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July 28, 2018 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

Great Audiobooks, Questionable Memoirs, and Epic Literary Fiction: Here’s What I’ve Read Lately

Great Audiobooks, Questionable Memoirs, and Epic Literary Fiction: Here’s What I’ve Read Lately

 

Life has been chaotic lately and I haven’t gotten around to sharing my latest reads with you. I’m so far behind, in fact, that I’m dividing up what I’ve read lately into two posts — I’ll share the rest in a week or two. I recommitted to reading more in March of last year and have read over a hundred books since then! Part of this is thanks to my discovery of audiobooks, which I now listen to in the car, while I’m getting ready, and when I’m doing laundry or housework. The other is due to a conscious decision I made to read during my downtime as opposed to surfing the web, scrolling through my iPhone, or binge-watching mediocre shows on Netflix. It’s amazing how much more I’ve been able to read since making that decision!

You’ll notice that I’m all over the place when it comes to books. New releases, literary classics, obscure memoirs, sci-fi, mysteries, romance, YA — I’ll read just about anything if I think it’s going be good! The appeal of a good book for me is entering someone else’s world and experiencing what it’s like to be there. I have several AMAZING audiobooks to share with you in this list, which are great for long car trips, and the rest of the books run the gamut of interests. Take a look, and be sure to share what you’re reading in the comments. I love your recommendations! And follow on me on GoodReads to keep up with what I’m reading in real time.

 

Crazy Rich Asians Audiobook review
 
Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan (4/5 stars)

Over the years, I have read and loved all of Dominick Dunne’s snarky novels about the lives, loves and scandals of New York’s upper crust — He made it seem like an insider was whispering sordid tales of the rich and famous into my ear in a secluded corner at the Swan Ball, and except for Truman Capote, no one else has really been able to match him in this particular genre… until now.

Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians has the exact same appeal as Dunne’s novels had for me, and the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about Singapore’s jet set only made things all the more interesting. I loved the melodrama, the unfathomable wealth, the charming tradition the older Asian billionaires have of pretending that they’re actually not very wealthy at all, and the clash that comes with having children and grandchildren who want to flaunt those riches and live large.

Crazy Rich Asians reads like a soap opera in the hands of a very talented writer. It’s a perfect beach read or palate cleanser and it was a wonderful escape from my solidly middle class life. I listened to the audiobook version of this novel and highly recommend it. And I will definitely be seeing the movie!

 

Kristin Lavransdatter Review
 
Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset (5/5 stars)

One word to describe this 1144-page trilogy? WOW.

Kristin Lavransdatter is best described as an epic journey through all the phases of a 14th-century Norwegian woman’s life, from headstrong young maiden to passionate wife, fiercely loyal mother, and finally, elderly (for the 1300s, anyway) woman. If you are a wife and mother in particular and aren’t afraid to devote some serious time and effort to a sprawling, multi-layered saga, this trilogy is definitely worth your time — and as others have suggested, the three books really need to be read as a whole.

When I finally finished the final book of the series, I felt like I had been on a long emotional journey back in time, into the heart and soul of Kristin and her family. In Kristin, I saw so many elements of my own past, present, and future and it was truly moving to consider the progression of my own life alongside her own. This trilogy is truly brilliant, particularly considering it was written in the 1920s, and it will fulfill you on so many levels. If you have the patience and desire for a deep dive into great literature, you can’t go wrong with Kristin Lavransdatter. Highly recommended.
 
The Uncommon Reader Audiobook Review

 

The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett (4/5 stars)

This delightful novella is just 2.5 hours long on audiobook and it’s absolutely worth a listen. Bibliophiles and royal watchers alike will love this fictionalized tale of what happens when Queen Elizabeth discovers a late-in-life love of books. I feel much more attuned to the Queen after watching The Crown on Netflix and Bennett’s depiction of her was pitch-perfect. Highly recommended on audiobook!

 

The Heart's Invisible Furies Book Review

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne (3/5 stars)

I had heard great things about The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but in the end, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

We follow Cyril Avery from his birth in 1940s Ireland to the present and marvel at the challenges he faces as a gay man in a very religious, very repressed country. The lack of tolerance for those who deviated from the Catholic ‘norm’ during a time that wasn’t even that long ago is hard to imagine today.

Beyond that, this book just didn’t grab me. There were too many ‘coincidences’ for one thing, as Cyril’s path continually criscrossed with people from his past. It always irks me when novelists stretch my suspension of disbelief to a point where it gets really difficult to place the story in a real life setting in my mind. And while I was waiting for a profound moment of reckoning or discovery that would tie everything up and make the hours I spent reading this 600-page book worthwhile, it never really happened for me. I thought the whole thing was just ‘okay’ — not quite bad enough to put down, but not good enough to be excited about reading it. In the end, those are my least favorite books of all.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is often compared to A Little Life, which I LOVED. If you’re trying to choose between the two, I’d recommend A Little Life, but not this one.

 

Mean Streak Sandra Brown Book Review
 
Mean Streak, Sandra Brown (4/5 stars)

I listened to the audiobook version of this book and for what it was, I really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely read more of Sandra Brown’s books in the future.

Atlanta pediatrician Dr. Emory Charbonneau heads to the mountains of North Carolina alone to train for an upcoming marathon — and doesn’t return. After starting off on her run, she wakes with a concussion in the secluded mountain cabin of a man whose intentions are unclear. As the mystery slowly unravels, Emory finds herself both terrified and attracted by this man, who harbors a dark secret that keeps the reader guessing about him all the way to the end of the book.

Mean Streak has plenty of great twists that all actually seem plausible — My problem with most novels in this genre is that the twists often become so unlikely that they end up spoiling what could otherwise have been a good book. But what really set Mean Streak apart for me was Brown’s gift at characterization. I could vividly see the characters in my mind as I read about them and I thought of them as real people — Because of this, I was far more invested in what was going on than I ordinarily would have been.

A warning for more conservative readers — There are some pretty graphic sex scenes that might just make you blush (and will definitely make you reach for the earbuds if you have kids!). But once again, I thought even these scenes were well-written and appropriate to the story.

I’m glad I discovered Sandra Brown and HIGHLY recommend the audio version of Mean Streak.

 
An American Marriage Review
 
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones (4/5 stars)

Celestial and Roy have only been married a year when Roy is convicted of and jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. That’s the premise of An American Marriage, and while it’s not something most couples will ever go through, Tayari Jones manages to make the reader feel every one of the complicated emotions Celestial and Roy experience as a result of his imprisonment.

Jones deftly covers the topics of racism, marriage, incarceration, family, and racial identity in this novel, but the real reason I loved it is that it led me to its author — Jones writes so compellingly that I think I’d love anything she publishes. I’m looking very forward to reading more of her work!
 
The Very Worst Missionary Review
 
The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever, Jamie Wright (4/5 stars)

I really liked this book for the most part. I found Jamie’s thoughts on ‘Churchianity’ to mirror my own. Christians are all about accepting the ‘fallen’ into their fold, but once you’re there, you’d better toe the party line or you’ll find yourself on the outs with all the do-gooders who initially made you feel welcomed.

Or is that just me? 😉

Jamie also includes an eye-opening account of becoming a missionary overseas, where she quickly discovers that the people she’s supposed to be ministering to perhaps don’t need saving, the sensitivity training for many missionaries is appallingly lacking, and the vetting process is non-existent. She and her husband eventually abandon their posts, completely disillusioned, and Jamie vows to expose the seedy underbelly of missionary life as her new ministry.

But while I enjoyed about 90% of the book, I have to admit the last section irritated me. After telling her story and making herself very relatable and vulnerable, Jamie got a little preachy at the end, asserting that the missionary industry is misguided and ineffective and then telling us all how we should love if we REALLY want to be good Christians.

For one thing, while I’m absolutely certain there are some really bad missionaries out there, I’m equally certain there are some really honest, sincere, and effective ones (I even know a few). For another, I don’t understand why even the most relatable books on Christianity almost always seem to end with the author asserting his/her spiritual authority and instructing the reader on how to behave. I wish Jamie had simply laid out her personal experience with honesty and humility and then let the reader decide for herself what to think. Had Jamie done this, I probably would have come to many of the same conclusions she drew at the end of the book, without feeling like she was wagging her finger at me and telling me what to do and how to do it.
 
A Fatal Grace Audiobook Review
 
A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny (4/5 stars)

I have mixed feelings about this series, but I’m going to stay with it because I hear it gets really good at around book #4.

My conflict comes because as mysteries go, the first two books are just okay. In both cases, the plot and its many twists and turns were farfetched at times, requiring more suspension of disbelief than I had to give. And in the case of A Fatal Grace, I guessed the murderer’s identity almost immediately. It seemed pretty obvious to me from the start, and it was a real letdown when I discovered I had been right from the very beginning of the book.

The reason I’m continuing with this series is that I LOVE its characters and setting. Twin Pines is a French-Canadian Stars Hollow and Louise Penny does a wonderful job of making us care about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and the motley assortment of Twin Pines villagers he has come to love. I’m totally invested in her world, and if murders have to happen for me to ‘go there,’ then so be it!

I listened to the audio version of this book and while I loved the narrator and felt he was perfect for this series, I will likely read the rest of the books, only because I want to be able to easily go back over clues when I need to. It was hard keeping track of everything in my head via audio.

I recommend this series for anyone who loves fictional villages like Mitford and Stars Hollow, and for fans of cozy mysteries– In these respects, the Gamache series is at the top of its game.
 
The Moon's a Balloon Review
 
The Moon’s a Balloon, David Niven (3/5 stars)

I ran across a couple of random reviews of this book from readers who said this was the absolute BEST memoir they had ever read and so, even though I knew nothing about David Niven and couldn’t recall a single movie he’d been in, I checked out the lone copy from my library and gave it a shot.

The book was great! Niven is a wonderful storyteller and first-rate name dropper and I felt like I was having dinner with a fascinating character full of charming tales. I discovered Niven played a supporting role in one of my favorite classic films, Wuthering Heights, and learned of an interesting connection between that movie and Gone with the Wind, which I just watched a few weeks ago with my daughter. I enjoyed the book both for its tales of old Hollywood and for the stories of life in England and the U.S. between World War I and World War II. It was thoroughly entertaining.

Why am I giving it three stars? Well, shortly before the end of the book, Niven recounted his acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for Best Actor. He claimed that he tripped and fell on his way to the stage and when he finally got the podium said “The reason I fell is that I’m loaded…” which caused the audience to burst into laughter. He was planning on finishing the sentence with “…down with good luck charms,” but wrote that he never got to that point because the audience drowned him out. Hilarious, right? Of course, I paused to look up the speech on YouTube, where I discovered that Niven’s entire story was made up! He did NOT trip on the way to the stage — the camera stayed on him the entire time, from his seat to the podium– and while he did say he was loaded down with good luck charms, it in no way could have been construed as him being ‘loaded.’ You can see the speech for yourself here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUGOI…

This really bothered me, because if he’d invent a tale that could so easily be cross-referenced, I have to assume he stretched the truth in a large number of the stories that fill his autobiography, many of which are so funny/adventurous/coincidental/death-defying that it is hard to believe they all happened to him. So, ugh. Three stars for The Moon’s a Balloon which, although hugely entertaining, is probably also hugely made up.
 
Dad is Fat Audiobook Review
 
Dad is Fat, Jim Gaffigan (3.5/5 stars)

This book contains humorous essays about parenting. It was a good audiobook — light, entertaining, and ultimately forgettable.

What have you read lately?

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