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 Author Wellness Plan, Book Lists

10-minute Author Wellness Plan: Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young*This is a new feature I’m trying out for the blog: instead of 5-minute book prescriptions, I will occasionally suggest an author, who has written multiple great books and of whom I suggest embarking on a study. 

A few weeks ago, as the official end of summer approached, I quickly inhaled Gabrielle Zevin’s new book Young Jane Young, which tells the story of college student Aviva Grossman, who takes an internship with a charismatic Florida congressman named Aaron Levin. As a result of the complicated web of desire, flattery and normal young adult impulses, Aviva embarks on a months long relationship with the much older man. Since the story takes place around 2001, blogs are just starting to become a thing and Aviva decides to write about her experiences on what she thinks is a completely anonymous website. But when a car accident reveals the congressman and intern together in a car, people start digging and the truth comes out, along with the sordid details Aviva wrote about on her blog. The senator, as one might expect, emerges somewhat unscathed over the years, continuing his career. Aviva, on the other hand, becomes a punch line, a joke. Unable to get a job, notorious nearly everywhere she goes in South Florida, Aviva falls into a deep funk, floundering the days away at her parent’s house, immobilized by shame, fear, misery and anger.  Eventually she decides to make a change–literally. She legally changes her name to Jane Young, borrows money from her kind grandma and moves all the way North, to a small town in  Maine called Allison Springs. Oh and did I mention that she is pregnant?

storied life of aj fikry

It was charming and funny and quirky– not unlike another novel of hers that I read and loved last year: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  In that funny, sad, hopeful tale, we meet a widowed bookstore owner who finds a baby on his doorstep one morning and decides to become her caretaker.

As I finished up Young Jane Young, I found myself pondering Zevin and her unique literary voice. In addition to featuring cranky but lovable characters, Zevin often deploys some kind of interesting plot detail or point of view choice, that feels… well, weird! In Young Jane Young, the philandering congressman’s wife, who has recently been through cancer, has an invisible pet parrot that is always with her, squawking the truth whether she wants to hear it or not. elsewhereIn Elsewhere, an utterly delightful and moving story that features more than a little weirdness, the book begins with the narrative perspective of the deceased teenage girl’s dog. Shortly after, the girl herself, 15-year old Liz, wakes up on a boat and learns that she has died after being hit by a taxi, and is on her way to the afterlife, where she will age backwards before being sent back to earth again as a baby. Although this ambitious plot is not without holes, I found it to be an incredibly moving and comforting way to think about life after death. Give this to someone who has recently lost a person near and dear to them.

Sorry, I digressed a bit about Elsewhere. Back to the weirdness I was talking about before. It almost seems as if Zevin sometimes starts to write one kind of book and ends up writing another. And yet– it always works! Despite, or maybe because of her quirkiness, Gabrielle Zevin has recently become one of my favorite working novelists. She is an author you can give to almost anyone: your aging parents, your 1- year old niece, your 30-year old coworker. Zevin’s stories are wonderfully universal, exhibiting a lovely understanding and forgiveness of human nature. Her stories will absolutely stick with you long after you finish reading them and will encourage you to think about life and death in ways you maybe haven’t before.

Last night as I wondered one of my favorite bookstores, I looked for extra copies of each of the three books of hers I have read so far, so that I could stockpile them to give as gifts. If there’s a better endorsement for an author, I don’t know what it is. I recommend starting with The Storied Life, as I did, followed by Young Jane Young, and, finally Elsewhere. Happy Reading!












Posted in Five Minute Book Prescriptions, Romance, YA

Five Minute Book Prescription: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

when dimple met rishiIt may be past Memorial Day, and into the beginning of June, but here in New England, it’s still raining and cold. We seem to have these little pockets of perfect weather that only last half a day every two weeks.  Otherwise, it’s just raining. Constantly. But no matter, today I am recommending a book that feels like the perfect summer read.  It is smart and sweet and funny and romantic. What more could you ask for in a book that begs to be read on a plane or by the ocean, or even in your bed on a lazy Sunday?

Written in alternating perspectives, this charming read takes us through the summer when, as the title says, Dimple met Rishi. Dimple has just graduated high school and is laser focused on her future dreams of becoming a coding superstar. Her parents, on the other hand, are more interested in her future as a wife. Her mother begs her to wear make up and pay more attention to her appearance so that she will have a better chance of attracting a husband. Uninterested in romance, especially marriage, Dimple wants to attend a summer program, Insomnia Con, where aspiring web developers compete to create the best app. When Dimple asks her parents to go, she is shocked and delighted at their quick and positive response. It’s only when she arrives and is approached by Rishi, who introduces himself as her future husband, that it all starts to make sense: Dimple and Rishi’s parents have arranged a marriage for them. No wonder they were so eager to let her go!

In stark contrast to Dimple, Rishi is a hopeless romantic. He knows his parents have picked out a potential bride for him, and he trusts them enough to be excited.  He respects the tradition of arranged marriages and likes the idea of being part of something bigger than himself.  But it may not be as simple as it sounds. Angry and frustrated and feeling betrayed by her parents, Dimple wants nothing to do with Rishi. At first….But then, as they work together creating an app and getting to know each other, Dimple finds herself in the very unexpected position of falling for Rishi.

Dimple, Rishi and their small cast of supporting characters are well drawn, unique and realistic. The romance between the two young Indian-American teens is thoughtful and sex positive without being overly sentimental or gauche and with just the right amount of swoon. Mendon explores the pressures of family, culture, friendship and self-esteem in a gentle coming of age story that feels altogether fresh.

Prescribed for : YA fans, readers in search of something irresistibly pleasant and transporting.  You will fly through this book. Bring it along on a trip to the beach or a quick airplane ride! Or give it as an easy and uplifting gift for a high school graduate looking to blow off steam and enjoy the summer.


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)