Audiobook: The Princess Diarist

princessdiaristby Carrie Fisher
Read by the author and Billy Lourd
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s about a dozen f-bombs and other mild swearing, plus  some talk of sex (but nothing graphic). It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

I downloaded this to listen to on audio soon after Carrie Fisher died, thinking that I might as well find out what everyone’s been talking about (well, maybe not everyone, but people I trust) when it comes to her writing.

First of all, she’s a delightful narrator. She’s sardonic and funny (not just in the writing, but also READING the book), and I loved listening to her gravely voice reminisce about her experience in making Star Wars. And while the gossip (of sorts) about her and Harrison’s affair was interesting, it really wasn’t, for me, the highlight of the book. (In fact, the actual diaries, which Billy Lourd reads, were kind of, well, lame.) No, the highlight was Fisher. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this book in print, but hearing her read this was like sitting in a room and listening to her reminisce. It was delightful and fun, and while not perfect, highly enjoyable.

Probably much like Ms. Fisher herself. (I imagine anyway.)

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

aintsoawfulby Firoozeh Dumas
First sentence: “Today’s Sunday and we’re moving, again.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s no swearing (well, maybe a mild one) but the subject matter — middle school and the Iran Revolution in 1978 — might be a little mature for the younger set. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section (or the YA — grades 6-8 — section, I haven’t decided) of the bookstore.

I was in third grade in 1981 when the American hostages in Iran were released and I have a vague memory of it. Nothing substantive, just some hazy images of me seeing the news on TV. I don’t know much else about that, and even though I’ve read a bit about the Iranian revolution, that’s one aspect that I didn’t know much about.

Zomorod Yousefzadeh is in America because her father has a job with an oil company in California. They’ve been here before, when Zomorod was younger, but now she’s going into 6th grade, and she wants to turn over a new leaf. Be more American. So, she changes her name to Cindy and sets out to make new friends. It’s not easy being Iranian in California in the late 1970s (most people either think she’s Mexican, or ask her if she owns a camel. The answer is no to both), but eventually, Cindy figures things out. And then the Iranian revolution happens, and suddenly the home she and her parents thought they could go back to is no longer there. Add to that, Americans were taken hostage, and suddenly Cindy and her parents find themselves subjected to anti-Iranian sentiment. Her father loses his job. Garbage is left on their doorstep. Kids at school tell her to “go home”. It’s not easy.

Loosely based on Dumas’ life, this novel not only captures a slice of history (fairly accurately, but without being kitschy) but also manages to be timely as well. I found myself thinking about how Americans reacted to Muslims after 9/11 (or now, really). Or how immigrants are treated in general. It’s a good thing to see American life from the perspective of an immigrant, and to find out that we’re equal parts good and bad. (Which really isn’t a surprise.) Dumas also manages to capture the awkwardness of middle school with grace and humor. There were some actual laugh-out-loud parts. She definitely understands middle school, with all its ups and downs. And it was delightful to read a book where the parents weren’t bad or sick or dead.

It’s definitely an excellent read.

Raymie Nightingale

raymieby Kate DiCamillo
First sentence: “There were three of them, three girls.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: April 12, 2016
Content: The publisher suggests 10 and up, but I think a 4th-grader would be able to handle it. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Raymie has a plan. She will take baton lessons — it’s the summer of 1975, after all — and enter the Little Miss Central Tire competition, and win. That way, her picture will get in the paper and her father — who recently ran off with a dental hygienist — will see it and want to come home.

The thing is: her plan (like most plans) doesn’t go as she thought it would. She meets two other girls: Louisiana, whose parents have died and who wants to win the competition as much as Raymie because that means she and her grandmother will have money for more than tunafish;  and Beverly, whose mother is insisting on the competition, but who secretly hates it all and would much rather sabotage the whole thing. Together, the three of them have a summer they will never forget.

In many ways, this is vintage DiCamillo: quiet and unassuming, and yet it reaches something deep inside you. I didn’t want to put it down, not because I was thoroughly invested in the plot or the characters, but because this longing to belong, to figure out what life Means, to find and have friends all spoke to me. It’s a common enough theme, but in DiCamillo’s deft hands it transcends the ordinary. (I don’t know if I can praise this highly enough.) And yet, I think it’s going to be one of those books that adults like but kids just don’t quite get. I think this one sits better with some life experience, and some perspective coming to it. But I may be wrong.

Who ever reads it will definitely be touched, I think.

Audiobook: Joyland

by Stephen King
Read by Michael Kelly
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Lot of language, including a dozen or so f-bombs (and that was just in the first half). It’s in the adult mystery section of the bookstore.

I was wandering around the store, looking for something to listen to, and I asked a coworker for a recommendation. I had been listening to a lot of humor, and I wanted something with more… weight. This is what she suggested to me. She pitched it as a coming-of-age novel, no horror, a slight mystery.

And so I went for it.

And got about a third of the way into it before I bailed. It’s the story of the summer of 1973, a boy from Maine who worked at a third-tier amusement park in North Carolina and his experiences that summer. By the time I bailed, his long-term girlfriend broke up with him and he’d saved a kid from choking to death. And there was an illusion to a grisly murder four years before. But that’s it. And I think that’s why I bailed when something better came along. It was meandering — a ton of foreshadowing, which just made me annoyed — and circular, and while Devin was okay as a main character, I just didn’t really care. That, and King introduced the murder fairly early on and then just let it hang there. Which drove me nuts. What’s the purpose of the murder? Why wait until nearly halfway through to bring it back up?

*sigh*

I really am ruined for adult books. Either that, or I’m just reading the wrong ones.