Audiobook: The New Farm

by Brent Preston
Read by: Chris Henry Coffey
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content:  There’s some swearing, including a handful (6 or so) f-bombs. It’d be in the sociology or gardening section of the bookstore, if we had it. 

To be honest, this is usually the sort of book that my husband would read: the story of a couple of Canadians who got tired of working the office grind and city life, and decided to head out to the country and start an organic farm. I don’t know if that’s something he would like to do, but it’s definitely something he admires. I don’t know what made me pick it up; I suppose I was curious to see what went goes into making a sustainable, small, organic farm work and survive as a business. And I guess it just sounded interesting. 

And it was, for the most part. Preston and his wife Gillian had a super huge learning curve with this farm, and he doesn’t mince words about all the things that went wrong. Or how much money they lost during their first two or three years. He was also pretty frank about how running a small, sustainable, organic farm is a community effort: they started making progress financially when they reached out and found communities to be a part of, and ways to increase their reach. Growing excellent produce isn’t enough (though it’s important); you also need to have ways to reach people, and ways to get help working the farm. 

I did pick up some good gardening tips, things to help with the soil in our little garden, and things to help with growing plants better. And I did find the narrator entertaining (though I assumed it was the author reading it; I was mildly disappointed when I found out it wasn’t). My only real complaint is that it only went through the first couple of seasons, and it just kind of … ended. That may have been my version of the audiobook, but the narrative just stopped. But, if that’s the only complaint, it’s not that bad. 

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Audio book: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

gentlemansguideby Mackenzie Lee
Read by Christian Coulson
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s some mild swearing and a lot of drinking and some allusions to sex, including one mostly nude scene. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The only thing Henry “Monty” Montague wants is to go on his Tour of the continent with his best friend Percy. Sure, there are complications, the big one being is that Monty has a secret crush on Percy. That, and his father has given him an ultimatum: go have a supervised year on the continent and then come back, settle down and run the estate. None of which Monty wants.

However, the year doesn’t go the way that Monty expect. After a disastrous escapade at Versailles, in which Monty steals what he thinks is a simple trinket box, things go away. Monty, his sister Felicity, and Percy find themselves on the run from highway men. And it just goes downhill from there. Full of twists and turns as our fair adventurers try to find out exactly what that box Monty stole was, and then figure out their way home.

Oh, heavens, this is so much fun! Perhaps this was one that I liked because I listened to it, because Coulson was a fabulous narrator. I appreciated that he didn’t make Felicity overly “girly” (because she’s not; let’s hear it for 18th century girls who want to be doctors!) and I adored all the French accents. I loved Monty’s growth arc; he was a douche in the beginning, but as the layers peeled away, I began to understand just why Monty was the way he was. And Percy, even if he was a little overly long-suffering, was sweet and adorable, and I ended up loving him as much as Monty did.

There were some darker parts of it; Lee doesn’t gloss over the racism inherent in 18th century society (Percy’s half black and always mistaken for Monty’s servant/slave) and the prejudice against gay people. It grounds the silliness and over-the-top-ness in the book, giving it a darker edge.

But really, this is just a trip and a half, and definitely worth the read/listen!

Audio book: Heartland

heartandby Sarah Smarsh
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some frank talk about abuse and drinking as well as a lot of swearing (including multiple f-bombs). It’s in the biography section of the bookstore, but I think a teenager might be interested in this.

This has been a big deal around the store, mostly because Smarsh grew up just outside of Wichita (and rumor has it she’s moved back here), and the places and people in it are pretty much staples in this community. But her story — the child of a teenage mom, growing up in a rural community on a family farm — belongs to much more than those of us here in Wichita. In fact, as I listened to her story — which sometimes got political, but mostly she kept personal — I heard echos of my own mother’s and grandmother’s story — married young, growing up in a small rural community, working hard their entire lives for just barely enough. It’s the story of many, many Americans.

Even so, Smarsh has one thing going for her that many poor do not: she is white. Sometimes, she acknowledges that fact, and tries to be more inclusive in her conclusions. But often, I felt like she was saying “look at me, look how poor we were, look how much I suffered, look at those scars” and I wanted to roll my eyes. Very few of us escape our childhoods without scars. And just because she grew up poor in Wichita and Kingman, doesn’t make her story exceptional.

Except she told it (and read it) well. So I have to give her that.

Audio book: Leah on the Offbeat

by Becky Albertalli
Read by Shannon Purser
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Or listen on Libro.fm
Content:  There’s a LOT of swearing. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This is being billed as a sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and it is, kindof, but I don’t think you need to have read that one to enjoy this one. Sure, there’s some little Easter eggs for those who have, but this — first and foremost — is Leah Burke’s story. And 1) because they’re all seniors now and 2) the book is through Leah’s eyes, this is a lot more angsty than I was expecting from this world.

The basic plot is this: it’s near the end of senior year, and everyone — Simon and Bram, Nick and Abby, etc. — is happy. Except Leah. She identifies as bi, and has a raging crush on Abby, which of course is unrequited because 1) Nick’s girlfriend and 2) Abby’s straight. But after Abby breaks up with Nick right before prom and then kisses Leah on a trip to the University of Georgia (where they’re both going in the fall), Leah’s not quite so sure. About anything.

It’s a lot of ups and downs and angst and friendships falling apart, but I think Albertalli got the uncertainty of the second half of senior year, when everything is just about to change and be different. It’s a tough time (change is always tough), and I think Albertalli caught that in Leah’s story. And I really enjoyed the narrator, as well. She got Leah’s voice down — kind of that apathetic, sarcastic front for someone who feels deeply but who doesn’t want to share — and I found it didn’t really matter that she didn’t do voices for the other characters. It made sense: this is Leah’s story, and keeping the focus on Leah’s voice was something I respected.

I didn’t like this as much as I did Simon, but I did like it.

Audio Book: So Close to Being the S**t, Y’all Don’t Even Know

by Retta
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content:  Lots and lots and lots of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I’ve said it here before: I have a weakness for celebrity memoirs, especially when read by the author. And so, even though I don’t really know a whole lot about Retta (aside from that she was Donna on Parks and Rec), I splurged for this. And I found it to be extremely delightful. She is a funny writer, but more than that, she is a funny story teller. She holds nothing back, from the way she grew up to her struggles with money and finding an acting job, to her accidental love for the LA Kings. It’s an entertaining journey with a lot of laughs along the way.

I’m not sure there’s much else to recommend it, except that it’s utterly delightful and a lot of fun. Sometimes, though, that’s exactly what you need.

Audio book: Crazy Rich Asians

by Kevin Kwan
Read by Lynn Chen
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, plus some illusions to sex and a couple of pretty crass characters. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

This is a trip and a half! Seriously. The basic plot is that Rachel Chu has gone to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, to attend the wedding of his best friend. What she thinks Nicholas is: a history professor who was educated at Oxford. What Nick really is: the grandson of one the richest people in Singapore, with a huge and wildly rich and snobbish family. Rachel — who grew up the daughter of a single immigrant mother in the US — has absolutely no idea how to fathom the wealth or handle the snubs of Nick’s family and friends.

What this book really was: a huge soap opera featuring incredibly wealthy Asians, both old money and new. The book was full of name-dropping and place dropping and everything dropping, but yet, I couldn’t stop listening. Partially it was because Chen is a fantastic narrator, handling all the accents, from old-world Chinese accented English, to both posh and Aussie English to a flat American accent. It was delightful listening to her nail every character and every voice. And, I have to admit, I love the soap-y aspect of it all. What wild and crazy and absurd and outrageous things are these people going to do?

It also serves as a reminder that a good percentage of the world’s money is not, actually, in the US. That there are some really really really rich Asians out there, and that they spend their money. A lot of money.

Was it a good book? Maybe not. But it sure was fun! (Am I going to read the sequels? Maybe…. Will I see the movie? Heck yeah!)

 

Audiobook: Tyrant

Shakespeare on Politics
by Stephen Grenblatt
Read by Edorado Ballerini
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen on Libro.fm
Content:  There’s some in-depth Shakespeare analysis, which might make it uninteresting to some. It’s in the Shakespeare/Theater section of the bookstore, but it could go in Current Events/Politics as well.

The basic premise of this book is simple: Greenblatt, a noted Shakespearean scholar, takes a brief — by no means scholarly — look at some of the  tyrants in Shakespearean plays. He primarily looks at Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, and Coriolanus: dissecting their motives, their pasts, and their rise to tyrant-dom. It’s, on the surface, an interesting look at these four plays (there’s a bit about Julius Caesar, as well), a fascinating and well-written exploration of these characters.

But — and maybe this is my politics showing — there’s a lot of similarities between the current administration and the tyrants in these plays. It serves as a reminder that these things are never new: there have been tyrants and tyrannical behavior for a long time. And those who don’t know their history are bound to repeat it. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a work of Shakespearean analysis. Greenblatt never comes out and says “Trump is like this” but the undercurrent is there (if you choose to see it). It’s a smart analysis of the plays, and I learned a lot about them (I’ve never seen King Lear, and that is something I should fix; and I’d like to see the Richard III with Ian McKellen again), and the book is definitely worth it for that.