I listened to the audio version of Julie Kibler’s debut Calling Me Home and loved it. The narration alternates between Isabelle, an 89-year old white woman, and Dorrie, an African American woman in her 30s. These two women have an unlikely friendship, which started many years earlier when Dorrie became Isabelle’s hairdresser.
At Isabelle’s request, they embark on a road trip from Texas to Ohio to attend a funeral. En route, Isabelle tells the story of her life during the 1930s. As such, the storyline alternates between late 1930s and the present day. Since I listened to this book in my car, I felt as though I were on the road with them, sitting in the back seat, eavesdropping on their captivating conversation.
The characters were so real to me that I felt the whole gamut of emotions while listening to this book. I think the book could be turned into a great movie!
In 2012, Marina Keegan’s final essay in the Yale Daily News went viral after her sudden tragic death five days after graduation. In The Opposite of Loneliness, her teachers and family compiled a selection of her writings, both fiction and nonfiction.
I enjoyed listening to Emily Woo Zeller’s narration – she captures the wry humor in Keegan’s writing. The title essay – “The Opposite of Loneliness” – is powerful, relatable, moving. “Against the Grain,” which tracked her life with celiac disease, brought tears to my eyes. And while I particularly enjoyed her nonfiction work, her short stories were lovely as well.
Check out a review from The New York Times.
Having grown up in New York City, Astrid is feeling suffocated by her new home in a too-small town where most of her family just can’t seem to fit in. Her mother works from home and rarely leaves the house, lest she hear the whispers of the neighbors, and Astrid’s father has chosen to manage his stress by smoking pot instead. Astrid’s younger sister embraces her new surroundings, but Astrid herself can’t stand them.
Small towns are full of secrets and rumors, and this one is no exception. Astrid’s been keeping secrets for her best friends, Kristina and Justin, the town’s golden couple, who are more than they appear. But Astrid has her own secret even Kristina doesn’t know: she’s been dating a girl for a few months. Surrounded by closed-minded people and pressured by her girlfriend to just “come out already,” Astrid is struggling with her identity and which label she feels fits her best—if any labels fit at all. Astrid plays out these questions in make-believe conversations with Socrates and by imagining the lives of the passengers in the planes flying overhead. Unfortunately, secrets can’t be kept for too long, and Astrid is running out of time.
Ask the Passengers is very enjoyable and full of memorable and vibrant characters. Astrid’s fears and questions are real and valid and treated as such, which is not always the case in the usual questioning and coming out stories. There are a lot of connections to philosophy and Socrates that allow the reader to wonder about the truths of the universe as well. The interludes with the passengers are very creative and help keep the story fresh and moving, while still connecting to Astrid’s life. There are a lot of strong emotions in this book, which shine through thanks to A. S. King’s strong writing and the narration by Devon Sorvari in the audiobook edition.
Well known from his years writing, co-producing, and acting on The Office (US), B. J. Novak has finally brought his comedic genius to the printed page with his first book, One More Thing. In this collection, Novak showcases his fiction in the form of both short stories and flash fiction (pieces under 1000 words), which covers a wide variety of topics and genres. This book includes a lot of clever wordplay, some quick twists, and many engaging characters, a few of which appear multiple times in interconnected stories.
Perhaps my favorite piece in this collection was “The Best Thing in the World Awards,” where an awards show hosted by Neil Patrick Harris seeks to rank the best things in the world. Love always wins, but this year is threatened when Nothing becomes a front runner. Novak has a lot of wonderful wordplay in this section, asking questions like if Love wins, does that just mean Love is better than Nothing? and is saying Nothing is Better than Love really a win for Love?
Another favorite is “Sophia,” where a man orders a sex robot that develops intelligence and falls in love with him. Finally, “The Something by John Grisham”—a story about how John Grisham’s newest book accidentally makes it to the public with a working title—was hilarious and would certainly appeal to readers familiar with Grisham’s work (though it should be noted that this piece is not actually written by Grisham, but rather about him).
The audio production of this book is a lot of fun and brings quite a bit of star power to it. Novak himself reads the vast majority of the collection, with help from well-known actors, actresses, and musicians. Among these are Rainn Wilson (The Office), Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project), Julianne Moore, Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, and Katy Perry.
Upon turning 65, Billy Crystal, a comedian, actor, and director, wrote this entertaining, humorous, and sometimes poignant book. It alternates between quips about aging and reflections on his family life and career. In the audio version of Still Foolin’ ‘Em, the chapters on aging seem right out of his stand-up act complete with laugh track. I especially enjoyed the sections on the making of the movies When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers and learning about his friendship with Muhammad Ali. Reading about his early marriage years with Janice through being a grandpa gave me a different perspective on this funny man.
The circus arrives without warning. Le Cirque des Reves, or “the Night Circus” moves from town to town with no prior notice or schedule. These black and white tents are open from dusk until dawn and feature wonders beyond your wildest imagination. The circus is more than your average carnival; it’s the setting for two magicians, who have been bonded since children to compete against each other until only one is left standing.
The Night Circus was enchanting, by every definition of the word, equal parts magical, fascinating, delightful, and charming. Erin Morgenstern deftly weaves together multiple storylines, perspectives, and timelines, and creates a strong sense of place in the circus, pulling both the setting and the reader in as important characters. This is a fantasy book, but the fantasy is secondary to the story and the characters and fans outside of the genre can easily enjoy this book. The audiobook is narrated by Jim Dale (the narrator from Pushing Daisies and the Harry Potter audiobooks), whose voice has its own magical qualities and suits the story nicely.
Daniel James Brown captures the essence not only of this story but also of the sport of crew—the physical strength of the rowers, the strategy of the coxswain, the design of the boat. The author’s eye for detail is reminiscent of the writing of Laura Hillenbrand.
The Boys in the Boat focuses on the life of Joe Rantz, who, like his teammates, grows up during the Depression and struggles just to survive. These eight young, powerful rowers guided by a brilliant coxswain rose from humble beginning to win the gold at the 1936 Olympics. You will be cheering them on all the way to the finish.
Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother after being kicked out of the house a year earlier by her stepfather. Park is a half-Korean teenage boy who doesn’t quite fit in with his peers. When Eleanor starts at the local high school, she sits next to Park on the bus, and after a rough start, the two begin to get to know each other through comic books and music. Set in the 1980s, this is a great love story, but it’s not the kind of meet-cute one might expect; instead, this is a story of realistic love in the midst of unfortunate circumstances.
Rainbow Rowell does a great job of balancing the two characters and giving equal time to their perspectives, even switching between the two for chapters or as little as a single sentence at a time in order to show both sides of a given situation. The audiobook employs two narrators to help differentiate between these characters and really bring the characters to life, making them feel like close friends.
The author also does well to balance the love story with the more serious issues of bullying and abuse and difficult home situations. Eleanor & Park is a book for fans of Rowell’s other novel (also new in 2013) Fangirl, and especially readers who enjoy the co-written books by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, including Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, which share similar themes, characters, and multiple perspective formats.
I have watched Masterpiece since it first was broadcast on TV. Masterpiece Theatre and its sister program Mystery! were outstanding productions of British classics. Rebecca Eaton has been its executive producer for the past 28 years. She shares what that’s like, plus a lot of her own personal story. There are interesting anecdotes about many famous actors, including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Kenneth Branagh.
But what I found fascinating is the way programs are created, sponsored, sold and finally aired. Eaton goes into detail about having to change with the times and how social networking has affected her job. If you have loved watching Masterpiece, you will find this “behind-the-scenes” story interesting.
Find an audio or print version of Making Masterpiece.
I enjoy listening to relaxing stories when I lay down at night and Beverly Lewis’ novels as audiobooks are just right for that purpose. These books might be called an Amish soap opera, but one where every character cares about others in the family and community. Of course there are some very troubling secrets from the past that cause a mother to first wander about the fields at night and then leave home without telling her husband or children. The oldest daughter, Grace sees her leave with the community taxi driver. Suspicion and gossip pervade the community and Grace with her new friend Heather search for Grace’s mother in out of state communities where cousins reside. Heather is an interesting character too as she, an outsider to the Amish community, has been diagnosed with cancer and elects to ignore her doctor’s advice and seek traditional cures.
Start with The Secret before moving on to The Missing and The Telling. And for more novels about the Amish, check out our bibliography titled The Plain People.