Posted in Book Lists, Kid Lit

What to Read With Your Kids when the World is Terrible

Yesterday, while sitting in traffic, I attempted to listen to the radio for about 10 minutes, before angrily shutting off the stereo and opening the windows instead. In that ten minutes, I shook my head angrily, clenched my fists a lot and drew more than one curious stare from the people in cars nearby.  Thus is the state of the world, my friends. The news is so terrible and so infuriating lately, I just can’t. even.

Thus, I was inspired to write my latest post for Book Riot — a list of books to read with your kids when the world is a garbage fire. Because they may be small, but they are listening.

Here you go. 

Remember to breathe and take time for yourself during the crazy holiday season upon which we are now embarking. Books are a great cheap method of self care.



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 Book Lists

#Read a Book Day, or How I spent my Summer Vacation

Well, it’s officially curtains for summer and my reading sabbatical. I find it necessary to take periodic breaks from blogging to spend all of my free time reading as many books as I possibly can.  And since today is #Read a Book Day, I thought I would come back and start dishing on all the fabulous things I read and listened to this summer.

But first, a quick word about my reading choices and selection. Like most book lovers, I use reading as my main form of “self care.” I am not religious and I consider myself equal parts introvert and extrovert, so when I feel overwhelmed with anxiety and the news and our Dumpster Fire President, I turn to books. This summer I moved back and forth between comfort reads, middle grade fiction, juicy thrillers and YA. I try to balance the dark with the light when I read, to preserve my sanity.  I read a lot of books this summer, from the super intense to the light and fluffy. I will share many of them in brief reviews over the next month or so, but for now, here are the three adult titles that stood out the most for me.

  1. little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I read this on vacation in a less than stellar hotel room, in which I was kept awake all hours by the stomping feet of the people in the room above, who were partying hard. I’m so grateful I had this book to keep me company. I’m sure you have heard or read about her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, about a dysfunctional family living in the suburbs of Ohio who grapple with the loss of their daughter. It is spectacular and sad and gorgeously written. Ng’s newest, Little Fires Everywhere, is, I would posit, even better than her debut. She has that rare, writerly gift in which she can masterfully control both plot and characterization. She gets people and the intricacies of their emotional lives and manages to balance a fast moving plot at the same time.  Celeste Ng is going to be with us a long time, and I am so looking forward to gobbling up every little thing she writes.  Prescription: An ideal read if you’re in the mood to lose yourself in some other family’s issues, while marveling at the gorgeous prose and storytelling prowess of a great writer. 
  2. The NixThe Nix by Nathan Hill. I also read this book on vacation, and was delightfully surprised at how fast I blew through it.  At 640 pages, this book is dauntingly long and I avoided it for almost a year, thinking I would rather get through my pile of shorter books rather then spend so much time on one big book. What a fool I was! To  borrow an expression from Rebecca Schinksy on the All the Books podcast, The Nix reads like a house on fire. Hill’s humor and tone draw you in to a story that covers a broad range of time and place and people, seamlessly blending pop culture, the 1960s protest movements, suburban America in the 1980s and the 1960s, as well as the modern absurdity of our social media culture. It is a bit too complicated to provide a succinct summary, as it covers and tells so much. At its heart, The Nix is a story about a mother and son that follows the meandering paths of their lives together and apart. Rumor has it that Meryl Streep and JJ Abrams are working together to bring this to HBO. How amazing is that?  Prescription: Ideal for fans of Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen and Phillip Roth who enjoy a sweeping, acerbic and painfully honest look at the culture. 
  3. Rules do not applyRules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. I had heard some buzz about this book before finally picking it up on a whim one day at the library. Years ago, I read Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs, about the self-objectification of many women in the face of the widespread popularity of porn culture. I found it fascinating and honest and it really helped me understand something I had observed for a long time without being able to explain well. So I was curious to read this memoir of hers that was drawing equal parts praise and criticism.  In short: I liked it a lot. Levy writes so well and so intimately. The reader is immediately invited into her life, which she explores with a clarity and thoughtfulness that I found refreshing. Yes, she is a privileged white woman, and she doesn’t go to great lengths to acknowledge that. She has some interpretations of feminism and the role and impact it played in her life that rub some people the wrong way, but I didn’t see that as an issue. I do understand where people were coming from with their criticism of her tone–I have a similar issue with Lena Dunham, who I just can’t warm up to. Her book annoyed me. Her show annoys me. But I still respect her right to be who she wants to be. Anyway, I digress. Ariel Levy tells the story of her life, including her marriage to the woman of her dreams and their journey to have a child together. She describes her affair with a transgendered man with whom she had formerly dated when he was a woman, and her almost pathological sexual attraction to him. Without giving away too much, I will just say that things happen, tragedies occur, and Levy writes about it in an honest, contemplative voice that made me think about my own life and choices and what could have happened if I had changed one little thing such as taking a different job or getting into a different college. Whether or not you agree with Levy and the interpretation of her own life, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t a great memoir–one that will make you look back at your own life with wonder, awe and a little bit of sadness.


What about you ? What were your favorite books of the summer?

In my next post, I’ll share my favorite middle grade and young adult reads from my summer sabbatical.  Cheers! And Happy #Read a Book Day!