrice. This single novel takes up 28 CDs, or 33.5 hours. More than enough for the usual road trip! The four sequels to this novel are each around 30 discs of listening material, which would supply your listening needs long enough to drive from Davenport to Orlando Florida and back – three times!

 

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, written by Susanna Clarke and performed by Simon Prebble, is a fantasy novel that answers the question: what if a society of proper London magicians were around to magically assist the armies of England in the Napoleonic wars? And what if the leaders of that group were fighting against each other as well as taking on malevolent forces from the realm of Faerie? And what if all of this was written in a superb Jane-Austen-esque style that evokes all the sparkling wit and manners of the times without sacrificing the edge-of-your-seat action that modern audiences expect? Or, to put it more simply: This is an amazing novel and you should listen to it or read it right away. 32 hours of listening pleasure on 26 discs.

Some more excellent, lengthy novels:

*Bugcrusher: A book that is so big and heavy, you’d like to have it in hand to squish a scary bug.

Who says summer road trips have to be boring? Load up the family and hit the open road: the trip will fly by when you bring an audiobook from DPL! Unlike your child’s Nintendo DS or iPod Touch, audiobooks don’t require charging and they will entertain more than one person at a time, including the driver.

These recorded books are winners for the entire family:

Harry Potter series, read for you by Jim Dale: The whole family is sure to love the expertly performed Harry Potter series. Jim Dale’s narration is absolutely perfect; even if you’ve already read the novels, you’ll find something new to love in the recordings. If your children are a bit younger, there are admirable recordings of the Magic Tree House series. For the kids who’ve already read (or aren’t interested in) HP, try Artemis Fowl or Percy Jackson.

 

Bring a box of tissues along with the kids’ classic Bridge to Terabithia, warmly brought to life by narrator Tom Stechschulte. The poignant story of Jess and Leslie has been a favorite since Katherine Paterson penned it in the ’70s. For kids 10+.

Recordings of Suzanne Collins’ runaway hits The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay will be a hit with everyone: mature themes and violence probably make this too grown up for the littlest ones, but don’t let the YA label fool you – adults adore the series too. For kids 12+.

In Nerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus, 8th grader Maureen risks life and limb – ok, she risks embarrassing herself in front of the whole school – to stand up to the popular girls who bully her. A funny, relatable story about friendship and the perils of middle school. For kids 12+.

Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody series makes for a charming listening experience – Judy’s misadventures show kids how to handle things when their grand plans don’t work out, and narrator Kate Forbes captures her spunky spirit. Just Grace, about another spirited grade schooler, is a fun choice for the kids who’ve already enjoyed Judy Moody. For kids 8+.

All kinds of great books for kids are available from DPL, from classics like The Chronicles of Narnia and Harriet the Spy to popular new hits like The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Warriors series. Princesses, Sports, Dragons, Animals – whatever your child is interested in, we have an audiobook for it!

*Age recommendations reflect the guidelines printed by the publisher, not DPL’s opinion. Always take your child’s unique level of maturity and experience into account when helping him or her choose books to read.

In this celebration of three legendary champions on the centennial of their births in 1912, American Triumvirate by James Dodson explains the circumstances that made each of these players so singularly brilliant and how they, in turn, saved not only the professional tour but modern golf itself, thus making possible the subsequent popularity of players from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods.

During the Depression – after the exploits of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones (winning the Grand Slam as an amateur in 1930) had faded in the public’s imagination – golf’s popularity fell year after year, and as a spectator sport it was on the verge of extinction. This was the unhappy prospect facing two dirt-poor boys from Texas and another from Virginia who had dedicated themselves to the game yet could look forward only to eking out a subsistence living along with millions of other Americans. But then lightning struck, and from the late thirties into the fifties these three men were so thoroughly dominant – each setting a host of records – that they transformed both how the game was played and how society regarded it.

Sports fans in general are well aware of Hogan and Nelson and Snead, but even the most devoted golfers will learn a great many new things about them here. Their hundredth birthdays will be commemorated throughout 2012 – Nelson born in February, Snead in May, and Hogan in August – but as this comprehensive and compelling account vividly demonstrates, they were, and will always remain, a triumvirate for the ages. (description from publisher)