Audiobook review blitz – Little Women, Godsgrave, The Devouring Gray, & Uncanny Valley

Yes, yes, I’ve been gone for a while. I got stressed and stopped blogging for a few weeks, just letting the stack of reviews I still needed to write grow steadily. But I’m back now, and I’m bringing you not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR audiobook mini-reviews here! It’s been long enough since I listened to Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino that I don’t feel like I could write any sort of substantial review for it, but with the exception of that title, these books represent all the audiobooks I have listened to so far in 2020. On deck for this post we have a classic, an adult fantasy, a YA small-town fantasy, and a memoir of a journalist who worked in Silicon Valley (in a non-tech role at a tech company).

Little Women

Author: Louisa May Alcott
Genre: Classic, coming-of-age
Narrator: just one, Susie Berneis, and she did a fantastic job capturing all the different characters’ voices, their personalities, and the overall emotional feel of the story.
Plot summary (in 10 words or fewer): Four sisters grow up, pursue dreams, face reality, live happily.
My rating: 4/5 stars

Best parts:
– The episodic nature of the book, where each chapter kind of felt like a self-contained unit or a single adventure for one of the sisters, worked very well and made it easy to listen to this book even over a longer period of time (it was about 18 hours long!)
– The distinct and complex personalities of the girls. A lot of people think of Amy as whiny or Meg as shallow, Beth as a saint and Jo as the only character of substance, but I think those people may have missed the point of the book. All the girls have very different outlooks on life but they still fiercely love each other, and they all learn to make some sacrifices as far as their dreams are concerned.
– All the art forms! Amy’s visual art, Jo’s writing, Beth’s piano, Laurie’s music composition. I love seeing creative characters.
Laurie, that precious boy. He easily could have turned into a Nice Guy ™, but he didn’t; seeing him mature from the boy next door to a man with his own goals in life was a cool complement to the story of the March sisters.
– The general coziness and very classic feel of the story. I don’t know how else to explain it–it just feels comfortable to read. And I don’t know why I didn’t read it when I was younger.

Worst parts:
– The ending, as far as Jo’s decisions about marriage. I won’t give spoilers here, on the off chance that someone still doesn’t know how the book ends despite it existing for well over a hundred years, but Jo’s choice just seemed out of character and counter to the personality she developed over the whole book.
– The heavy-handed moralizing and religious imposition. I get that it was a big deal for people during that period in history, but it still sometimes felt like we were being jolted out of the story to get a lecture on the importance of God and being humble.

Read this if you like: classics in general, books about sisterhood, the Little Women movie that just came out (which, by the way, I thought was an amazing adaptation that was largely quite faithful to the book)

Godsgrave

Author: Jay Kristoff
Series: The Nevernight Chronicle (#2)
Genre: fantasy
Narrator: Holter Graham, who–as he did for the first book–absolutely nails the tone of everything. His varied voices for the characters, his skilled integration of the footnotes (seriously, the guy makes footnotes sound natural even in audio form!!), his general dry sarcasm that perfectly matches the way I read it on the page…he is a perfect narrator for this series.
Plot summary (in 10 words or fewer): Assassin school? Done. Now, gladiator games. Revenge. Sarcasm. Enemies –> lovers?
My rating: easily a 5-star read

Best parts:
Note: I would just say “all of it,” but I’m going for some specifics here
– The banter between Mr. Kindly and Eclipse. The two of them just cannot stop bickering and I laughed out loud more than once.
Mia’s sass. Still undiminished, no matter how often she gets her butt kicked.
Bisexual representation! And, on this second read, I realized how much this was really hinted at and slowly built up to; on my first time through the series, I just remembered it happening, but there was a lot of character development that went on before she finally acknowledged it–to herself, first, and then to others.
– So. Many. Plot. Twists. The second time through, you can see all the breadcrumbs the author left to get us there, but in the moment, it all feels so shocking.
– The fight scenes and the monsters were so cool. The battle with the retchworm was insane, and the silkling was wild.
– That ending! The very last word. Talk about a cliffhanger.

Worst parts:
– Literally none

Read this if you like: kickass women, morally gray characters, sarcasm, dark fantasy, blood and violence, revenge stories, the first book in the series (obviously)

The Devouring Gray

Author: Christine Lynn Herman
Series: The Devouring Gray (#1)
Genre: young adult fantasy, urban fantasy (but in a small town, so more like…contemporary small suburban fantasy?)
Narrator: eh. She was okay. Sometimes she felt a bit melodramatic, I didn’t love the voice she used for Isaac, and her voices for the guys in general were a little weird. But not bad, she still carried the story just fine.
Plot summary (in 10 words or fewer): Tragedy strikes. Move to mom’s hometown. Rituals, rivalries magic ensue.
My rating: 4/5 stars

Best parts:
– Spooky, small-town atmosphere.
Complex characters with complex families and relationships, put in difficult situations where it is often hard to see a clear “good guy” or “right choice,” and with guilt and grief depicted vividly.
Diverse rep, including multiple queer characters and a girl with one arm.
– Interesting magic system, incorporating bits of elemental magic, tarot-esque cards, creepy rituals, and more, plus a monster whose actual monstrousness is still up for debate.
– Sarcastic, moody Isaac. He reminds me SO MUCH of Ronan Lynch, right down to the troubled family history.

Worst parts:
– It took a while to get into and felt clunky at first; even later on, some of the dialogue felt weird.
– I would have appreciated more nuance to the “evil” characters (excluding the monster, of course).
– The ending was a little too clean and too fast–I know it was setting up the sequel, but all the things that had been set up all got resolved rapid-fire.

Read this if you like: The Raven Cycle, small-town creepiness, grief/guilt mingled with magic, stories that tbh go to some dark places, undead animal companions

Uncanny Valley

Author: Anna Wiener
Genre: memoir
Narrator: fine, but I feel like there was a lot of sarcasm and wry humor in the book that didn’t come across in her audio narration. I might have enjoyed it better as a print book.
Plot summary (in 10 words or fewer): Woman from publishing works for tech startup. Hypocrisy, sexism, bullshit.
My rating: 3/5 stars

Best parts:
– Scary insight on just how crazy things in Silicon Valley are and how out of touch many of its inhabitants are. Makes me glad I didn’t go into tech, honestly. (Fun fact: just last week I got an email from a recruiter at Amazon who had an old copy of my resume and wanted to know if I was still doing software engineering and might be interested in a job with them…lol)
– Cleverly avoids invoking names of companies (and thus probably dodges plenty of lawsuits) by referring to them with names like “the online superstore” (Amazon), “the social network everyone hates” (Facebook), “the microblogging platform” (Twitter), and “the open source software startup” (Github, the company she worked for; unfortunately, this one isn’t a household name if you don’t do computer science stuff, so that reference may have been lost on some people).
Self-awareness through most of the book, realizing she was complicit in a lot of the crap that happened at her office.
– Some humorous one-liners, especially about startup office culture.

Worst parts:
– The “not-using-names” thing extended to most PEOPLE as well, not just companies, which was a pain. It was hard to keep track of everyone when the majority of them were referred to just by their role at the company.
– So many random scenes about her doing illegal drugs. Like, I get that it was part of the experience, but those came off sounding really entitled and not very interesting after the first time or two.
– Speaking of not interesting, the second half of the book felt like it was just rehashing the first half without adding much.
– Sometimes she would start to make some keen observation but then wouldn’t follow the idea through to its logical conclusion, just leaving us hanging instead. It was unsatisfying–even the epilogue.

Read this if you like: memoirs in general, dry humor, feminist angles, criticism of the Silicon Valley lifestyle

That’s all for now!

Have you read any of these? (Or listened to them?) Got any favorites? Going to check any of them out now? Leave a comment and let me know!

As always,

Kathryn (“K-Specks”)

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