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Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander (2012)

Dr. Eben Alexander was close to death for a week. The memories from that week have changed his life and the way he thinks about life after death. In Proof of Heaven, Alexander pulls the reader into his drama and can cause a life changing shift in perspective. Listening to Alexander's own voice recount his experiences made it all the more powerful a message.

The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today by Joel Osteen (2015)

powerofiamI listened to Joel Osteen’s The Power of I Am on audio. It is a motivational CD that builds up your character and how God is in the center of your being.

Want to learn more? Watch Pastor Osteen on Oprah’s Lifeclass.

Lock In by John Scalzi (2014)

lockinRequired: a willingness to suspend disbelief and go along for the gripping ride. In this near futuristic thriller, newly minted FBI Agent Chris Shane gets thrust into a complicated case on his first day.

NPR summarizes the premise best: in this world, Haden's Syndrome is “a global, meningitis-like pandemic that, in addition to killing lots of people, also left a certain percentage of them completely paralyzed. This paralysis is called ‘lock in.’” Shane is a Haden and uses a personal transport device to navigate the world (hence the futuristic technology part).

Science fiction isn’t my go-to genre, and it may not be yours, but if you enjoy fast-paced adventures with a mystery to solve, give this one a shot. In John Scalzi’s Lock In, the world is grounded in enough reality that theoretically it could happen. And Will Wheaton does a fantastic job narrating the novel. Highly recommended.

Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

emmaJuliet Stevenson's delightful rendition of this classic was the perfect way to experience Jane Austen. Her command of the many characters and their quirks brought out the humor and heart in Austen's words.

Check out the audio version of Emma in Hoopla, or read a print copy. And if you already know (and love) Emma, check out Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy. I think you’ll see a few endearing similarities between Emma and Sophy.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (2014)

norawebsterIt took me a while to get into the story of the recently widowed Nora Webster in Colm Toibin’s latest novel, but I ended up enjoying this patient exploration of a woman’s life. After her beloved husband passes away, Nora struggles to take care of her four children while living on a meager widower’s pension.

Narrator Fiona Shaw's authentic Irish accent enriches the story that takes place in small town of Wexford, Ireland, where Nora raises her two young boys. Nora's sisters, aunts, and friends all offer assistance and advice as she navigates the unfamiliar terrain of her new life. In Nora Webster, the transition of Nora from grieving widow to resilient independent woman is a wonderful journey for the reader.
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The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (1950)

grandsophyIn Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, a lighthearted and witty regency romance along the same vein as Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Sophia Stanton-Lacy returns to England after traveling around continental Europe with her diplomat father…and immediately throws her cousin’s household into chaos. With her effervescent personality and managing manner, Sophy effortlessly fixes familial and romantic relationships. You’ll admire Sophy’s mad skills as a horsewoman, her disregard for silly rules, and the way her kindhearted yet devious mind conceives her madcap plans.

I listened to the engaging narration by Sarah Woodward -- and you can too by downloading the book through Hoopla!

Runner by Patrick Lee (2014)

runnerGripping, suspenseful, definitely need to suspend disbelief, but oh what a ride. In Runner, Patrick Lee keeps you guessing from beginning to end. In the wee hours of the morning, ex-special forces operative Sam Dryden encounters 12-year-old Rachel. She’s terrified, on the run, and can’t remember anything from before two months ago. What follows is a heart-pounding adventure with endearing characters.

Raúl Esparza narrates the book brilliantly – I kept inventing excuses to stay in the car so I could listen to just a bit more of the audiobook.

The Bees by Laline Paull (2014)

beesThis story is charmingly told by Flora 717, an exceptional bee having capabilities in the many skills needed to sustain a hive. A Sister Sage (philosopher bee) says Flora has the hive mind. Trouble comes when Flora discovers she also produces eggs and she regards her offspring with great affection. But only the Queen should produce eggs and Flora must hide this wonderful gift from the hive police.

I particularly enjoyed listening to The Bees by Laline Paull as the accents and tones bring out the character and mood of the speaking bee (of course bees cannot talk but the author has skillfully translated their communications from noise, dance, and scent into English). One can speculate as the story moves along as to what will become of Flora and who will be the next Queen. Read a review of The Bees in the New York Times.
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Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler (2013)

callingmehomeI 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!

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan (2014)

oppositelonelyIn 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.

Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? by Billy Crystal (2013)

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 Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013)

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.

Making Masterpiece: 25 years behind the scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS by Rebecca Eaton (2013)

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.

Spotlight: Seasons of Grace series by Beverly Lewis (2009-2010)

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.
 
 

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012)

Robin Sloan’s book has all of the elements of wonderful and unforgettable story. There are a quirky set of characters led by the clerk of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Clay Jannon. With help from his roommates, childhood friend, and new girlfriend, Clay attempts to figure out what is really going on at the unusual bookstore.  He unknowingly stumbles on a 500 year mystery and embarks on an epic journey. Humorous and well written with a great narrator, this is wonderful novel to listen to.