STOLEN BEAUTY by Laurie Lico Albanese (Audiobook)


Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★★


From the dawn of the 20th century to the devastation of World War II, this exhilarating novel of love, war, art, and family gives voice to two extraordinary women and brings to life the true story behind the creation and near destruction of Gustav Klimt’s most remarkable paintings.

In the dazzling glitter of 1900 Vienna, Adele Bloch-Bauer – young, beautiful, brilliant, and Jewish – meets painter Gustav Klimt. Wealthy in everything but freedom, Adele embraces Klimt’s renegade genius as the two awaken to the erotic possibilities on the canvas and beyond. Though they enjoy a life where sex and art are just beginning to break through the façade of conventional society, the city is also exhibiting a disturbing increase in anti-Semitism, as political hatred foments in the shadows of Adele’s coffee house afternoons and cultural salons.

Nearly 40 years later, Adele’s niece Maria Altmann is a newlywed when the Nazis invade Austria – and overnight, her beloved Vienna becomes a war zone. When her husband is arrested and her family is forced out of their home, Maria must summon the courage and resilience that is her aunt’s legacy if she is to survive and keep her family – and their history – alive.

Will Maria and her family escape the Nazis’ grip? And what will become of the paintings that her aunt nearly sacrificed everything for?

Impeccably researched and a “must-read for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun” (Christina Baker Kline, number-one New York Times best-selling author), Stolen Beauty intertwines the tales of two remarkable women across more than a hundred years. It juxtaposes passion and discovery against hatred and despair and shines a light on our ability to love, to destroy, and, above all, to endure.


I’m a longtime fan of Gustav Klimt’s works, so I knew I had to give STOLEN BEAUTY a listen when it came across my audiobook radar. The title refers to Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, one of Klimt’s most famous paintings during his “Golden Phase.” (Take a look at the painting HERE.) At the heart of STOLEN BEAUTY are two remarkable women: Adele Bloch-Bauer and Maria Altmann.

At the turn of the last century, Adele Bloch-Bauer was a wealthy Austrian woman, a patron of the arts, and Gustav Klimt’s muse. In her adulthood, she studied and hosted salons on philosophy, science, and art, all the subjects that were forbidden to her as a girl. She was a strong, intelligent, and passionate woman who fought to break through the limitations that society placed on her.

Decades later, Adele’s niece, Maria, is living in Vienna when the Nazis invade Austria, and her strength is put to the test. She must find a way to save herself, her family, and ultimately Adele’s legacy.

I enjoyed STOLEN BEAUTY very much. It was compelling, heartbreaking, and completely absorbing. It was also a well-researched account of the Viennese art world during Klimt’s time. This book would appeal to art lovers as well as historical fiction buffs.

Books about Nazis and their atrocities are not easy to read, especially since there are things going on today that mirror what happened during Hitler’s rise, like blaming immigrants or a religious group for society’s problems. But, it’s important to keep reading these books and stay in the know. Stay angry and aware.

(Side note: I wasn’t aware of this before, but there’s a movie called WOMAN IN GOLD (2015) starring Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann. I requested it from the library. Looking forward to viewing!)


Audiobook • 9 hrs, 25 mins • Narrators: Gabra Zackman , Madeleine Maby , Gibson Frazier

Listening to the audiobook of STOLEN BEAUTY was wonderful. Gabra Zackman performed the part of Adele, while Madeleine Maby was the voice of Maria. Gibson Frazier took more of a narrator’s role with short snippets between the women’s characters’ parts. Zackman and Maby, in particular, had to tackle several characters and different accents, and both handled it beautifully.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

DISTRESS SIGNALS by Catherine Ryan Howard (Audiobook)


Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Release Date: February 2, 2017
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★★


The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads, “I’m sorry—S” sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate—and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before.

To get answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground…


As I was listening to Catherine Ryan Howard’s nerve-racking debut thriller, I kept wondering if the book was sold in cruise ship gift shops. If so — eek! Nothing like adding some paranoia to your vacation! Seriously though, DISTRESS SIGNALS was an amazing read. There are many layers to this complex mystery, and the characters really stand out.

When Adam Dunne’s girlfriend Sarah doesn’t return from a business trip, he manages to track her last whereabouts to a Mediterranean cruise ship called the Celebrate. Was she the victim of foul play, or did she decide to disappear on her own? The cruise ship company is less than helpful, and Adam soon discovers that these ships are like their own little cutoff worlds. Maritime law can be a tricky and frustrating thing. When Adam learns of another woman’s disappearance on the same ship a year earlier, he ends up on the Celebrate himself to search for answers.

I enjoyed this book very much. It felt realistic as to what someone would go through to find a missing loved one. Nice build up of tension watching Adam goes through the steps, and trying to figure out how the other characters connect with Sarah’s disappearance. I loved as the layers unfolded, leading up to a surprising twist that changed everything. DISTRESS SIGNALS is going on my 2017 favorites list!


Audiobook • 11 hrs, 42 mins • Narrators: Alan Smyth, Bronson Pinchot, Suzanne Toren

Wonderful performances all-around for the audio version of DISTRESS SIGNALS. Alan Smyth was the voice of Adam, and he did a great job conveying Adam’s desperation and confusion during his search for Sarah. To avoid spoilers, I don’t want to go into detail about Bronson Pinchot’s and Suzanne Toren’s characters, but I will say that their performances were spot-on too, capturing their characters’ nuances. I’d highly recommend giving this book a listen!


Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

FAITHFUL by Alice Hoffman (Audiobook)

faithful
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: November 1, 2016
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion — from dark suffering to true happiness — a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls — including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.


FAITHFUL is a sad yet hopeful coming of age story about a young woman dealing with grief and survivor’s guilt. After a tragic car accident, Shelby Richmond is able to walk away, but her best friend isn’t so lucky. Was there someone watching over her that night? Shelby is a troubled soul stuck in limbo when mysterious postcards start to arrive. The sender is anonymous and the messages are quite simple, but it’s just enough to nudge her forward, even a tiny bit.

I love Alice Hoffman’s prose, and the writing in this book is as beautiful as her others. Shelby’s character was difficult and not always easy to like, but deep down I knew she was good, partly due to her passion for rescuing misfit dogs! This is a story of healing, definitely pulled at my heartstrings. I had to grab the tissues a few times. FAITHFUL had a different “feel” to it than Hoffman’s other books I’ve read, though I still enjoyed it.


Audiobook • 8 hrs, 27 mins • Amber Tamblyn, Narrator

Amber Tamblyn narrated the audiobook, and this is the first time I’ve listened to a book read by her. I think she did fine with Shelby’s voice. Overall, nothing too emotional, which fit with Shelby’s apathetic disposition. If you prefer narrations with lots of inflection and drama, this wouldn’t be a good fit.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.