Nest and Nightbird: Audiobook Reviews

March 13, 2015 2015, audiobook, Esther Ehrlich, fairy tales, historical, middle grade, realistic fiction, Wendy 44

I’ve been short on time and unable to concentrate on reading lately, so I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks. They’re so wonderful when you’re driving or cooking or doing something else with your hands! I’m weirdly picky when it comes to narrators–I literally reject about 90% of the ones I sample–but it’s always a joy when I come across a reader whose voice and style I like.

Today I’m reviewing two audiobooks I listened to recently, both of which are middle grade books featuring main characters with unusual names.

20170580Nest by Esther Ehrlich

For fans of Jennifer Holm (Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise), a heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.  

Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.

Nest is Esther Ehrlich’s stunning debut novel. Her lyrical writing is honest, humorous, and deeply affecting. Chirp and Joey will steal your heart. Long after you finish Nest, the spirit of Chirp and her loving family will stay with you.

As much as I enjoy fantasy and science fiction, I love everyday stories about childhood. It’s when I was climbing trees with friends or daydreaming alone in my own back yard that I started to have a sense of my own identity separate from my family, as well as to think about my small corner of the natural world. In Nest, “Chirp” explores her neighborhood, wrestles with her sister, has small feats of daring with her friend Joey, and is pretty content–until one day, her world is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

This story ended up being much more serious and moving than I expected; alongside the scenes of bird-watching and school projects, the illness that comes into this family casts a shadow for every single member of the household. While the story is from Chirp’s point of view, you also absorb the impact of this painful new reality on her sister, on her father, and on her mother. As the relationships are tested, the book becomes much more grave and heart-wrenching than I was prepared for. With the benefit of the knowledge we’ve gained since the time period in which this book is set, it’s particularly sad to see the limited understanding and resources available to those coping with depression and disabilities during this era.

Two small quibbles: I liked the road trip towards the end, though I think its length slowed down the momentum a bit. I also love (and was scared for Joey), and felt an unbearable amount of tension during one important walk to his front door–but I think his story wrapped up a bit too neatly and quickly after all the anxiety that had been building throughout the book. Still, these don’t detract from the overall experience of the book, as everything else is so well done, as well as realistically depicted through the lens of Chirp’s view.

This is probably also my favorite audiobook experience to date. I listened to much of it as I was huddled under the covers in the dark in my own nest, much like the ones Chirp finds comfort in when she feels alone. Jenna Lamia does a beautifully subtle reading, with particularly distinct voices for Chirp’s mother, Joey, and Chirp herself, whose youthful narration is in turns quietly curious, comfortably sure in what she thinks is right, and sad. At one point I also skipped back so I could listen to hear her charming rendition of a horned owl again! And it’s because she gives such an understated performance that we also feel the shock of disbelief and sadness at two distinct moments in this book that closely follow one another. I teared up and literally flinched, and I wanted so badly to gather these girls close and hug them tightly to me. That’s the power of both great writing and a great performance.

I’d highly recommend Nest if you’re looking for a good audiobook–though if you’re giving this to children, I’d strongly recommend reading it first or reading it with them. There’s a lot to process, and a lot of points you’ll want to discuss or provide context for. The author does provide a little bit of info on the Disability Rights Movement, as well as illustrations and clips of the birds Chirp comes across on her website. For all the seriousness of the story, I also take away such beautiful feelings of love and appreciation for nature in this astonishingly assured debut.

This is a lovely book that takes the time to let its story breathe, and a really lovely audio experience.

Rating: 4 shining stars. I loved it.

Trigger warnings: View Spoiler »



nightbird alice hoffmanNightbird by Alice Hoffman

In her first novel for middle-grade readers , bestselling author Alice Hoffman tells a bewitching story of love and friendship that is truly magical.

Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.

“I love the way Alice Hoffman creates the most ordinary people and then turns their lives magical. . . . [Nightbird] is like reentering a wonderful dream that you vaguely remember.” —Lois Lowry, two-time Newbery Medal–winning author of The Giver

After the wonderful experience of listening to Nest, I was thrilled to see that the narrator Jenna Lamia also read this new release. I didn’t love this one as much as I’d hoped to, however–this is a pleasant enough fable, but ultimately a rather slight one.

While I liked the premise of the story (somewhat similar to another middle grade book I read recently View Spoiler »), I wonder if the author, who is a well-respected writer of adult fiction trying her hand at children’s for the first time, underestimates her audience a bit. There are few surprises here, whether in plot or characterization or emotion–and if a book doesn’t thrill you or inspire you or move you, that’s a rather sad state of affairs.

I did enjoy a few moments here and there, View Spoiler », but with this book’s rather uncomplicated story and style, I think it’s one probably best suited for reading with young children. View Spoiler »

The excellent narrator Jenna Lamia does her best to infuse Nightbird with wonder. But for me, the magic was really only in her interpretation, not necessarily in the story itself. But it’s a pleasant enough story to pass the time if you’re curious.

Rating: 3 stars

Audiobooks were provided by the publisher for review. Both the hardbacks and audiobooks are available in stores now.

You can listen to samples of both audiobooks below.

Are you a fan of listening to books? Do you find that the narrator makes a big difference to your enjoyment of the story?

Wendy signature teal



P.S. I love how Jenna Lamia says “pie.” And she says it in both books! Lemon meringue in Nest, and apple pie in Nightbird. You know that that alone is enough to beguile me.



44 Responses to “Nest and Nightbird: Audiobook Reviews”

  1. Meghan

    Thanks for the review! I am a big fan of audio books! I started to listen them since I started a job in an office as a graphic designer! I realized that my eyes hurt too much from staring in the computer screen, so I really can’t read after work.. so I listen! :)

  2. Romi

    Nest sounds like a really touching, emotional, really worthwhile story- beautiful and intense and real. I love books that focus on childhood and remind me of elements I no longer think of, things I once did. Things I want to do again! I think it sounds, in ways, like Nest is that sort of book, and I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for the audiobook, as that seems the way to go with it! I’m happy it was, for the most part, a book that was touching and made you feel emotion for the character. That’s just the kind of book I want to read.
    Lovely review! xx
    Romi recently posted…A Feature of Pictures (and books!) No. 9

  3. Jessica Meyer

    Interesting observation on the Hoffman book. I’ve read some of her adult and some of her YA. Ultimately, I’ve been unimpressed with her YA. I have a few teens who will check out her YA but over all her stuff doesn’t get much play with my patrons. Her stories just…are lacking. They don’t have the ummph or complexity that teens deserve. That’s not to say that popular YA is all complex, rich, rich work but if they are not they are often action stories. Hoffman misses the mark there again.

    Nice reviews, your addition of the audio clips is great.

  4. Alisa @ Papercuttts

    I’ve become a huge fan of audiobooks recently too! I have a long commute and it keeps my books from being interrupted by having to look up, etc. So far I’ve had a good experience with the narrators, with one big fat exception: Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami. One of my favorite narrations has been of The Book Thief. It’s so wonderful.

    I’m definitely adding Nest to my TBR!
    Alisa @ Papercuttts recently posted…Why I Don’t Buy Books

    • Wendy Darling

      Audiobooks are such a lifesaver when you have to be in the car! I just gave the GIRL IN THE DARK audiobook to my husband for his commute.

      But ugh, bad narrators are the worst. Maybe not “bad,” but ones that just don’t have the voice/style/pace that you enjoy. It’s a totally subjective thing, but so important given you’re listening to someone for hours at a time.

      I’m glad you’ve put NEST on your list! It can be a tough book in some places, but it’s so utterly lovely as well. Let me know what you think of it if you happen to remember. :)
      Wendy Darling recently posted…An Ember in the Ashes: trailer feature + giveaway

  5. J. Oh

    I think it’s kind of cool that you listened to both these books by the same narrator, and lumped them together, because I read both eARCs separately, and in tone, they really reminded me of each other. I agree that Nest was more complex, although I didn’t always think Ehrlich gave the reader enough–I felt like so many important issues came up, and I didn’t really get to see any of them satisfactorily resolved.

    • J. Oh

      Sampled the audio files you have here, and seriously, I love her voice! I actually find that it’s easy for me to tune out when I’m listening to an audiobook, as opposed to holding a book (or even eReader) in my hands–though that might not be an accurate assessment, since I’ve only ever listened to one audiobook, for a book I wasn’t super invested in, on a family roadtrip where all my family members were there and I was quite drowsy.

      Hmm. I wonder if I’ll like Nest more if I listen to the audiobook. :)

      • Wendy Darling

        Isn’t Jenna’s voice great?! It’s perfect for Chirp, and she does such wonderful interpretations of Joey and the rest of the characters, too. It’s such a nuanced performance–having heard this, I cannot imagine anyone else narrating this book.

        My mind sometimes wanders when I listen to audiobooks as well, so I sometimes have to skip back a bit. For some books it’s a particularly prevalent problem, which can probably be attributed to genre, material, writing, and narration. So many factors, hah! I hope you do give this one a try sometime, though–I thought it was utterly lovely. I’m definitely keeping an eye out for future books narrated by this actress.

    • Wendy Darling

      It was serendipitous that I had both books available to me for review–I actually hadn’t even heard of NEST until then! I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

      I do agree with you on perhaps wanting a bit more of a resolution, however, at least in certain aspects. We see this awful, awful thing happen and then a long period of denial from Chirp (I thought that bit was so splendidly done, especially in reversing the roles she and her sister had played up until that point, and in not going into dramatic demonstrations of sadness immediately, as most other books would have) that more of an emotionally satisfying and reassuring ending would have been ideal. I alluded to that a tiny bit in “the roadtrip is too long” part, but probably should have been more emphatic in my review. The girls will get the help they need, and so will their father, I hope/presume. But at the same time, I’m also glad she didn’t go into too too much detail/the mechanics of things, as I think it seems realistic for Chirp’s age/understanding and I think the POV is so strong and true.

      I do worry a bit about the seriousness of the content, though. I hope every kid who picks this one up has access to an adult who can talk over the subjects with him/her. And hand out hugs.

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s funny how that one thing can turn you into an audiobook person, isn’t it? I first started because I had a long commute back in the day. I go through phases where I listen to them, and now I like to do it right before I fall asleep. If we had a dog, I would totally listen to them while I was walking the dog, too.

      And yay for great libraries! I hope you love NEST, Jen.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Shadow Scale: Q&A with Rachel Hartman + Giveaway

  6. Priscilla and her Books

    Jenna has a really pleasant voice, she reminds me of Kristen Bell in a way! I’ve never tried audiobooks, but I listen to the Book Riot podcast when I’m doing the house chores. I think these books are a great way to kickstart my audiobook adventure :) Chalk one up for Nest, I’m in!
    Priscilla and her Books recently posted…The Little Kangaroo: Review

      • Wendy Darling

        And yes, in true stalker mode, I read up on the narrator too, hah. I’m sure she totally deserved that award! I would give her an award for this book, too!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, I think her voice is better than Kristen Bell’s! (Whom I liked very much as Veronica Mars. And that bitchy caterer on PARTY DOWN.) Or Jenna Lamia’s voice is least more suited to this material. It’s quieter and more contemplative, I think.

      If you like podcasts, you are definitely a candidate for liking audiobooks, though! I’m so happy you’re going to give NEST a chance. I’m so very fond of this book.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Shadow Scale: Q&A with Rachel Hartman + Giveaway

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s always fascinating to see how different people react to the same material! I’ve thought about that a lot recently, how absolutely opposite your opinion can be from someone else’s, and how much that can either keep things interesting or divide you.

      I can’t say enough about how much I liked NEST. It’s a quiet little book, and I hope people find their way to it.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Shadow Scale: Q&A with Rachel Hartman + Giveaway

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m so glad to hear you think NIGHTBIRD could have been deeper! I’ve heard so much about the author’s adult books (I’ve never read one), but I was pretty disappointed in this. I mean, I liked it fine, but ultimately I feel like we’ve read this type of story before. I’m not going to remember anything distinguishable about the characters or relationships a couple of months from now. Hopefully the next time she writes a middle grade book, it’s as wonderful as I hear her adult books are.

      I’m now curious how her YA books hold up, though.

  7. Lucy

    Look at you with the audiobook reviews, Wendy! You know I really like MG audiobooks and I’m glad to hear these are worthwhile. I’m glad you found a narrator you like- when I do I stick with them too. Jenna Lamia is a good one – I listened to her first in The Help and I suppose she said pie there too :) I may have to listen to Nightbird just for that!

    Happy listening!
    Lucy recently posted… Review and 3-month Subscription Giveaway

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, I was thinking about you as I wrote these! I’ve discovered I really like MG on audiobook as well–the “tell me a story” appeal of it all, I guess! I should have known you’d be familiar with Jenna Lamia, and I bet she did an amazing job with the help–I can picture it so clearly! And hah, she would have had to say “pie” in that book, but it wasn’t the GOOD kind of pie. :P

      I hope you give NEST a try sometime–it’s just the loveliest book.
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Shadow Scale: Q&A with Rachel Hartman + Giveaway

  8. Faye le Potato

    Great reviews, Wendy! Personally, Nest sounds more like a “quiet” contemporary. It deals with rather heavy themes in a simple yet beautiful manner, which I really like, I find (especially after reading Emmy & Oliver which is also I would say a “quiet contemporary”). I don’t think I’ve read a book about multiple sclerosis and how it directly affects people, so I’d love to read that one!
    Faye le Potato recently posted…Random Things in Motion #14: My Excuses for Reading Slowly

    • Wendy Darling

      “Quiet contemporary” is the perfect way to describe this book. The author lulls you into this lovely serene feeling as Chirp explores the world around her, and then this thing happens that changes everything. I hadn’t read anything about multiple sclerosis in a book either, so I found that enlightening, too, especially in depicting how this was handled during that time. And while I’m definitely curious about further details, I really appreciated that the author didn’t overwhelm the story with too many facts and figures, because it seems very realistic that a child of that age wouldn’t know all the details of her mother’s illness and how her father was coping with the situation. I’d really love your take on this story, I hope you’ll give it a try sometime, Faye!

      And thank you for the feedback on EMMY & OLIVER. I’ve had that on my TBR list for awhile, but I hadn’t seen any ratings for it yet, but now I’m excited about your 4 stars! I like Robin Benway’s writing so that’s definitely one to look forward to.

    • Wendy Darling

      YES, please. NEST is so utterly lovely and moving, I’m quite sure you will enjoy it, Pili.

      Wait, do you have daughters? How did I not know this?! How old are they?

      And thank you! Obviously I had to let you know if there’s pie in a book. :D

      • Pili @ In Love With Handmade

        Oh dear no! I am old enough to have daughters of my own for sure being 34, but no… with the girls I refer to the nieces of my ex. We were together nearly 8 years and I still have a wonderful relationship with his family and both girls love reading and books!

        And of course, I can always count on you to let me know if books have the added half star of awesome foodstuffs! ;)
        Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Friday Reads: The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows!!!

        • Wendy Darling

          34 is old enough to have daughters! Technically anyway, it’s not surprising if you don’t have them yet.

          Phew, I’m glad I didn’t miss something as major as that! It’s nice that you still have a relationship with them even though you and their father broke up. That’s pretty important if you were in their lives for that long, and it says a lot about both of you that you are able to manage it.

          • Pili @ In Love With Handmade

            Not their father, their uncle ;) Or as they say in India, their mamu. I do love how in India they have different names for each relative depending if it’s on the mother or father side, or if it’s older or younger. It’s confusing till you learn them all but very informative all at once when you get the hang of it ;)

            And his family would be up in arms if I didn’t keep the contact with them, they were terribly upset when we broke up (not more than I was, but it was nice to feel supported by them) and I’m glad I can keep in touch with them all, they were family for quite some time.
            Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Saturday Pages: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon!!!

            • Wendy Darling

              Oh, I’m sorry–you said nieces! I spaced out, but it was 5 am and I hadn’t gone to bed yet. And look, it’s 4:30 am now so don’t hold any other mistakes against me.

              It’s so nice you have retained a relationship with his family, especially when you’ve indicated that the break-up has been so hard on you. They’re lucky to have you.
              Wendy Darling recently posted…Shadow Scale: Q&A with Rachel Hartman + Giveaway

  9. Renee

    It has been far too long since I listened to an audiobook. I’m also incredibly picky about narrators, and get too annoyed to continue more often than not. I’ve never tried a Jenny Lamia narration before, and it sounds like she really brings the emotion of Nest to life. Any audiobook that can make you tear up and flinch for the characters is impressive and worth a listen!

    I was surprised when I first hear Hoffman was writing a children’s story, and it sounds like she doesn’t have a firm grasp on just how smart young readers can be, and how much they demand from stories.

    I definitely want to try Nest on audio (and I’ve got an audible credit, so I think it’s fate! :D)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yes! I often struggle with audiobooks if I don’t like the actor’s voice or style (I gave up on MOSQUITOLAND, for example, because the reader narrated sarcastic text with a little too much sarcastic emphasis for my taste. The text is already snarky, so over delivery made it too much).

      The Hoffman is…fine. It’s just not as magical or special as I think it wanted to be. It’s the type of story you’ve read before, and it’s all pretty predictable, so it’s really the writing and characters that would’ve made this shine. But neither of those was that memorable, sadly.

      I’m so glad I’ve persuaded you to give the NEST audiobook a chance! I wasn’t expecting to cry over an audiobook, but this narrator’s performance was pitch perfect for this book–not too dramatic, but defintiely moving. She takes the time to pause and let the words breathe, so that you can process your thoughts and feelings for the characters as the story unfolds. Definitely let me know what you think when you get to it!

  10. Carina Olsen

    Gorgeous reviews Wendy. <3 I'm glad you enjoyed both books, despite some small issues :) I don't listen to audiobooks, sadly :\ one day, maybe :) These two middle grade book do look all kinds of awesome though. Maybe not for me, but so happy you read and liked them :D Thank you for sharing your thoughts sweetie. <3 You are awesome.
    Carina Olsen recently posted…The Infinite Blog Tour: Interview with Lori M. Lee + Giveaway

    • Wendy Darling

      You know, I never listened to audiobooks either, until awhile back when I started having a long commute into work. They’re so great for car trips! I quite liked the Harry Potter books that I’ve read on audio.

      Thank you for stopping by, Carina! Hope you have a great weekend.

  11. Brenda

    NEST was such a wonderful book, sad/heartfelt, but wonderful. I too wanted to wrap all these children in my arms. I used to listen to audiobooks with my kiddo, but haven’t for awhile. Just the right narrator can make them entertaining.

    • Wendy Darling

      Ahhh, you loved it, too! I’ll have to come look for your review.

      Wasn’t that part TERRIBLE? Tears were running down my face and I just wanted to grab Chirp and shelter her from all the hurt. Those poor girls.

      I’m really curious what inspired the author to write this story–it seems like there’s a deep well of feeling here, though I haven’t been able to find any interviews online that talk about any experiences with longterm illness, depression, etc.

      And agreed, a gifted narrator can make a book come alive in a way that’s so fulfilling.

  12. Rebecca

    I like listening to books, but the narrator can absolutely make or break an audiobook for me. I listened to Jennifer Donnelly’s DEEP BLUE on audio a few months back, but the narrator did accents for the voices and it drove me nuts, so I gave up and am going to read the print version instead. On the flip side, I really liked the narrator for THE FALSE PRINCESS by Eilis O’Neal. It’s definitely a hit or miss.

    • Wendy Darling

      A narrator can definitely can make or break a book for me, too! In most cases I think I can figure out whether I like a book more because of the narrator, though in most cases I’m giving up on the audiobook because I don’t like him/her. It’s tough when you don’t like the accents in particular.

      I’ll have to check out THE FALSE PRINCESS–thanks for the rec!

      • Rebecca

        You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy it if you decide to check it out!

        I also just started the audiobook for THE RAVEN BOYS, and I’m really loving it so far. I love the book already and I’ve read it in print a couple times, but I wanted to try the audio for my third re-read. I really like the narrator – I feel like he adds to the overall tone of the book, if that makes sense. I know it’s a favorite around here so you may have listened to it already, but if not it’s definitely worth a shot!

        • Wendy Darling

          Ah, you know–I downloaded THE RAVEN BOYS as an audiobook even though I’d read it, but I haven’t listened to it yet. I’m glad you enjoyed it–I know Tonya did the same thing you did, and she praised Will Patton’s narration as well.

          Do you know about SYNC’s free audiobooks each summer? Here is this year’s line-up if you haven’t checked it out yet!
          Wendy Darling recently posted…An Ember in the Ashes: trailer feature + giveaway

          • Rebecca

            Oh wow, I had no idea that was even a thing! They have a pretty solid lineup too. Thanks for the heads up!

            • Wendy Darling

              You’re so welcome! It’s one of my favorite things about summer. :D Your mentioning THE RAVEN BOYS audiobook is what reminded me, since that’s how I got my copy. They do a really nice job of offering up recent releases paired with classics. I try to remember to remind people on our Facebook wall when the titles become available, it’s too good an opportunity to pass up!
              Wendy Darling recently posted…An Ember in the Ashes: trailer feature + giveaway