Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review: The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer


Title: The Children’s Crusade

Author: Ann Packer
(Author Website) (Facebook)

Narrators: Cotter Smith, Frederick Weller, Thomas Sadoski, Marin Ireland and Santino Fontana

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Audio Unabridged edition (April , 2015)

Length:  12 CDs

Source: Audiobook Jukebox‘s reviewer program

About the Book: (from

From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family's future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story--Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn't settled down-their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.

About the Author:  (from author website)

Ann Packer

Ann Packer was born in Stanford, California, in 1959, and grew up near Stanford University, where her parents were professors. She attended Yale University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has received fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Michener-Copernicus Society, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

She is the acclaimed author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and two bestselling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, which received the Kate Chopin Literary Award, among many other prizes and honors. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and in the O. Henry Prize Stories anthologies, and her novels have been published around the world.

Ann returned to her native Bay Area in 1995. She lives in San Carlos with her family.

About the Narrators:

Cotter Smith -  is an American actor of stage, film, and television. As an audiobook narrator, he has won two Earphones Awards and was a finalist in 1997 for the prestigious Audie Award. Audiobooks also include:  Millionaire Next Door, Millionaire Mind, Citizen Soldiers and Victors by Stephen E Ambrose.

Frederick Weller - Frederick Weller's films include Four Lane Highway, The Shape of Things, When Will I Be Loved, Coyote Ugly, Basquiat and Armageddon. Television series include In Plain Sight (debut USA), The Jury, Law & Order: SVU & Criminal Intent, Pastor's Wife, and Missing Persons. On Broadway he starred in Seascape, Glengarry Glen Ross, Take Me Out, The Rehearsal, and Six Degrees of Separation. Audiobooks also include: Twisted by Jeffery Deaver, Nocturne by Jeffery Deaver and Blind Fall by Christopher Rice.

Thomas Sadoski - Thomas Sadoski was born on 1st July 1976 in Bethany, Connecticut. In 1980 he moved with his family to College Station, Texas. He has been in numerous plays Off-Broadway, and many regional theatres including the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Made his Broadway debut in 2004 playing Mary-Louise Parker's husband in the critically acclaimed production of "Reckless". Audiobooks also include: Mile 81 by Stephen King.

Marin Ireland - Marin Ireland is an actress, known for
Side Effects (2013), I Am Legend (2007) and Revolutionary Road (2008). Audiobooks also include: XO by Jeffery Deaver

Santino Fontana - Santino Fontana is an actor, known for
Frozen (2013), Frozen Fever (2015) and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). Audiobooks also include: You by Caroline Kepnes and The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman.

My Review: The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer is a family drama spanning from 1950 to present day.  Bill Blair is a pediatrician and veteran of war.   Bill  meets Penny and they marry.  Penny has dreams of her family, 3 children would be perfect.  The first child born is Robert than Rebecca and Ryan, the three R’s, perfect.   Later James is born and Penny is unhappy about this, three children was the plan.  James is a rambunctious little boy and just too much for Penny.   She withdraws  from parenting him and the other children and Bill and the older children really parent James.  This really shows the impact that childhood experiences can have on someone into adulthood.  James always feels like the odd man out, not an “R” name. 

Children’s Crusade is really a coming of age story of a family.  A real family drama with complicated relationships.  There is a strong character story of each individual.  You really feel like you understand the characters, except for Penny.  Penny is very self-centered and removed from her family physically and emotionally.   I would have like to know more about her thought process regarding her decisions.  With Penny being the exception I felt like I knew the characters equally, but didn’t like them equally.  

The audio book of Children’s Crusade was performed by a cast of narrators, which allowed for great distinction between the characters.   I really felt the different voices fit the characters well and were easily distinguishable.  The pace of the narration went well this the story and plot.  Listening to Children’s Crusade did not have a huge impact on me…I wasn’t driving around the block to listen to more.  This had more to do with the actual story than the narration. 

My Rating: 3/5 – liked it- Children’s Crusade had me wishing for more throughout the book.  When was something of significance  going to happen??   I struggle with stories that don’t have a real pivotal point in the story.  The family overall, left me wondering how Bill could let this situation continue.  He often said “children need care”, but that was something his children were missing, at least from their mother.  This had a lasting effect on the children, especially James.  Good reminder that our actions as parents stay with our children much longer than we think. 

Children’s Crusade is really a character study of the Blair family.  Children’s Crusade is a family drama which touches on the themes such as healing, hope, innocence and forgiveness.   In all honestly, if this wasn’t a review book, I would have most likely not finished the book. 

The other item that was difficult for me was the ending of Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer, I was very disappointed in the ending.  It didn’t feel like much of an ending, I felt that as a reader I was left wishing for more once again. 

This was not the first book I have read by Ann Packer. My book group read The Dive from Clausen’s Pier which I enjoyed.  So don’t let this review discourage your from giving Ann Packer a try.

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer was also reviewed on the following blogs:  BookChatterWest Metro Mommy Reads, and Adventures with Words.

**Disclosure – Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer was received from Audiobook Jukebox’s reviewer program and Simon & Schuster Audio in exchange for a fair review.

Posted by Jen C at 7:45 AM 0 comments

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: Liar’s Bench by Kim Michele Richardson

liars bench

Title: Liar’s Bench

Author: Kim Michele Richardson
(Author Website) (Facebook)

Narrator: Jorjeana Marie

Publisher:  Blackstone Audio, Inc.; Unabridged edition (April 28, 2015)

Length:  8 hours 59 minutes

Source: Audiobook Jukebox‘s reviewer program

About the Book: (from

In 1972, on Mudas Summers' seventeenth birthday, her beloved Mama, Ella, is found hanging from the rafters of their home. Most people in Peckinpaw, Kentucky, assume that Ella's no-good husband did the deed. Others think Ella grew tired of his abuse and did it herself. Muddy is determined to find out for sure either way, especially once she finds strange papers hidden amongst her mama's possessions.

But Peckinpaw keeps its secrets buried deep. Muddy's almost-more-than-friend, Bobby Marshall, knows that better than most. Though he passes for white, one of his ancestors was Frannie Crow, a slave hanged a century ago on nearby Hark Hill Plantation. Adorning the town square is a seat built from Frannie's gallows. A tribute, a relic--and a caution--it's known as Liar's Bench. Now, the answers Muddy seeks soon lead back to Hark Hill, to hatred and corruption that have echoed through the years--and lies she must be brave enough to confront at last.

Kim Michele Richardson's lush, beautifully written debut is set against a Southern backdrop passing uneasily from bigotry and brutality to hope. With its compelling mystery and complex yet relatable heroine, Liar's Bench is a story of first love, raw courage, and truths that won't be denied

About the Author:  (from author website)

Kim RichardsonKim Michele Richardson resides in the rolling hills of Kentucky where she is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and an advocate for the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence. She is also the author of the bestselling memoir The Unbreakable Child. Liar’s Bench is her first novel. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and is busy working on her next novel, God Pretty in the Tobacco Field.

About the Narrator:

jojeana marie

   Jorjeana Marie is a quirky comedienne, actress, voice over actress and narrator for a number of large publishers.   She is very talented in portraying voices of children, monsters, creatures and animal characterizations.   

My Review: Liar’s Bench, a debut novel by Kim Michelle Richardson, is set in the south in the early 1970’s. A time of change that is slow to happen in some parts of the south, such as Peckinpaw, Kentucky..  Mudas  “Muddy” Summers parents are divorced due to her father’s infidelity. Mudas lives with her father who is the town prosecutor.   Muddy’s mom, Ella is married to Tommy.  On Muddy’s 17th birthday, her mother is found hung from the rafters of the home she shares with Tommy.  

Mudas does not believe her mother committed suicide.  She sets off with her friend, Bobby Marshall, who happens to be Afro-American,  to find out what really happened to her mother, Ella.  Sadly, the town is not ready for a mix race friendship and this cause problems for Bobby and Mudas.  Ella worked for Mr McGee, who is a bit of a unsavory character.  He is a racist and corrupt on many levels. Mudas thinks he might have something to due with her mother’s death as she was his bookkeeper. 

The other story line in Liar’s Bench is set in the past about 100 years is about a slave,Frannie Crow who was unjustly hung by her master at the nearby planation.  Bobby Marshall is a descendent of Frannie Crow. Liar’s Bench, which is in the center of town and is important to the  story, was built from the Frannie’s gallows.

The audiobook of Liar’s Bench was narrated by Jorjeana Marie.  This is the first time I have listened to this particular narrator. I think Jorjeana Marie is a new favorite!   She does an amazing portrayal of characters who are children.  I had to actually research to she if she was an adult.  Love her voice!  I have since  selected two more audiobooks based on her being the narrator.  She does a nice job of differentiating the voices and the differences in gender.  I particularly was  drawn to the voice of Muddy.   Jorjeana Marie does an excellent job in portraying the more suspenseful parts of the story.   You can really feel the suspense. 

Kim Michelle Richardson delivers a very good debut novel with Liar’s Bench.  There was one point in the story where Muddy and Bobby are being chased by McGee and his men, that really bugged me.   They are being chased and they all of a sudden think, they can just stop and investigate a graveyard.   While, the graveyard was important to the plot, it  seemed unrealistic to me to stop running at that particular point in the story.    If someone is chasing me….I am going to run and run until I find help!

My Rating: 4/5 –really liked it-  Liar’s Bench by Kim  Michele Richardson is a debut novel that is well worth the read/listen.  I would really  recommend listening to the audiobook narrated by Jorjeana Marie.  She is a very talented and interesting narrator, which really added to the Liar’s Bench experience.   I found myself needing to walk an extra mile just to hear a bit more of Liar’s Bench, a very enjoyable story and narration.   Even with her initial indecision, I really liked Muddy as a character.  By the end of the story she redeems herself in my eyes.  The ending was sufficiently suspenseful and satisfying.

Liar’s Bench is a mystery, but also a coming of age story.  Other themes in Liar’s Bench include racism, racial tension, secrets, corruption and racial and gender inequality.  The tension is palpable at times in regards to the racial bigotry and brutality of that sad time in history. 

Check out Audio of Liar’s Bench by Kim Michele Richardson, unabridged version released April, 2015 by Blackstone Audio, I think you will really enjoy the it! 

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Liar’s Bench was also reviewed on the following blogs:  Southern Literary Review, Beth’s Book Nook Blog, Historical Novel SocietySally’s Creative CornerBibliophile by the Sea,

**Disclosure – Liar’s Bench was received from Audiobook Jukebox’s reviewer program and Blackstone Audio in exchange for a fair review.