Category Archives: Audiobooks

THE OTHER WOMAN by Sandie Jones

POPCORN ALERT.

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones is about a boyfriend’s-mother-from-hell. Emily, a twentysomething in London, meets Adam at a pub one night. They start dating, and he seems too good to be true – handsome, successful and attentive. After a few months, Emily meets his mother Pammie. At first, Pammie seems sweet, but by their second meeting, Emily starts to realize how manipulative she is. Pammie undermines Emily at every turn, excludes her and constantly makes her feel insecure about her relationship with Adam. As the chapters go by, Pammie’s behavior grows more and more egregious. Emily is constantly torn between her love for Adam and her hatred of his mother. (She is a rather frustrating and unlikable character herself, but she was in such an unenviable position that I tried to forgive her and cheer her on.)

The cover of The Other Woman proclaims that it is “fiendishly clever with a twist you will not see coming”. So I am not spoiling anything by saying that there is a twist in the book. But I do not want to say much more about the plot for fear of giving anything away. Pammie is definitely a force to be reckoned with and as I read I wondered how things could possibly be resolved. Which of these two women would win out in the end? That kept the pages turning.

I learned from an interview with Sandie Jones that she didn’t know where she was going with the plot when she started, that she worked it out as she went along. I can see that – the resolution wasn’t really consistent with the rest of the book and felt hastily appended.

The Other Woman was a fast read and certainly kept my attention. But it’s popcorn, in the end. If you’re in the mood for an engaging psychological thriller, you might enjoy this one.

I listened to The Other Woman on audio until I was near the end, when I finished it off in print. Great narration by Clare Corbett, who made Pammie just deranged enough to be realistic and communicated Emily’s insecurity and poor judgment credibly. I love those British accents!

2018 Holiday Gift Guide For The Readers On Your List

Do you have readers on your holiday shopping list this year? Are you at a loss for what to get them? I’ve pulled together some a holiday gift guide for different types of readers. Hopefully this will keep you from aimlessly wandering the aisles at the bookstore or resorting to the dreaded gift card.

Also, Nicole Bonia and I recorded a 2018 Gift Guide episode for our podcast, The Readerly Report, in which we discuss her recommendations as well as mine. I’ll post the episode here when it’s up.

2018 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE FOR READERS

Books for your best friend, so that you can discuss together. (You’ll need to buy two of these: one for you and one for your friend)

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (reviewed here). These short stories are so honest and realistic that they are crying out to be discussed and affirmed.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (reviewed here). A breathtaking, yet depressing, look at urban marriage and parenthood. I couldn’t get enough of this one – and I know my best friend couldn’t either. You will laugh and commiserate together. Bonus: it’s short.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve (reviewed here). I read this one with Nicole, and thankfully I had her to share the tension and suspense with. I absolutely needed to talk about it with someone! Shreve is an expert storyteller and this book did not disappoint.

Books for your friend who needs to take her mind off of something

One Day In December by Josie Silver (reviewed here). It’s romantic and schmaltzy but damn if I couldn’t put this book down for the three days I was reading it. Will Laurie and Jack, who meet one December day when they lock eyes through a bus window, end up together? Ten years after they meet, you’ll get your answer.

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid (reviewed here).  Another addictive read. Emma and Jesse are soul mates… until his plane goes down in Alaska and he’s never heard from again. Emma grieves and moves on… until Jesse reappears in her life a few years later, after she’s gotten engaged to someone else. Who will she choose?

 

Books for your friend who is always posting alarming stuff 

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (reviewed here). Imagine a world in which abortion and IVF are illegal and adoption is only permitted by heterosexual couples. Zumas takes four women in different stages of life and explores what it is like to be female in such a world. Bleak indeed.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (reviewed here). This dystopian novel may not take on the things we’re worrying about today – climate change, racial violence, women’s rights – but it’s dark and stressful, and a post-apocalyptic world is a post-apocalyptic world, no matter how we got there. This is an imaginative and moving book.

Books for your friend who only reads literary fiction

Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee (reviewed here): A moving look at the relationship between two sisters, one with mental illness, and how the thread connecting them is strained but never severed.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko (reviewed here): A novel about the tragic consequences of our draconian immigration policies.

A Cloud In The Shape Of A Girl by Jean Thompson (review to come): My personal weakness: the story of three generations of women in the Midwest and their inner hopes, loves and disappointments. One of my favorite books of the year.

Books for the non-fiction reader

The Four by Scott Galloway: A look at how Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple became essential to our daily lives. (Warning: I haven’t read this yet but I really want to.)

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou: This story of high stakes fraud and deception by the high-flying startup Theranos has to be the second-most highly reviewed book of 2018! I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about it and have bought it for two people already. (Again, I haven’t read this one.)

 

Audiobooks for Anglophiles

For some reason the majority of the audiobooks I’ve listened to this year were set in England with British narrators. Don’t be a knob – get these clever recordings for your friend who couldn’t turn off the last two royal weddings:

One Day In December by Josie Silver (reviewed here)

Mary B. by Katherine Chen (reviewed here)

Still Me by Jojo Moyes (reviewed here)

 

 

Books For Anyone

Becoming by Michelle Obama: OK, I haven’t read this one yet, but I plan to soon, and how could it be anything other than amazing? It is the fastest-selling book of 2018.

Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (reviewed here and here): Yes, I know. I’m annoying about this book. Just buy it – whoever it is for will love it.

A Good Audiobook Speaks Volumes Holiday Blog Tour And Giveaway

I am happy to be joining the Audio Publishers Association’s A Good Audiobook Speaks Volumes Holiday Blog Tour and Giveaway! As I have written often on this blog, I am a huge fan of audiobooks and have listened to 15 so far this year. I listen in my car during my short commute, and when I am really into a book, I’ll listen while walking the dog, making dinner, even in the shower sometimes. Listening to audio is a great way to squeeze in more books, and the experience of listening can enrich a book, lending emotional depth and immediacy.

I also love audiobook narrators! They are the coolest group of people. I try not to pepper them with questions whenever I am with them, but it’s hard for me to resist. I am fascinated by the whole narration process and I always want to learn more about it.

This holiday season, for some reason I’ve been in a British mood. The last three audiobooks I’ve listened to were all narrated by British performers – One Day In December, The Adults and The Other Woman (still listening). British accents make characters seem smarter (more clever, as they would say) and more articulate, and I really enjoy them.

This time of year is a great time for audiobooks! Many people take long road trips for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and audiobooks are a perfect way to pass the time. I get ones that my 6 year-old son will enjoy for when he’s in the car too, and he really likes them. Audiobooks are also good for trains and planes, long waits in airports, etc. Don’t leave home without a loaded phone!

If you need audiobook gift ideas, here are a few of my favorite 2018 listens:

One Day In December by Josie Silver

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen

Do you like audiobooks too? The APA is letting me give away a fantastic selection of 8 audiobooks that have been donated by the following publishers: Beacon Press, High Bridge Audio, LA Theatre Works, Macmillan Audio, Penguin Random House Audio, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster Audio, and Tantor Audio. The books will be available for free download on Libro.fm. If you want to win these books, leave me a comment below with the name of a book that you’re hoping someone buys as a gift for you this year. I’ll pick a winner on December 8.

The giveaway books:

  • BRIDGE OF CLAY by Markus Zusak (Penguin Random House Audio)
  • SPILL by Leigh Fondakowski (LA Theatre Works)
  • HOW TO BE LESS STUPID ABOUT RACE by Crystal Fleming (Beacon Press)
  • AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones (HighBridge Audio)
  • SALVATION by Peter F. Hamilton (Tantor Audio)
  • THE HUNGER GAMES: Special Edition by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
  • THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean (Simon Audio)
  • NINE PERFECT STRANGERS by Liane Moriarty (Macmillan Audio)

And check out the rest of the blog tour! 29 other bloggers have written about why they love audiobooks – find out what they had to say.

 

THE ADULTS by Caroline Hulse

The Adults by Caroline Hulse is about two divorced parents in England – Claire and Matt – who decide to spend Christmas together, along with their current partners, so that they can both spend the holiday with their seven year-old daughter. Their partners – Claire’s boyfriend Patrick and Matt’s girlfriend Alex – reluctantly join them, leery of how the long weekend will unfold. Unsurprisingly, as the days pass, nerves fray and old tensions resurface, while both relationships are tested. The weekend ends with an archery incident that sends one of the four to the hospital (not a spoiler), with the book gradually explaining how they got to the point that one of them was shot by one of the others.

This book is meant to be funny, and it definitely has its funny moments. I liked Hulse’s little observations about parenting and relationships, and the fun she pokes at The Happy Forest, the family-friendly resort that this doomed fivesome chooses for their holiday. The partners are insecure about Claire and Matt’s relationship, Alex is a recovering alcoholic and a very bad drunk, while Patrick secretly tries to flirt with a popular girl from high school who is coincidentally at the resort at the same time. And Scarlett – the 7 year-old daughter – talks incessantly to an imaginary giant stuffed rabbit.

I listened to The Adults on audio. The narrators – Penelope Rawlins, Peter Kenny, Sarah Ovens – were entertaining. I especially liked the narration for Patrick – I assume that was Peter Kenny – because he made Patrick seem so desperate, yet sympathetic at the same time. If you like wry British narrators, you’ll enjoy this one.

In the end, I found The Adults to be mildly entertaining and pretty forgettable. None of the characters was particularly likable, and while their predicament was unenviable, I grew kind of impatient by the end with how poorly they coped with the weekend. The archery incident was unrealistic and over the top. So I give The Adults a rather tepid recommendation.

ONE DAY IN DECEMBER by Josie Silver

After I finished Red Clocks (reviewed here) last week, I needed a change of pace. Red Clocks was interesting but heavy, foreboding, and somewhat easy to put down. I wanted something entertaining that would grab me and suck me in. One Day In December by Josie Silver fit the bill perfectly.

Laurie is a twentysomething living in London who is on the bus one cold December evening when she locks eyes with a man sitting in a bus shelter. They stare at each other for a little while, but before either can react, the bus pulls away. Laurie, convinced he was her true love, spends the next year looking for Bus Boy (as she and her roommate name him) to no avail. A year later, however, he enters her life in an unexpected way, and One Day In December tracks the next decade or so, as Laurie and Bus Boy (Jack) go in and out of each other’s lives. Timing, circumstance and pride keep getting in their way… but will they end up together?

Yes, it’s a cheesy premise. But One Day In December is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing book with a surprising amount of heft. I felt invested in Laurie and Jack and wanted to see what happened to them. There were a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. And I liked how One Day In December accurately depicted those unrooted twentysomething days when you’re sort of an adult, but not really, and everything feels so momentous. Silver’s writing is light and conversational and the pages really flew by. So no, this isn’t Meaningful Literary Fiction, but it was exactly what I needed when I picked it up, and I was sad for it to end.

(Speaking of endings – this one was too Hollywood for me. It felt like the ending of every rom com movie I’ve ever seen. I wish Silver had gone in a different direction in that final scene. I was happy with the outcome but not how it got there.)

I alternated between the print and audio of One Day In December. I liked the narration quite a bit. Eleanor Tomlinson and Charlie Anson were very familiar voices to me by the end, and I appreciated how they communicated Jack’s edginess and Laurie’s sweetness. British accents don’t hurt either, right? The only downside of the audio was that sometimes I just had to get back to the book and ended up picking up the print. But I highly recommend the audio too.

RED CLOCKS by Leni Zumas

It has been a week or two since I finished Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, and I am still trying to decide what I thought of it.

Red Clocks fits into the new wave of feminist dystopia, joining books like Vox by Christina Dalcher (reviewed here) in warning readers about the dangers of a world where women are silenced, demoted and deprived of their rights. In Red Clocks, a conservative administration has passed the Personhood Amendment, making it illegal for women to have abortions and outlawing IVF and adoption by single women or gay couples. Zumas tracks four women living in Oregon: an unhappily married mother of two, a single woman in her early 40s trying to conceive on her own, a pregnant high school student, and a woman who lives in the woods and provides herbal remedies to people in pursuit of untraditional (and illegal) medical help.

Through the unique lenses of these four women, Zumas explores the experience of being a woman – a mother, a daughter, a professional – and in particular a woman whose options are increasingly limited. Zumas’ writing is sharp and real; she pulls no punches when it comes to the details – often unpleasant – of these women’s lives. It’s pretty bleak in the world of Red Clocks. As a result, this isn’t the most uplifting read. I am glad I read it; I can’t say I enjoyed it that much. But I think it’s important to read books like Red Clocks – you’d be surprised by how realistic it all seems. (Which is scary.) Imagining a very bleak world that isn’t all that far off is a good reminder of the need for vigilance and action in defeating such a misogynistic agenda.

I listened most of Red Clocks on audio. It’s narrated by Karissa Vacker and Erin Bennett, and I am embarrassed to say that until now I didn’t realize that there were two narrators. They do a good job of conveying the urgency and futility of the women’s situations. The audio is a little confusing because although the women have names, they are unnamed in their own chapters, and are instead called “The Wife”, “The Daughter”, “The Biographer” and “The Mender”. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whose story you’re hearing. I ended up finishing this book in print, thanks to a hotel stay when I was under the weather, and in the end I preferred the print.

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.