Archive for the ‘Audiobooks’ Category

Review of The Garden of Small Beginnings, by Abbi Waxman

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

The Garden of Small Beginnings

by Abbi Waxman
read by Emily Rankin

Penguin Audio, 2017. 9 hours, 51 minutes.
Review written June 15, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I read this book after reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by the same author, because all of Abbi Waxman’s books had been recommended in my Silent Book Club Facebook group as feel-good reading. They were right! This is a nice happy story about a young widow named Lilian, the mother of two girls, who gets signed up for a gardening class by her boss – and the class is led by a handsome instructor from Europe with a marvelous accent (especially appreciated in the audiobook version) who is also attracted to Lilian.

But Lilian isn’t ready to date, even though it’s been four years. And she doesn’t believe her kids are ready either. So the book is about Lilian working through that, and the gardening class, and the friends she makes in the class, and the family and relationships around Lilian, including her wonderfully precocious kids.

I do have a caveat: I’m an older single and have my eyes open for a match – with very little luck. I recently told off a couple of married friends who implied that I was overlooking possibilities. Trust me, that’s not a thing! And this destroys my suspension of disbelief when it comes to reading a Meet-Cute story. There is no way I can bring myself to believe that in real life the instructor would be single and available, near her age, handsome, and a good match for her. It just wouldn’t happen. And they are not even the only couple that meets in this book!

So, I’m going to have to switch over and read some murder mysteries or nice tragedies or maybe a revenge novel. I’m still glad, though, I finished this book – sometimes fairy tales are nice to read. And if you’re looking for a happy and thoughtful romance-after-loss about some delightful people you’ll be glad to hang around, I do recommend this book. If you’re turning cynical, though, you might need to set it aside. This is a feel-good book for people who are already feeling pretty happy.

abbiwaxman.com
penguin.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Barracoon, by Zora Neale Hurston, read by Robin Miles

Monday, June 28th, 2021

Barracoon

The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

by Zora Neale Hurston
read by Robin Miles

HarperAudio, 2018. 4 hours, 25 minutes.
Review written August 22, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

A barracoon is an enclosure used to hold people who were abducted and then shipped to America to be enslaved. In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis, the last living survivor of the last ship that had brought captives from Africa. This book tells his story.

Cudjo Lewis was eighty-six years old in 1927 and had outlived his children and his wife, so his story is a tough one. I did enjoy listening to this rather than reading it, because the narrator Robin Miles did a wonderful job reading his dialect so I could listen to it smoothly, and I think that reading it might have made me stumble. As it was, she captured the character of this old man remembering an eventful life.

The Introduction at the beginning is dry, and I almost gave up, but the narrative once Cudjo starts his story is gripping. He was an older teen when his whole village was slaughtered or abducted in Africa. Then there was a secret voyage across the ocean, since shipping captives from Africa was then illegal. He was enslaved for five years. After they told him he was free, those who had come from Africa were looked down on by the American-born freed people, so they formed their own town and built their own church and school. He wanted to go back to Africa, but it was far too expensive, so he made the best of life in America.

A lot of the book is devoted to what his life was like in Africa. He was not yet considered a man when he was abducted, but he was old enough to remember experiencing his entire childhood in Africa.

The story of his children’s deaths is hard to listen to, though at least he had grandchildren left and one daughter-in-law. He was sexton of his church and clearly had a community looking out for him. I like the way he’d tell Zora Neale Hurston to stay away for a few days when he planned to work in his garden. She didn’t insert herself into the narrative much, but I did like hearing about them sharing peaches and watermelons together. He appreciated someone listening to his stories – and now you can hear them, too.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laura Viera Rigler

Wednesday, May 19th, 2021

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

by Laura Viera Rigler
read by Kate Reading

Tantor Audio, 2009. 9 hours.
Review written May 17, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I’d already read and reviewed the companion to this book, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, where Courtney Stone from modern-day Los Angeles gets transferred to the body of Jane Mansfield, a young lady who lived in Regency England. This book gives us the flip side of that exchange, and tells us what it’s like for Jane Mansfield to wake up in modern-day Los Angeles, in Courtney’s body.

I enjoyed this story more. I’m sure it was partly that I’d gotten used to the premise and didn’t get bogged down on the fantasy of the mechanics and how it wouldn’t really work to switch bodies. I was used to the idea and just went with it.

And the challenges of a young lady from the past trying to deal with present-day technology are astounding! She didn’t even have the vocabulary to know what things were called. The author did make use of “cellular memory” – the body itself knew how to do things, just as Courtney was remarkably good at embroidery when she was in Jane’s body. So Jane in Courtney’s body could quickly navigate using a computer, once somebody showed her what it was. She used her concussion as a reason to need a lot of things explained to her.

It was a lot of fun seeing the modern world through a 200-year-old consciousness. When she arrives and Pride and Prejudice is playing on Courtney’s TV, Jane is astonished, wondering how the actors got into the box, and she definitely recognizes the scene, for she, too, is a Jane Austen addict – but didn’t even know the name of the author of Pride and Prejudice. She’s delighted that there are four more novels by this same author on the shelves of her modern-day apartment.

I still wasn’t exactly happy about how each woman was trying to straighten out the other’s love life. Because who is really in love with whom if it’s a different person in that body? And then the author fudged the ending a bit, so it didn’t end exactly as I expected it to. Did I misunderstand the ending of the other book? All the same, it seems everyone will live happily ever after. What more could you ask for?

This set of books is a lot of fun, and the more so the less you get bogged down in trying to figure out how it would work. Don’t try; just enjoy it. After all, it would take a little magic for someone to live and learn to thrive in a life 200 years in the future.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman

Thursday, May 13th, 2021

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman
read by Emily Rankin

Penguin Audio, 2019. 9 hours.
Review written May 10, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This book was recommended by members of my Silent Book Club Facebook group as a feel-good read, and I was delighted with it.

Nina Hill lives alone with her cat and likes it that way. She has plenty of activities after her work day at a bookstore, but she’s careful to schedule one night per week for reading. She was raised by a nanny, as her international photographer mother was always traveling, and her mother told her she didn’t even know who Nina’s father was.

So Nina is surprised when a lawyer informs her that her father has died and she’s mentioned in the will. It turns out that her mother had told him to never contact Nina, but he was, in fact, her father. It also turns out that she now suddenly has a great big family of siblings and nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews who also live in the Los Angeles area. (When I say “great big,” it’s not anywhere near as big as my family. But going from zero to a dozen or so is a big change. So I’m talking big for a normal person.)

At the same time, her trivia team members are urging her to get to know the handsome man on an opposing quiz team – and his team members are urging the same thing. But can Nina have a good relationship with someone who doesn’t read?

Honestly, I took it a little personally that the book implied that Nina looking for a man who reads would be unrealistic. I couldn’t actually see that they have a whole lot in common and wonder what they will talk about after they stop spending all their time together having sex. (Though admittedly, it turns out that his occupation is perfect.)

On top of that, every new family member she got to know had something in common with Nina, many being avid readers, and it was easy to see she’ll become good friends with them. Shouldn’t she also have something in common with a romantic partner? (Bear in mind that I’m unduly sensitive, since I would like to find a man who reads. I suppose if he’s good-looking, smart, and kind, like this guy, that might be enough – but I’m reserving some skepticism.)

It’s a delightful book, though. I related to book-lover Nina so very much. I did keep wishing she’d discover Library Science, though! She could get a Master’s in Library Science, become a librarian, and do all the things in a library that she was doing in the bookstore – without having to make a profit and getting a little more respect for her prodigious knowledge. She could still run book clubs and activities, but instead of needing to sell books, she could simply encourage people to read books. And her encyclopedic knowledge of trivia would come in handy at the reference desk.

But that’s the book I wanted, not the book before me. And the book before me was wonderful!

If you’re a book-lover at all, there’s an excellent chance you’ll love this particular book – the story of one of us.

abbiwaxman.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Jane Austen Project, by Kathleen A. Flynn

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

The Jane Austen Project

by Kathleen A. Flynn
performed by Saskia Maarleveld

HarperAudio, 2017. 11 hours on 9 CDs.
Review written May 3, 2021, from a library audiobook.
Starred Review

Here’s another book featuring time travel to Jane Austen’s time. My time listening to this audiobook in the car happened to overlap with listening to the eaudiobook Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. But this one meticulously explained how the purposeful and planned time travel happened – much more satisfying to the science fiction reader in me.

You see, in the future, after the “die-off,” time travel has been developed. Rachel Katzman, a doctor who has done work with disaster relief and happens to love Jane Austen novels, applied and was accepted to the Jane Austen Project, an undertaking of the Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics.

Her mission, together with Liam Finuca, an Austen scholar, is to go back in time to 1815, not long before Jane Austen’s death. They are posing as a brother and sister, Dr. William Ravenswood and his sister Mary. They arrive in 1815 with counterfeit money strapped to their bodies. They plan to ingratiate their way into the society of Jane’s brother Henry, and from there make the acquaintance of Jane. And they want to be good enough acquaintances to somehow get a copy of the complete version of The Watsons as well as find the missing letters, before those letters get burned by Jane’s sister Cassandra, and maybe diagnose the disease that killed Jane.

Can they do all this? They’ve got a letter of introduction from an Austen relative in Jamaica, so it would be difficult to check. But can they win Henry over, and then Jane? It helps when Henry gets sick and Liam becomes an attentive doctor friend checking on him. Henry doesn’t know that it’s “Mary” who’s the real doctor, telling her “brother” what questions to ask.

There begin to be signs that they’ve disturbed the “probability field,” so they have worries about what they’re changing by all their actions in their own past.

This book was delightful. I loved the way they had to know all about Jane Austen’s life and about customs of the time, so that gets conveyed to the reader (unlike the poor clueless heroine in Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict). The book pulls you in and helps the reader see all the difficulties one would face if you tried to be accepted into the society of 1815 without detection.

This book is like Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict in that part of the difficulty – and some of the humor – is a woman with more modern attitudes regarding sex trying to fit in during that time, when attitudes are very different. Fair warning to Jane Austen fans: This book has more sex scenes and sexual situations than Jane Austen’s books do.

I’m not completely satisfied with the ending, when it’s revealed, that yes, their time travel changed some things. (I think it’s not a spoiler if I don’t say what was changed, parts of which made me happy.) But then, I always have trouble with time travel paradoxes. I did appreciate that they attempted to explain the repercussions.

And the book is so much fun! You forget it’s fiction and feel like you’ve been immersed in Jane Austen’s time and Jane Austen’s society. A real treat for Jane Austen fans.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Three Keys, by Kelly Yang, read by Sunny Lu

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021

Three Keys

by Kelly Yang
read by Sunny Lu

Scholastic Audiobooks, 2020. 6 hours, 11 minutes, on 5 discs.
Review written April 6, 2021, from a library audiobook
Starred review

Three Keys is a sequel to the wonderful Front Desk, continuing the story of Mia Tang, who immigrated with her parents to California in the 1990s and ended up becoming owners of the motel they were managing.

In this segment of the story, now although they don’t have a harsh owner to work for, they still need to manage the motel in ways that will make a profit. The investors give them a hard time if profits are down. Mia learns that her parents have dreams of their own, since her mother was an engineer and her father a medical researcher in China. But now they’re busy cleaning rooms.

Meanwhile, the author takes on social issues again, setting the story in 1994, when Governor Pete Wilson was running for reelection and pushing the passage of Prop 187, which would crack down on undocumented immigrants and not allow their children to go to school or for them to receive any services.

I no longer lived in California in 1994, but my family did, so I had a sinking knowledge as I read the book of who would win the election. The book showed some of the hate crimes and strong anti-immigrant sentiment that came out at that time. Meanwhile, Mia’s best friend Lupe’s parents are undocumented, and her father gets arrested with looming deportation. But Mia is determined to fight it.

Even knowing what would happen with the proposition, this book still managed to be hopeful and show a human face to immigration and make you care about these kids, trying to spread concern for others. They encounter obstacles, but make a difference with many of those obstacles.

Oh, in the author’s note at the back, the author does connect the dots between Pete Wilson’s campaign in 1994 and Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016, and how both stirred up hatred and fear against immigrants. She mentions that Prop 187 was struck down by the courts, but her characters would have been worse off in 2020 than they were in the book world in 1994. She does point out this is a timely topic.

Mia’s a character you can’t help but love. I hope there will be more books about her and her struggle to make the world a better place, even if it’s in small ways.

frontdeskthebook.com
scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys, read by Maite Járegui

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

The Fountains of Silence

by Ruta Sepetys
read by Maite Járegui

Listening Library, 2019. 12.5 hours on 10 CDs.
Review written April 23, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

This is a richly detailed historical novel set in Franco’s Spain after World War II. The Spanish people have learned to be silent about injustices.

The book features a cross-cultural attraction. Daniel’s family is visiting Madrid. His father is a rich oil executive from Texas who wants Daniel to take over the family business, but Daniel wants to be a photojournalist. He’s hoping to get photographs in Spain to win a contest and get a scholarship to journalism school.

Anna is a maid at the hotel, assigned to facilitate things for their family. Her family was on the wrong side of Franco, but her sister has always looked after her. Anna is tempted to tell Daniel what things are really like in Spain, and he wants to get photos that look deeper.

Anna’s brother is helping a friend who plans to be a matador, though he has to train in secret. And several family members are on the edge of something going on with dead babies and the orphanage and adoptions.

There’s a slow pace to this book that gives you portraits of many people. I like the slow build of the feelings between Anna and Daniel. I have some quibbles with some big coincidences that happened, but I still enjoyed the story and learned much about life in Spain under Franco.

This was the audiobook I’d been listening to in the car before the library closed for Covid-19. So I brought it into the house, and now I think I’m hooked on listening to an audiobook while making dinner. New times, new habits. This was a good way to begin that new habit.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Efrén Divided, by Ernesto Cisneros, read by Anthony Rey Perez

Friday, April 30th, 2021

Efrén Divided

by Ernesto Cisneros
read by Anthony Rey Perez

Harper Audio, 2020. 4 hours, 33 minutes.
Review written March 30, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
2021 Pura Belpré Author Winner
2020 Capitol Choices Selection

Efrén Divided is the story of a kid born in America whose parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. He’s in middle school, and has normal middle school concerns, such as his best friend deciding to run for A.S.B. President in order to attract girls. His family lives in a small studio apartment – his parents and his younger siblings, who are twins in Kindergarten – and they aren’t wealthy but have lots of love and an Amá who takes good care of them.

Then Efrén’s Amá applies for a better job – and gets picked up in a raid and deported to Mexico. Efrén’s troubles begin. His Apá takes overtime hours to try to raise the money for Amá to hire a coyote and get home. But even getting the money to her is fraught with difficulty.

And meanwhile, Efrén needs to care for the twins and keep things going at home, never mind getting his homework done and supporting his friend David running for President. Efrén can’t even bring himself to tell David about Amá’s deportation, he’s so torn up inside.

When it comes time to get money to Amá to get home, Efrén is the one who needs to go into Tijuana to take it to her, since Apá is undocumented.

This book is gripping and powerful and makes the reader burn with the injustice of it all.

I wasn’t completely on board with how luck was handled, especially the good luck. Efrén has a lucky encounter in Tijuana, which completely saves the day, and he and Apá have other luck, too – which Amá does not have. That’s probably a lot of the point of the book – even that Efrén is lucky to have been born in the United States – but it put me off a tiny bit. I very much wanted Amá to have better luck, for sure – which is definitely a big part of the point of the book, to get the reader where we don’t think it’s right what happens to her.

So it’s a hard read, but a good one. It will get readers wanting to see things changed.

ernestocisneros.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

by Laurie Viera Rigler
read by Orlagh Cassidy

Penguin Audio, 2007. 7 hours.
Review written April 25, 2021, from a library eaudiobook

I’m on a roll of reading Jane Austen take-offs, and this is one of the silliest, or I should probably say most light-hearted.

Courtney, a modern young woman who lives in Los Angeles, recently caught her fiancé cheating on her. As part of her healing process, she did her usual Jane Austen binge. But one morning she wakes up to find herself in the home of a young lady who lives in the English countryside during Jane Austen’s time, in the body of that young lady.

The young lady is named Jane Mansfield, and she has recently had a terrible fall from a horse. When Courtney tries to tell people that she is not, actually, Jane, they try to help by bleeding her (with dirty equipment!) and threaten to put her in an asylum. She has to go along with it. Surely it’s temporary, and she can just humor them, but it seems awfully realistic and she doesn’t want to live it out in an asylum.

The book never does adequately explain why this body-switching happened. There’s talk about the fluidity of time and a wish and trauma and… well, whatever it was, it’s fun that it happened. (I also wasn’t completely satisfied about what her “destiny” was that would take her back, but I won’t give that away.) For a fantasy fan like me, that aspect was awfully murky.

This book is also a lot more raunchy than most Jane Austen take-offs. Courtney had been sexually active with her fiancé and other people before him, and she appraises the men she meets with that in mind – which does not really fit with Jane Austen’s England. But now Jane’s mother very much wants her to marry Mr. Edgeworth – and Courtney can’t remember why Jane was opposed to that plan. But she gets flashes of Jane’s memories, and she’s afraid that even in a different body, she’s attracted to an unsuitable man.

Along the way, there’s lots of humor as Courtney’s modern sensibilities clash with life in Jane Austen’s England. And though some things appall her – such as having to use a chamber pot – she begins to make the best of the situation – and the reader (or listener) gets to enjoy it with her.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Friday, March 26th, 2021

Punching the Air

by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
read by Ethan Herrise

HarperAudio, 2020. 4.5 hours on 4 discs.
Review written December 28, 2020, from a library audiobook
2020 Cybils Finalist: Young Adult Fiction
Starred Review

Punching the Air, is a novel in verse about a teen who is wrongfully convicted of a crime. The coauthor, Yusef Salaam, is one of the “Exonerated Five,” who spent years behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of assaulting the Central Park jogger.

Amal Shahid is the character in the book in this position. He’s long been a poet and an artist, though he didn’t fit the boxes of the art school he attended. He’s having a much harder time with the box of juvenile detention.

The name Amal means hope, and the authors work to make this ultimately a hopeful book. Though it also shines light on injustice, on expectations, and on the system trying to fit people into boxes. It also looks at the way people are called to account for their actions depending on the color of their skin.

This novel is in verse and includes artwork on some of the pages. The narrator did a fine job, but I think I might have appreciated it more if I had read the whole thing and enjoyed it visually.

Either way, this book brings you into that cell and helps you feel the confinement, the injustice, the weight of judgment.

ibizoboi.net
yusefspeaks.com
epicreads.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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