Audiobook mini-reviews: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson; Die for You by Lisa Unger

Title: The Sugar Queen
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Genre: Contemporary fiction, magical realism
Publisher: Bantam
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Karen White
First line: When Josey woke up and saw the feathery frost on her windowpane, she smiled.

I loved Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells when I read it earlier this year, and I remember someone told me that The Sugar Queen was even better. Whoever you are, you were right – this is a fantastic book. Allen takes contemporary women’s fiction, adds a bit of romance, some comedy, a dash of the whimsical, and throws in magic, and the result is a truly delightful read. Josey and Chloe are two characters to love: one is addicted to sugar, the other has books magically pop up in her life just when she needs them – whether she wants them or not. Both of them are not quite comfortable living in their skin, showing people who they are, but their friendship – and the intervention of a hard-living waitress named Della Lee – will give them the courage to be who they are. I have Allen’s The Girl Who Chased the Moon sitting on my to-read shelf, and I can’t wait to dive into it.

Audio notes: the reader Karen White does a good job voicing all of the characters and putting the right amount of emotion into her reading without going over the top.

Title: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party
Author: M.T. Anderson
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Candlewick
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Peter Francis James
First line: I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple trees.

Octavian is an African slave being raised as part of an experiment conducted by the Novanglian College of Lucidity. Their goal: to discover whether there are inherent differences in the intellectual abilities of whites and blacks. Octavian is given a classical education; his mother is treated like an African princess – until the philosophical society is forced to take on investors who have different motives. Anderson deals with slavery and racism against the backdrop of the beginnings of the American Revolution, writing in the style of the era, which I enjoyed. Most of the book is told from Octavian’s perspective, and if Anderson had stuck to that tactic, I would have rated this book 4 or 5 stars. Unfortunately, a large section toward the end is narrated by another character, and that section didn’t keep my attention as well. I am looking forward to book two so I can find out how Octavian’s story ends.

Audio notes: I was delighted to discover that this book was read by Peter Francis James, who has been one of my favorite narrators since I listened to Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. He has a rich voice and can do an amazing variety of accents with ease.

Title: Die for You
Author: Lisa Unger
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Vintage
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Ann Marie Lee
First line: A light snow falls, slowly coating the deep-red rooftops of Prague.

Isabel Connelly is living the life she’s always wanted – she’s a successful author and happily married to computer programmer Marcus Raine. They have had their problems, but all of that seems to be behind them. Then, one night, Marcus fails to come home from work, and Isabel finds herself drawn into a web of secrets and lies and discovers that nothing is what it seems – including her husband. Her desire to find out the truth will take her from Manhattan to Prague, and will cause her to question every aspect of her life. This is the second of Unger’s thrillers that I have read, and the thing I like best about her books is that they have a very strong plot with twists and turns – like you would expect from a thriller – but they are also very character-driven. Her characters have meat on them, with complex inner lives that give them authenticity and believability. And because the characters seem so real, I am more easily able to dive into their stories and become invested in the outcome.

Audio notes: Ann Marie Lee is a narrator who took a little getting used to. She has a tendency to infuse every sentence with a sense of importance and drama – and I mean every sentence. “The elevator doors slid open.” shouldn’t sound as ominous as, say, “I took care of the murder, the disposal of the body.” Once I got used to it, though, I was pulled into the story, and it stopped bothering me.

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13 Responses to Audiobook mini-reviews: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson; Die for You by Lisa Unger

  1. Marg
    Twitter: MargReads
    says:

    I really enjoy Sarah Addison Allen’s books, but I haven’t listened to any of them!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Marg – this is the first one I’ve done on audio and it worked well that way.

  2. S. Krishna
    Twitter: skrishna
    says:

    LOL, I can see what you mean about Ann Marie Lee infusing every sentence with drama! I listened to her read Escape and Triumph by Carolyn Jessop. In that case, almost every sentence WAS major drama, so it worked well.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Swapna – with Die for You, the story got more dramatic and menacing as it went along, so it ended up working well, too – it was just at the beginning that I found it a little distracting.

  3. Mom says:

    Is Octavian Nothing something I would enjoy reading?

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Mom – you probably would – I think the library has it in print as well as in audio.

  4. Amy says:

    I really like Sarah Addison Allen’s books. GARDEN SPELLS is still my favorite but I love all the others as well. Glad you like SUGAR QUEEN.

    -Amy
    Life by Candlelight

  5. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I struggled with Garden Spells, but I know I am in the minority on that one. I would give the author another try I think. She really had some interesting aspects in the book, but in the end the repression of her main characters drove me up the wall. I may give Sugar Queen a try.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Sandy – this book explores some of the same themes – her characters are a bit repressed – but I liked the way that was resolved in this one better.

  6. I really want to read one of Allen’s books and actually bought one a while ago. I’m glad to see it’s so good in audio – I might be able to squeeze that in at some point.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kathy – I don’t know if the same reader reads her other books, but this one was very good on audio.

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