Back to Reality: A Novel (Audiobook) by Mark Stay & Mark Oliver, Kim Bretton: A Parallel Universe/Body Swap Story Story Full of Laughs and Heart


Back to Reality

Back to Reality

by Mark Stay & Mark Oliver, Kim Bretton (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs., 6 Min.
The Bestseller Experiment, 2019

Read: March 19-25, 2020


Oh, boy… how do I talk about this? I thought about calling this a bundle of joy, but that means something else. A bundle of audio joy, maybe? This was just so much fun that I want to start with that. If you’re looking to have a good time, this is a book for you.

If you read the Book Spotlight I just posted, you’ve got a good idea about the plot (and if you haven’t read the Spotlight, why not?). But for the sake of completeness here’s the gist: connected by something across the multiple parallel universes, two versions (one 18 and one almost 2 decades older) of one woman swap bodies for a few days. The older version works in PR, is the mother of a teen who can’t stand her, with marriage problems. The younger version is a pop star on the verge of breaking through in the ’90s. If they don’t swap back, there’s every sign that they won’t survive in this new world. But how can they do that?

That sounds sort of intriguing, I hope. But the book never really feels like that kind of Fringe-inspired take on a Back to the Future/Freaky Friday mashup, because of the voice, the style and approach of Stay and Oliver—which is characterized by humor and heart. It’s like early-Rainbow Rowell/Jennifer Weiner/Emily Giffin/Sophie Kinsella. These are strong women in very strange circumstances, surrounded by interesting characters responding to unbelievable situations.

We meet Jo on a night out with people from the office, which turns into an alcohol-fueled karaoke sensation (Jo has a fantastic voice, but a lot of stage fright). I enjoyed this chapter so much that I probably could’ve written 3-4 paragraphs about it alone and would’ve read an entire book about this woman’s life (especially because what happens to her in the next couple of chapters deserved a complete novel to see her respond to). It took me a little longer to get invested in “Yolo” (the 90’s version), but I came around and started rooting for her, too.

I am not the target audience for this (note the authors I mentioned above—some of which I only know through my wife’s description). And there were a few times I asked myself why I was listening to this—each time, I decided I was enjoying myself enough that I didn’t care if this was my typical read or not. There’s just a hint of SF, a dollop of Time Travel (more like jumping between parallel universes), and a healthy amount of “women’s commercial fiction.” This is a recipe for a wonderful literary dessert.

I’ll frequently (maybe too frequently?) talk about an audiobook narrator bringing the text to life. And Kim Bretton does that. But she does more than that—she fills it with life. Dynamic, energetic, vibrant…are just some of the adjectives that spring to mind. I was very happy when I just looked over her other audiobook credits and saw a couple of titles I was already thinking about—if she’s doing them, I’m giving them a try. (although, if I never hear her do another American male accent, I’d be more than okay).

Funny, sweet, amusing, heartfelt, laugh-inducing, touching, comic, imaginative—and did I mention humorous? This is 606 minutes of pure entertainment. I really encourage you to put this in your ear-holes. It’d probably work almost as well in print—Bretton’s great, but she has to have something to work with—but in audio? It’s close to a must-listen.


4 Stars

My thanks to Overview Media for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

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