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Quirky, smart contemporary books are some of my favorite reads, and that was what I hoped to find when I picked up The Beginning of Everything. This book first got my attention with its off-beat original title Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (which I still prefer!) Though the title has changed, the story still has a smidge of a black comedy vibe to it. The story has layers to it, some of the twists are predictable, but overall I enjoyed it.
Pop culture references aplenty figure into the book, with gaming, bands, literature, and sparkly vampires name-dropped. And there’s even Ezra’s cute dog Cooper that he says reminds him of Jay Gatsby. These references keep the tone light and breezy even though some serious topics arise.
Robyn Schneider does a great job with making the male voice sound natural and believable. Her writing is fresh and witty, and at times I wished that I read the book rather than listen to the audio so I could stop and appreciate her words more.
I listened to the audiobook, read by Dan John Miller (he also narrates John Green’s Paper Towns). Miller reads the book with a California type of laid-back voice. His voice matched well to relaxed Ezra’s demeanor and he has a deadpan delivery. I didn’t love his female voices though, which sounded like how guys sound when they try to mimic valley girls. The reading pace was a little slower than I prefer, matching Ezra’s character I guess, and the narration took me out of the story at times. Check out a sample to see if the reader is a good fit for you.
The rollercoaster pictured on the cover figures into the story, and actually a scene in the book takes place on Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and got under my skin so much I was having Disneyland dreams the nights I was reading the book.
The Beginning of Everything is an interesting coming of age with a strong male voice that should appeal to fans of quirky contemporary.
In Yes Please, Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, SNL) shares stories about her upbringing and career, and also offers some sage life advice. Poehler is a welcome addition to the list of funny celebrity essayists, and like her character Leslie Knope makes you laugh and makes you think.
I’ve been a fan of Amy Poehler since she was on SNL, and adore her on Parks and Recreation, and seeing her host award shows with Tina Fey. I had high hopes for this collection – anticipating the humor of Fey’s Bossypants and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me. This memoir/life lessons collection is not LOL funny throughout like the previously mentioned books, but I really appreciated how Poehler puts herself out there and how heartfelt her story reads. I appreciate her on a new level now, and she also just seems like someone who would be fun to grab a drink with.
Poehler recounts her early years struggling for comedy gigs, and paying the bills waitressing. She talks about doing improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. And bestie Tina Fey (they met in Chicago in the 90s) gets her own chapter.
Fans of Parks and Recreation will enjoy hearing Poehler talk about the cast and favorite moments. (There are even audio clips from the show in the audiobook) And SNL fans will get a kick of hearing about Poehler’s experiences there. She talks about portraying Hillary Clinton, Kaitlin, being part of the first all-female Weekend Update duo, and her strong friendship with Seth Meyers.
Poehler digs deep to talk about her divorce, and shares a difficult story of an SNL sketch she was involved in that offended and caused some hurt feelings. Poehler dedicates the book to her two sons, and shares parenting stories.
Poehler’s Yes Please has tidbits of advice about everything, including sex, drugs, beauty, and how to handle award show nominations. She sounds like she’s just the greatest friend to have in your corner and is so supportive of her peers.
Amy Poehler narrates the audiobook, along with some special celebrity guest, and Poehler’s own parents. Sometimes actors don’t make the best narrators, but Poehler is a natural. She sounds like she’s talking to a friend, and makes the book an entertaining listen. She hands the reins to Seth Meyers to narrate a bit, and he also does a great job. The last chapter of the book is a funny, live performance at the Upright Citizens Brigade and it ends the book on a high note.
This book is a must-read for Amy Poehler fans or fans of humorous celebrity memoirs.
In No Land’s Man, actor Aasif Mandvi recounts his experiences growing up and feeling like an outsider. He moved from Bradford, England to Tampa, Florida with his family when he was sixteen, which was quite a culture shock. In No Land’s Man, Mandvi talks about his experiences as a multicultural actor, leading up to his breakout role on The Daily Show.
It seems like every week there is a new celebrity memoir, though Aasif Mandvi’s wasn’t really on my radar until recently. You may be familiar with Mandvi from The Daily Show, where he is the Senior Middle East correspondent. I must admit I don’t really watch the show, but I looked up Mandvi on IMDB and found I’m familiar with his work in The Proposal and The Internship. So, I was intrigued to listen to this book to learn more about Mandvi’s background. The book cover caught my eye too- isn’t it cute? (The pancakes figure into the story – Brunch is a big selling point for Mandvi’s father’s move to the US)
The early chapters focus on Mandvi’s experiences at boarding school in England, where he was a target of racial bullying and called every name in the book. Race and religion is a recurring theme in the book as Mandvi gets typecasted when he goes for acting roles, and is asked to portray stereotypes.
Mandvi got interested in performing when MTV came around in the 80s. He got obsessed with emulating Michael Jackson’s dance moves, and this got him some positive attention at school, and showcased his entertainer abilities.
Family is also a theme of the book, and Mandvi discusses his parents’ jobs, gender roles, cultural frustrations, food preferences, and humorous anecdotes.
Aasif Mandvi narrates the 4.5-hour audiobook. He is a great storyteller and gets very animated as he shares his stories. The high-energy, consistent performance keeps the listener engaged throughout. The only thing that I thought would have been cool to add though were clips of some of the performances referenced in the book. The audiobook is entertaining and made me want to check out more of Mandvi’s work.
I think this book should appeal to fans of The Daily Show, and readers of humorous and cultural memoirs.
Neil Patrick Harris tells all in a unique and humorous Choose Your Own Adventure style memoir! Choose Your Own Autobiography uses second-person pov just like the CYOA books and puts the reader in Neil Patrick Harris’ (NPH) shoes. “You” are in the driver’s seat and get to jump to “your” career and personal highlights as you go.
I am a fan of humorous memoirs and of NPH the personality, so I had a feeling this book would be lots of fun. I know NPH from awards shows and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog but haven’t seen an episode of Doogie Howser or HIMYM. This book is great for casual fans that want to learn more about the actor, and longtime fans will get a kick hearing behind the scenes anecdotes.
This is one of the more entertaining memoirs I’ve read/listened to. The CYOA format is nostalgic and clever and helps keep the story flowing in an interesting way, and I didn’t mind the second-person perspective at all.
I like this kind of celebrity memoir that includes behind the scenes info from the entertainment world as well as personal glimpses. NPH dishes about his evolving career including his performances on TV, stage (I wish I got to see Hedwig!) and film, even mentioning his recent turn in Gone Girl. We also get to hear his coming out story, and about meeting husband David Burtka and how they became parents. NPH also discusses his love of magic, Disney, an epic 40th birthday scavenger hunt, and lavish vacations with Elton John.
Special guest testimonials from Sarah Silverman, Nathan Fillion, Whoopi Goldberg, Seth MacFarlane, and more also appear in the book. (The actors’ voices do not appear on the audiobook though) These provide humorous interludes and it’s nice to hear from the actor’s NPH has worked with over the years.
In addition to NPH’s life story, the book is sprinkled with magic card tricks (have a deck of cards handy), cocktail recipes (like Dr. Pourable’s Drink-Along Grog) and David Burtka’s recipe for Bolognese Sauce. Audiobook listeners will be able to access the food and drink recipes (and a cryptic crossword!) in a PDF that comes with the book.
The audiobook is a very entertaining and fast listen. NPH is an engaging reader who obviously brings a lot of personality to the table. You can’t skip around in audio format the way you are meant to do with the CYOA print version, so the audio edition tweaks the formula a bit. With NPH saying “If you want to do this keep listening, or wait a while longer/be patient.” In the audiobook, you also get to hear a bonus audio of young NPH performing a speech. Listening to NPH give his all in this audiobook and hearing about his experiences as an award show host makes me think he will be an awesome host for next year’s Oscars.
If you are a fan of NPH or humorous memoirs I think you will love this very creative autobiography!
I love a good dysfunctional family story, and This is Where I Leave You features the ultimate family train wreck. In this book, the Foxman family gathers to remember their recently deceased father Mort. He wants them to sit shiva for a week, and that brings the family under one roof for socializing, reflecting, and fighting. Personalities clash, old wounds reopen, and secrets slip out in this dramedy.
The reason I picked this one up is because of the upcoming movie release. The movie has an all-star cast featuring Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Connie Britton, Dax Shepard, and on and on. I saw the trailer with all these funny people and it sparked my interest in the book. The movie reminds me of those dysfunctional family comedies like Little Miss Sunshine, The Royal Tenenbaum‘s and The Family Stone. And from what I’ve seen so far it looks like the movie is very similar in tone to the book.
The book is written in the dejected Judd Foxman’s POV. His life is turned upside down when he catches his wife in bed with another man, and now he’s grappling with his father’s death and dealing his siblings baggage and other skeletons in the closet. He and his three siblings may all be grown now, but being back at home (with the spouses and kids in tow) brings back some juvenile tendencies.
The tone of the book is darkly comic, and the book’s narrator Judd is wry and bitter. It’s one of those books where the situations get more and more outrageous, and you’re wondering what could possibly happen next to this family. There is an eccentric cast of characters that bring comic relief to what is obviously a sad occasion, and the revelations come on fast and furious.
I listened to the audiobook, performed by Ramon de Ocampo. His delivery is great, and his voice kind of reminded me of Steve Carell, so I was kind of imagining Carell as Judd when I was listening. The narrator has a deadpan style that gels nicely with the book, and de Ocampo delivers an engaging performance. There are a lot of different personalities for de Ocampo to inhabit, and he gets into character without going over the top. A quick listen, overall.
Richelle Mead’s Silver Shadows is the penultimate installment in the Bloodlines series and it’s a game-changer. The Vampire Academy series is one of my favorites but Bloodlines gives it a run for its money. If you’ve followed these characters from Vampire Academy you’ll be gratified to see how they have developed into root-worthy series leads and enjoy all the twists, turns, angst, romance, and humor that Richelle Mead is known for.
This installment brings the biggest challenge to Adrian and Sydney yet. The last book had them riding quite a high so that makes the fall feel that much worse. If you know Mead then you know she puts her characters through the ringer and some of her books can be quite dark, and this is one of those. Sydney and Adrian have to be strong to weather this storm, and of the two of them it’s no surprise that Adrian is the one to fall into bad habits. As the book begins Adrian and Sydney are apart, and Adrian can’t even use spirit dreams to make contact so he’s increasingly frustrated and drawn to self-medicate. He’s come a long way in this series this is true, though his one step forward, two steps back way is trademark Adrian. But have faith, Sydrian fans!
Sydney is facing re-education, basically the thing we’ve feared the most. She’s surrounded by people who reject all her values and who want to tear her down. She has some tricks up her sleeve but is it enough? Her bravery, faith, compassion, and love in the face of such bleak conditions and horrific treatment are awe-inspiring.
The setting takes us away from sunny Palm Springs, and Mead makes the reader feel the darkness and despair that her characters are going through. We meet some new characters that may become important in the final book, plus there are some special guest appearances as well.
I listened to the Silver Shadows audiobook, read by Emily Shaffer and Alden Ford. Like The Fiery Heart, this book is in dual POV with Sydney and Adrian. I think it would be quite tortuous if we didn’t have Adrian’s POV in this one, considering Sydney’s separation from the group. Both performers get to show a lot of range in this book considering all the highs and lows that take place over the almost-11-hour book. Shaffer is a wonderful Sydney, and Ford fits Adrian to a T. I’ve heard that in the VA series audiobooks Adrian was portrayed with an English accent and that is not the case here, and I’m pretty sure that should never have been the case, but correct me if I’m wrong. Ford’s Adrian is cool and confident and distinctly Adrian. While Shaffer’s Sydney is smart, no-nonsense, yet emotional at all the right times. This was an audiobook I did not want to stop listening to.
The conclusion sets up some very exciting (and ominous) stories for the final book! I love that Mead made this installment so surprising and memorable and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
In the third installment of the Throne of Glass series, Heir of Fire, Celaena Sardothien embarks on a life-changing journey. New alliances are formed as tensions run high in the kingdoms.
Though I don’t usually have a lot of luck with fantasy series, I do enjoy this character-driven series quite a lot. Celaena’s a great heroine who has grown a lot over the course of the series. And the stakes keep getting higher for her. With the action moved to unfamiliar territory and Celaena on a new path, this is a transitional phase for her. I did miss Celaena’s interactions with her friends from the first two books, but we do meet a kick-ass new character in exchange so that’s almost a fair trade-off.
The fantasy elements really ramp up in this installment, and we get more acquainted with fae and witches. The action shifts between three separate but related stories in Heir of Fire- Celaena’s journey, the characters left behind in Adarlan (Dorian, Chaol, etc.) and the Blackbeak coven. I have to admit the chapters with the witches went over my head. There is a new character named Manon Blackbeak who seems important but for the life of me I couldn’t keep up with that storyline. I will definitely have to read a Recaptains recap before the next book.
What kept my interest is Celaena’s personal journey and revelations. I liked her alliance with Rowan, the fae prince. The prickly Rowan is a great addition to the series, and I’m curious to see what role he takes going forward.
Back in Adarlan, Chaol and Dorian are quite downcast without Celaena’s company, though it’s not long before they get distracted other pressing matters. Chaol seemed kind of lost in this installment and I hope for more Chaol and Celaena in the next book. A new character causes some trouble for Dorian and Chaol and I’m interested to see how the situation in Adarlan shakes out. Dorian really got to me in this book – lots of character growth there.
The romance is downplayed in this installment compared to Crown of Midnight, but that makes sense considering the journey Celaena is on. The strong friendships that build in Heir of Fire make you (almost) not notice the lack of romance.
This series really shines in audiobook format, with the excellent performance by Elizabeth Evans. She pronounces all those tricky words for you so you don’t have to try to make sense of them on your own. Evans gives a strong and consistent performance here and doesn’t distract for the story. She brings many different types of characters to life and is especially successful with capturing Celaena’s essence. Since Heir of Fire is over 20-hours long, you’ll get your money’s worth of your Audible credit.
This installment is a game changer in a lot of ways with so much to ponder and digest. The slow-burn action pays off in the end and leaves you clamoring for the next book.
Sinner is a book about two supporting characters from Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Cole and Isabel. I will always have a soft spot for this series because of Shiver, one of the first paranormal books I truly loved. But, I never really warmed to Cole and Isabel per se; I was usually waiting for the story to go back to the lead couple Sam and Grace. I’ll have to say though that Sinner shows that Cole and Isabel are quite interesting in their own right! Sinner feels like a totally different story that’s less rooted in werewolf lore and more reality-based. With a new LA locale and a little distance from Forever, Sinner forges its own path.
In Sinner, Cole St. Clair leaves Minnesota for LA to record a new album, while a reality TV crew tags along to document the process. But the Real Reason Cole’s in LA is to be reunited with girl-that-got-away Isabel Culpepper. Isabel is in LA with her family, working in a boutique and going to school. Isabel and Cole are their own worst enemies in terms of getting back together – both are very headstrong and stubborn and masters at hiding their emotions. And just maybe a reality TV setting is not the best backdrop for their reunion.
Cole is trying to put the pieces of his life back together, mending fences, trying to live the straight edge life, and rebuilding his band. His band NARKOTIKA was once larger than life and the reality show gig will help reintroduce him to fans. But the producer of the show has less than noble intentions and would like nothing more than for Cole to trip up live in front of the cameras. How does Isabel fit in with this plan?
Isabel thought she put Cole behind her- but when he marches into her store back from the dead all the old feelings she’s buried come back. Isabel is dealing with some family drama in the House of Ruin and processing her parents’ seemingly inevitable divorce. Adding a werewolf in LA to the equation is all she needs. Didn’t she leave the wolves behind her? She’s not sure what kind of surprise his arrival will bring.
It’s an entertaining ride watching Cole and Isabel get reacquainted and figure out what they want in life. I’m glad Maggie Stiefvater thought to give these two their own story. It’s been ages since I’ve read the Shiver books, but this book is so completely different it doesn’t matter.
Dan Bittner and Emma Galvin narrate the audiobook, reprising their Forever performances. Both narrators give a lot of personality to these larger than life characters. Emma Galvin plays tough very well, and Dan Bittner is a good choice for the gregarious Cole. There are some cool side characters in Sinner; from Cole’s driver friend Leon, to Baby the reality TV producer, to Isabel’s cousin Sofia, and the narrators bring these characters to life as well. Cole also has to participate in some radio interviews to promote himself and the audiobook production gives it an authentic feel. At the end of the audiobook there’s a Maggie Stiefvater bonus track featuring her Sinner book playlist song Taking On The Sun.
This is a different sort of book for Maggie Stiefvater and I like it! It’s more contemporary in feel than paranormal, and more mature as well. You can still recognize Stiefvater’s lovely prose though and it is good to be back with these characters. Fans of the Wolves of Mercy Falls should check out this book, even if some of the details of the trilogy are kind of fuzzy.
Jenny Han’s latest book hits just the right notes for summer reading. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is funny, touching, romantic and fast-paced and the perfect contemporary YA choice for your beach bag. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Lara Jean’s story as she navigates her way through love, friendship and family drama.
The scoop on To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that Lara Jean is the quiet middle child – overshadowed by perfect know-it-all Margot and precocious younger sister Kitty. Lara Jean is kind of the Jan Brady of the group. The three Song girls lost their mother at a young age, and Margot takes on a mothering type role for the family. When Margot leaves for college, she also breaks it off with boy next-door Josh, someone who happens to be a secret letter recipient. Awkward! With Margot now off in Scotland, Lara Jean has to step up and help her dad by taking on some more responsibility. But first she has to deal with the repercussions of her secret letters that are now no longer a secret!
The delivery of the secret letters puts Lara Jean’s life in an uproar. Sweet family friend Josh is obviously confused to receive a love note from his ex-girlfriend’s sister (even though Josh and Lara Jean kinda liked each other first.) Then, popular, handsome, charismatic Peter Kavinsky receives his letter and that changes the game altogether. Perhaps they can help each other make their objects of affection jealous by staging a fake romance? (Lara Jean still has a crush on Josh and Peter is not quite over his ex) Sounds like a perfect scenario right- what could go wrong?!
Lara Jean has to gain confidence and put herself out there for the first time- no more hiding behind secret letters or her sister Margot. She’s a little shy and awkward which makes her more endearing. But going through these new challenges could give her just the confidence boost she needs.
To all The Boys is a love letter to sisters as well as to first crushes. The sisters are so close since losing their mom and honor her by keeping family traditions alive. The girls are half Korean and their dad makes sure to include Korean meals as one of the ways to remember their mom. Lara Jean’s cultural observations were also insightful.
Narrator Laura Knight Keating is a good fit for this audiobook, and brings out the humor in the story. She sounds age appropriate and differentiates all the characters. Her pacing is good and overall I think she did a solid job overall and I’d listen to her again in the sequel. The audiobook is a Whispersync for Kindle title and it’s quite affordable if you own the kindle edition.
Listen to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before if you like: Contemporary YA, Anna and the French Kiss, The Summer I Turned Pretty series, and romantic comedies.
This book features two outsiders that form a friendship so I totally get the Eleanor & Park (and The Fault in Our Stars) comparison you see in the official description. If you like those books you will probably like this book as well, though Cammie McGovern forges her own path with her novel.
Amy has cerebral palsy, uses a walker to get around and a voice tablet to communicate. She excels in school in every area except socially, and aims to remedy that in her senior year of high school. She convinces her mom to hire peer aides instead of a professional aide to help her out at school as a way to break the ice and make some friends. She particularly wants Matthew to apply because he’s the only person that really sees her and tells it like it is. Matthew, along with four other students/aides, alternate days with Amy, and before long their connection deepens. Matthew’s OCD tendencies work in his favor to make him an attentive and thorough aide, though Amy wants him to set his sights higher.
Amy and Matthew both have their challenges to overcome, though McGovern shows that they have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. Everyone has their issues, as we see in Amy and Matthew’s friendship circle, and some are just more visible than others.
With the trend being alternating first-person pov, it’s refreshing that McGovern chooses third person pov for Say What You Will. I still was able to connect to both Amy and Matthew, though the third person format also created a barrier that was somehow appropriate to the story. McGovern does a great job of keeping the tension up throughout the novel, through distance, and other twists in the narrative. This is an emotional book that I thought about even when I wasn’t reading it. I still kind of wish McGovern didn’t have to go there with the twist in this novel, though I get that it made sense for the characters to go through this challenge.
Rebecca Lowman (Eleanor & Park) performs the audiobook, furthering the E&P comparison. Lowman’s voice works well for mature YA titles like this, and I like listening to her because her vocal work complements the story and doesn’t detract. I did speed up the audiobook though to about 1.5x since this was a “re-read” for me – the audio quality was still good at that speed so take from that what you will. In the book there are some email and text exchanges between Matthew and Amy so if that is a pet peeve for your audio listening (hearing the email addresses called out several times) you may want to pick up the print edition. I didn’t find it annoying personally.
Listen to Say What You Will if you like: Smart contemporary YA, quirky characters, books that challenge you, and a side of dramarama in your stories.
We Were Liars is about a group of four family friends that call themselves the Liars. They summer with their families every year at an exclusive island off Cape Cod. During the 15th summer everything falls apart, and our unreliable narrator Cadence (Cady) Sinclair Eastman suffers a head injury and selective amnesia. The reader follows a scant trail of breadcrumbs to put it all together, but still, the final act will likely shock you.
It took me some time to warm up to this group of privileged teens. But as the book wore on I got more curious about Cady, her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and her love interest Gat, the outsider, who only see each other in the summer and live separate lives during the school year. Issues of class, race, gender roles, and privilege are on the table among the Liars, and their old-money families are at the mercy of Cady’s grandfather who holds the purse strings.
After the mysterious incident in the 15th summer, Cady returns two years later a different person. She’s dyed her hair black, has memory loss and migraines, and gives away her belongings. And adding to the mystery angle, all the Liars and family members are instructed not to tell Cady what happened two years ago. My mind was going to all kinds of dark places, but I was still way off base.
With the setting and Cady’s foggy headspace there is a dreamy quality to the book that is further enhanced by the dark fairytales that Cady references in the story.
E. Lockhart’s writing is smart and poetic, and the book is cleverly crafted. I did feel detached from the story and the characters at times, but I’m thinking that’s part of the design of the book. Even if you feel a lack of connection to the story at first the mystery has a great payoff in the end that gives you all the feels.
Narrator Ariadne Meyers made Cady’s confused state of mind believable. Her tone of voice is convincing when portraying these blue blood type characters. The pacing was fine and the male and female voices and age ranges were distinct. One reason you might want to go with the print version instead though is to flip back for reference. With a high concept book like this with so many surprises, the audio makes it tricky to go back and re-listen if you need to. However, listening to the story does make it feel more mysterious and chilling and Meyers does a good job selling this story.
Listen to We Were Liars if you like: High concept mystery, literary YA, unreliable narrators, and twisty stories.
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