Audiobook: Sing Unburied Sing

by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Kevin Harrison Jr, Chris Chalk, and Rutina Wesley
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, drug use, and violence. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s not often I end up reading the National Book Award winner for fiction, and to be honest, I was surprised that I did. (I started listening to it before the awards…) I picked it up because people were talking about it, because I’ve never read Jesmyn Ward before, and because I was curious.

It’s basically a slice of life portrait of Mississippi. A black woman, Leonie, takes her two children — Jojo, whose story this is, and Kayla — on a road trip from the Gulf to Parchman, where their dad is getting out of jail after serving time for drug charges. It’s a hot mess of a road trip, partially because Leonie is a drug addict, and partially because she just can’t parent, interspersed with reflections from Jojo, his grandfather (Leonie’s father), and Leonie. It’s about relationships — Leonie’s brother was killed in a race-related shooting by her boyfriend’s (and baby daddy’s) cousin — and surviving and growing up and expectations.

I enjoyed the narration; there were three different narrators, one each for Jojo (I liked him best), Leonie and a ghost who shows up halfway through, but I wonder if this was a book that would have gone down easier read than listened to. It’s not that I didn’t like it; I just felt like I missed things — connections, imagery, story — and I could have taken it slower in print than in audio.

Still, a worthwhile read.

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Audio book: Disappeared

by Francisco X. Stork
Read by: Roxana Ortega and  Christian Barillas
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There is talk of selling and doing drugs, of girls being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade and there’s violence.  It’s not explicit, but it is there. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

This one is hard to describe: nominally, it’s the after-effects of what happens to one reporter in Juarez, Mexico, when she won’t stop trying to find her friend who disappeared one night. Sara has spent the last four months trying to honor her friend, mostly through telling the stories of all the girls who have disappeared over the years in Juarez. But, she hits too close to home, and she sets off a chain of events that puts her and her family — her mother and brother — in danger.

But it’s also the story of her brother, Emiliano, who has fallen for a rich girl. The problem: he’s not. Sure, he works hard, has a small folk art business, helps out his family. But he can’t provide for this girl the way her family wants him to. Not without going into “business” in the one trade that makes money in Juarez: drugs.

I’ve not read all of Stork’s writing, but every time I read one of his books I am reminded what a powerful storyteller he is. He weaves together Sara and Emiliano’s stories in a way that they compliment each other, coming to a head at the climax. He had me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I was driving much of the time) wondering what was coming next. And while it isn’t a happy ending, it’s an honest and hopeful one.

And the readers were fabulous. Both of them make the story come alive, helped me connect to this tale.

Highly recommended.

Trouble Makes a Comeback

troublemakesby Stephanie Tromly
First sentence: “I don’t believe in Happily Ever After.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Trouble is a Friend of Mine
Content: There’s some drinking by other teens in the book, but it’s mostly off-screen. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Digby has been gone for six months and Zoe’s moved on. Popular friends at the school, dating a football player, living the “life”. And then, Digby shows back up. (Of course.) Still looking for his sister, he’s back in town to, well, stir up some more trouble. And, of course, he ropes Zoe into it. While the over-arching plot is trying to find out what happened to Digby’s sister nine years ago, there’s a nice little subplot involving a steroid ring on the football team. So, with two mysteries to solve (one of which they do, and the other they get closer to figuring out), Zoe and Digby are on the case again.

Much like the first book, this was a lot of fun. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud fun, but it was entertaining. I like the Zoe-Digby push and pull, and I like the way Tromly handles the situations she puts the two of them into. It’s nothing deep (though the unfolding story surrounding the sister’s disappearance is turning into a sad one), but it is entertaining.

Which is really all anyone can ask for. Right?

Spontaneous

9780525429746by Aaron Starmer
First sentence: “When Katelyn Ogden blew up in third period pre-calc, the janitor probably figured he’d only have to scrub guts off one whiteboard this year.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Um, well. You name it, it’s got it: sex, drugs, drinking, many many f-bombs. It’s all out there. And it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but it’s not for sensitive souls.

The senior class of  Covington High starts out thinking that this year will be like any other: go to school, apply for college, take the tests, graduate. But then, people start blowing up. Seriously: spontaneously combusting for no reason. They just… explode. First one, then four, and soon it’s an epidemic. It only affects the senior class, and soon they become pariahs in their town. Is it catching? What’s the reason? Who is going to live and who’s going to be the next one to blow up.

And Mara Carlyle is in the middle of it. She witnesses the first few deaths, and suddenly is swept away in the macabre fascination of it all. The FBI get involved and Mara’s there. Scientists come to try and figure out why, and Mara’s there.  She gets a boyfriend, trying to find love in all this (spoiler: he explodes). She tries to keep the school together. She and her best friend try to keep their friendship together. It’s all falling apart around her.

This is the WEIRDEST book I’ve ever read. And I read Grasshopper Jungle. In fact, that’s an apt comparison: it’s a lot like Smith’s book with its sex and drugs and just out-there plot. I think this book was trying to explore what happens to a group when everything (literally) blows up around them. Most authors go for dystopian (or giant, man-eating grasshoppers), but Starmer picked the weirdness of people blowing up. And, for a long time, it worked. As it was going along, people were trying to figure out they why behind it, so there was a bit of a mystery. Is it DNA? Is it government conspiracy? Is it bad drugs? It was foul and it was weird, but it wasn’t really bad. Until it made a sharp left (after the boyfriend exploded) and became bitter and hopeless. The last quarter of the book just wasn’t, well, good. (At least for me.) I wanted some sort of answer, some sort of reason, some sort of solution, but it all fell apart in hopeless bitterness. At least with Grasshopper Jungle, there was a hope that things would work out in the future. But, with this, it was just passive acceptance, a knowledge that every. single. person. in the senior class was doomed to die. And it was depressing, frankly.

And weird. Definitely very, very weird.

Audio book: Wild

wildby Cheryl Strayed
Read by Bernadette Dunne
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Drug use, sex, drinking, yeah: it’s all in here. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

I was wandering around, looking for a new audio book, and stumbled on this one. I figured so many people have raved about it that it couldn’t be terrible. So, I picked it up.

If you’ve been under a rock, it’s Cheryl’s personal story of her redemption, of sorts, after her mother died and her marriage fell apart (due to her infidelities and drug addiction). She decides that what she needs to do is hike the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington (actually, Oregon came later, after she discovered that the Sierras were snowed in) alone. She has no experience, she has no idea what’s in store for her. And yet, you have to admire her for going through with it, even when — especially when — the going gets hard.

But I couldn’t get past the “poor me” vibe that I felt was under the whole book. Maybe it’s because Cheryl didn’t narrate her own book and I never really got past that. Or maybe I’m just too judgmental (which I am, unfortunately). But while I really enjoyed the moments when Cheryl was battling against the trail, and mostly succeeding, I didn’t have much patience for Cheryl herself. (Now that I write this, it sounds really judgmental. Maybe it’s just wrong time wrong book?) I was talking to someone who had a similar experience with Eat, Pray, Love (which I really liked). Perhaps we’re more apt to judge women who travel because their lives are broken than those (men?) who just up and leave (I’m looking at you, Bill Bryson) to go experience the world.

I don’t know. I just know that I didn’t connect with this one as much as I hoped it would.