Posted in Inbox / Outbox, Uncategorized

Inbox/Outbox: My Weekend of Endings

Although it is creeping toward mid-October here, it is still insufferably hot and humid–my least favorite weather combination and the main reason I left my home state of Florida for New England. What’s going on? Ugh. Nevertheless, the leaves are changing and falling from the trees, and I occasionally catch a scenic Fall-like moment outside. I’ll take it, I suppose.

Outbox

So this weekend saw me finishing three big things, the tv series we’d been watching for about a year, the book I was reading and the audio book I was listening to:

TV:  The Good Wife

goodwifeI started watching this casually last year when I was in search of something interesting and distracting without being too depressing (a big problem with TV lately). I quickly got invested in the characters, if not the plot, and mostly kept watching because I loved the cast so much. Alan Cumming? Yes please, all day. Christine Baranski? Also yes, please. Anyway, we soldiered through seven full seasons and enjoyed it for the most part. Then came the final episode, which, you could argue was realistic, but which left me with a stomachache. It felt like a let down after such a long commitment.  Couldn’t we please give these people  a happy ending? Or something close to it? Anyway. We’re done! And now we don’t know what to watch!

Book: Sourdough by Robin Sloan

sourdoughI picked this up after hearing and reading multiple good reviews. And it did not disappoint. It’s not a particularly profound book, although I suppose you could read it into more than I did. The plot is weird and I have had a hard time describing it to people. Basically, there’s a woman named Lois who works in an almost science fiction-like setting of workaholics. They are computer engineers creating code for robotic arms. Lois works too hard, sleeps badly and goes around with a knot in her stomach. Then she discovers a wonderful takeout place run by two brothers who identify themselves as part of the Mazg culture. They make incredible soup and bread. When they suddenly leave the country due to visa issues, they leave their sourdough starter with Lois. Knowing nothing at all about baking, Lois decides to learn and ends up transforming her life in the process.  But this is no ordinary sourdough… in fact, it has a life and agenda of it’s own. Overall, a fun, readable book about food and food technology. And get ready to crave sourdough.

Audiobook: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

beyond the brightThis was a beautiful book with a narrator that sounded just like the actress Cush Jumbo who plays Lucca Quinn on the final season of The Good Wife! It was not her however, but an equally talented narrator Jorjeana Marie. Beyond the Bright Sea tells the story of 12-year old Crow, who lives on a beautiful island off the ghost of Cuttyhunk with her guardian Osh. Crow’s origins are a source of mystery, but most people think she came from the island of Penekese, a former leper colony nearby. When she sees a fire burning on the island one night, she decides to investigate, and sets off a chain of events. Wolk is a master of the craft and the delicate interplay of emotions between Crow and her guardian, as well as some other characters, make this a wonderful and memorable tale. I even teared up listening to it while running on the treadmill!

Inbox

Audiobook: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

before the devil breaks youThe only thing I have lined up next is the third installment of Libba Bray’s Diviners series, which I have been dying to hear ! I even broke down and bought it because I couldn’t wait for my library hold to come through. These audiobooks are super frightening and so well read by the divine January LaVoy. I’m excited!

I have no idea what I’m going to read or watch next! What about you? What have you been reading / watching / listening to?

 

Advertisements
Posted in audiobooks, Book Lists

Eight Thrilling Missing Person Mysteries on Audio

**I wrote this piece for Book Riot a few weeks ago.  I know I have recommended some of these before, but they are definitely worth mentioning again!

I use audio books to help me get through the most boring and mundane tasks of my everyday life:  commuting, washing dishes, mopping floors, folding laundry, running on a treadmill, etc. For this reason, I require the most exciting, gripping mysteries to keep my attention. No in-depth analysis or academic meanderings for me. The more harrowing and heart wrenching, the better, which is why I find myself drawn to missing person mysteries more than any other sub genre. Once I hear the circumstances of a person’s disappearance, I simply must know how it will end. And I have been known to sit in my driveway, or wear my ear buds during family functions, just to find out the ending of a really good story.

Here are some of my favorite missing person mysteries that work particularly well in your ears:

The Widow by Fiona Barton

The-Widow-book-coverWhen Jean’s husband was accused of a horrible crime involving a missing toddler named Bella, she played the dutiful wife, standing by him as he was reviled by the press and the public. After his accidental death by bus, Jean is suddenly facing a new life as a widow.  Everyone wants to know the real story of what happened to Bella and what it was like to live with such an awful man. But the truth is a tricky thing, and Jean has learned a few tricks over the years. The audio book features a full cast of superb actors with distinctly different styles, all of which help to bring the story to life.

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy  

do not become alarmedTwo families decide to spend their Christmas together on a cruise to South America. Things are going perfectly, until they decide to leave the ship for an excursion in one of the South American countries they are visiting. The men go golfing and the women plan to take the six children to the rainforest to go ziplining. On the way there, however, the women and children’s van gets a flat tire and breaks down on the side of the road. They decide to wait for relief on a nearby beach. The kids swim and the adults enjoy cocktails from a cooler and a warm, hazy heat. Before they know it, the adults dose off and wake up to find that their kids are missing. The plot then splits into two separate narratives: the parents’ experience and the kids.’ Both are equally riveting. Author Maile Meloy does a great job reading her own work, adding tones and emphasis in a way that only the creator could.

What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

What she KnewRachel Jenner is out walking with her 8 year old son Ben and their dog in a Bristol, England park, when he leaves her site for a few short minutes. When she tries to catch up with him, she finds that he has vanished completely. What follows is a harrowing and twisty narrative in which the mother and a detective inspector unfurl the details of the investigation. As soon as I started this, I simply had to know what happened with Ben! The audio is tense and well performed by two narrators.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

couple next doorTwo couples who live next door to each other have a dinner party one evening. One of the couples has a baby girl at home, who they leave sleeping in her crib, while they go next door to eat, accompanied by their baby monitor. When they get home, their baby has vanished from her crib without a trace. The unraveling and hysteria of the mother, combined with the whiplash turns of the plot will keep you glued to your headphones.

 

Pleasantville by Attica Locke

pleasantvilleLocke’s lawyer Jay Porter is ready to start a new life dedicated to taking care of his kids. A newly single father, Porter wants to win some settlement money and retire. But on the eve of the mayoral election in Pleasantville, an upwardly mobile African American community near Houston, Texas, a young campaign worker disappears, and Porter finds himself drawn into the mystery.  A gripping, engaging story that touches on the personal and the political.

 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

everythingBy now you may have heard of this novel, because it is so often recommended on Book Riot and elsewhere. But it is *that good.*  A mixed race family living in 1970s Ohio begins to implode when the middle daughter, a perfect student, goes missing. We the reader (listeners), find out right away that she has died, but the family doesn’t know it yet. A delicate and gorgeously written debut novel that is exquisitely performed by the wonderful Cassandra Campbell.

 

I Found You by Lisa Jewel

I Found YouA single mom of four children takes in a confused man suffering from amnesia that she finds sitting on the beach in her windswept English town. A young Russian woman, newly married and living in the UK, grows increasingly distraught when her husband fails to come home from work one evening. A family of four on an ill-fated beach vacation in the 1990s meet a strange and intense young man who becomes obsessed with their daughter. How are these three stories related? You will be completely riveted until you find out…Lisa Jewel skillfully mixes character study with irresistible mystery in this well-told tale. Narrator Helen Duff provides a wide variety of voices with warmth and believability. I didn’t want this book to end!

A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho

a good ideaI will admit that this one strays a bit from my “missing person” theme. But it felt like a missing person mystery all the same, and it’s damn good, so I decided to include it. Finley and Betty have been best friends for a long time. Having met and bonded in grade school, the two friends maintain their relationship even after Fin moves to Manhattan to live with her mother at the start of high school. Every summer she returns to spend time with her father and Betty in the quiet, seaside town in Maine. In the fall of their senior year. Finley gets a call: Betty is missing and her ex-boyfriend Calder has admitted to drowning her.  But soon that confession gets thrown out, as rumors circulate that Betty isn’t dead, she just ran away. Town opinion leans in favor of Calder, son of the Mayor, as most people believe his confession was coerced. Devastated and convinced of Calder’s innocence, Finley returns to her hometown in search of answers. This book reminded me of a very dark version of Veronica Mars, with a bit of Gillian Flynn thrown in. The audiobook is performed by Alex McKenna, whose raspy, world weary voice takes some getting used to, but works perfectly to convey the depressed, twisty atmosphere of this novel.

 

Posted in audiobooks

Three Addicting Audiobooks

As I’ve written about before, I am 100% addicted to audiobooks and podcasts. If I’m driving, doing chores, even getting ready in the morning, I must have someone telling me a story. Thanks to the rise of digital audiobooks and smart phones, it’s easier than ever to have a never ending supply of the spoken word, and without paying more than what you already do for phone service or WiFi. I have a full list of digital audiobooks on hold through my library, and very rarely pay to listen.

As a spoken word junkie, I also frequently run out of books and podcasts to listen to and must occasionally stop to research and refill. I thought it was only fair that I share the wealth!  Here are three addicting audio books that I recently listened to and loved!

A Twisty Thriller : I Found You  by Lisa Jewell

I Found YouI downloaded this audio book on a whim from my library’s Hoopla digital catalog, because it kept popping up on my recommended list. I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly riveted right away.  Alternating chapters tell three different stories that  merge in clever ways by the end of the novel. A family of four goes on vacation one summer to the same old cottage at the English seaside that they have been going to every year. When an intense young man takes an interest in the teenage daughter, her brother can’t shake the feeling that there is something off about him, and makes it his personal mission to keep his sister away from him. Almost twenty years later, a young Russian woman named Lily is distraught when her husband fails to come home from work as he has done every evening for the two weeks they have been married.  Not far away, in a seaside village, a man shows up on the beach unable to remember his name, where he’s from, or anything at all about his life. Single mom Alice finds him and decides to take him under her wing, inviting him into her loving but disheveled family circle.

This book was such an absorbing listen. I loved the characters, particularly Alice, and felt that Jewell did a really great job making them true and three dimensional. Too often in thrillers, the plot overtakes the characters, but not in this story. It’s a thriller with heart. And the reader, Helen Duff, is just fantastic, with a deep, soothing and melodic voice that will keep you coming back. Trigger warnings: there is a scene involving sexual assault that is upsetting but tame compared to say, Game of Thrones.  (Suitable for adults)

some kind of courage audioHeartwarming Adventure for the Whole Family : Some Kind of Courage  by Dan Gemeinhart

Young Joseph Johnson has lost everyone in his family and has been forced to live with a grumpy, drunken old caretaker who mistreats him. When the caretaker sells his one remaining friend and possession, a horse named Sarah, Joseph decides that he will go to great lengths to get her back. Set in the 1890s on the Western Frontier, this story is full of action and adventure from the very first sentence, and will stick with you for a long time.  Be prepared to cry and possibly yell from time to time. This is a great listen for families with kids grade 5 and up.

crazy rich asiansThe Laugh Out Loud Dysfunctional Family: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Economics professor Rachel Chu has been happily dating fellow professor Nicholas Young, when he invites her to spend the summer with him and his family in Singapore. Rachel agrees and is shocked to discover that Nick’s family is one of the richest families in the country. She finds herself plunged into the wacky lifestyle’s of Singapore’s rich and famous. Expertly read by Lynn Chen, this long audiobook is equal parts hilarious and fascinating. Who doesn’t love to hear about rich people problems once and awhile? I was genuinely sad when this audiobook ended and delighted to learn that there are two sequels available! (Suitable for adults)

Posted in Uncategorized

Don’t overlook the noble audiobook! Enliven the mundane aspects of your life with a good listen.

For a lifelong voracious reader, I  came to audiobooks very late. I always assumed that audiobooks, no matter the story, would be incredibly dull, with some lackluster voice droning in my ear. Reading a story was my job! My activity! Boy, was I ever wrong about that. I got stuck in a rather long commute a few years back and grew sick of sitting in traffic. One can only take so much NPR and even my music collection grew tiresome after a while. Since I was working in a library, I spent a lot of time shelving audiobooks. I decided to pick up Little House in the Big Woods, just to see what it was like to revisit those old, beloved stories. Friends: It was a revelation. Audiobook narrators are actors more than anything — a very important detail I failed to realize. Stories are conveyed with emotion and range, the narrators do voices and there are even occasional musical accompaniments and sound effects.  Audiobooks, I realized, are a way for me to inhale even more stories than I already do! And they fill the many hours in my week in which I am doing the mundane chores of everyday life: washing dishes, commuting, folding laundry, even going for a run. The best audiobooks, like the best books, lift you out of your ordinary life and transport you somewhere else for a little while.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t dud audiobooks out there. Like anything, you may have to try a few before you find one that catches your attention and keeps it. Keep in mind that having a library card will help you check out a wide variety of audiobooks without spending a penny. Check out the actual cds or download digital audiobooks to your iphone or smartphone. Digital audiobooks are my preferred method, since they are so delightfully portable and can be accessed anywhere at anytime. If you don’t have a library card, or are very impatient about waiting for things on a hold list, try audible.com. They have great deals and membership plans for audiobook lovers, and you access everything from an app on your smartphone. Here are a few of my favorite audiobooks for your consideration.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

city-of-thievesDavid Benioff, in case you need reminding, is the showrunner for a modest little show you may have heard of called Game of Thrones. He and his partner are responsible for adapting the story and bringing it to HBO. Well, before all that, he wrote a damn good novel. City of Thieves follows two young men, Lev, a Russian-Jewish emigre living in Leningrad, and Kolya, a Cossack soldier. Lev gets arrested for looting the body of an ejected Luftwaffe pilot and Kolya is arrested for deserting his unit. After meeting in jail, the two men are thrown into a surreal journey through Leningrad after a Russian Colonel orders them to find fresh eggs (a luxury in the starving, desperate city of Leningrad) to use for the cake at his daughter’s upcoming wedding. Super-compelling and perfectly paced, this story is great in any format, but the audiobook is enhanced exponentially by the performance of actor Ron Perlman. Perlman, best known for his role on the television series Sons of Anarchy, brings a delicacy and a gravity to the story and turns an otherwise really good book into an addicting good book. You will want to suspend everything else you are doing just to keep listening.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Oh, Shirley Jackson, no one does creepy like you. This much loved story follows the shunned Blackwood family, who live in a large, isolated house set outside a village. The story is narrated by 18-year old Mary Katherine, “Merricat”, who lives with her older sister Constance and her ailing Uncle Julian. The reader/listener will quickly surmise that all is not right with Merricat, we have always lived in the castlewho looks upon the world with suspicion, hatred and a quick and vicious violence that cuts into her narrative when you least expect it. Through Uncle Julian’s ramblings and Merricat’s scattered comments, we learn that six years earlier, the rest of the Blackwood family was poisoned at dinner, by arsenic hidden in the sugar bowl. Constance, who didn’t sprinkle “sugar” on her dessert blackberries,  was tried and acquitted for the murder, but the whole town remains suspicious of her. Things unravel slowly, and the unreliable Merricat keeps you guessing in this exciting, twisted story. The audiobook narrator, Bernadette Dunn, has the perfect voice for every character and you will completely forget that you’re listening to one person. This tale, with its creeping suspense and growing paranoia, works well in the audiobook format, as your mind will race around trying to solve the mystery and  won’t have time to wander.

Longbourne by Jo Baker

LongbourneLongbourne is the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the point of view of the household servants. The idea is brilliant,  but I was skeptical of Baker’s ability to pull it off. She does, though, and the result is mesmerizing and also possibly more romantic than Pride and Prejudice. The audiobook narrator, Emma Fielding, takes you through the rhythms of the servants’ days, the endless chores and exhaustion they face, with a kind of resigned, wistful voice that feels true. You will find yourself completely drawn in, lulled into the quiet intensity of the characters’ fervent but necessarily muted emotions. This particular story would be perfect listening material for a day on your own. Try it as you stroll down a city street or a country lane, or even while sitting peacefully at the beach, starting out at the sea.

Far Far Away by Tom MacNeal

A fairy tale for big kids and grown ups,  MacNeal’s audiobook has all of the creepy appeal and suspense of the original Far-Far-Away-Tom-McNealGrimm’s tales. Set in a small town called Never Better, teenager Jeremy can hear voices of the dead. With a tough home life and a reputation as an outsider in the town, Jeremy’s only solace is in the company he keeps with the ghostly voice of Jacob Grimm–one half of the famous brothers who collected fairy tales. Jacob tries to protect Jeremy from a vague evil he is aware of between the world of the living and the dead, but his influence can only go so far. Jeremy befriends a local girl named Ginger, which in turn sets off a strange and twisted turn of events involving a mysterious local baker. This book works well as an audiobook narrated by the remarkably talented W. Morgan Shepard. Shepard expertly performs a wide variety of voices, from the wistful Jacob Grimm, to the teenage wonder of Jeremy and Ginger, and finally, the strange and alluring accent of the swedish baker whose constant greeting of “Halloa! Is it not a great day to be alive?” will stay with you for months after you finish reading this haunting and utterly engrossing story.

Beauty Queens and The Diviners by Libba Bray

beautyqueensLibba Bray’s two novels work so perfectly as audiobooks that you might wonder if they were written for that purpose. Beauty Queens tells the story of a group of teenage contestants in a beauty pageant whose plane crashes on an island. All of the various personas they have carefully constructed come tumbling down as they struggle to survive. If it’s not obvious already from the plot, let me make myself very clear: This story is hilarious. Over the top, out of control, laugh-out-loud hysterical. Libba Bray herself narrates this one and she does a different distinct accent for each and every character.  Enjoy, but fair warning: prepare to laugh out loud, no matter where you are — a crowded train, a sidewalk, etc.

The Diviners, another lengthy novel by Libba Bray, is a very different story, set in 1920s New York City. Featuring a wide cast of diverse characters, The Diviners mines the mystery of an evil presence wreaking havoc in the city and committing occult-divinersinspired murders. January LaVoy, a stage and film actress, narrates this thrilling tale with such awe-inspiring range, that you will find it hard to believe that only one person is doing the many voices. The combination of a great story and an outstanding narrator make this audiobook can’t miss. The Diviners is just as scary as Beauty Queens in hilarious. I dare you to listen to this by yourself while driving or walking alone at night and NOT find yourself completely spooked.