Category Archives: Audiobooks

MARY B. by Katherine Chen

Katherine Chen’s Mary B. is a novel told from the point of view of Mary Bennett, the famously plain, ridiculed and unloved middle Bennett sister from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Unlike her sisters Jane, Lizzie, Kitty and Lydia, Mary is presumed not to be interested in frivolities like men and fashion, as she is too often found with her nose in a book or playing the piano. In Austen’s original, Mary is a caricature, one of the many sources of humor in the book.

Chen’s novel opens during Pride and Prejudice, soon after the Bennett’s odious cousin, Mr. Collins, comes to Longbourne.  Before his visit, Mary confides to the reader that despite what people think of her, she has, in fact, been in love three times, immediately signaling that this Mary is not the same Mary from Austen’s novel. Mary B. explores those three relationships and how they shape Mary’s life and her future.

I have so many conflicting feelings about Mary B. I have a lot of admiration for Chen, who clearly spent a long time with the original to develop the right language for Mary B.  She’s faithful to the era and the writing style of the original, and that’s fun in and of itself. And I was happy just to revisit these beloved characters and extend my time with them.

On the other hand, Chen took these familiar characters and sent them in some unexpected directions. Lizzie, Colonel Fitzwilliam and even Darcy turn into very different people from what one would expect of them. That’s Chen’s right, of course, but when you reimagine a book as beloved as Pride and Prejudice, you’re going to make people mad if you mess with what they love about it. I love Lizzie and Darcy – the romance of their relationship, the fiery passion, the intellectual connection – so I was pretty upset to see that relationship taking a different turn in Mary B. and I seriously questioned Darcy’s judgment. Other characters suffer similar fates: Charlotte Lucas, for example, who is so sympathetic in the original. Mary B. is a darker and more bitter book than its witty, sly inspiration, for sure.

I did appreciate Chen’s feminist update of the novel – Mary’s independence at the end is certainly an anomaly for her era. That was a nice twist.

So if you want to read Mary B., approach it with caution and consider your own feelings about the original. If you can’t tolerate tampering, you might want to stay away. And if you’re looking for other books in the Pride and Prejudice-industrial complex, try Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld or Longbourn by Jo Baker.

I listened to Mary B. on audio. The narration by Marisa Calin was quite good, perfectly capturing Mary’s shrillness and judgmental temperament and showing off Chen’s skillful writing. I definitely recommend the audio.

I AM, I AM, I AM by Maggie O’Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell is an exquisite collection of essays about 17 brushes with death by the Irish author Maggie O’Farrell. From the medical – a c-section gone wrong, a brain infection – to near-drownings while on vacation and narrowly escaped violence at the hands of others, O’Farrell has faced a lot of physical adversity and danger over the course of her life. A life lived on the razor edge of death made O’Farrell less, rather than more, risk-adverse, pushing her to embrace mortality, almost daring it to stop her as she sought out adventures and experiences, often ill-advised, that her body may not have been able to handle.

Some chapters are more successful than others; the chapter about an AIDS test ends rather vaguely, for example, and detracts slightly from the overall collection. But there are others in which danger is so clearly present that I found myself rattled and anxious, even knowing, of course, that O’Farrell is alive and well. How frequently have we all been in situations where our safety was in grave danger, most likely without even knowing it? Life is a daily, ongoing miracle that we so often take for granted and think about only fleetingly, yet many of us could likely fill 17 chapters with our own harrowing brushes with disaster. I finished this book feeling grateful and lucky.

I enjoyed I Am, I Am, I Am quite a bit as I read it, but my feelings about it changed when I got to the last chapter, which is about O’Farrell’s daughter. Without spoiling the book, it wasn’t until that last chapter, when risk and worry were upended and transposed, that I really understood why O’Farrell wrote it: her ever-present, unwavering and never lessening fear and vigilance caused by her daughter’s auto-immune disorder. As a parent, I found this chapter the most harrowing of all.

I Am, I Am, I Am is definitely worth a read. If you’ve read any of O’Farrell’s novels (see here for reviews of Instructions For A Heatwave and The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox), then you know already what a beautiful writer she is. Her writing about her own personal experiences is even more meaningful and moving.

I listened to I Am, I Am, I Am on audio. It was narrated by Daisy Donovan, who did a great job conveying the intensity of this personal narrative. (I was a little surprised that it wasn’t narrated by O’Farrell herself, and I supposed I just pretended it was O’Farrell reading it as I listened.) I highly recommend the audiobook, which breathlessly and urgently conveyed the gravity of the subject.

VOX by Christina Dalcher

We’re living in troubling times, and that’s reflected as much in current fiction as in the news we read every day. Novelists are just as concerned as the rest of us. Vox, Christina Dalcher’s new dystopian novel that takes on the precariousness of women’s rights in America, is grim and alarming, but ultimately unsuccessful.

It’s the near future, during the presidential administration of an unnamed man whose term succeeds that of America’s first black president. In an incredibly short period of time, religious fervor has taken hold and women have lost almost all of their rights. They can no longer work; all decisions are made by husbands; girls go to school only to learn home ec; and worst of all, women must wear bracelets that restrict them to speaking 100 words a day. If they go over 100, they suffer electric shocks. Premarital sex is a crime, as is homosexuality; those in same-sex relationships are sentenced to hard labor and imprisonment until their sexual preference is “corrected”.

Ugh.

Dr. Jean McLellan, a formerly renowned linguist and scientist, lives with her husband Patrick and four children in Washington DC. Patrick works in the president’s administration, and Jean is silent at home. Their youngest, Sonia, is a girl, and Jean is dismayed at Sonia’s future as well as her oldest son’s dangerous support of the values-based policies of the administration. She’s also pining away after her secret lover – an Italian scientist she hasn’t seen in months.

The possibility of change comes when the president’s brother is in a skiing accident and has suffered speech aphasia – Jean’s area of expertise. The president makes her a deal – if she’ll come back to the lab and develop a cure, she can take off her – and her daughter’s – word counter. This brings Jean back in contact with her former colleagues – and her Italian boyfriend.

Vox is thought-provoking – and terrifying – to be sure. Dalcher started out with a great premise. But as a book, it kind of falls apart as it goes along. It turns into a thriller rather than a serious novel, with a rather preposterous conclusion that also ends a bit too cleanly. I can’t say I enjoyed reading Vox, and not just because it’s incredibly depressing. I wish Dalcher has stuck to dystopia rather than veering into action thriller territory. The writing also really repetitive.

If you’re a guy, be warned: men don’t come across too well in this book.

I listened to Vox on audio. It was narrated by Julia Whelan, who infused Jean with the fury and stridency the character required. It’s not a relaxing listen. But my issues are with the plot, not the narration – Whelan did what she could with it.

Vox was a buzzy book at the end of the summer. I am sorry to say that I can’t recommend it.

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