Audiobook: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

by Al Franken
Read by the author
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Content: There are six f-bombs in one chapter, mostly because there are two in the title of something Franken wrote and he said it three  times. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I suppose, if you don’t know who Al Franken is, you probably won’t have any interest in this book. That said, I knew who he was, but wasn’t a huge fan.  But, I’d heard enough good about it that I decided to download the audio book.

Franken is in his second term as the junior senator from Minnesota, a former writer for Saturday Night Life, and a very, very smart writer. This book is basically a memoir of his time at SNL, his family life, his first election, and his thoughts on being in the Senate as a whole.

It’s a very smart book. And while it’s not always hilarious, it IS very funny. And insightful. Be aware that Franken is a Democrat, and so there’s definitely a partisan flavor to it (he blames Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Mitch McConnell for the current state of politics), but he also recognizes a need to work together, and has some good things to say about many Republicans (just not Ted Cruz). It’s insightful, interesting, and incredibly engaging.

And on audio? Very delightful. I loved listening to Franken read his words (I often enjoy celebrity memoirs more in audio) and thought it was a definite value-added to the book. He kept me engaged in the book, and I looked forward to turning it on whenever I got in the car.

A very, very good read.

Mortal Heart

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence: “For most the bleak dark months when the black storms came howling out of the north is a time of grimness and sorrow as people await the arrival of winter, which brings death, hunger, and bitter cold in its wake.”
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Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph
Content: Like the other two, it has death (though no murders, I think), some sex (off screen) and more mature themes. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Annith is the one who was always left behind. Quiet and dutiful, the Abbess always passed her over when it was time to go on missions. First Ismae left, and then Sybella. And Annith is the one to babysit the new novices. However, when the resident seer gets ill and Annith overhears the Abbess say that Annith would be perfect for the position, Annith panics. And takes off in the middle of the night: dang it if she isn’t going to get her adventure.

She ends up being overtaken by hellequins — servants of the God Mortain, like Annith herself — and their leader Bathazar, takes it upon himself to protect her from the, shall we say, less savory of the bunch. They ride around together — nominally to get Annith to some city I can’t remember the name of right now — for a couple of weeks, falling in love. And then Annith — and this is what I liked most about the book — decides that she really wants to be Independent and Have and Adventure, so she takes off. And she does. She never really becomes as Awesome as Ismae (who is still my favorite) or Sybella, but she holds her own.

Of course there are twisty twists and swoony swoons, and over it all is some very interesting (if only vaguely) historical setting. At some point, though, the twists made my eyes roll, and the swoons stopped being swoony, and I was predicting things right and left, which is never much fun for me.

It’s not my favorite in the trilogy, though it does wrap things up nicely. Even so, it’s a good series, and one worth reading.

The Tyrant’s Daughter

by J. C. Carleson
First sentence: “My brother is the King of Nowhere.”
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Review copy downloaded from NetGalley
Content: Some mild language, and some indirect violence. It sits in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. I don’t know if I’d give it to a 5th grader or not. I think it depends on how news-savvy the kid is.

Laila is the daughter of the ruler of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. She has a good life — trips to Paris with her mother, a private tutor, a resort by the sea. Then one day her world turns upside down when her father is assassinated right before her eyes.

Suddenly Laila, her mother, and her younger brother, Bastian (the “little king”) are exiled, taking refuge in the United States as Laila’s fundamentalist uncle takes over the country. Not only is Laila exiled from her country, she’s thrown into a world that — for all the riches and opulence she was used to — is vastly different from her own. And, on top of that, as she meets other refugees from her country, she discovers that her loving father was actually a brutal dictator.

I think the publishers are billing this as a thriller — J. C. Carleson is a former CIA operative, after all — but it’s not. It’s much more one girl’s story of awakening, and the harsh realities that brings, as well as of the plight of immigrants and how difficult it is to make a new home. Although she makes friends in her Washington D. C. school, Laila never quite belongs here, being uncomfortable with little things: from wearing short skirts to the dance to the seeming nonchalance that the students have to a bomb threat. Laila is constantly a fish out of water, and I think Carleson captures that perfectly.

There are some thriller-esque elements; Laila’s mom is a constant schemer, and there’s a CIA guy hanging around ominously. And I felt the ending was a bit too pat, not quite fitting in with the rest of Laila’s story. But, for the most part, it was a fascinating exploration of one girl’s attempt to come to terms with her family and the outside world.

Audiobook: I am America (And So Can You)

by Stephen Colbert
read by the author
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I picked this up on a whim because I needed something short, and I was in the mood for something funny. And, even though I’m not a fan of his show, I had hopes Colbert would be both.

Well. It was short, anyway.

As for the funny, sometimes it was. There were moments — I can’t remember them now, though — when I did chuckle, guffaw, and few when I snorted. But, mostly I had to constantly remind myself that he doesn’t mean any of this. I’m not quite sure if this was a parody of or a commentary on conservative thinking, but either way, I spent a good part of the time thinking “What’s the point?”

If his point was commentary, then sometimes it was brilliant. Sometimes, he went on rants that I thought worked if you heard (in this case) them ironically. And sometimes, I thought that it was a terrific parody of conservative culture. But — perhaps like all good parodists (is that a word?) — it was uneven. Sometimes it worked. Mostly, though (and this is because humor is really subjective), it didn’t work for me. Every time I found myself ticked off or agreeing with something Colbert said, I had to remind myself he doesn’t mean ANY of it. Or if he does, it’s so hard to filter what’s “real” and what isn’t that I just gave up.

I did come to one conclusion, though: give me Jon Stewart and I’m a happy person.