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  • The Wife

  • A Novel
  • By: Meg Wolitzer
  • Narrated by: Dawn Harvey
  • Length: 8 hrs and 9 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 267
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 245
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 244

The moment Joan Castleman decides to leave her husband, they are 35,000 feet above the ocean on a flight to Helsinki. Joan's husband, Joseph, is one of America's preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award, and Joan, who has spent 40 years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, has finally decided to stop.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • A bit of a downer

  • By Jody Cox on 08-01-18

The fury of an unreliable narrator scorned

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-20-19

Wolitzer's at her furious best when capturing female rage, and Joan Castleman's quiet, reined-in fury at her husband drives this book forward with surprising energy. Through Joan, Wolitzer paints perfect, unflattering and often funny vignettes of her famous author husband. His mild-mannered narcissism and deep mediocrity as a person, a father, a husband and a writer is the subject of her female gaze throughout the book. Indeed, her gaze at him prevents her from seeing herself clearly. We find out just how unreliable a narrator she is by the end of the book in a chilling denoument. The movie, in my view, did a better job articulaing the injustices Joan suffered at her husband and society's hands. The book gives those outrages short shrift, and only in the last part of the book. I wanted to know more - but I suppose that's Wolitzer's point. Joan doesn't know much about herself, and she's dismissed herself and her needs for so long, that as a narrator she can't share those with the reader. Very entertaining book.

  • Small Fry

  • By: Lisa Brennan-Jobs
  • Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
  • Length: 12 hrs and 1 min
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 830
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 770
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 765

A frank, smart, and captivating memoir by the daughter of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs' poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise, and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents' fascinating and disparate worlds. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the '70s and '80s, Small Fry is an enthralling audiobook by an insightful new literary voice. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • You feel as though you are there.

  • By Anonymous User on 09-07-18

A+ for schadenfreude

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-20-19

My four stars are for the execution of the memoir. Brennan-Jobs can write, and she's brutally honest and self-aware about her own failings. There's a satisfying schadenfreude reading about Steve Jobs, what an absolute jerk he was, how his kid loved him anyway, and how she's also not particularly likable (e.g. shamelessly namedropping dad during her interview to get into Harvard.) A definte A+ for schadenfreude. There is no reason, however, that this book should have made it on to so many 2018 "best" lists EXCEPT for that it's about Jobs. Privelege, even though its not the amount of privelege the author expected, has its benefits.

  • Heavy

  • By: Kiese Laymon
  • Narrated by: Kiese Laymon
  • Length: 6 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,006
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 945
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 942

Kiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion, and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been. 

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Be prepared

  • By Amy Bannor on 10-30-18

Riveting and uplifting

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-20-19

This book should have been at the top of every 2018 "best" list for sheer mastery of craft. Laymon's lifelong habits of incessant reading, analysis and writing have given him powerful control over many literary techniques sometimes left me with my mouth hanging open. I knew after the first chapter that this book would probably be the best book I would read in 2019. It's stuck with me ever since I finished it.

That Laymon uses this mastery to peel back the impacts of institutional white supremacy on one family makes this work even more powerful. His perfect word choices and construction allow him to tackle family structures in his African American family, his relationship with his mother and grandmother, pressures on black men in the U.S. to be "perfect" so that they're not shot, racist power structures in the deep south and the liberal north, his eating disorder and other addictions in the family, and always, the power of words and love to trascend the agonizing challenges he faces. And through it all, no matter how complicated the social commentary, Laymon makes it simple for the reader because we experience it through the body of a vulnerable child.

This book is a crash course in empathy, outrage and love - riveting and uplifting.

  • The Guards

  • By: Ken Bruen
  • Narrated by: Gerry O'Brien
  • Length: 4 hrs and 37 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 213
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 189
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 189

Still stinging from his unceremonious ouster from the Garda Siochana, and staring at the world through the smoky bottom of his beer mug, Jack Taylor is stuck in Galway with nothing to look forward to. He is teetering on the brink of his life's sharpest edges, his memories of the past cutting deep into his soul and his prospects for the future non-existent.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • This is literature, not just crime fiction

  • By John on 08-09-13

Flawed character so flawed he's your drunk uncle

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-20-19

Shambling drunk who can't stay sober or in one piece - that's the crime solving guy, Jack Taylor. While his colorful language and insouciance draws the reader in at first, the character is so self-destructive that after a while he becomes irritating. It doesn't help that his best friend is a sociopath and he doesn't get it. I liked the book enough to get to the end, but I'm not with child to read the rest of the series. Excellent narrator who breathes life into the often hilarious dialogue.

  • IQ

  • By: Joe Ide
  • Narrated by: Sullivan Jones
  • Length: 9 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 5,283
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,939
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 4,921

A resident of one of LA's toughest neighborhoods uses his blistering intellect to solve the crimes the LAPD ignores. East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood's high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can't or won't touch. They call him IQ. He's a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • IQ way better than OK

  • By green ice cream garden on 12-21-16

Solid crime procedural w/ interesting protagonist

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-20-19

A solid crime procedural with an interesting protagonist - a genius-smart, orphaned African American guy who lives in a tough neighborhood in LA. His sidekick is a gang-banger with a (conditional) moral center. Engaging parallel plot lines and strong character development. Language is bright and vivid, and Ide has an excellent ear for dialogue. Will definitely pursue the next book in the series.

  • The Mars Room

  • A Novel
  • By: Rachel Kushner
  • Narrated by: Rachel Kushner
  • Length: 9 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 583
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 533
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 533

Featuring original music by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon! It's 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women's Correctional Facility, deep in California's Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Amazing novel !

  • By Amazon Customer on 06-08-18

Too bleak for me; well-written

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-09-18

I have mixed feelings about this "immersive" novel. Kushner has done her research, sharing some vivid details about life inside the California women's prison system, life as a sex worker, doing drugs and mostly living on the streets at a tender age. She shares those vivid details in the straightforward, unsentimental voice of her main character, Romy Hall, sentenced to two life sentences for killing her stalker. Kushner makes Romy's voice strong and sure, with no self-pity, and a fatalism that breaks the reader's heart from time to time. There are richly painted portraits of the other inmates and their feisty - or sad - ways. When one teenager gives birth in prison intake, the way she and her child are treated stain the United States with shame.

There are a couple of devices Kushner uses that don't work so well. One character has an obsession with the UniBomber, so excerpts from his diary appear. It breaks up the narrative, but for no good reason. Toward the end of the book, the murder victim tells his side of the story, but we have no attachment to him, and the placement is awkward.

My biggest challenge was that I almost gave up on the novel, it was so bleak. Being born poor, to a drug addict in the most expensive city in the U.S. is indeed bleak, so what was I thinking? I stuck with it because once inside the prison, the other characters and their life forces balanced the bleak portrayals of a rain-drenched, hungry childhood. But the Guardian got it right when it said: "This may not be an enjoyable novel, but it marks you like a tattoo." I'm just not sure I wanted to be marked.

Kushner herself narrates, and her tone and voice are pitch-perfect for Romy, who doesn't expect much from the world. The production would have been improved if there had been men reading the male voices.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Death of Mrs. Westaway

  • By: Ruth Ware
  • Narrated by: Imogen Church
  • Length: 14 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,380
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,102
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 4,081

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person - but also that the cold-reading skills she's honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money. Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased...where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it. Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware's signature suspenseful style, an addictive thriller.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Death of Mrs. Westaway

  • By Debbie De on 06-03-18

Gawdawful Gothic

Overall
1 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-01-18

This could have been a good book. Scrappy orphan makes her living reading Tarot cards for tourists at the Brighton seaside, hounded by loan sharks, receives letter in mail telling her she's received an inheritance from a grandmother of whom she's never heard, please come to the manor house after the funeral. Gloomy manor house, complete with screeching magpies, crazy mean old housekeeper, various new uncles, a missing auntie - the recipie for a good book is there. In fact, this construct kept me with the story till the bitter end, which turned out to be an endurance test. What's to endure, you ask?

First, this book is 51 chapters long, which is about 25 chapters too many. It's as if Ruth Ware were being paid by the word. The story could have been told with half as many words, which would have increased the drama with REAL tension, rather than reminding the reader every fourth word that it is tense because of someone's heart beating in her throat, because her cell phone is upstairs, because she woke up after a nap, because it's raining, because she skipped breakfast, because there's a photo album on the table.

And oh, the words. Ruth Ware is addicted to the adverb. This book is all tell and no show. Every mood, feeling and action is modified by an adverb, usuall in an internal monologue instead of through action, and if there's no appropriate adverb, then by all means, tack "ly" onto any old adjective and smack it in there. Where, I wanted to know, was the editor? Who in hell allowed all these adverbs in? Overall the poor editing makes the book repetitive, obvious and interminable in the extreme.

Poor character development also plagues this book. The orphan Tarot reader at the center is not believable - she has no friends because her mother died three years ago, yet it's clear she works as part of a teeming boardwalk scene with regulars who look out for her. She is scrappy and independent, except that she spends the entire book unable to say boo to a goose, and repeats the word "sorry" 10,000 times. She is a hustler, except she's not, because she feels guilty for getting out of bed in the morning. And we never learn anything else about her other than that she's skinny.

After enduring a bunch of stock characters from a Perils of Pauline setpiece because I hung on, hoping the ending might be clever, I found the ending a serious letdown. The murderer is a murderer for no real reason. The secrets upon secrets are not relevant to the 1990-2010's timeframe, but to some early Victorian period at the latest. The resolution of the plot twists is contrived and awkward.

I am surprised to read so many listeners found the narrator compelling. While the narrator does an ok job with the simpering, whimpering main character, she reads the male voices as if she's on PeeWee Herman's show from the 1990's. It ruined what little dialogue there was.

Overall, just an interminable slog through the rain to find weak, lukewarm tea at the end.

  • Educated

  • A Memoir
  • By: Tara Westover
  • Narrated by: Julia Whelan
  • Length: 12 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 29,670
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 26,939
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 26,805

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard. Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. Her quest for knowledge transformed her.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • The Other Side of Idaho's Mountains

  • By Darwin8u on 03-28-18

Remarkable victory for self-determination

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-28-18

If you’ve read the publishing world’s coverage of this remarkable memoir, you’ve heard enough headlines to be interested. Here’s one: girl who does not attend school of any kind – including home schooling - until she enters college at age 16 attends Cambridge, Harvard, earns PhD. Here’s another: Child of Mormon extremist prepper grows up in a family without doctors or birth certificates, canning peaches and hoarding ammunition for the End Times, imagining her only friend in the crosshairs of a bazooka should he come to steal their supplies when the government crumbles. The first third of Tara Westover’s book is packed with the kinds of details that keeps the reader turning pages, precise and well-chosen images of a childhood most people can’t imagine. That story alone is reason enough to read Educated.

Two things elevate this book from an interesting story about unusual circumstances to a true literary memoir. The first is Tara Westover’s internal transformation from age 16 to 27, as she battles inside herself for the right to create her own mind, separate from the deprivation and dominance of her father’s alternate reality. She fights the physical abuse of a brother who breaks her bones. She fights extreme poverty and betrayal by most of her family members – including her mother – while struggling to catch up on basic skills like personal hygiene and how to use a text book. She has no idea how to connect with people as she has spent most of her life isolated on a mountain in Idaho, taught to fear behaviors like wearing a tank top and grocery shopping on Sunday. The mental toughness and resilience Westover demonstrates in winning this battle – all while earning a PhD and struggling to earn a subsistence living – makes this a powerful recovery story. It is also a classic coming of age story but with more vivid contrasts than most. It is also a grief memoir, with Westover’s loneliness and isolation, her fear and abandonment set forth in plain language as the book slowly says goodbye to her father and his world.

The second element that elevates this book to literary status is the quality of Westover’s writing. Underneath an interesting story is her craft – the architecture of the book in three parts, each with their own crescendos, climaxes and releases. She selects every detail with care – whether it is an Apache parable about the choices women make, or the catastrophic injuries for which her family refuses medical treatment at the direction of her father, or a brother blending and drinking tacos because of the teeth he’d smashed after an accident caused by her father’s impulsive decisions. The details lead the reader through what is largely an internal journey in a way that feels like an action novel. And while Westover’s language is plan and direct, she has a way with a phrase: of her father: “charismatic gale of a man that he was;” her father’s junkyard “a lake of debris;” of her mother’s transformation from community midwife to brain-injured accident victim: “she had been an expert, an uncontested power; now she had to ask her 10-year old daughter whether she’d eaten lunch.” There are many places throughout the book where a lover of language itches to get out the highlighter.

Finally, I hope Westover writes another memoir – in a decade or two. Because this is a memoir clearly written by a person in their 20’s, with all the violence of separation from family that adolescence and young adulthood requires; more, perhaps, because Westover is separating from a family that refuses to allow her a personhood separate from the limited role her father’s views allow. I wonder if the absolutism it takes to hold her newfound independence will need to be so fierce when she’s in her 40’s, if her parents are still alive then. As their powers diminish and hers grow with use, she probably has more story left in her to create.

  • Calypso

  • By: David Sedaris
  • Narrated by: David Sedaris
  • Length: 6 hrs and 39 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 10,342
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 9,354
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 9,279

If you've ever laughed your way through David Sedaris's cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you're getting with Calypso. You'd be wrong. When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And it's as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it's impossible to take a vacation from yourself. With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation - and dark humor - toward middle age and mortality.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Excellent, as always

  • By Ruthie on 05-31-18

Flawless mix of pathos, humor and curiosity

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-28-18

This book is an anthem for those of us facing the indignities of middle age with malice and dark humor. Sedaris bites off the physical trials of middle age with his usual gusto, but his real genius lies in how he approaches the emotional challenges. How loved ones die. How endings are abrupt and untidy. How we watch our parents age, how they make bad decisions, and how we fight with ourselves to balance their safety and their autonomy. How we're never as gracious and patient with these old people as we imagine ourselves to be. How we yearn for them to be, well, our parents again without those vulnerable, frail moments. How we know that when they WERE our parents at full strength, we didn't like them very much.

Sedaris mixes those melancholoy snapshopts with hilarious descriptions of vacationing with his sisters and brother. The Sedaris siblings share their love of the beach, Sedaris' beach house named The Sea Section, a very nearly unseemly love of long talks with strangers, and a penchant for dreadful clothing and wild shopping sprees.

I find it very diffucult to describe Sedaris' unique mix of aggression, compassion and sharp humor, so I recommend this book to everyone so that they can experience it for themselves. The audio book is particularly good because Sedaris himself reads it, and his performance skills are of the highest quality.

  • The Elephant Whisperer

  • My Life with the Herd in the African Wild
  • By: Lawrence Anthony, Thea Feldman, Graham Spence
  • Narrated by: Simon Vance
  • Length: 5 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 94
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 88
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 87

When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of "rogue" wild elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd's last chance of survival: they would be killed if he wouldn't take them. In order to save their lives, Anthony took them in. In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • “To know them is to love them”

  • By Amazon Customer on 08-14-18

The power of inter-species compssion

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-28-18

A well-told story of empathy between species, and how that empathy can make a difference between life and death for vulnerable creatures. A reminder that humans can be gobsmackingly stupid at the expense of other lives, but that we still have free will to choose another path.

Many mysteries of elephant life and family culture come to life in this book, with many mysteries left unsolved as we have so much more to learn about this incredbile, intelligent species.