Category Archives: Audiobooks

FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL by Beck Dorey-Stein

I am on a non-fiction tear! So unlike me.

From The Corner Of The Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein is the author’s memoir about her 6 years serving as a presidential stenographer under President Obama. This is a good book for people who like dishy behind-the-scenes Washington insider perspectives, though be forewarned: it’s pretty light and spends a lot of time on her social life.

In 2012, Dorey-Stein answered a Craigslist ad looking for a stenographer at a law firm at a time when she was jobless and unrooted, working a bunch of part time gigs. She missed the first interview but showed up for the second, and found out later that the job was actually working for POTUS, not for a law firm. From there she embarked on a whirlwind term-and-a-half of recording and transcribing Obama’s speeches and interviews, a job that took her all over the country and the world on Air Force One and cemented friendships with staffers in- and outside the White House.

Dorey-Stein is funny, self-deprecating and observant. I really enjoyed reliving the Obama days (sigh) through her perspective, especially hearing about the days that stood out to her, for good or bad (Sandy Hook and other mass shootings; Election Night 2014; meetings with world leaders; travel to international sites like Petra). In From The Corner Of The Oval, readers get a lot of glimpses of Obama, learning that he is competitive, funny and patient, yet also sometimes testy after long days of dealing with reporters. It’s also fun to get a glimpse inside the White House, at the egos and personalities that flank the President, often unnoticed by the public.

I would have liked more analysis of the Obama presidency, such as why gun reform always failed or more about Obamacare and its tortured rollout. Maybe Dorey-Stein stuck to what’s publicly available for confidentiality reasons? Either way, I would have appreciated a deeper treatment of the issues that defined the Obama terms.

The political stuff comes with an almost equal dose of Dorey-Stein’s social life, including an on-again, off-again (but mostly on-again) illicit relationship with an older White House staffer with a girlfriend. The guy is basically an a-hole, but she’s completely into him and ignores the signs – again, and again, and again – that he’s not looking for something serious with her. There’s lots of drinking and “do I have any friends?” and “wow, these guys really like me” and “why don’t I have any confidence?”- nothing unusual for a memoir of one’s late 20s but a stark contrast to generally more substantive political chapters.

That said, I really liked From The Corner Of The Oval and looked forward to listening to it each time I got in the car. I got caught up in Dorey-Stein’s rollercoaster social life. I gladly took in the Obama memories and appreciated her dedication to and love for her former boss – merited and deserved. And I listened with horror to her epilogue about her short stint in the Trump administration (she stayed on for two months in January 2017), which couldn’t have differed more from the six preceding years.

The audio for From The Corner Of The Oval is narrated by Dorey-Stein, and I can’t really imagine anyone else doing it. She’s not the most polished narrator, but this is her story, and it all felt even more personal coming from her voice. I was always eager to turn this audio back on (the sign of a good audiobook is when I play it in the shower, which I did here) and it went by pretty quickly.

From The Corner Of The Oval satisfies the memoir requirement for the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge.

THE FOUR: THE HIDDEN DNA OF AMAZON, APPLE, FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE by Scott Galloway

When The Four by Scott Galloway came out last year, I knew I wanted to read it. I work in technology, so this book about Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google was right up my alley. The company I work for, Homesnap, works closely with Facebook, Google and Apple, and Amazon is, of course, Amazon, so I was interested to hear what Galloway, an NYU business school professor, had to say.

The Four goes through each of the Four Horsemen, as he calls them, analyzing how they got so big and powerful, their respective strengths and weaknesses, and what they have in common. He also explains how they are both dependent on and competitive with each other:

Google signaled the end of the brand era… hurting Apple, who also finds itself competing with Amazon in music and film. Amazon is Google’s largest customer, but it’s also threatening Google in search[]. Apple and Amazon are running, full speed, into each other in front of us, on our TV screens and phones, as Google fights Apple to be the operating system of the product that defines our age, the smartphone.

Galloway explains why the Four Horsemen have so quickly outperformed the traditional brands and companies – across many sectors – that were the bedrock of the American economy for decades before Facebook came along. He also identifies the few companies with the potential – but not necessarily the likelihood – of becoming the Fifth Horseman. (Think Uber, Tesla, Microsoft, Walmart).

Even though The Four came out recently – October 2017 – it already feels somewhat outdated. Things have changed for Facebook, for sure, in the intervening months, and Amazon seems to have gained strength in a number of areas even in that short time. (Galloway updates The Four in this 2017 video; I’d like to know what he’d say today.) Amazon really emerges as the company to fear here. Trying to beat them is futile.

If you’re an intense b-school type who lives and dies by numbers, this book might be too light for you. If you like funny, slightly irreverent books about business and technology, this one is for you! I really enjoyed it and learned a lot in the process. If you’re interested in working for one of the Horsemen, then this is required reading.

I listened to The Four on audio. The format – short subsections – lends itself well to audio and I had no trouble staying focused. The narrator, Jonathan Todd Ross, was funny and engaging, faithful to Galloway’s tone throughout the book. If you like audio non-fiction, this is a good one to add to your player.

RAY & JOAN by Lisa Napoli

Ray Kroc is best – if erroneously – known as the founder of McDonald’s. He didn’t actually start the company – the first McDonald’s was owned by two brothers in San Bernardino, CA – but Ray did develop the franchise model that turned McDonald’s into one of the world’s biggest brands, making himself a billionaire in the process. Ray’s third wife, Joan, to whom he was married when he died, gave away the billions of dollars in wealth that her husband created, and she is the subject of Lisa Napoli’s 2016 book, Ray & Joan.

The first half of Ray & Joan covers the history of the McDonald’s chain, including its dusty inception, and the early, lean years of Ray’s ownership of the company. A salesman at heart, he made many missteps along the way to success, each of which is covered in the book. Joan, meanwhile, was a young wife and mother when Ray laid eyes on her in a Minnesota nightclub, playing piano and singing. She stole his heart, and while it would be many years before they were together, he never forgot about her. Ray and Joan were fiery, opinionated people who fought often but were drawn together by a passion that survived three marriages to other people.

By the time the Krocs finally got together for good in 1969, Ray was already very wealthy. The causes that he chose to support were determined by his conservative political views, and Joan often felt limited in her ability to direct her husband’s philanthropy. She tolerated his purchase of the San Diego Padres and took a limited interest in his funding of business schools and various health causes.

But as Ray’s health declined, and after his death in 1984, Joan began to take charge of the family fortune and kicked off what turned into a spectacular – and indiosyncratic – philanthropic career. Her first pet cause was addiction, fueled by her frustration with Ray’s lifelong drinking, and she sought out doctors and institutions who would study the disease and provide resources to other who suffered from it. From there, she moved to nuclear disarmament and end of life hospice support and a host of other causes that caught her attention. 

The most interesting aspect of Ray & Joan is Napoli’s coverage of what prompted Joan to give money away.  She was famously private, and hated being solicited or asked for money. When she gave, she almost always did it anonymously, in large part to prevent others from approaching her looking for a similar donation. She’d see someone on the news doing something that impressed her, and the next day a check would arrive from Joan. At the end of her life, she concentrated her giving on two recipients: NPR and the Salvation Army, though the enormous gifts she left both organizations upon her death came with strings and instructions that made them almost as burdensome (especially in the case of the Salvation Army) as they were lifesaving.

Napoli had a blank slate to work with, as no one had written about Joan Krok before, despite her enormous legacy. Napoli did a good job of unearthing the psychological roots of Joan’s motivations, and by the end I had a good sense of who Joan was, with all of her complications and contradictions. The book moves along pretty steadily, and it’s fascinating to track the path of Joan’s hundreds of millions of dollars.

I listened to Ray & Joan on audio. It was narrated by the author, and I didn’t love it. Napoli has a chirpy voice and she enunciates VERY clearly, and sometimes that voice just didn’t match the subject matter. She’d be talking about someone dying, or a terrible tragedy, and she was just too upbeat and perky for what she was talking about, like she was reading a children’s book. Also – warning – listening to this book for 9 hours in the car as you drive around will make you crave McDonald’s, and it gets really bad if you’re at all hungry. To date, I’ve resisted the urge, but it was challenging.

i enjoyed Ray & Joan and am glad I finally got to it, as it has been on my shelf for a few years. I recommend the print over the audio.

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.