audiobooks · Austenesque · stuff I read

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner – audiobook review and Austenprose blog tour!


Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.


The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).

Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt:


Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

So, if you hadn’t already noticed, I’m pretty down for all things Jane Austen. I definitely had The Jane Austen Society on my list of spring releases very early on after St. Martin’s Press catalogs came available on Edelweiss. Historical novel about the creation of the Jane Austen society? Sign me up. And then Laurel Ann of Austenprose invited me to not only be part of her incredible blog tour but also review the audiobook read by Richard (Freakin’) Armitage. Would I like to listen to Mr. Thornton read me a book? YES PLEASE. I already loved his narration of three of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels (Venetia, The Convenient Marriage, and Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle) so I was prepared to be delighted with this book.

Now, I haven’t finished it. I’m about 2-3 hours from the end of the audiobook. We can thank the coronavirus for disrupting my reading. I usually read audiobooks while commuting back and forth to work in the car/on the bus and, well, my commute right now is the distance from my French press in the kitchen to my desk in my home office, approximately 40 feet. What also makes this harder is that the app used for the audiobook galley doesn’t play through my car speakers as well as an inability to listen to fiction audiobooks while I’m working. So even though I planned some extra listening time with a review slot at the tail end of this blog tour, I’m a tad bit behind. But, oh, I do love this book.

The Jane Austen Society is a character-driven tale about the foundation of the real Jane Austen Society that saved Jane Austen’s Chawton cottage as a major landmark and site of literary pilgrimage. Each main character here – the town doctor, a laborer, a school teacher, a housemaid, a lawyer, a movie star, the last descendant of the Knight family – has their own tale of loss in this post-World War II setting. And underlying all that loss is an incredible love for the work of Jane Austen. This is the love of Austen that goes beyond admiration for the books. This is looking beyond the books to see themselves in the characters. And it’s a love that pushes them in an uphill battle to preserve a fast-disappearing legacy in a dying rural English town. (Note: I did check the Historical Note in a print copy of the book and all these characters and events are made up for this book. The Jane Austen Society is real, as are Jane Austen’s cottage and the Knight estate in Chawton, of course.)

Richard Armitage’s narration is perfect for this book. He is adept with accents, from the country accent of a farm laborer, to an upper class middle-aged woman, to a Scots auctioneer, to an American movie star. His reading speed is good – he doesn’t do that annoying thing where he pauses between sentences so the conversation between characters feels natural – and while he does feminize his voice a bit for the female characters it’s not a cloying falsetto. And when he has to provide the sexy voice of Mimi’s rich American boyfriend/fiancee/backer/whatever he thinks he is because he’s kind of a jerk…well, one of Armitage’s best voices in the Heyer books is whenever he gets to voice a rake. Yummy.

I will give a small content warning that grief is a major part of this book. Several characters lose spouses or family members. There is also a traumatic pregnancy loss and stillbirth, so if you are sensitive to that kind of event there are several chapters that deal with Adeline’s loss and grief at about the 25% mark (the birth itself is mostly kept off the page but it is described in medical terms).

For fun, Natalie Jenner put together a Spotify playlist! If you use Spotify, you can find it here: The playlist includes music from various film adaptions of Jane Austen’s books, as well as film scores by such incomparable artists as Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Rachel Portman, and Michael Nyman.

Now, I’m coming in at the end of the blog tour, but feel free to look back at all the different reviews and features (75 blogs!) linked at the bottom of the Austenprose review here.

Thanks so very, very much to Laurel Ann for inviting me to the blog tour and providing me with the opportunity to listen to and review this audiobook.

Dear FTC: I listened to a digital galley of the audiobook provided by the publisher.

audiobooks · mini-review · Overdue Reads · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

13646449._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
In this work of grave beauty and searing power – one of the most widely praised pieces of investigative reporting to appear in recent years – we follow twenty-six men who in May 2001 attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadly region known as the Devil’s Highway, a desert so harsh and desolate that even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through it, a place that for hundreds of years has stolen men’s souls and swallowed their blood. Only twelve men made it out.

I’ve had a copy of The Devil’s Highway for years, ever since I heard Luis Alberto Urrea speak at his award reception for the Paul Engle Prize at the Iowa City Book Festival in 2014. I slipped out at the end of his speech to buy a copy and have him sign it. But I just never got around to reading it. But I was recently goaded to re-evaluate my reading about border stories, border policy, and Latinx/non-white Hispanic authors because American Dirt was selected for all sorts of stuff this spring, including the Barnes and Noble Book Club (I’ll get into this in a later post since I can’t get out of reading that book, which rankles because I had decided that I didn’t want to read it but I can’t just fob the group off on someone else so will have to suck it up, grrr). When I checked to see what audiobooks were currently available in the ICPL Libby/Overdrive service, I got incredibly lucky to see that The Devil’s Highway was available to download immediately.

The Devil’s Highway is a poetic recounting of the tragedy that occurred in 2001 when 26 men attempted to cross into the United States via the Devil’s Highway near Yuma, Arizona – only 12 survived. This a book that falls very much in the vein of In Cold Blood in the ways that Urrea sets a scene and keeps the narrative thread of the book moving (particularly in the last sections) but unlike Capote deals very much in facts and only reconstructs what he was unable to verify such as “Mike F.” (the Border Patrol officer who found the walkers who was unable to be interviewed at the time) and some of the thoughts and actions of the walkers who died in the Devil’s Highway. This is a very haunting and heartbreaking tale. There are no easy answers and no easy solutions.

In addition, Urrea narrates this audiobook. It is such a treat. He is an excellent storyteller and speaker. I highly recommend the audiobook if that’s available to you.

Dear FTC: I have a signed paperback copy and borrowed the audiobook from the library’s Libby/Overdrive service.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

47191839._SX318_Summary from Goodreads:
A linguistically informed look at how our digital world is transforming the English language.

Language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies. Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What’s more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.

Even the most absurd-looking slang has genuine patterns behind it. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer “LOL” or “lol,” why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.

Because Internet is essential reading for anyone who’s ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It’s the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that’s a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are.

I saw Because Internet get good reviews when it came out but I just couldn’t get to it. Then surprise! Past me had apparently put the audiobook on hold via ICPL’s Libby and it came available last week. Conveniently, I was in need of an audiobook during commute time so I zipped right through it.

This is such a fun and informative book! McCulloch writes in a style that sits in a comfortable middle-space between layman and scientist which makes it a treat to learn about how informal writing on the Internet has changed and is still changing, from the old Usenet days up through present day LOLcat memes (just like I’m the dog’s-tail of GenX I am the dog’s-tail of the InternetOlds). The audiobook is read by the author and McCulloch makes it really fun, like listening to a cool professor lecture.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this book from my library’s Libby/Overdrive service.

stuff I read

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

42996336._SX318_Summary from Goodreads:
Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

I bought This is How You Lose the Time War in hardcover when it came out this summer but didn’t get to it right away. Then I saw the audiobook – which was getting raves – available on the ICPL Overdrive site so borrowed it.

This is an endlessly inventive time-travel novel but if you’re looking for hard SF/nuts-and-bolts time travel you’ll want to look elsewhere. Time travel across multiverse and millennia is the feature but the real point of this book is the relationship between Red and Blue, rival, skilled operatives on opposite sides of a war. Blue opens a daring, mocking correspondence in the aftermath of a bloody battle, Red counters, grudging admiration and challenge. Soon, they are confiding secrets in an ever-more dangerous exchange until they cannot extricate themselves. Without giving away the ending, I have to say that I kept thinking of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as well as the letters of Abelard and Heloise.

The audio production is indeed superb. The two narrators are perfectly chosen for their respective parts and the reading speed was just right.

Dear FTC: I bought this in hardcover and listened to the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps

39939598Summary from Goodreads:
A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougartown who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru” (The New Yorker).

Busy Philipps’s autobiographical book offers the same unfiltered and candid storytelling that her Instagram followers have come to know and love, from growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona and her painful and painfully funny teen years, to her life as a working actress, mother, and famous best friend.

Busy is the rare entertainer whose impressive arsenal of talents as an actress is equally matched by her storytelling ability, sense of humor, and sharp observations about life, love, and motherhood. Her conversational writing reminds us what we love about her on screens large and small. From film to television to Instagram, Busy delightfully showcases her wry humor and her willingness to bare it all.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to write this book. I’m just so grateful someone asked. Otherwise, what was the point of any of it??”

This Will Only Hurt a Little is a “celebrity memoir” in the vein of Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr You. However, Busy names names when she needs to rather than give everyone pseudonyms and she’s basically done with a lot of the bullshit of Hollywood “stardom” or whatever. But what this book really turns into is the story of how Busy got to BE Busy, warts and all. How she was a kid who might have been a little messed up, choices that she made, how she bought into the misogyny of the acting business, how she learned to be a good friend when her besties went through terrible things, how to be a mom and partner in a relationship. (I did kind of want to kick her husband in the shins at times, because dude he doesn’t come off really well at times – this is addressed later, just an FYI, and they seem to be doing better.)

And here’s the thing: I hope Busy writes more. I want her to write more. Write some more scripts or does more directing or gets into producing if she doesn’t want to deal with casting anymore because she’s tired of getting burned. She has a good eye for a turn of phrase and clearly has comedy timing. The book could have used a bit tighter editing at times, but she tells a good story. She’s got her talk-show now (which looks excellent, but since I don’t have cable I haven’t been able to watch it) but I’d love to see her push forward outside of acting.

I listened to this on audiobook, read by Busy, and I really can’t conceive of it any other way now. The way she “does” her mom’s voice (it’s like the mom on That 70s Show), how you can hear her getting choked up at times. I got choked up. Definite recommend on the audio.

Dear FTC: I borrowed the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive system.

mini-review · stuff I read

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (Peter Grant #1/Rivers of London #1)

16033550Summary from Goodreads:
Probationary constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

I finally clawed my way back to the top of the library hold list to finish Midnight Riot!

I really enjoyed the story of brand-new constable Peter Grant as he comes to learn about magic and the paranormal when he gets apprenticed to the decidedly weirdest Detective Superintendent in the entire London constabulary. It was quite an intricate plot, with all the details and bits of magic and history, but it didn’t feel bogged down by details. The narrator of the audiobook, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, really nailed Peter’s voice and the myriad London/non-London accents called for in the book. A+ to the publisher who did NOT Americanize the language (which sadly happens more often than not and annoys me greatly). I think Aaronovitch was a little heavy on the “Peter is hard up for a lay” part of Peter’s psyche; it got boring/old/tired/dude, get over yourself after a while. This book scratched all my “need a new Thursday Next” itches, so I am definitely going to read more.

Note: I do not like the new US audiobook cover (above) considering that Peter doesn’t carry a handgun as a London constable. I much preferred the map drawing.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this via the library’s Overdrive system.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

35180979Summary from Goodreads:
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark —the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a completely absorbing and terrifying (especially in the first third or so) work of true crime reporting/memoir/Google sleuthing about the search for the Golden State Killer (who was not named that until McNamara gave it to him, which was a thing I did not know). The writing is compelling, kudos to McNamara’s research assistant and team who organized and completed the book after her death. They were very careful to note which parts of the book were finished by McNamara herself and which were finished by her team. Although, there’s a weird Epilogue addressed to the killer placed AFTER Patton Oswalt wrote a lovely Afterword to his wife and the timing is just NO. That Epilogue should have come before the Afterword.

I do have to warn you that you absolutely do NOT want to read or listen to this book at night.  Alone.  By yourself.  Unless you want to wind up getting absolutely no sleep and finding out that the cat managed to open the door to the garage in the middle of the night so you spend an hour checking in all the closets of the house to make sure no psychos are lying in wait for you.

Dear FTC: I listened to an audiobook recording that I borrowed from the library.