Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best of 2014: Audiobooks

I cannot express the right words for how passionate I am about my audiobooks.  There are days (weeks!) when I don't look at a single printed page of a book because I'm running around like my hair is on fire.  But audios I can do...in the car, cleaning the house, doing yard work, cooking, walking.  A well-narrated audio can be the most incredible experience...in some cases the entire story comes to life and feels like a movie in my head.  

I can't vouch for these books in print.  But in my ears they came alive.  

Non-Fiction




Five Days at Memorial - Sheri Fink (narrated by Kirstin Potter):  This is an absolutely riveting and horrifying story about the events that transpired at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after Katrina hit.  No electricity, a failed generator, and hundreds of critically ill and elderly patients too frail to evacuate.  In a move that was highly controversial, decisions were made to euthanize the most helpless patients with lethal doses of painkillers.  It is hard to imagine such events occurring today, and brings up some highly discussable topics.  Perfect for book clubs.  Kirstin Potter is a wonderful narrator, but the real attraction here is the facts. 





In the Kingdom of Ice - Hampton Sides (narrated by Arthur Morey):  This bit of history about an ill-fated Polar expedition in the late nineteenth century reads like a thriller.  An eccentric playboy benefactor, incorrect maps and misinformation, starvation, frostbite, a breached hull, trudging for hundreds of miles in the frozen tundra, madness...it just doesn't get any more fascinating than this.  Like "Five Days at Memorial", the narration was well-done but the facts are self-sustaining.    




This is the Story of a Happy Marriage - Ann Patchett (narrated by the author):  Before I listened to this audio, I would have sworn that I wasn't into "essays".  But Patchett's, written for magazines over the expanse of her career, are ones that will touch on something that will move you.  MOST of them moved me.  Stories about writing her first book, about her dog, about her failed first marriage and her successful second one, about relationships with family and friends, opening a bookstore, being persecuted because of the content of her books...it is absolutely perfect in every way.  Patchett is so natural in her narration too.  This is one audio that I want to purchase in print to keep forever.


Fiction  




Native Son - Richard Wright (narrated by Peter Francis James):  This story knocked the wind out of me.  Set in 1930's Chicago, it tells the tale of Bigger Thomas, a young black man that makes a series of bad decisions that drags him into a downward spiral.  It is gut-wrenching, and shows the desperation and hopelessness of the black man during that time.  I suspect the novel in print would have an equal impact, but the narration is superb.    





We Are Water - Wally Lamb (narrated by Wally Lamb, George Guidall, Maggi-Meg Reed, Tavia Gilbert, Richard Ferrone, Edoardo Ballerini, Cynthia Darlow,  Therese Plummer):  If you asked me to list my top 10 audios EVER, this one would be one of them.  Lamb is a hell of a storyteller, in this case covering everything from a modern family and their individual struggles, gay marriage, pedophilia, racial prejudice...oh yeah you get it all here, as is Lamb's way.  But the narrators?  That is a loaded cast of voices, and they made this audio completely unputdownable.  It unfolded like a movie right before me, truly some of the best narration I've heard.  We read this in my book club, and some of the members refused to read it because of the pedophilia.  It's too bad because while that was very hard to listen to, I believe it to be one of the best books written this year.




Someone Else's Love Story - Joshilyn Jackson (narrated by the author):  Most of you know this, but I refuse to read a JJ book in print.  All of her books but one are narrated by the author herself, and she is marvelous.  Her stories are marvelous too...quirky, usually dysfunctional, Southern, and all center on very strong women.  In this novel, she also throws in autism and a love triangle of sorts.  And a girl who got pregnant without having sex.  You have to read it to believe it.  It is classic Joshilyn Jackson.  



Every Day - David Levithan (narrated by Alex McKenna):  While this book officially fell under the YA genre, it gets serious credit for tickling my brain and presenting a very unique premise (something you don't get often in ANY genre).  Every day "A" (a spirit? a soul? a male?  a female?) wakes up in a different body.  A is at peace with its existence, and lives by the rules of not interfering or causing attention in its subject's life.  Then A meets and falls in love with a girl.  Suddenly every day is a mission to get close to her, which is difficult when each day A is a radically different person.  It sounds a little wacky, but it works.  It is beautiful.  And very beautifully narrated.     




The Martian - Andy Weir (narrated by R.C. Bray):  If you've been anywhere near a book review this year, you will recognize this one.   This book was all the rage!  This won't be the only list you will see it on, particular in audio form.  About a wise-ass brainiac that get accidentally left on Mars during an exploration mission, it makes science fiction accessible and LIKABLE by one and all.  The narration of Bray provides the perfect snarky voice of a guy who is basically screwed but uses his last wit to stay alive.  Oh and by the way, it's going to be a movie starring Matt Damon.  Yep.




The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith (narrated by Robert Glenister):  If you thought J.K. Rowling shot her wad on Harry Potter, you were wrong.  This series started with "The Cuckoo's Calling" and set the groundwork with a protagonist who is a rumpled but genius private investigator, and his cute ambitious assistant.  I felt that Cuckoo's mystery was a tad pedestrian and one-dimensional, but she let out all the stops on this one.  The cherry on top was that the mystery occurs butt-deep in the publishing industry.  Robert Glenister's narration is simply as good as it gets.  He is amazing.   




World of Trouble - Ben H. Winters (narrated by Peter Berkrot):  This book is the third installment in The Last Policeman Trilogy, and yes, it is extremely unusual that the final book would be the mind-blower but it was.  The premise of the trilogy is that a very large asteroid is going to hit the earth and end civilization as we know it.  As time ticks down, people hunker down, pursue their bucket lists, kill themselves, get stoned on drugs.  But Detective Hank Palace (a little on the spectrum I think) continues to solve murders, chase down missing persons, and try to save his little sister.  The first two novels are good, but this one is remarkable.  Not too many people can pull off the end of the world quite like this.  The narrator isn't the best in the business, but his voice became Hank Palace and I was glad they kept him through the series.  




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Best of 2014: Graphic Novels



So Graphic Novels!  This has been a more recent love that I acquired as a result of blogging.  I didn't read that many this year, but the ones I read for the most part were outstanding.  Here are my favorites...I'm quite pleased at how different each of them are from another.  



Watchmen - Alan Moore:  I read this at the behest of my son, and I thanked him afterward.  This is so much more than a comic.  It is a mystery, it is layered and complex, it folds in history and politics and made my brain tingle!  This is what all "comics" and superhero lore should strive to be.   




Blankets - Craig Johnson:  I'm a little late to the party on this one.  I'd heard so much about it over the years, so I finally ordered it from the library.  It is a whole different type of GN than Watchmen.  It is a autobiography about Johnson's life, starting with some traumatic incidents in his childhood, a first love he meets at camp as a teen, and his life as a young adult.  He struggles with love, loss and religion and is heartfelt.  




Palestine - Joe Sacco:  This GN was recommended by a whole list of other GN authors as being one of the best.  It is different from the other books listed here in that it is gritty, investigative journalism put into illustration.  We always hear stories from the Israeli point of view in our media...here is a chance to see things from the other side of the street, from the perspective of the common Palestinian.  This book is used in university classrooms, and with good reason.  I'll be rereading this one.





Saga - Brian K. Vaughan:  I had to give this series special mention.  None of the three installments have received more than 4 stars from me, but as a whole, they are a wondrous diversion into fantasy.  It is hard to describe the bizarre setup, but Wikipedia states it is a cross between Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and Romeo & Juliet.  So there you go, I'm sure that cleared things up!  It is a classic story of revenge, warring ethnicities, and forbidden love.  The imagery alone is worth your time.  Even if none of this sounds the least bit interesting, give it a shot.  You may find yourself getting sucked in just like me.





Monday, December 15, 2014

Best of 2014: Fiction and Non-Fiction


I'm still not sure what to think of 2014.  I definitely read less books than I have in awhile (90 total, 52 of them audio).  I always tend to blame myself...I say that I was moody and distracted, which was true.  But I think that if the books in general had been more compelling, I would have pulled out of those funks.  As a result, the lists are much shorter!

Here is how I'm going to break down my genres.  Today I'll talk about Fiction and my one lonely Non-Fiction book, all of them scored at 5 stars.  Tomorrow I'll talk about a few Graphic Novels that impressed me.  And finally I will go over my favorite Audiobooks, which are both Fiction and Non-fiction.  Just FYI, these books were not necessarily published in 2014, I just read them this year.


FICTION




Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel:  This girl has hit her stride.  Don't let the phrases "traveling performers" or "post-apocalypse" scare you off.  This is a story of humanity rising above the need to just survive after an epidemic wipes out 99% of the population.  It has gorgeous writing, the random human connections like little Easter eggs hidden within the story.  She didn't win the National Book Award this year, but give her time.  



Wool - Hugh Howey:  I'll be the first to admit that I don't like Science Fiction, so that should tell you how absolutely mind-blowing this book is.  Again, post-apocalyptic, and a world-building that is phenomenal...unique and fully-developed. I've just read nothing like it.  (Even more amazing, this guy started out as self-published until someone discovered him.)  And there are two more books in the series that I'm dying to read!  





Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty:  I've been a fan of this author for several years, and she just keeps getting better and better.  I love her for several reasons.  First, she just GET'S IT.  Being a woman, a mother, and wife.  And while she may come across as fluffy chicky lit, she digs into some serious territory.  In her latest book, she nails the whole parent/student dynamic at a small elementary school.  I feel like I've lived this.   Her setup and pacing is perfect, and is the fastest long book you'll ever read. 





We Were Liars - E. Lockhart:  This is another very fast read with a twisty plot and an unreliable narrator.  It is officially deemed a Young Adult book but it is suitable for anyone.  Not only is it twisty but so accurately captures magical summers and coming of age.  I laugh every time I think of one girl in my exercise class that was exercising and reading this at the same time because it is unputdownable.




Wolf - Mo Hayder:  I am completely addicted to this murder mystery series starring Detective Inspector Jack Caffrey, a guy who is damaged (of course, they all are).  The series is incredible dark and disturbing, and has been stringing us along on a few things.  Our protagonist gets some answers here, as well as a horrendous case.  It is the stuff of nightmares and I love it! 




The Wicked Girls - Alex Marwood:  This was a recommendation from Uncle Stevie, and I trust his sense of the macabre.  It was a well-told story, very fast-paced, very dark, but at this point, I don't remember a whole lot of the details.  So I'm not sure it belongs in the five star category but that is what I gave it at the time.


NON-FICTION



Devil's Knot - Mara Leveritt:  I've always been a little creepster about true crime.  I love analyzing the crazies, I love how you can Google the details, and it is terrifying because it is real.  This story?  As good as it gets.  Small town, a brutal murder of three little boys.  The local police go on a witch hunt and arrest three teens based on little more than rumor, prejudice and the coerced confession of one of the teens who is mentally handicapped.  The corruption goes all the way to the judge and the jurors, and these boys are convicted and serve FOR 17 YEARS before released.  This case is appalling, and if you need more, there are several HBO documentaries that allow you to see it all in it's full glory.  Doesn't matter if you are a fan of true crime or not, this is one you have to read.







Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Salon: All About That Dog

 

Yes, I'm late again today.  That will probably be the way it will be forever.  Gone are the days of organization.  Oh well.

This was a pretty normal week.  Holiday hair cut (after the parties LOL), one doctor appointment, and a Polish feast to celebrate the end of my Polish class.  I will be re-enrolling again in January though since I'm still useless.  A little more shopping, wrapping, and getting my mom's house ready for their arrival tomorrow.

But the real focus has been the puppy.  It's all about the puppy.  The breeder contacted me mid-week and told me there was a National Dog Show here in Orlando that we could attend, meet the puppies' "nanny", as well as some of the other dogs and breeders.  We went Friday and today, and it was a blast.  If any of you have ever seen the movie "Best of Show", well, there you have it.  We also got our weekly e-mail with pictures.  Resign yourself to these updates.  We are like new parents.      





On the reading front, I finished nothing!  Ha!  I made progress with "Monster" by Steve Jackson, a true crime novel about a serial murderer.  (I know, I am such a creeper.)  On audio I continue to listen to "Empty Mansions" by Bill Dedman, which is fascinating non-fiction about a reclusive heiress.

Starting tomorrow, I will start posting my favorites lists for 2014, starting with print Fiction and Non-Fiction on Monday, Graphic Novels on Tuesday, and audios on Wednesday. It's more work than I've done on this blog in ages!  It has definitely been a slower year than most on all fronts.

Not much left of this Sunday, but it still may include a nap and some reading.  Just have to get my comfies on...








Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Salon: We're Expecting!




Expecting a dog, that is.  (You didn't think it was that kind of expecting did you?  May the good Lord have mercy on my soul.) If you have been around long, you know about my love affair with animals.  We have six cats, but haven't had a dog for 10 years.  I've been begging for one, my the husband was the holdout.  I'd always said that God would bring us a dog when the right time came, and I guess now was the time.  Hubby seemed only amenable to one particular breed, the Polish Lowland Sheepdog (called PONs which stands for Polski Owczarek Nizinny), because it is a breed from his Motherland and is not widely bred in the US.  I reached out to a couple of breeders...only a couple dozen in the country...and one in North Carolina called me and told me her female was in the process of having puppies.  And that was all she wrote.




Once they get a little older and their temperaments established, we will decide which one we will get, but will most likely be a male.  We will pick him up around the end of January.  They are very smart dogs, they don't shed (although require a lot of brushing), and only get between 30 and 50 pounds.  We are besides ourselves, and feel like we are having a baby.

Anyway!  That was the excitement and the distraction this week!  I had my last Polish class (although a new class starts back up again in January), had two doctor appointments, did A LOT of Christmas shopping, did yard work, had a book club meeting, and had two Christmas parties.  Whew!  Oh!  AND OUR WALL GOT FIXED!  This is the wall that was crashed into by a car last April.  We still have to do the landscaping, but this is progress.  I think things should be easier from here on out.  Maybe.

My reading has been shite as usual.  I did finally finish Uncle Stevie's "Revival" and it just didn't meet my expectations.  He's always good at telling a story, but it was slow.  Then I picked up "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy but I just couldn't get into it.  It was strange.  So I put it down and waffled about what to read.  I finally started a true crime novel called "Monster".  True crime always works for me when I'm in a fug.

My only audio this week was Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher installment "Personal".  Maybe it was my mood or maybe I'm just tired of the same old thing, but the book bored me to death.  Jack needs to change things up, find a girlfriend or something.  I've now started "Empty Mansions" by Bill Dedman for book club, and it is fascinating and very well-narrated.

With all the focus on year-end lists this week (and authors who have a rage when they don't end up on them), I've been contemplating whether I should do mine.  I think I will, they are fun to do.  I just feel like this year might be slim pickings.  We will see.  Look for them soon.

We are off today to watch a pro golf tournament.  After the weekend we've had I really just need a nap.  Hope everyone is starting to feel the Christmas spirit and is enjoying their Sunday!


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday Salon: Turkey and football and cars

Hey, it's the afternoon!  How about that.  But I'm here.  The entire week has been one of low-key sluggishness.  No Polish classes, no doctor appointments, kids were home most of the week.  I did move a little.  I got the tree up, got my Christmas cards done and sent (despite the fact that my kids refused to take a formal picture), and cooked a small Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us.  We went over to friends' house for dessert.  It was a good day.  I was dragged out early on Black Friday by my daughter, which was not optimal.  Massive crowds, rude people, listening to "All I want for Christmas is you" at least two dozen times.  I did a good deal of online shopping, my preferred method of spending money.  I'm slowly getting my ass in gear.

My daughter's high school played football Friday night and won by one point in a triple overtime to become the Regional 5A champs.  If they win next week they will go to the Citrus Bowl to become state champs.  Very exciting stuff!  They haven't had a season like this since 1970.

My husband is slowly coming around on the idea of a dog.  I'm not sure if it is because my kids are older and aren't very lovable, or maybe the hormones, but I really NEED a dog.  We will see if he talks himself out of it.  I'm holding my breath.  I need to mother something.

My husband and I maintained a long-standing tradition and went to the International Car Show yesterday to scope out my next car.  Realistically, I may never get another new one, with all the musical cars we are playing with our driving age children, but it is fun to look.

Mid-season finale of The Walking Dead tonight!  OMG!  I can barely think of anything else.

Oh yeah, I guess this is a BOOK BLOG!  Huh, you'd never know it.  I did finish "Wildlife" by Fiona Wood on audio this week.  I have yet to write it up on Goodreads, but what a wonderful YA book.  It really captured the essence of friendship, grief, and dealing with sexual pressure from the perspective of the 16-17 year old.  It is refreshing when an author takes this topic seriously and is responsible with the messages.  I have yet to start another audio yet...I needed to listen to music for awhile. I'm thinking I'll start the latest Jack Reacher today when I'm finishing the decorating.

In print, I'm so freaking pathetic.  I'm still reading Stephen King's "Revival" and while it isn't horror like I thought it would be, his storytelling is good.  I just am disengaged in general with the idea of sitting down quietly and finishing it.  I'm close though.

I also have to say this about "The Paying Guests" by Sarah Waters, which I talked about last week.  While it didn't blow me away like some other of her books, I am STILL thinking about it.  The characters and the plot keep bouncing around in my head.  So you all really should read it.  That is the magic of her writing.

I'm not totally looking forward to this week, but it must be done.  Back to the doctor appointments, Polish classes, a book club, and two Christmas parties.  In my heart, I am a homebody.  Too much running around makes me irritable even if individually these events are fun.  But I'm just going to put my head down and plod through it, and I'm sure I will have a good time.   

As for the rest of the day, I'll finish decorating, maybe wrap some gifts.  Finish Revival?  Nap?  Yes all around.  Hope everyone has an awesome Sunday and upcoming week.

   


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Salon: Regroup

 Good morning friends!  Things are looking up...I'm writing my post before noon!  We'll see if I finish before we leave for church.  I doubt it, but at least I'm getting started.

I'm not really going to say much about the past week.  It wasn't good, so I'm just going to block it out and regroup.  If we want to count blessings, I will mention that the uber-trainer Andre just had a new baby, and after taking a handful of days off, was back in action this week.  His workouts are good for the body, but are also nearly like therapy and I missed them!

I also forgot to mention last week that we went to see "Interstellar", which we enjoyed.  I wouldn't say that there will be acting Oscars coming out of that movie, but the visuals were amazing!  We're really starting to get into the season of good movies and serious Oscar contenders, and we've got our sights set on a few over the next few weeks.  If we can motivate the kids to leave their rooms!

On the reading front, I've made some good progress on "Revival", and hope to finish that very soon.  (Maybe today depending on whether it rains all day.)  I'm still not totally sure where Uncle Stevie is going with his story, but I love the journey.  I'm thinking of picking up "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy next, after reading that it was one of Uncle Stevie's favorite books ever.

On audio, I'm nearly done with the amazing Sarah Waters "The Paying Guests".  I've actually gone back and forth between reading and listening on this one and am probably a couple of hours from finishing.  She is wicked with the mind screw, and I'm just waiting for the poop to hit the fan on this one.  I will concur that the book could have used some serious editing, and there is a huge amount of drama going on, but I'm still enjoying it.  Up next is the highly-recommended "Wildlife" by Fiona Wood, which I just downloaded on audio from the library.

So the holidays.  I've got Thanksgiving sort of figured out.  But Xmas is not within reach right now.  I've got some work to do on that front.  I'm going to be looking for some motivation this week.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Sunday, whether you are in rain or snow (what seems to be the theme all over the country).  And yay!  Got it done before church!  Hee hee