Audiobook: Flawed

flawedby Cecelia Ahern
Read by Aysha Kala
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided me by the publisher rep.
Content: There’s a somewhat graphic branding scene, some teen drinking (but the main character doesn’t) and an uncomfortable scene where I was afraid there would be a rape (there wasn’t). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

First a story: our Macmillan rep is an older gentleman, whose tastes run towards history and thrillers. But, being a good rep, he does read some of the kids stuff (he does both). And, every once in a while, he finds a YA he really likes.  This is the second time I’ve kind of said “yeah, yeah” to one of his recommendations (the first time was Cinder). I was going to get around to this one. Eventually. But then, he was kind, and sent me the audio version (which he REALLY liked) and I figured I should give it a shot.

I just need to learn to trust him: this was really good.

The problem is that it doesn’t really have a good hook. It’s a society (loosely based in England, or that may just have been the narrator’s English accent) in which they’ve developed a court system to judge people’s morality. If they find anyone to be morally or ethically wanting, they deem them Flawed, brand their skin and impose a whole ton of rules on them. They aren’t allowed to have children, they have restricted diets and a curfew, they aren’t allowed to congregate in more than groups of two. They have different restrooms, assigned seats on the bus… you get the picture.

Our main character, Celestine, on the other hand, is perfect. She has the perfect boyfriend (the son of the Flawed Court’s head judge), she has the perfect grades, the perfect family, the perfect clothes, the perfect life. Then, her next door neighbor gets hauled into the court for adhering to her mother’s wishes to be euthanized. Which gets Celestine thinking: maybe there’s something not quite right about the Flawed Court? And so, when she encounters an older Flawed man on the bus having a bad asthma attack, but doesn’t have a place to sit, Celestine helps him. Which lands her in the Flawed Court for aiding a Flawed.

And that’s just the beginning of Celestine’s journey. This is really just a set up for a bigger conclusion (due out in the spring), but it’s a fascinating one. I do have to admit that I was often annoyed with Celestine, especially her dependence on boys, but other than that, it was really good. I loved the comparisons to racism, from the segregation to a riot that broke out near the end of the book. I really liked the world that Ahern built; while it’s vaguely dystopian, it isn’t futuristic or mystical.

It’s definitely worth reading.

Audiobook: Today Will Be Different

todaywillbedifferentby Maria Semple
Read by Kathleen Wiljoite
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s two f-bombs, and assorted other milder swearing. There’s also some uncomfortable domestic issues, and thematically it skews, well, adult. It’s in the fiction section of the bookstore.

I loved the way this book began:

Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I’m speaking to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I’ll play a board game with Timby. I’ll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes and only change into yoga clothes for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different.

It’s such a gloriously low bar for everything. I can completely relate.

Eleanor is trying to make it through each day. Some days are more successful than others. And on this day — the book takes place in 24 hours, with some flashbacks — she will be challenged. Her 8-year-old son, Timby, will fake being sick to get out of being bullied at school. She will discover her husband told his office he’s on vacation, which he is most assuredly not. She will be reminded — strongly — of her estranged sister. She will get a concussion and steal someone else’s keys. It will not be a winner of a day, by any standards, but Eleanor will be — hopefully — better for it.

I think the secret to this one, at least for me, was listening to it.  The narrator was AMAZING. So good in fact, that I want to hunt out other books she’s read. I think she captured Eleanor perfectly, and she pulled me into the narrative. I’m pretty sure it was because of the narrator that I came to love Eleanor and look forward to hearing more about this crazy day (and her crazy past) she was having. (Maybe I would have liked it in print… Stemple is a good writer; the story is entertaining and made me think as well. Plus there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments as well.)

Sometimes I like adult books. This was definitely one of those times.

Audiobook: Three Dark Crowns

threedarkcrownsby Kendare Blake
Read by: Amy Landon
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some off-screen sex, and lots and lots of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The premise of this one is weird and awesome: on the island of Fennbirn, every generation there is born a set of triplet queens. They are fostered out, according to their “powers”, and each one has an equal chance at becoming queen. The catch? The one who becomes queen has to kill her sisters.

Our queens are Arsinoe, a naturalist, said to have power over nature; Katharine, a poisoner, who can ingest the most lethal poisons and not die; and Mirabella, an elemental, who has control over the weather. Except, things aren’t always as they seem. And those who the queens have been fostered to have much more power than the queens.

It had a really slow start to it; there was a lot of exposition about the magic (which I didn’t mind) and the characters (I liked some better than others). There were a couple of love stories, and a love triangle (of sorts). (I kept rooting for one of the queens to be lesbian; I think one is, but not the one I suspected.) It took a long time to get going, and the only thing that kept me listening was the narrator, who was quite spellbinding. For one, there’s a lot of weird names of people and places in this, and it was nice to have someone else pronounce Arsinoe (ar-sin-oye) and Katharine (cat-er-eene), instead of trying to figure it out on my own. I think Blake tried to balance all three queens’ stories, but she ended up focusing more on Arsinoe more than others. (Or at least I felt she did.)

It wasn’t a stand-alone, as I had hoped. And I called one of the major twists fairly early on. But were a couple of things that surprised me, and I have hopes for the direction that the sequel should go (we’ll see). It wasn’t the best fantasy I’ve read, but it wasn’t bad either.

 

Audio book: My Kitchen Year

mykitchenyearby Ruth Reichl
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s no swearing. It’s a cookbook, so it’s not something one typically reads, but her story is fascinating. It’s in the cook book section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up because I was looking for something to read. I knew it was a cookbook, but it’s Ruth Reichl, and I have loved her writing in the past. I figured it was worth my time.

And, for the most part, it was. It’s the story of the year following the folding of Gourmet magazine, of which she was editor, and how she found purpose again. And, because it’s Reichl, she found it through food.

I think, when I picked it up, I hoped there would be more stories and less recipes, but I was surprised to find that I didn’t mind the recipes. Reichl reads them as if she’s your friend, telling you how to make something (no list of ingredients at the top; I wonder what the print version looks like…), complete with advice and variations, in case you don’t like things the way she does. She has such a comfortable, familiar writing and reading voice, it was almost like spending time with a friend.

She made the food sound delicious, as well; thankfully, tis was a cookbook of the month at the store a while back, and so I know the recipes are good (especially the chocolate cake!). And the stories that accompanied the recipes — the book is organized by timeline rather than by recipe — are classic Reichl: simple and yet evocative.

So, even though listening to a cookbook is an unusual choice, I don’t regret picking this one up at all. It was delightful to spend some time hearing Reichl’s story.

Audiobook: The View From the Cheap Seats

viewfromcheapseatsby Neil Gaiman
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a handful of f-bombs scattered throughout the book. It’s in the creative nonfiction section of the bookstore.

I’ve often said (many times) that Neil Gaiman can come to my house and read my grocery list and I’ll be happy to listen to it. That is still true. I will listen to Gaiman read anything, including works of short non-fiction, from articles and interviews to book introductions and speeches. He has a fantastic reading voice, and I love that it gives depth to his words.

That said, this was more of a dip-in, dip-out book rather than a read straight through one. Even though I love Gaiman on audio, I found myself kind of impatient with the sections (like the one on comics) that didn’t interest me. If I had actually read this one (and many of the pieces are worth reading), I would have picked and chosen the ones (like “What the Very Bad Swear Word is a Children’s Book, Anyway?” or “Make Good Art”) that I was interested in, and left the rest alone.

But, like anything Gaiman writes, when he was good, he was interesting, and the observations were thoughtful and thought-provoking. Though audio maybe wasn’t the best choice for this one.

Audio book: The Last Original Wife

lastoriginalwifeby Dorothea Benton Frank
Read by: Robin Miles
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs. And some off-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Leslie Carter is the last original wife among her husband Wesley’s super successful Atlanta set. One was gone to divorce, another to death. And their husbands — Wesley’s friends — are marrying girls half their age. And Lesley has had enough. Actually, the “Barbies” are just a catalyst for what Leslie has been suspecting for a while: Wesley doesn’t really love her, he’s just still married to her because it’s easy and convenient. So, after a brawl in the club dining room between two of the new wives, Leslie up and leaves Wesley. She heads back to her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina and her brother — who, because Wesley’s a homophobe, she hasn’t seen in years — and takes up with an old high school flame, and learns that by discovering her roots, she finds herself again.

So. I wanted to like this one. And I did at first. Wesley was such a hideous character, so sexist and clueless, right from the start that it was easy to hate him and root for Leslie to leave him. But, that said, I got really tired really fast of all the descriptions of what they ate and drank (I really don’t care which wine is good with which meal) and what they wore (so she chose a red dress for the wedding of her best friend’s daughter, so what?). I got really tired of the ending — after Leslie decided to leave Wesley and they went through therapy, the book went on for another few hours. What was the point? (She needed a Happily Ever After with a Good Man). And it was so slut-shaming. I want to read the book from Cornelia’s– she’s the second wife of one of Wesley’s friends — point of view; she was so much a caricature that I couldn’t take her seriously. (And I got so very tired of Leslie’s judgement. She wasn’t perfect either.) I won’t even start on the whole Canadian-izing of the Southern accent. No Southerner says hoose for house (it’s hOWse). (The Canadian/Upper Midwest came out with out and about too…) Drove me nuts. Oh, and then there’s the math: Leslie was turning 60 and she’d been married for 30 years (it was a shotgun wedding, and her oldest was almost 30). HOWEVER, she got pregnant in college and had to drop out before she graduated. WTH? The math doesn’t add up.

The thing it did have going for it? A great sense of place. Frank knows Charleston and knows how to write about the town in a way that made me want to go. I could picture the warm, lazy summer, and the walks down the roads. I almost wanted to see it for myself. And I’ll admit that I didn’t bail on this one; I did want to see Leslie’s story all the way through, even if I did get impatient with it.

So, while it was annoying, it wasn’t awful.

Audio book: Six of Crows

sixofcrowsby Leigh Bardugo
Read by: Jay Snyder, Brandon Rubin, David LeDoux, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, and Tristan Morris
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence, some of it on the graphic side. Illusions to prostitution, and two swear words (they stood out). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’m glad I read it. It’s probably on par with Hunger Games, so if your kid/you can handle the content of that, this one is probably okay.

I put this one off. I know I did. I know I should have read it last fall when it was Hot and Everyone was reading it. But, I was busy, and I kept putting it off. Until I was in need of a new audio book and I stumbled across this one. I finished it, went into work and declared “So THAT’S what I was missing!” Yeah.

Kaz Brekker has worked his way up in the Dregs — a criminal gang in the island city/nation of Ketterdam — and has a reputation for being brutal and willing to take anything on. So when he’s tasked with springing a scientist out of the most secure prison in the world — the Ice Fortress in Fjerda — of course he accepts. The price is right, after all. He gathers together a crew of six people — ranging from a merchant’s exiled son to a Grisha —  and they set out to achieve the impossible. Of course, they don’t get along, there’s a lot of internal mistrust and bickering. And, of course, things go badly. (I was wondering how it was all going to fit in one book. The answer is it does but it doesn’t.)

This was enormous amounts of fun. Perhaps part of that fun was the audio form: there were five different people doing the five different narrators, which helped immensely. I really enjoyed the way each one did the other characters slightly differently as well as the way each actor interpreted their own character. It definitely added something more to the book.

I have to admit that I liked this one better than the Grisha books. For whatever reason, I love heist books, I love books with twists and turns (though some of the twists were unfair; she didn’t give me enough information to see things coming and I was genuinely surprised a couple of times) and this one had both. I came to like the characters — Matthais the Fjorden had the most character growth (I wanted to throttle him in the beginning), but I loved the rest of the crew as well. I liked the diversity — it felt effortless and natural rather than an author just trying to be diverse. Bardugo expanded the narrow world she’d created in the Grisha books, and gave it much more depth, which I absolutely adored.

I’ll most definitely be picking up the next one (maybe even in audio) to see how this adventure ends.