Category Archives: audiobook

Mini Review: You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

youcanttouchmyhairIf you’re not familiar with Phoebe Robinson yet, she’s a comedian and hilarious person who is one of 2 Dope Queens, Black Daria (Blaria), and as she refers to herself in this book, a cross between Miss J from America’s Next Top Model with a dash of Ta-Nahesi Coates. A lot of Robinson’s essays spend time discussing black hair, her own historically, and through memorable pop culture moments. The Not So Guilty Pleasures section of the book had the most laughs from me, along with her repeated references to some of the nonsense of Carrie Bradshaw and Sex and the City, whilst loving the show and constantly making fun of it simultaneously. I listened to You Can’t Touch My Hair as an audiobook, which was very entertaining because Robinson is great at using her voice to tell a good story; I’m not sure her written words would have jumped off the page in the same way her voice jumped through my ears and mind.

Here’s a lil’ snippet from the book, regarding Robinson wanting to f*ck Bono from U2.

“I have issues. We all have issues. We’re all like a year subscription to Vogue magazine. We’ve got twelve issues each. It’s fine.”

Publication Date: 4 October 2016 by Plume Books. Format: Audiobook.

Author: Phoebe Robinson web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook



Mini Review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

scrappylittlenobodyThis audiobook memoir narrated by actress/author Anna Kendrick was… fine? Maybe I would’ve found it more endearing if I had been a bigger fan of Anna Kendrick. As it stands, I tend to enjoy her in movies and find her Twitter feed humorous, but I’m less invested or interested in what makes her tick and what her experiences are outside of the roles she portrays. So why did I even listen to this audiobook you ask? I honestly thought I would’ve become more interested as I listened along, but it never happened. I frequently forgot I was even reading this book until I would sign onto GoodReads and see that it was still on my currently reading shelf while I was eating lunch before my weekly therapy appointment… and then I would listen for an hour while I ate lunch alone and forget about the audiobook until the next week. This is an audiobook best enjoyed by people who already adore the actress.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

betweentheworldandmeThis is a book that I instantly wish I owned multiple versions of because I feel like I need to consume it in different ways for the weight of its words to fully sink into my consciousness. I finished the audiobook version of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates a couple of weeks ago and it was MARVELOUS! The book is part memoir, part current American history and is written as a letter directly to the author’s son. Because I knew that the book followed this format, I opted to purchase the audiobook from Downpour (if you like audiobooks and you aren’t a subscriber to Downpour, you need to get on board!!) as the author was the narrator and I wanted to hear the author’s intonations and emotions as he spoke his words.

Coates is both a powerful speaker and writer. While he detailed the lessons that he was forced to learn as a black man growing up in America and contrasted them from the lessons his father had to learn and the lessons his son has already learned or will have to learn was incredibly poignant. The world has shifted significantly since his father was a child, but there is still so much room for the world and America’s culture to grow and improve. While his son currently leads a privileged life because of his father’s wealth and their family’s residence in Paris, France (all privileges Coates acknowledges), this doesn’t eliminate the ways that his son must prepare for how he will doubtlessly be seen as a young black man when he is in America. Regardless of any of his own characteristics or intentions, people will cast stereotypes upon his body and his mind and he will have to know how to evade or protect himself from them; hence, why Coates has chosen to write his son a series of lessons he has learned in his own life.

As a white woman, Between the World and Me truly illuminated the world that black parents must build and teach to their children — something that I never had to be taught by my own family. When I was a child, my innocence and piety were often assumed by strangers, but this isn’t the case for many black children who are often undeservedly assumed to be devious or guilty. One of the vignettes that stuck with me most clearly was when a white adult was extremely rude to Coates’s young son and Coates struggled to contain his anger in the face of assumptions and rights incorrectly projected onto his child. To hear this told from a parent’s perspective was heartbreaking and I admire Coates’s ability to so poignantly and clearly discuss how this affects him and his family on a micro-level, while simultaneously situating his personal experiences within historical and societal contexts. 

Between the World and Me is very of the moment (because of the renewed, necessary spotlight on racial tension and inequality in America) and also of America’s history. I believe this book will be a touchstone that people reference decades from now when trying to convey the state of race in America in the early 2000s and Coates has done a remarkable job creating a piece that will last. 

While I loved listening to this audiobook, I wish I also owned a physical version of this book so that I could highlight and come back to the most touching/provoking pieces with ease. I greatly valued hearing the author beautifully speak his story, something that most authors who aren’t trained entertainers struggle to do well. The audiobook was also quite a quick listening experience and clocked in at about 3.5 hours. My recommendation is to consume this in whatever way that it comes into your life and then consume it again and again. I’ll likely be purchasing a physical copy when I get the chance and will re-read it again in the coming years. Clearly, I profusely recommend. 

Publication date: 14 July 2015 by Spiegel & Grau. Format: Audiobook from Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.

Author/Narrator: Ta-Nehisi Coates @twitter/articles

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

anemberintheashesThis book has been covered by several other bloggers and has received glowing reviews from most of them – I’m here to co-sign everything positive that has already been said about this book! I’m typing this review from the sky as I fly from Chicago (for a Thanksgiving visit to my partner) to San Diego (for work). When I fly, I always become reflective on life things because I’m usually visiting or leaving loved ones. For this flight, I decided to reflect on the nature of the Young Adult books I’ve been consuming this year as they relate to my most recent read.

Lately I’ve found myself disconnected and annoyed with most of the YA that I’ve encountered. Up until this moment, I’ve largely thought the disconnection I’ve felt when I read YA is because of my life stage: I’m no longer a teen and perhaps I emphasize less with the typical situations that tend to dominate the lives and stories of teenagers. In actuality, I think I’ve actually become more of a critical reader and am less forgiving to authors and their stories if I find them to be poorly constructed or lacking complex character development.

When I was younger, even if I didn’t completely enjoy a book, reading excited me so much that I was able to dismiss flaws that would irk me now. Now that my free time isn’t endless, I simply become annoyed when a book has wasted my time. An Ember in the Ashes did the opposite of wasting my time – at the conclusion of the novel, I was left wanting even more of the story! Unfortunately for me, no sequels to the novel have been released yet, but the internet tells me the author is developing the sequel!

The audiobook version of An Ember in the Ashes is absolutely riveting! Each chapter shifts back and forth between the points of view of two of the main characters and the audiobook version features two equally talented narrators weaving their tales together. I’ve been disappointed with other audiobooks featuring multiple narrators (I detest All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin), but this novel is a champion of what dual audiobook performances should aspire to emulate! The novel rotates between the perspective of two main characters, Laia, voiced by Fiona Hardingham, and Elias, voiced by Steve West.

Laia is a member of the Scholars, which is essentially the lowest caste of the society in the book. After her life is completely turned upside down at the beginning of the book and she is separated from her family, she must seek help from the Resistance. The Resistance is a group who disagrees with the existing system of power in the Martial Empire (land where the book takes place). The Resistance is attempting to disempower the Martial Empire’s leaders and high-ranking members of the Martials, the highest caste. In order to gain assistance with finding her separated brother and respect from the Resistance, Laia poses as a slave and unexpectedly learns some of her own family history along the way. When Laia is sold into slavery, she becomes a servant to a terrible, cruel leader known as the Commandant who is part of the Martial caste.

The Commandant is hated by most of the servants and by her son, Elias, a member of the elite Martials and a top student at Blackcliff Military Academy. Elias is the other main character and provides an inside look at how the Martials lives and how members of the Martials reinforce their systems of power. Elias is very critical of the Martials and harbors a strong desire to defect from his obligations as a member of the Martials. As one of the top students at Blackcliff, he and three other students are being considered candidates for emperor of the Martial Empire. Of course because of Empire’s desire to maintain its systems of power, democratic elections for emperor don’t exist and the four top students must battle to determine who will be crowned as the next emperor.

Along the way Elias and Laia’s stories begin to intertwine because of their connection to the Commandant. Throughout the novel, they come to realize that they share common interests and might be able to work together to accomplish their individual goals. While some authors withhold narrative depth until the two narrators come together, Tahir has woven an interesting tale from the very first page to the last (or in my case, very first to the last minute of audio).

The ending is a digestible cliffhanger, meaning it felt like a natural, exciting end for the first novel in a series. When I finished listening to the book, I was hungry for the next installment, but didn’t feel as if I was deprived of essential parts that would complete the story.

An Ember in the Ashes is a brilliant debut from Sabaa Tahir and I’ll be quick to gobble down her novels as they’re released. My fingers are crossed that they’re able to use the same narrators for additional books as the series continues.

Publication Date: 28 April 2015 by Razorbill. Format: Digital Audiobook from Listening Library.

Author: Sabaa Tahir web/@twitter/instagram

Narrators: Fiona Hardingham web/@twitter/iMDB and Steve West web/facebook/@twitter

my brilliant friend by elena ferrante

mybrilliantfriendI gobbled My Brilliant Friend down in a very short amount of time in order to finish it for a book club discussion only for the discussion to be moved, leading me to wish I had spent a bit more time digesting this book as I read.

Since I’ve been spending most of my reading time diving into an ebook version of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, I decided to download an audiobook version of My Brilliant Friend. Unfortunately, a digital audiobook download was unavailable from my library during my time crunch to complete the book, so I signed up for Downpour. Downpour is an audiobook subscription service that allows you to download one audiobook title per month for $12.99. After you purchase the title, it’s yours and won’t disappear from your library after you cancel your subscription like another popular audiobook service *cough*. I really, really liked the service and am looking forward to continuing to get a new audiobook download each month.

Unfortunately, I don’t think an audiobook version of My Brilliant Friend really did the story justice. I frequently found myself zoning out while listening to this book and felt very detached from the story. If you’re going to read this book, definitely opt for a print or ebook version. This book is the debut in the Neapolitan Novels series by the mysterious Elena Ferrante. Ferrante is the pen name of a mysterious Italian author who only communicates with her publisher and the press through letters because she believes that truly great writing doesn’t need promotion of a likable author. The aura of the mysterious author definitely contributes to the allure of the book as I was left wondering how autobiographical the tale was, which I may never learn the answer to.

The novel follows the lives of two girls, Elena (last name Greco, not Ferrante) and Lila, as they  grow up in the outskirts of Naples, Italy in the 1950s. The story begins when the girls are in primary school and follows their friendship and individual lives and ends with one of the girls getting married in her late teens. The story is told from the perspective of Elena, a girl who is enamored with her brilliant friend and is constantly balancing her jealousy of and affection for Lila. This balance felt very true to female friendship that I experienced as I came to age — wanting to possess certain aspects of your friend’s personality or lifestyle, while also feeling lucky to be surrounded by great friends. The tale of their friendship is the central point of this story that holds all of the other details together and makes me wonder what will happen in the subsequent novels after one of the two friends becomes married.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when the lives of our two central characters begins to dovetail as Elena is allowed to continue her education, while Lila, despite being incredibly smart and showing desire to continue her education, is regulated to working in the family business. The inequality in access to education and opportunities heavily influences each of their subsequent decisions and life paths.

There is a lot more going on in this story aside from brilliantly detailing a female friendship and their access to education, but I found myself zoning out when the audiobook delved into the other aspects of Lila and Elena’s world. There is a lot of violence surrounding the neighborhood where the girls grow up and there are hints of ties to the Italian mafia sprinkled in, but because of my zoning out and my lack of familiarity with Italian history during this period, I didn’t fully soak up these subtle references.

Overall, read this book if you have some time to fully imagine the world surrounding these characters and absorbing the details of their friendship. However, the book is definitely not the beach read that the American cover and surrounding press seems to be marketing it as.

Publication Date of English Translation: 25 September 2012 by Europa Editions. Format: Audiobook.

Author: Elena Ferrante web

Narrator: Hillary Huber web/@twitter

i don’t know what you know me from: confessions of a co-star by judy greer

idontknowwhatyouknowmefromUpon finishing the incredibly enjoyable first season of Married, a show on FX starring Judy Greer, I remembered that I had placed her memoir on my TBR list a few weeks ago and decided to move it to the top. I checked out the audiobook from my local library and finished listening in a day. I was able to finish it so quickly partly because it was fairly short for an audiobook, stretching a little bit longer than five hours, and partly because listening felt like an extended catch up conversation with one of my friends.

Judy Greer narrates her memoir which alternates between mainly describing her early days growing up as an only child outside of Detroit, Michigan, and her current life as an actress, dog owner, wife, and stepmother in Los Angeles, California, while also briefly covering her time as a theatre undergrad in Chicago. Her tales of her life aren’t in chronological order and you weave between Greer’s current life to things that happened when she was a wee one. Because of the briefness of the book, I felt like the deviation from a linear storyline spiced the book up a bit.

Even though it seems most other readers enjoyed her recounting her place as an actress in Hollywood the most within the memoir, my favorite sections of the book were listening to Greer describe her love for Detroit and her heartbreak at how much Detroit is currently struggling as a city. It was in these moments that I feel like Greer was exposing me to something completely new, as I’ve never read someone describing Detroit, a city I’ve never visited, in such an authentic and touching way.

However, if you’re more interested in hearing about Greer’s time as an actress who’s actively working, but isn’t on the A-list, you won’t be disappointed in this book. If you recognize the author’s face from the cover art of the book, but can’t quite place her, you’re not alone. In fact, Greer devotes quite a bit of time in her memoir to explaining the phenomenon of having been in so many projects and being approached by people who can’t place her or requesting for her to help them deduce where they know her from. (Side note: if you recognize a celebrity and feel the need to approach them, try to make sure you actually know who they are. Bigger side note: if you recognize a celebrity and they are in public, but not in a place where it’s encouraged to talk to them such as a book signing, meet and greet, etc., maybe don’t approach them – celebrities need to buy milk at the grocery store, too, and they also have bad days when they don’t want to talk to anyone, especially a stranger.) Greer details life as a working actress, but doesn’t conflate it with this sparkly world that is so much better than the world of the normal plebeians – she still has to make food for her children that they hate and pick up her dog’s poop at the end of the day!

Greer’s down-to-earthness makes her so likable and this book so accessible. This book is not a tell-all revealing some deep, dark secrets like some celebrities release or a memoir bragging about the glamor of being a celebrity, but is a book about a normal person who happens to act as their profession. True to many of the characters that Greer is cast to play, she seems like one of your friends who also happens to be a successful, but not too successful, actress! My partner and I have been fans of Judy Greer for quite a while as she pops up in so many of the things that we love, and we frequently recount how we loved her in Love Monkey, a short lived and unpopular comedy from 2006. This book definitely gave me another layer of appreciation for Judy Greer, but probably isn’t a good read for someone who isn’t already a fan of Greer’s (like me) or doesn’t want to act professionally.

If you’re interested in checking out Judy Greer’s work as an actress and not as an author, you should definitely watch Married! The first season can be found on Hulu and the second season is currently in the process of airing on FX.

Unrelated to this book review, I wrote this while watching the newly released Kacey Musgraves Tiny Desk concert. It’s amazing and had many tambourine beats that frequently woke up my aunt’s dog as he snoozed on my lap. Check out the Tiny Desk concert here and look up her tour dates here! I’ll be heading to the New York tour stop in October and I can’t wait!

Publication Date: 8 April 2014 by Doubleday Publishing. Format: Digital Audiobook from Books on Tape.

Author & Narrator: Judy Greer @twitter/instagram/facebook

ready player one by ernest cline: a conversation

readyplayeroneThis book review for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline follows a different format than all of my other book reviews. When I started listening to the audiobook, I found out that my amazing book blogging friend Amy was reading it at the exact same time so we decided to have a conversation about each of our thoughts and cross-post those thoughts to both of our blogs. We’re going to try to do a few more of these, so please let us know in the comments what you think related to format, content, length, or whatever else your heart desires. Make sure to check out Amy’s book blog The Literature Life when you get a chance!

The Conversation Commences:

Bri: I listened to the audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton and I absolutely LOVED this book! I gotta say, I don’t know a ton about Wil Wheaton, so I didn’t get excited about hearing him read it as other fans would have, but he did a brilliant job. The book heavily includes things from 80s American culture, which I wasn’t as familiar with outside of John Hughes films, but I would say you could be a complete novice and still be thrilled with the pop culture references that proliferate this book. This was the first book I’ve read in a while where I tried to read more slowly because I didn’t want it to be over — definitely the most fun book I’ve read/listened to all year. What are your initial thoughts, Amy? Did you find any of the pop culture references inaccessible as a child of the 90s?

Amy: I’m happy to hear Wil Wheaton did a good job of narrating the audio book, while I know quite a bit about him I wouldn’t really call myself a fan. I’m tempted to grab the audio book myself, as I’ve recently started listening to them, but think my latest Audible credit might be better spent elsewhere as I’ve already read it, any recommendations would be appreciated! I see what you mean about the pop culture references, I understood most of the ones related to films, especially John Hughes films like you, and a couple of games, but not very much. I didn’t find it too alienating though, I enjoyed learning little bits about the ’80s, now have a list of more 80s things to look up, and felt quite excited when I understood the references. I can see why this book is popular and a cult favourite, it does play up the nostalgic feel and that’s surely why it appeals to a lot of its audience who remember when the games and films references were released. Not to mention, there are bound to be readers our age and younger who, like Halliday, Wade and the other gunters (characters in the book who are looking for Halliday’s Easter Eggs, the key to his fortune), engrossed themselves in the culture and love it for the same reason. At times I thought maybe it was a bit overkill when it came to the 80s stuff, but I suppose that’s the point. Did you think it was too much at times, or that the amount of pop culture references was about right?

Bri: I really didn’t think the pop culture references were overwhelming at all, but I did find that I kind of breezed by the references that I wasn’t familiar with and didn’t really hold onto them. The only reference that intrigued me enough to want to follow up on is to watch Matthew Broderick in War Games, which I’ve somehow never seen.

With stories like this, I often find myself getting annoyed with the romance subplots because they often feel weak or over exaggerated to me, but I found that I didn’t mind this romance subplot. That’s likely because it wasn’t a huge part of the storyline, but also was believable and not just thrown in to add another layer of drama/conflict. What did you think of the romance and friendships depicted in the book?

Amy: At least something good has come out the references, hopefully you’ll enjoy War Games. Also, if you’ve not seen Fanboys which is a film written by Ernest Cline, you should definitely take the opportunity to now, it’s one of my favourite films and until recently I didn’t realise that it was the same person.

I agree with you so much on how romance subplots can feel over exaggerated. I find as I grow older that I have less and less time for extraneous romantic melodrama when a narrative is doing just fine without it. However, the romance subplot in Ready Player One was tolerable. There’s a point where the love interest, Artemis, breaks it off for a while because it is distracting (I wouldn’t consider this a major spoiler), and I really appreciated what a reasonable decision that was in the context of how high the stakes are in their quest. It seems to me quite tempting to either write drama into romantic arcs for the sake of drama, or when the climaxes of a book aren’t related to relationship issues to make subplot relationships run effortlessly and unrealistically smooth. Ernest Cline here seemed to really think through what problems two young people might face when romantically involved while also in this ridiculous situation. I don’t know about you, but I really liked Artemis, a lot more than Wade. I don’t think that a main character necessarily has to be like-able, but when there’s a character in the mix that I can really get behind that’s always good, so having Artemis and Aech to like was helpful.

I am always quite skeptical of book-to-film adaptations, with the news a few months ago that Steven Spielberg is directing the film version of Ready Player One, the ball seems to be rolling in the making of it (edit: it now has a date!). What do you think will be the major difficulties when they’re making this film?

Bri: It’s so interesting to see Aech’s name spelled out! Since I listened to the audiobook, I spelled out all of the names in my brain and I thought Aech’s name was actually just the letter H. I kept wondering how someone could have a username consisting of only one letter.

I had no idea that there were actually talks about making this into a movie, let alone that someone like Steven Spielberg was attached to direct. As fun and intriguing as I found this book, I honestly can’t picture it being successfully adapted to the big screen, especially with all of the references to other works that will definitely be difficult to incorporate because of copyright issues. If a lot of the references end up being eliminated for the big screen, I feel like part of the magic of the book will definitely disappear.

Since the book shifts from taking place in the game setting to Wade’s real world and never shows the real worlds of the other characters until much later in the book, I feel like this could affect the film negatively tonally. While this works in the book because you’re only following the mindset of Wade, I feel like this is much harder to convey and accept as a viewer of a film when you’re taking in the characters within their environments instead of specifically following a single character’s thoughts, emotions, and actions.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this book? This can be your parting thoughts, how it changed you as a reader, a single sentence summary of the novel, or whatever your heart desires.

Amy: I rarely think of the little differences that can occur between listening to an audiobook and reading it in print, I suppose new words, names, and general things you’ve never heard of won’t come across the same. Cline’s spelling didn’t occur to you, and it took me far too long when reading to realise it was supposed to be pronounced H.

I do love film adaptations of books, but I feel some stories are meant to be enjoyed as novels and are best left alone. Others feel differently, when they love something so much they need to experience it through as many mediums as possible. I think a film might take something away from the charm of this book. Despite its incredible popularity, it is a cult favourite, and when you’re reading it and nobody around you has heard of it you do feel a bit like you’re part of a special club. Turning it into a blockbuster movie might remove that inkling that you’re onto something great. There’s also something to be said for needing to actively play a part in the world building and having to imagine this insane simulated dimension, I found that a big part of my experience of Ready Player One was that how the OASIS looked was largely down to my interpretation of it.

Hmm… parting thoughts. I found this book to be satisfyingly immersive and really enjoyable, as far as my own reading experience goes it is quite a unique book. I’m looking forward to reading Cline’s second Armada which was published this month, though I’m worried that it will have too many similarities to be as exciting. Despite my enjoyment of Ready Player One I was occasionally drawn out of it to think about how and why it has sold so well, it seems to me that Ernie Cline knows exactly what he is doing and has played on the enthusiasm of fans of old games and films and their need to buy into or collect things. I can’t really talk though, I collect books like nobody’s business… I’m really interested to hear what you’ll be taking away from this!

Bri: While I already want to read Armada, I think I’m going to wait a few months to check it out so that I won’t be constantly comparing it to Ready Player One. Since Wil Wheaton also narrated that audiobook, I’ll probably choose to listen to this book too.

My final takeaways from reading Ready Player One is that I shouldn’t just dismiss a popular book if it takes place in a world that I don’t think I’ll appreciate. Some authors are so skilled that they can make it a fun ride for most readers, even if you don’t have the background knowledge that could ultimately make it more enjoyable.

Having a conversation like this was fun! Let’s do it again! Let us know in the comments if there are any books that you think Amy and Bri should tackle next!

Publication Date: 16 August 2011 by Random House. Format: Digital Audiobook from Books on Tape.

Author: Ernest Cline web/twitter/facebook/blog

Narrator: Wil Wheaton web/twitter/tumblr/instagram