Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Five Audiobooks For Pride Month

June is audiobook month and Pride month, to celebrate here are five of our favorite YA audiobooks featuring gay, lesbian or bisexual protagonists. If you have audiobook recs with trans or asexual protagonist please leave below!

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan | Narrated by Matthew Brown and Emma Galvin

You Know Me Well moves dreamily along as we follow high schoolers Kate and Mark through their first San Francisco Pride. Matthew Brown and Emma Galvin provide the alternating narration for each of our protagonists as they form an instant friendship and navigate a night of unexpected twists, anxiety, and unrequited love.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy | Narrated by Thérèse Plummer

When Ramona's romance with a tourist ends along with the vacation season in her small town, she doesn't think she will get over it; until an old friend from her childhood catches her eye. A quiet YA about the moments that matter in the life of a teenager and her found family. Plummer's narration is upbeat, youthful and a perfect fit for this story

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera | Narrated by Ramon De Ocampo

Aaron Soto is going to try to happily spend the summer hanging with his friends; nerding out over comics and finally telling his girlfriend he loves her. He won't think about the things that threaten his happiness like his father's suicide or Tomas, a neighborhood boy whose friendship could spark something more. This YA book makes you feel the feels and when it comes to the emotional moments narrator Ramon De Ocampo lets it out.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert | Narrated by Alisha Wainwright

Audiobook narrator Alisha Wainwright brings a cool west coast vibe to this story about 16-year-old Suzette who is returning to her eclectic LA community for the summer after a year in boarding school. She contends with her brother's bipolar diagnosis and finds herself in the middle of an unexpected love triangle.

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julia Ann Peters | Narrated by Christine Lakin 

After Alix's girlfriend's sudden death she has to sift through the lies she left behind. This novel is a great snapshot of how teens deal with love, loss, and relationships in the 21st century. Like how do you put someone away when their Facebook is still there or what's the power of a text message when you don't know who is on the other end? Narrator Christine Lakin voice is textured authentic.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cummings

Rating: ★★★★  | HarperAudio | Memoir | 10/07/2014 | 

Alan Cumming examines the violent and abusive childhood that nearly sent his adult life off course while on a journey to uncover a family secret on the reality TV show  Who Do You Think You Are? Just when Cumming thinks he has a handle on all his family secrets, his estranged father calls and drops a big one.

This silver fox actor is known for playing eccentric characters. I  know Cumming best from his role as Eli Gold on The Good Wife (He was also in X2).  At the time I had no idea he was Scottish but by the time I finished this audiobook the thought of him with an American accent seemed strange.

Cumming is a veteran stage and theater actor and I believe his experience telling and performing stories enabled him to create a memoir that reads more like a literary drama. Underneath his glamorous jet-setting lifestyle, Cumming is still very much connected to the self-conscious frightened boy working the land with his tyrant of a father during the final era of big Scottish Estates. Like Cumming says in the book--think Downton Abbey but in the 70's.

Cumming is very close and protective of his mother and brother who also survived his father's abuse. You can hear the affection in the audiobook, which I don't need to tell you is great because it'won two Audie Awards .  Cumming's voice is full of bravado and his Scottish brogue glides rhythmically over the words.

I watched some of Cumming's episode of Who Do You Think You Are ? and I can tell he used the episode as a reference to help him write the book. He uses some of the same descriptions and jargon.  It's certainly interesting watching the episode knowing all the things that were happening in his life off camera.

I listened to this on Scribd and it recommended me Tommy's Tale, a novel Cummings wrote two years before this book. If you've read Not My Father's Son it's easy to see where he draws his inspiration from.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Non-Fiction Mini Reviews : Lawyered !

I'll be honest, I've been kind of freaking out about getting closer and closer to the big 3-0, but one of the things I learned as I've gotten older is that I can read non-fiction. I always thought I was one of those readers who would never be able to get into serious non-fiction, but it's a muscle I'm slowly learning to build thanks to audiobooks.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
I grabbed Just Mercy last year after hearing Stevenson, a civil rights attorney fighting wrongful convictions, on a podcast. I started and stopped this audiobook so many times and eventually just kept it on my phone so I could tell people I was reading a "smart" book.

One day I ran out of podcasts, so I decided to try putting Just Mercy on in the background while I was working. Soon I found myself listening in the car, at home and slowly found myself looking forward to hearing more about Stevenson's often brutal and heart-wrenching career.

Just Mercy is a tough read because so much of Stevenson's work is connected to things that are hard to look in the eye like; institutionalized racism, violence, corruption and mass incarceration.  His book focuses on the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of Walter McMillian , but also tells several harrowing and heartbreaking cases Stevenson has fought along the way. The format threw me off a bit because we'd leave one story for another without warning, but I gather this has a lot to do with the audio format. Stevenson is a capable narrator and does some subtle voices here and there.

I do not understand the cover of this book. Early on Stevenson notes the somewhat dubious nature of To Kill A Mockingbird and Atticus Finch. I mean John Grisham's quote and name are just so big.

I had no idea this book was published way back in 2014. I'm sure he has seen some rising book sales recently. Also this

A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

After reading Just Mercy, I picked up another book by another lawyer; this one being A Higher Loyalty by James Comey. I'm not gonna lie. I picked up this book for the tea...and the tea was spilled. I may not understand everything about political maneuverings but I've worked at enough places know when people are jumping ship and getting fired left  and right something is not working

But also it was interesting learning how Comey became the controversial figure he is.  He's sort of been hovering in the background of several major cases before becoming a household name, he was involved in quite a few scandals including The Palme Affair, The abuse at Abu Ghraib and the  Martha Stewart conviction. Comey is no stranger to controversy. I think Comey has some interesting thoughts on leadership and how to be a leader but nothing particularly innovative.  He narrated the audiobook and gets emotional talking about how he was held hostage as a teenager and the death of his son. His views on mass incarceration aren't great and he tries to reason out the statistics a little too much. I think due to the very public and sudden end of his government service, Comey is really just trying to get the last word in and he holds nothing back.

The Parking Lot Attendant by : Nafkote Tamirat

Rating: unrated | 225 pages | Henry Holt and Co| Literary Fiction | 3/13/18  

The Parking Lot Attendant is this sort of unsettling literary novel about a teenage girl and her father living in Boston's Ethiopian community. They are both introverted and reserved people who keep to themselves; their insulated lives are not perfect but it works. Until the unnamed teenage protagonist bonds with Ayale, a charismatic parking lot attendant who rules this part of Boston, the teen soon finds herself caught up in something bigger than herself. Throughout the book, she serves as an unreliable narrator as she lays out how she and her father ended up on the run and living in an isolated island community.

The book is well written and dives into a very specific world. There was this constant unnerving tone to the book where you kept waiting for something big to happen. Did I necessarily understand everything that was happening towards the end of this book ? Not really,  but I enjoyed learning about the Ethiopian culture and about the community in Boston.  There are a ton of inserting characters and I liked the how it presents the narrators’ father as this introverted and closed-off man who is being a father the best way he can. At first, it is so easy to find fault with him but as the book goes on you start to understand what kind of father he is.

Check out the audio review at AudioFile Magazine!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Non-Fiction Review: Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | Non-fiction | 6 hours 29 minutes | Gallery Books | 12/05/17

Tiffany Haddish was the breakout star of 2017  following the success of the film Girl’s Trip. The Lasst Black Unicorn delves into how she went from a broke stand-up comedienne living in her car to having a first look deal with HBO.

This memoir is an absolute must listen on audiobook. Haddish writes like she talks and it flows so much better when listening to it. Also, all of the dialogue is written in script format and sounds much better when Haddish is “acting it out.” She’ll say things that aren’t in the book like “and then I was like” or “he was like” before launching into the words that are on the page. Also, there are some updates and asides that aren’t in the printed book so trust me, you want this on audio.

The majority of the book is Haddish sharing her stories of growing up in South Central LA, all of the toxic and abusive relationships she found her self in and how she used her comedy hustle to get on the other side. The latter half focuses on what it was like for her, a girl from the hood, to adjust to life as a star and learning to fit in in Hollywood. I loved the relationship between her and Jada Pinkett Smith and how Smith mentors Haddish on how to be a star.

In the acknowledgments section, it’s revealed that this book was co-written by Tucker Max, a controversial writer who wrote a lot misogynistic books chronicling his sex life. There was a quite a bit of rumbling from feminist publications when it became known he co-wrote this book. TBH, I wasn’t too surprised since Haddish has the same raunchy, sex-based humor Max does. This revelation didn't bother me, but I will say there is a “Roscoe” story about Haddish sleeping with a handicapped man that I found really out of place, cringe-y and borderline offensive. It never fit in with the overall theme of the book. Apparently, this particular story is something Max says is the greatest story he ever wrote...I get the feeling this story was an extreme fabrication of something that may have happened but it came off as really crass and a little bit like making fun of handicap people.

Humorous and heartbreaking, The Last Black Unicorns is an ultimately hopeful memoir that will have you cheering for Tiffany Haddish's continued success if for some reason you weren't already.

Now look, I’m not saying I noticed her before she blew up but I remember watching The Carmichael Show and thinking she was the only funny person on it.

Friday, June 1, 2018

AudioFile Magazine’s Picks of the Best New Audiobooks for Summer Listening

It goes without saying that we are big audiobook fans around here, so Kat and I  are excited to invite AudioFile Magazine blogger Aurelia C. Scott to stop by and keep to all of our audio TBR piles stacked!

What is it about individuals and society? They’re not always coming from the same place, that’s for sure. Here are our picks of five great new audiobooks about making your own rules and being yourself no matter what. Some edgy, some sweet, some joyful, some weepers. All awesome.

Thanks to Jess and Kat, we’ll be stopping by regularly with our audiobook picks for Books and Sensibility readers. Here’s to having an audiobook in your ear

INK by Alice Broadway | Read by Amy Shiels
Scholastic Audiobooks | Unabridged

What if the heart tat on your ankle or the dragon on your back were just two of hundreds that told the story of your life? What if, instead of wanting a tattoo, you had to get a tattoo? What if an un-inked body made you an outcast? There’s so much going on in this gorgeously read mystery-fable that it made me want to listen slowly to savor and reflect. It’s about the rules that society lays down, finding your personal truth, and so much more. Here’s our review.

FOR EVERY ONE by Jason Reynolds | Read by Jason Reynolds
Simon & Schuster Audio | Unabridged | AudioFile Earphones Award Winner

Written over a period of years, some of them hopeless, others jumpin’, this is a poem to listen to again and again. When you’re good; when you’ve been knocked up sideways; and always, always, when you need to know that you’re going to make it. Reynolds’s warm, deep voice seeped into my marrow and set it thrumming. And how about this? Reynolds, who’s written more than ten books, including LONG WAY DOWN, grew up a non-reader who didn’t take in a whole book until he was 17. Here’s our FOR EVERY ONE review. And our take on LONG WAY DOWN . Plus, more about Jason Reynolds. He’s a keeper.

THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo | Read by Elizabeth Acevedo
Harper Audio | Unabridged | AudioFile Earphones Award Winner

Listening to Acevedo read her amazing novel reminded me why bards and poets were the rock stars of the ancient world. Words loosed into the air are powerful. And Acevedo’s debut novel about Xiomara, a 15-year-old Afro-Latina in Harlem with a body that’s blooming and a mother who judges everything she does, is mighty. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and all I can say is that you can tell. What a performance. Here’s our review.

WHEN MY HEART JOINS THE THOUSAND by A.J. Steiger | Read by Tavia Gilbert
Harper Audio | Unabridged

Figuring out who you are and how to navigate this crazy world is thorny enough. Now try it when people are extra hard to read because you’re neuroatypical, plus you’re dealing with staying out of the messed up foster-care system. Then you meet a guy. My heart broke and then leapt with joy while listening to Tavia Gilbert, who positively channels the heroine, Alvie. This is a can’t-take-the-earbuds-out romance that fills your head with all that is deep, painful, funny, and soaring. Plus, it’s a debut novel, so hopefully, we have a future with this author. Here’s our review. And don’t miss this video of narrator Tavia Gilbert talking about how she works her magic

THE DANGEROUS ART OF BLENDING IN by Angelo Surmelis | Read by Michael Crouch
Harper Audio | Unabridged

Drawing from his own life, author Angelo Surmelis knows what he’s talking about in his intense and ultimately uplifting first novel about being 17 and gay in an immigrant family that will not accept him. So well written and narrated, and tough enough that I paused occasionally to catch my breath – abuse, prejudice, homophobia are all here. So glad that I kept listening, because this one’s about sticking to your truth no matter what with laughter; and yes, love. Here’s our review. And more about narrator Michael Crouch


Aurelia C. Scott, AudioFile Magazine blogger. Aurelia C. Scott Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Joint Review: The Belles by Dohnielle Clayton

Jess' take:

Camellia Beauregard and her sisters are Belles, young women gifted with the talent to make the gray people of Orléans vibrant with color. Beauty is the economic backbone of Orléans and even though they are treated as queens, Camellia and the other Belles quickly learn  something dark lays beneath their work

I read this book a while ago and I had a lot of feelings. This was one of the most highly anticipated YA books of 2018  and was a phenomenal audiobook, but the story just left me scratching my head and the world seems to fall apart under scrutiny.

When the book opens we see Camellia perform a non-traditional transformation which is kind of cool, until later in the book you learn that transformations are grueling and painful. Which didn't comes across in this opening scene? Also, the girls are competing to become the favorite and work in the palace. I hate to be nitpicky but.. the favorite? That was the best name for it? The favorite?

We follow Camellia as she begins her work as a Belle in Orléans.  We follow her step-by-step from her introduction to her discovery of how harsh life really is in the kingdom and it all left me kind of looking around for the plot.

Along the way we, as the reader, and Camellia start to see and hear things that contradict what Camilla has been taught. For example, she learns there are unofficial Belles in Orléans and that work hours are grueling and she won't be able to see her sisters. Slowly, the fundamental things she has been taught her whole life are being contradicted and she never seems to care? The people of Orléans can’t even “be cool” or whatever because they hint and talk about the unofficial Belles to the official ones.

Like, are we really supposed to believe no other Belles have ever tried to leave? I’m guessing this will be addressed in the sequel.

Clayton says this book was inspired by The Uglies and I think it's an interesting take on the same theme, but I think what this book was missing was brevity. It's 488 pages of watching people do and say exactly what they are doing and saying.

When some things get revealed in the end...it's not really a reveal because we already knew about them. I mean once we see how challenging the work is you can figure out that it’d be pretty impossible for six Belles to service an entire realm. We already know unofficial Belles are kept in hiding because we see one, and we already know Belles aren't born traditionally because we are told and we already know the princess is cray-cray. It just took 300 pages for the heroine to realize.

I did like the world-building in this book. Clayton develops this quasi-Gilded Age French inspired steampunk world. I think this book will appeal to those who like The Selection, in that is all about the process.

Now, the Belles mentions multiple times that what they do isn't magic... yet magic does seem to exist in this world, as a character uses people's DNA to create a "wall" where she can watch their movements. That seemed like a big lipped alligator moment to me.

I wanted to love this book, I want more diverse fantasy and while this is highly imaginative it just didn't do it for me

Kat's Review
This book needs no introduction, it’s been the belle of YA Twitter ball since its cover debuted as an  with a black girl in a pretty dress on the cover. In this female forward magical fantasy, it is the duty of the Belles to create and maintain the beauty of the gray citizens. As the story unfolds Camillia Beauregard, the most talented Belle of the new class, begins to discover the true ugliness behind the beauty she and her sisters create. Dhonielle Clayton brings the magical world of Orléans to life with lush descriptions of a steampunk-y Belle Epoque but like, covered in a layer of frosting and sprinkles.

While the world has been carefully built down to the last detail the plot development moves at such a slow pace with multiple scenes of beauty work that felt repetitive after the first time.This is the first in a duology and this really did feel like half a story, we don’t get on the “hero’s journey” until the last quarter of the book and there’s no real payoff.

Audiobook narrator Rosie Jones was a treat, I liked the kind of pouty, posh British accent she did for Camellia. She has such a great command of accents, her American accent was flawless and she even adds some Irish lilts in as well. Camellia has 6 sisters and in scenes where the girls are together Jones ability to create unique and different voices shines. ★★★ + .5


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