Category Archives: Audiobooks

THE LAST MRS. PARRISH by Liv Constantine

I need to stop with the popcorn thrillers. I find them irresistible – their intriguing plots, their largish print, their promise of hour whiled away breathlessly flipping pages. But the end result is almost always the same: it’s like the vague sickness and self-loathing I always feel after eating movie popcorn. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine was no exception.

You’ve read this book before. Two female narrators telling a story from two opposite perspectives plus one sociopath husband. In this case, Amber Patterson is a manipulative, obsessive woman on the run from a stormy Midwest past who has set her sights on Jackson Parrish, a very rich, married man living in a New York City suburb. Her M.O. is to befriend his wife Daphne and insinuate herself into their lives, making herself indispensable to both and then driving a wedge between them so that she can replace Daphne. She’s basically a despicable person, willing to use Daphne’s dead sister to her advantage and lying to Jackson to make Daphne look bad. But Daphne, of course, has some tricks up her sleeve and some secrets of her own.

The Last Mrs. Parrish was a decently entertaining book, but it left me feeling pretty empty. I could see where it was going before the second narrator took over. I also really hate these cruel husband books, like Best Day Ever, The Wife Between Us, Behind Closed Doors – they stress me out and make me depressed. Do people like that really exist?

If you enjoy these types of thrillers and/or reading about superrich people with gobs of money, then The Last Mrs. Parrish might be for you. There are a lot of 5 star reviews on Goodreads but a lot of 1 star reviews too. If this sounds like something you’d like, then by all means, pick it up. Just remind me to stop with the thrillers.

I listened to a little over half of The Last Mrs. Parrish on audio and it was fine. Sucked me in and got me hooked. I then got on a plane to Vegas and finished it off in print. So if you’re interested in the audio – which is narrated by Suzanne Elise Freeman and Meghan Wolf – it’s pretty good. It won’t make Jackson any nicer, though.

THE SUBMISSION by Amy Waldman

Amy Waldman’s The Submission (Vacation read #5) takes a look at the political aftermath of 9/11 through the setup of a competition to design a memorial at Ground Zero. The book was written in 2011, but it’s set a few years after the attacks, when a jury of art bigwigs, city officials and a 9/11 victim’s wife are choosing the winning design. The final choice – a garden – turns out to have been submitted by a Muslim-American named Mohammad. Once word gets out that the winner is Muslim, the outcry is swift and passionate, with various groups protesting the choice and others defending the architect’s right to see his winning garden through to completion.

There are a number of characters here – the architect, the guy in charge of the jury, the widow, the widow of a Bangladeshi immigrant who was also killed on 9/11, the brother of a firefighter who lost his life in the Towers, the ambitious journalist who broke the story, etc. They each have their positions, extensively articulated by Waldman in impressive detail.

I bought The Submission many years ago – close to its publication date – but didn’t start it until this summer. In the end, it didn’t work for me, and here’s why. First, context. I think America has other issues on its mind right now than how it feels about Muslims. Our enemy is coming from within these days. The book felt outdated to me and I had a hard time feeling passionately about the questions she raised. Maybe I would have felt differently pre-Trump.

Second, Waldman – a journalist herself – seems to have listed the points of view she wanted to express and then assigned characters to those points of view. As a result, they were one-dimensional  – stock characters used solely to round out the discussion with the needed talking points. With the exception of Mohammed, they were predictable and not at all complex. In the end, I didn’t care about any of them.

Third, The Submission was sooo slow. The narrative moved along at a snail’s pace, with lots of wordy dialogue as points of view were expressed over and over. Waldman is not a bad writer, but this didn’t feel like a novel, per se. It felt more like a transcript of a documentary. I had a really hard time getting through it. This could have been a really interesting book – maybe in Tom Wolfe’s hands? – but as written, it wasn’t.

I listened to The Submission on audio for the first 200 pages and then finished the last 100 in print. The audio was fine – narrated by the capable Bernadette Dunne (who narrated Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout) – but the narration couldn’t fix the major problems with the book.

I am sorry to say it, given the author’s good intentions, but give The Submission a pass.

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal (A Reread)

In the 12-year history of EDIWTB, I have never re-read a book.  There are just too many books out there that I want to read – why would I spend precious time repeating one?

Until now.

I was flailing around for an audiobook last month, and I found Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal on audio on Overdrive. I’ve always been interested to see if it holds up to my very positive memory from last January (here’s my original review), and since I recommend it to everyone I know, I wanted to be sure that I still felt as strongly about it now.

The short answer is: I do. It’s still my favorite book in recent memory.

Kitchens Of The Great Midwest follows Eva Thorvald, a girl who is born in St. Paul, Minnesota to Lars, a chef with an extremely sophisticated palate. Her mother abandoned the family when Eva was only a few months old, and her father died suddenly a few weeks later. Eva was adopted by her aunt and uncle, and the book checks in on her life every few years as she grows up and turns into a world-renowned chef. Each chapter involves Eva in some way – sometimes she’s the main character, and sometimes she’s only mentioned in passing. There is an ingredient featured in chapter too, and in the end, they all come together in a very creative way. It’s almost like a book of linked stories, with themes of food, family and loss threaded through each one.

I always find Kitchens (as I call it) a tough book to describe. There is lots of sadness in the book, but Stradal also has a sharp sense of humor and deep empathy for his characters. His writing is restrained and quiet, which always left me wanting more (in a good way). Almost every word uttered by every character in the book seemed totally realistic – you could just imagine the conversations playing out in front of you. There are so many memorable scenes, each full of detail and emotion, yet also understated and not showy at all. Stradal is my favorite kind of writer – he never underestimates his readers and he doesn’t shy away from tough stuff.

And the audio! It’s perfect. Amy Ryan and Michael Struhlbarg effortlessly transform themselves into Stradal’s motley crew of characters, from poor Lars to angry Braque and hapless Dan, a bit player who made a big impact on me thanks to Struhlbarg’s narration. The audio is amazing – this was my second time listening to the book on audio (both times I also read some chapters in print – I literally can’t put this book down) and again it didn’t disappoint.

OK, if you haven’t read this book yet, what are you waiting for? It’s just that good.

 

June Is Audiobook Month

So, are you listening to audiobooks yet??

I’ve been extolling the virtues of audiobooks for years here on EDIWTB. I cannot live without them. I am always, always listening to an audiobook, and I usually get through one or two of them a month. (Is it weird to say that I wish my commute were longer?) Before I started listening to audiobooks, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to focus, that my mind would wander and I’d lose track of the book. That almost never happens. With a good audiobook – and a good narrator – my mind is very focused. I am not tempted to pick up my phone when I’m driving and listening to a good audiobook, and it definitely helps the minutes fly by much faster. And, of course, I get through even more books in a year!

A good audiobook enhances my enjoyment of books, too. It’s a different experience from reading, but it’s just as rewarding. Here are all the recent audiobooks I’ve listened to.

A few tips for audiobook newbies:

  • Keep the print or ebook version of the book on hand, so that you can reread or refer back to sections after you’ve listened to them.
  • Once you find narrators you like, research their profiles to find more books they narrated.
  • Your library has a lot of audiobooks that you can download onto your phone. Get on a bunch of waitlists if there are no copies available and one will come in before you know it.
  • Get creative – listen when you’re walking your dog, cleaning your house, or sitting on a plane.

Finally, June is Audiobook Month (JIAM)!! This post is part of the JIAM Blog Tour – check out what other bloggers have had to say this month about audiobooks! As part of JIAM, I am giving away a selection of 8 audiobooks donated by Blackstone Publishing, High Bridge Audio, Hachette Audio, LA Theatre Works, Macmillan Audio, Post Hypnotic Press Audiobooks, Scholastic and Tantor Audio. The books will be available on Audiobooks.com. If you’d like to enter to win, leave me a comment here with your favorite audiobook of 2018 so far.

Here are the books you can win:

  1. Seven by Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Anna Deavere Smith, and Susan Yankowitz
  2. Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman, narrated by MacLeod Andrews
  3. Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris, narrated by Kevin Hely and Cathleen McCarron
  4. Wings of Fire Book One: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland, narrated by Shannon MacManus
  5. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, narrated by Todd McLaren
  6. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan, narrated by David Shih
  7. A Girl Stands at the Door by Rachel Devlin, narrated by Robin Miles
  8. Torn from Troy, Book 1 in the Odyssey of a Slave Trilogy by Patrick Bowman, narrated by Gerard Doyle

Ok, leave me a comment to win free audiobooks, load up your devices with great reads, and check out the other JIAM blog posts on the blog tour!

I Am Indeed – Friday, June 1

The Book’s the Thing – Monday, June 4

Beth Fish Reads – Tuesday, June5

Collector of Book Boyfriends – Wednesday, June 6

To Read or Not To Read – Thursday, June 7

Adolescent Audio Adventures – Friday, June 8

Carol Baldwin Blog – Monday, June 11

Brian’s Book Blog – Tuesday, June 12

Caffeinated Book Reviewer – Wednesday, June 13

Under My Apple Tree – Thursday, June 14

Shelf Addiction – Friday, June 15

Enchantress Of Books – Monday June 18

Books, Movies, Reviews, Oh My – Tuesday, June 19

AudioGals – Wednesday, June 20

Sarah’s Book Shelves – Thursday June 21

Under the Boardwalk – Friday June 22

A Bookworm’s World – Monday, June 25

Fangs Wands and Fairy Dust – Tuesday, June 26

Books of my Heart – Wednesday, June 27

AudioGals – Thursday, June 28

The Audio Flow – Friday, June 29

 

FOLDED NOTES FROM HIGH SCHOOL by Matt Boren

I was flailing around for an audiobook a few weeks ago, and I happened upon a review download on Penguin Random House Audio’s Volumes app called Folded Notes From High School by Matt Boren. It ended up being an entertaining, if quick, listen. I think it’s probably a YA novel, which I don’t usually read, but I liked it anyway.

Folded Notes From High School takes place in 1991 in a high school outside Boston. Tara, a popular, pretty girl, is starting her senior year. She expects to play the lead in the upcoming school musical, Grease; go to the prom at the end of the year with her hot hockey player boyfriend; hang out with her best friend Stef; and get into NYU, her first choice for college. Nothing goes as planned. As the title suggests, Folded Notes From High School unfolds though a series of handwritten notes to and from Tara and left in lockers, backpacks and on desks. It’s 1991-1992, so there are no cell phones, texts or emails. These kids communicate by notes and messages on answering machines. It all feels very retro, which is a lot of fun.

Tara is an unreliable narrator – narcissistic and deluded – and she runs hot and cold with everyone in her life. She is thrown off-center when a freshman named Matt Bloom tries out for – and lands – the part of Danny Zuko. She develops a crush on Matt, but when he doesn’t readily return her romantic attention – and in fact starts dating Tara’s rival – she becomes unhinged. The rest of senior year plays out with lots of melodrama, with Tara conniving and manipulating the people around her.

This was definitely a light read, but it was entertaining. I enjoyed the different voices of each character, and Tara is someone you love to hate. She gets what’s coming to her in a few different, humorous ways. One issue: the book ends pretty abruptly – at first I thought it was a mistake – and I would have enjoyed a bit more resolution.

Folded Notes From High School was excellent on audio. There’s a different narrator for each character, and they were each perfect! Selma Blair in particular was very funny – breathy and dramatic – and the actress who played Tara, Taylor Spreitler, was excellent. This was a very good ensemble cast production and it kept me interested throughout.

 

STILL ME by Jojo Moyes

Most people have heard of (seen? read?) Me Before You (reviewed here), Jojo Moyes’ wrenching novel about Louisa Clarke and Will Traynor, the paraplegic whom she served as a personal companion and who opted for assisted suicide at the end of the book. Moyes followed up her bestselling novel with After You (reviewed here), about Lou’s life in England after Will’s death. And the third book in the trilogy, Still Me, takes Lou to New York City, where she is hired to be a companion to a rich woman on the Upper East Side.

So here’s the deal with Still Me. It’s not nearly as good as Me Before You, and not as good as After You, but it’s still dependably entertaining Jojo Moyes. She knows how to tell a good story. In this installment, Lou faces her share of challenges and issues, but overall the book punches a much weaker emotional wallop than its predecessors. It’s nice to see Lou gain more confidence and navigate some moral quandaries, and still come through on top in the end. The characters, from enigmatic Agnes to MBA pretty boy Sam, are memorable and occasionally surprising. But you pretty much know that things will end up OK for Lou, and they do.

If you’ve read the other two books and you want to see what happens next to Lou, then pick up Still Me. But don’t start off with Still Me – you’ll be missing out on the emotional core of her story.

I listened to Still Me on audio, which I recommend. It was narrated by Anna Acton, who narrated After You, and to me, she IS Lou Clarke. She had a slightly hard time with the American accents, but I loved her precise English delivery of the rest of the novel. The story kept me interested throughout, which made for an engaging audiobook.

THE FEMALE PERSUASION by Meg Wolitzer

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer is about Greer Kadetsky, a young woman at a second-rate college in Connecticut who, on a fateful night, attends a lecture by a prominent feminist named Faith Frank. Greer, who has already begun to look at how men treat women on campus with a newly critical and analytical eye, is forever changed by Faith’s lecture, and a few years later, when she is a new graduate with little direction, she reaches out to Frank for advice. Her timing is good; Frank has just shuttered her longstanding feminist magazine and is now launching a speaker series about women’s issues funded by a famous, prickly venture capitalist.

And so, Greer goes off into the world under Faith’s tutelage, learning how to be an adult and how to work in the world. Meanwhile, her high school boyfriend Cory experiences a sad diversion in his own professional plans, while her best friend Zee similarly tries to find her own path while rejecting her parents’ expectations. And Faith herself finds her commitment to her ideals tested in a way that threatens her relationship with Greer.

The Female Persuasion is billed as a novel for the #MeToo era, one that takes on modern day feminism and explores the power constructs that have allowed gender discrimination to persist. But I found The Female Persuasion more successful on a less grand level. Like Wolitzer’s earlier books, The Female Persuasion is a dense, richly detailed chronicle of a personal relationships – romantic, friendship and professional – and how they evolve over time. There are certainly flashes of the more universal themes of feminism and empowerment, but they were not the most persuasive elements of the book. I always appreciate Wolitzer’s rich detail, gentle humor and observant eye, as well as the incredibly realistic world she creates for her characters. That’s what I took away from The Female Persuasion. Greer can be annoying at times – she seems incapable of acting unless something is handed to her – but Faith, Zee and Cory are interesting and memorable characters and I cared about what happened to them.

I listened to The Female Persuasion mostly on audio, which was narrated by Rebecca Lowman. She did an excellent job with a long book and many characters. Her precise, measured delivery was a good match for this detailed, absorbing book.

I went to a Q&A with Meg Wolitzer at Politics & Prose here in DC last week, and here is some of what I learned:

  1. Wolitzer wanted to write about “the person who sees something in you and changes you” and “idealism, the motor that sends you off when you start out”.
  2. In Cory, she wanted to explore one version of doing good and making a difference, but by a male character.
  3. In fiction “what we remember isn’t plot but character”. (For most books, I think that’s true.)
  4. Reading breeds empathy by showing readers how other people live. (Yes!)
  5. She didn’t try to keep up with current events in this novel, though she does refer to the Trump administration at the end as “the big terribleness”.
  6. As for feminism: there are many generations of feminists in this book, and she wanted to explore the conflict between these different ages.
  7. She agrees that this book is about characters, not necessarily the broad swaths of feminism.
  8. She believes in “writing the way you go through your life” and “writing about what obsesses you”. (I love this. It sounds so obvious, but it clearly isn’t always how authors approach their work.)