Monthly Archives: January 2014

Audiobook Review: Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry

Title: Not in the Heart
Author: Chris Fabry
Narrator: Chris Fabry
Genre: Contemporary Christian Fiction
Publishers: Tyndale (print and electronic), and  Oasis Audio (audio)

I was excited to read and review Not in the Heart, because it is the 2013 Christy Award Winner in the Contemporary Standalone Category and I’d heard a lot of good things about it. The copy I read was an audiobook version, checked out and downloaded from my local library, so I’ll be reviewing not only the text of the book itself but also the quality of the recording and its narration.


Not in the Heart tells the story of an out of work reporter who is estranged from his family, but is offered an opportunity to reconnect with them as well as earn some money toward paying off his mounting debts by writing the story of a death row inmate. That inmate, Terrell, is a convicted murderer who wants to donate his heart to Truman’s ailing son. But as Truman researches the story, he uncovers evidence that points to Terrell’s innocence. This raises a dilemma for Truman.  If Terrell is proven innocent, Truman’s son could die for lack of a heart transplant, but if Truman says nothing, an innocent man will be executed.

My reaction:

The complicated situations and difficult decisions explored in this book, make it a fascinating read as well as an excellent option for discussion by a book group.

The main character, Truman, is not an easy character to like.  He is a selfish man with a gambling addiction, and he has made a number of bad choices that lead to hurt and problems for him and his family.  And yet, I think the fact that the story is told in the first person from his point of view, helps the reader identify with him and feel for him, despite the negative character traits.  I have to say I enjoyed Truman’s dry and sarcastic sense of humor, which tends to keep things interesting from page one to the end.

What really resonated with me was the surprise twist at the end.  I won’t say what the twist is but I will say that I didn’t see it coming at all, and I thought it fit the rest of the story perfectly.  And yes, I cried at the end.  I couldn’t help it.  In my opinion, Chris Fabry crafted the perfect ending to a fascinating book.  There aren’t many books that I’m tempted to read a second time when there are so many other good books out there remaining to be read, but I am seriously tempted with this one.  It’s such a layered and nuanced story that I imagine a second reading would allow me to pick up on details I may have missed the first time around.  I’m also interested to check out the author’s latest book, Every Waking Moment, which sounds like it should also be an excellent read.

Specific to the audio edition:

About a year ago, I attended a lecture at a library conference where a representative from an audiobook recording studio discussed the audiobook production process at her company. She commented that while many authors wish to narrate their own audiobooks, it’s not usually a good idea.  She prefers to hire professional actors to narrate audiobooks.  In many cases, I think she’s right, but I think this audiobook proved to be an exception to that rule.  Chris Fabry did an amazing job narrating his book.  Perhaps his experience hosting his own radio show came into play.  At any rate, the listener gets to hear the author’s “voice” literally as well as figuratively, and I think in this case it adds to the enjoyment.  The sarcasm and dry humor in the main character’s words comes through loud and clear in the author’s narration.

The various character voices are well differentiated and pleasant to listen to.  Even the female characters’ voices are well done.  When male narrators try too hard to make their female characters sound distinctively female, they can come across sounding nasal or falsetto in a way that no human voice should sound.  Thankfully, that’s not the case here.  Instead female voices are mostly mid-range and sound fairly gender neutral, which in my opinion works perfectly.  You know from context they’re female, but the voice doesn’t get in the way of the story.


In short, I would highly recommend this book.  If you’re an audiobook fan or you’re looking for listening material for an extended car ride or while doing chores or errands, this one gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me.  For those who prefer to read in print or ebook format, those editions should be good too.


Compact disc and downloadable audio editions of this title (as well as print and electronic editions) are available from christianaudio,, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and may also be available from your local library.

Author, Chris Fabry’s Web site includes a blog, links where you can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, and a link to his Youtube channel featuring book trailers and clips where the author discusses his books.  There’s also a link to a discussion guide that’s not to be missed if you plan to discuss this book with a group.

The Joy of Audiobooks

Audiobooks are awesome! Enough said, right?

I’m sure for some of you I’m preaching to the choir, so feel free to chime in with a hearty, “Amen!” at any point, should you feel moved to do so.

Still skeptical?  Hear me out.  You might just decide to give audiobooks a shot.  And if you do, I suspect you’ll be glad you did.


An audiobook playing on my smartphone.

What’s so great about audiobooks?

1 – Performance.

A skilled reader can add the element of performance to the written work, giving it an added dimension, much as skilled actors can bring a play to life.  You could read the play or the book and enjoy it immensely, or you could witness the performance with the possibility of enjoying it even more.  It’s all the same words in the same order either way (assuming your edition is unabridged, as most  current audiobooks are).  The essence of the story is still there.  But the interpretation by the narrator, if done well, can bring a book to life in a whole new way.

Of course, the flip side is that an audiobook read poorly can take away from the enjoyment of the book.  So, if you’ve tried an audiobook and been unimpressed by the narration, perhaps it would be worth trying another, maybe one read by a different narrator.  The trend is for audiobooks to be read by skilled professional actors and actresses, many of whom are making a name for themselves specifically as audiobook narrators.  It’s not unusual for audiobook listeners to identify their own favorite narrators and seek out titles read by those narrators.

2 – Multitasking.

Read more, guilt free.  I’ve been known to read while doing laundry, while doing dishes, while jogging, while driving, while changing a diaper, and while cooking dinner.  All thanks to the audiobook.  The beauty is that you have your hands and your eyes free to do other tasks, unlike when you’re reading a print or electronic book.  At this point, I should probably confess to having read a paperback book while walking to class on more than one occasion back in college.  While this is possible I don’t necessarily recommend it.  Audiobooks work much better when you’re trying not to run into other people or inanimate objects.

Want some more multi-tasking ideas?  Check out this Goodreads discussion on some of the things people do while reading audiobooks.  As a bonus, I find that I’m less impatient with the time it takes to do housework when I’m listening to a book at the same time.  Ditto for jogging.  I tend to want to run a little longer if I’m in the middle of a chapter.

3 – Practice Listening.

Our culture tends to focus on the visual, on the written word.  The ability to decode written words and understand what they’re communicating is an essential skill and one worth practicing.  But historically, oral storytelling played a huge role in communication.  Even today, in our social media heavy world where we’re tied to our smart phones, tablets, and laptops, listening is an important skill to practice as well.  The ability to focus in on what’s being said, understand the content and the emotion behind the spoken words, and respond appropriately will serve you well both socially (conversing with friends) and educationally (attending a lecture).

And believe it or not, it really is a skill that benefits from practice.  The first few times I listened to an audiobook, I found myself easily distracted.  The words would continue along at their own pace until I realized that I couldn’t tell you what had just happened.  For this reason, there was a lot of rewinding involved in the first few audiobooks, until I got the hang of really paying attention.  Fortunately I didn’t let this discourage me, and a few books later I realized I didn’t need to rewind nearly as often.  With years of practice behind me now, I’ve become much better at paying attention to the spoken word, even when multitasking.  That and making judicious use of the pause and rewind buttons when there are interruptions requiring my attention.

If you’re still in the early phase of trying out audiobooks and finding yourself easily distracted, give it time.  Try a few books.  You may find one holds your attention better than another, and you may find, as I did, that listening to an extended narrative becomes more natural with practice.

Where to get your audiobooks?

Audiobooks are becoming more and more commonplace.  In many cases, the audiobook edition becomes available at the same time as the print and electronic editions, so you don’t have to wait.  You can find them available in CD editions as well as downloadable in a variety of electronic audio formats including MP3, WMA, and M4B.

As a librarian, I like to plug the local library whenever possible.  And this is a great opportunity to do so.  Many libraries loan audiobook CDs as well as downloadable versions of a wide selection of audiobook titles.  It’s definitely worth taking a look to see what’s available from your local library.  You can’t beat the price!

If there’s a waiting list for a popular title or (gasp!) the title you want isn’t available through your local library, and you don’t mind paying to get it now, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase audiobooks.  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, christianaudio,,, and are all great places to look for your favorite books in audio format.  Some of these retailers even offer monthly subscriptions.  Be aware, the selections can vary, so if one retailer doesn’t have the title you’re looking for, you may want to try checking another.

And if you’re interested in listening to free recordings of books in the public domain, or want to try your hand at volunteering to help create an audiobook, check out LibriVox.

For More Information:

If I’ve piqued your curiosity, come back here to my blog again next week (consider subscribing now to help you remember) for my first audiobook review.  I’ll be sharing my review of Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry.  I’ll continue to blog reviews of “regular” Christian fiction that I read in print or electronic formats, as well as throwing audiobook reviews into the mix.  I hope you’ll give audiobooks a chance, but either way, bear in mind, with my audiobook reviews I’ll be considering the story and the performance separately to help you decide which format you might prefer for a given title.

For myths debunked check out “Listening to Books is Cheating” and 7 More Myths About Audiobooks from BookRiot.

Check out the Audiobook Insights blog for a variety of information about the audiobook industry.   And if you’ve ever wondered if it should be “audiobooks” or “audio books” you’ll find your answer.

If you’re looking for some particularly good examples of audiobooks, check out the list of Audie Award winners and finalists.  There are a wide variety of categories in which the award is given annually, including Book of the Year, Solo Narration – Male/Female, Narration by Author, Multi-voiced, and best in a variety of genres, including Inspirational / Faith-Based Fiction.

Do you already love audiobooks?  Do you plan to give them a try?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy reading… and listening.

Book Review: Trapped by Irene Hannon

Title: Trapped
Author: Irene Hannon
Series: Book 2 of the Private Justice Series
Publisher: Revell
Genre(s): Christian Fiction, Inspirational Romantic Suspense, Mystery

When Laura Griffith’s teenage sister Darcy runs away from home, Laura is determined to track her down and bring her back safely. Laura hires private investigator and former ATF agent James “Dev” Devlin in the hope that with his help, they will be able to find Darcy quickly, before she becomes victim to the winter weather or to unsavory characters. But as time goes on and the trail gets cold, Dev and Laura begin to suspect the worst. Will they be able to find Darcy before it’s too late?

Fraught with danger, brimming with suspense, this tale is one that kept me turning the pages. I’m already a big fan of Irene Hannon’s novels, and I’ve looked forward to reading Trapped with a great deal of anticipation, particularly since learning that this latest novel features a librarian as its heroine. Yes, I am slightly biased on that point, being a librarian myself, but there you have it. I’m pleased to report that Trapped did not disappoint. Once again, Hannon has lived up to her reputation as queen of inspirational romantic suspense.

I enjoyed watching the romance blossom between hero and heroine over the course of the book, but the element that made this story stand out in my mind was Hannon’s portrayal of the villain. Early on, you know that there’s something not quite right about him, but the more you learn about his background and the current situation over the course of the story, the creepier the situation becomes and the more the suspense is heightened. I am impressed with Hannon’s ability to craft a complex believable villain who is capable of committing heinous crimes and yet believes that what he’s doing is for the best. It makes for a fascinating read.

I read and reviewed Vanished, the first book in this series, not that long ago. As I read this one, I was struck by how similar the two novels are to each other. There were quite a few deja vu moments for me, as I read scenes that felt eerily familiar because of their parallels to similar scenes in the earlier novel. If you have read Vanished, you will enjoy getting reacquainted with a number of familiar characters and meeting some new ones. If you have not read it yet, don’t worry. The books complement each other but do not depend upon each other to understand and follow the story. In my opinion, you won’t be missing anything should you decide to read them out of order.

For those who enjoy reading inspirational romantic suspense, I highly recommend Trapped, as well as its predecessor Vanished. I’m looking forward to reading the next in this series. From what I’ve heard, Deceived is due out this summer, and if it’s anything like the first two in the Private Justice series, it should be a treat.

Thank you to the publisher, Revell, for providing me with a complimentary copy of the book through NetGalley for review purposes.  For some great discussion questions, check out the author’s web site.

Book Review: The Prodigal by Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett

Title: The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story
Authors: Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett
Publisher: Zondervan
Genre: Contemporary Christian Fiction

Jack Chisholm was lead pastor for a megachurch with three campuses and thousands of members.  He was a best-selling author and a public figure known by some as “America’s pastor.”  Then some poor decisions he made one night off the coast of Cancun lead him into sin he would not have thought himself capable of.  When his actions come to light he is disgraced, and he loses his job and his family.  Jack’s life is in a tailspin, until his estranged father seeks him out and brings him home.  It’s in the small town in Texas where he grew up that Jack reconnects with friends and family, learns some important lessons about grace and forgiveness, and discovers that God may not be through with him after all.

I know a lot of people, both Christian and non-Christian, who have misconceptions about what it means to be Christian.  I wish those people would read this book.  It’s that good.  Seriously.  The story is character driven, based on believable three dimensional “people,” primarily Jack, his father, and the local priest called Father Frank.  While the take home message of the story will not surprise anyone familiar with Manning’s work, it was skillfully woven into the story, seeming to arise naturally from the characters and situations, not tacked on as an afterthought, so it didn’t feel intrusive or overbearing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the vivid and out of the box  descriptions found in this book.  I’m reminded of the way Charles Dickens could paint a memorable secondary character in just a few brush strokes.  Here’s a particularly vivid example from The Prodigal:

“Carlene Petsch was the city secretary.  Carlene had been called ‘Petshop’ in their youth, if only rarely to her face.  It made her cry, got people sent to the office.  She had grown into a hard, hefty woman, the kind of hausfrau who could bake an apple pie and then beat you to death with her rolling pin.”

The ending of The Prodigal  felt a little abrupt to me.  I would have liked to see a little more resolution following Jack’s moment of epiphany, in a few specific areas that I probably shouldn’t mention for fear of spoiling the ending.  That said, if you’re going to err one way or the other, better to leave us wanting more than to make us beg for it to end.  And, much as I wanted more closure, I do think this approach left things hopeful without downplaying the consequences of Jack’s actions by tying everything up in a neat little bow.  It also left room for speculation on where the story might have gone next had it continued.  Which would be great fodder for a book discussion group.  All in all, an excellent read, and I would highly recommend it.

I would like to thank the publisher, Zondervan, for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book through NetGalley for my review.

Discussion Questions:

This book comes with some excellent discussion questions for consideration, but I couldn’t resist coming up with a few questions of my own as well.

  1. How and why did Jack’s beliefs and behavior change over the course of the story?  Did you find his decision at the end of the book consistent with what we know about him?
  2. In what ways was this story similar to and different from the story of the Prodigal Son as told in the Bible (Luke 15:11-32)?  Given the definition of the word “prodigal” as well as its usage in the Bible story, do you think The Prodigal as title is a good fit for this book?  Why or why not?  Can you think of an alternative title?
  3. Where do you think the story could have gone from here, had it continued beyond “The End”?  Were you satisfied with the conclusion as it was, or did you want to know more of what the future held for the characters?