In Praise of Audiobooks

iStock_audiobookI have a new love in my life. It is the all-mighty audiobook, and after only a few months together, I think we’re in it for the long haul.

I should probably clarify that it’s not like I’m all “OMG, what is this new fascinating technology that reads to me??” I used to listen to books on CD all the time, especially when I was in grad school and had a six hour drive home to face at the end of each quarter, but I kind of got out of the habit. After I got my iPhone, I’d listen from time to time to something on one of the free sites, but I usually just preferred a good old fashioned book.

I signed up for an audible.com account a few months ago, when I was faced with a seven hour drive and had reached a gap in audiobooks of the Anne of Green Gables series available in the public domain (that gap, for those interested, is Anne of Windy Poplars, forcing you to skip to the yawn-inducing Anne’s House of Dreams). Sticking with my theme, my first purchase was another L.M. Montgomery book, Emily of New Moon, which I adore (sadly, an audiobook of Windy Poplars doesn’t seem to exist). I had planned to try it out for the free month and then most likely cancel the service. But… I kind of got hooked. I work in a job that requires a lot of focused work, the kind of work that allows me to wear headphones whenever I want. But it’s also sort of repetitive work after a while, and I get bored with music, so podcasts have been a staple in my workweek listening for a long time. (Recommendations? This American Life is just as good as every hipster you know says it is. Ditto Welcome to Night Vale, though in a COMPLETELY different way.) So audiobooks are right up my alley.

The first book I actually purchased? Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling. Otherwise known as that book I already own and have already read and even reviewed right here on this site. So why would I buy an audiobook of it? Because Mindy was reading it, and additional voices were being provided by BJ Novak and Michael Shure. Now, everyone not addicted to the Thursday night NBC lineup just glazed over a little, but for fans of The Office this is GOLD. Hearing Mindy’s own voice and inflections added a whole new level of funny to the book. And so when September rolled around and it was time to redeem another book, I didn’t hesitate – Bossypants it was, read by Tina Fey herself. Another win, as is most things that Tina Fey touches, stands near, or thinks about for more than thirty seconds. I hadn’t read Bossypants and was utterly charmed not only by the book itself, but by Tina’s reading of it. 

I’ve moved away from the funny memoirs by funny women of NBC phase and have since branched out into novels. I listened to most of The Fault in Our Stars during one long day at work, during which I was walking around my office with my earbuds in my ears because I just could. Not. Stop. My latest purchase is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which I highly recommend  as well (look for a review of both soon!). I love the freedom that audiobooks are giving me – letting me listen as I work or run errands or even clean my house. They help make mundane tasks much more interesting.

So if you find yourself with a stack of books on your to-read list and no time to read them, give it a try. Hit up your local library, download one of the public domain apps for your phone, or try Audible – the first month is free (kinda like that first hit of crack is free, just to suck you in). I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love with them too.


I Just Invented a New Drinking Game

A few weeks ago a friend and I tore ourselves away from the thrill ride that is legal scholarship to check out the new(-ish) movie version of The Mortal Instruments. (Sidebar – I just realized that we have never reviewed this series, which is weird since we’ve all read at least some of them. We’ll put it on the to-do list. I know you’re clamoring for our opinions on all things YA fantasy.) The usual spoiler alerts apply.

mortal instruments

I was hoping this movie would be good because the books lend themselves to the screen, but I had heard that it was mediocre at best, so I both braced myself and girded my loins for disappointment. The critics were right. This was not life-changing cinema. Some things were good – I thought that Simon was perfectly cast, and Clary fit the description, too, although she looked very different from my imaginary Clary. HOWEVER. Casting FAIL for Jace and Valentine. Jace was too old and he didn’t have the right swagger and he’s not exactly the panty-dropper that Cassandra Clare described. Maybe this is all just personal taste, but I was not buying it. VALENTINE, though. Jonathan Rhys-Myers will always have a special place in my heart due to his role in the seminal film Bend it Like Beckham, but he is not right for this part. For starters, he is only ten years older than the kid who plays  Jace, and since both of them look their age, it was not believable at all that they would be father-son. But what I really want to talk about is the look. The hair, the makeup, the costuming – it’s like they were trying to make him into a Mortal Instruments Jack Sparrow, but something went horribly awry. The lesson here is that you can’t even be a good imitation of Johnny Depp. Johnny is a special snowflake swathed in scarves, and it’s pointless to think that other people can achieve the Johnny Depp-ness of it all. JRM’s PR people are good, too, because I can’t get the internet to cough up a decent picture of this travesty. Picture Jack Sparrow, but settle for JRM. There’s a weird braid-ponytail weave at the back of his head. Leather vest, no shirt. Leather pants. (All of the Shadowhunters dress almost exclusively in leather, and no one made ANY jokes about it. Missed opportunity.) Kohl around the eyes. Addled in the head. You get the idea. If I hadn’t already been choking  back laughter after the Clary/Jace kiss, this would have been the trigger. And speaking of said kiss, we should discuss it. The setting: a weird CGI rooftop garden. I can let this setting slide because I know they need to spend their special effects money elsewhere for this movie, but there is no excuse for the score and the love song. I have tried to think of a good analogy or a witty quip, and my vocabulary fails me. I can’t do it justice, so instead I’ve provided a link so that you can experience the scene and accompanying music in all its glory.

Someone wrote this song for a 90s teen movie, surely. I can’t think of another reason that we would have this epic piece of music.

Overall, I will say that this movie is worth it for the unintended laughs, but if you want a legitimately good move, you will want to steer clear. This would be perfect for airplane-viewing. Or a drinking game. Pound some grape for every Edward-Cullen-esque sulky smolder that Jace flashes. And every time that Clary is the bestest at something she didn’t know she could do. And every time someone turns out to have a double identity. And every time you catch a glimpse of JRM’s weave.  There. If you’re not hammered by now, you’re not paying attention.


Ten Girls to Watch

13260167Dawn West’s post-college life isn’t going exactly as planned. She wants to be a writer, but so far, her only lucrative writing gig is answering questions about fertilizer and grass seed in an online lawn care column. Her ex-boyfriend is now dating the perfect girl – a girl who not only has everything, but is convinced that she and Dawn are instant friends. She can barely afford the run-down Brooklyn apartment she shares with her crazy roommate, and now the roommate is leaving the city and leaving Dawn to pay her half of the rent.

So when she gets the opportunity to work on the 50th anniversary issue of Charmed magazine’s Ten Girls to Watch contest, she jumps at the steady paycheck and chance to beef up her resume. She’s tasked with finding out as much information about the past winners as possible – five hundred women from all over the country, and from all walks of life, who were all considered the best and brightest of their time.

My coworker suggested Ten Girls to me a few months ago, and I am so glad she did. I loved the story of Dawn trying to navigate those first few post-college years and finding inspiration in the stories and words of the women she encounters. Author Charity Shumway based the novel on her own experience tracking down the fifty winners of Glamour‘s Top 10 College Women and how that one job influenced her. Yes, there’s a romance in there, but the story is much more about Dawn’s struggles as a young adult and finding her way through an overwhelming new world by learning from the incredible winners of the Ten Girls to Watch contest. In the world of chick lit, it’s actually a pretty rare concept for a heroine, and one I really enjoyed and related to. I also loved the look back at the criteria for the selection of winners and how that changed over the years, how the “best dressed” girls of the ’60s transformed into the brilliant minds of the ’70s and beyond – and how even those original girls that were just chosen for their fashion sense had a lot more than a pretty smile and fancy dress to offer. I also loved how each chapter featured a profile of a different winner, bringing them even more to life.

Ten Girls to Watch is a great, fun, easy ready, but still packs a little more substance than the average twenty-something novel. Check it out.


Captain Awesome Finds the Clues

Finds the clues coverI think y’all all know the drill by now.  Let’s do this. You’re up, Encyclopedia Finds the Clues (Dutton 1966).

The Case of the Mysterious Tramp

The case: So Police Chief Brown comes home late for dinner because someone has beaten and robbed Mr. Clancy, the plumber. According to John Morgan, Clancy’s assistant,  Clancy’s truck broke down near a farm and when Clancy lifts the truck to check the radiator, a mysterious tramp dashes out of the woods, hits Clancy with a pipe, and steals his wallet. Sounds plausible. Chief Brown theorizes that the tramp then dashed over to the nearby railroad tracks and jumped a train. He’s upset because he thinks this means that they’ll never catch the bad guy, thus ruining his perfect crime-solving record. Or so I inferred. Encyclopedia tells him not to worry because John Morgan did it and made up the story about the tramp to cover his tracks. How did Encyclopedia know that he was lying?

My verdict: Aside from the fact that it’s ridiculous to think some hobo was hiding out in the woods with a pipe on the off chance that someone’s car would break down, I’m not sure. It probably has something to do with the car breaking down which I don’t get because I know nothing about cars and I just call AAA when mine breaks down.

Was I right?: Not really.  Clancy raises the hood when he checks the radiator, but Morgan says that after he sees the tramp attack, he gets out of the car to help Clancy. How did he see the attack if the hood was blocking the front windshield? This of course ignores the possibility that Morgan could have leaned out of the passenger window and to the shit go down, but yeah, it does raise suspicion about his statement.

Stray observations: At least two stories from every book involves the so-called victim or eye witness committing the crime but pinning the blame on someone else and the Chief falls for it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. You’d think he would learn by now not to take every statement at face value. Also, Encyclopedia lies to his mom about why he’s late for dinner (he was helping one of his teachers to restart her stalled car) because he doesn’t like to talk about the help he gives grown-ups. Dude, helping a teacher with car trouble is a normal kid thing to do. At least in the age before cell phones. Lying to your mother because you don’t want to seem like you’re bragging is a dumb thing to do.

Continue reading


200 Posts, Baby!

We’re back! Have you missed us as much as we’ve missed you??

We took a short break for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that this, right here, this post that you are reading, is our 200TH POST!!

cougartown4

And we wanted to dance and celebrate and offer up a very special pilgrimage post to mark the event! But then, you know… life.

So we decided that the pilgrimage post will have to wait, because we’re just too excited and we have lots of new books that are just waiting to be reviewed. And then we decided…

GIF DANCE PARTY!!!

Robin Sparkles: I’m more pumped than Carlton listening to Tom Jones and Dwight listening to Motley Crue COMBINED!carlton

dwight

Anastasia Beaverhausen: I’m more excited than Drunk Ron Swanson!

Captain Awesome: I’m happier than The Doctor dancing in a bow tie! Even though bow ties ARE cool.
Dr. Who dancing

Sword Mistress of Melee Island:

Rhymenocerous: I’m more pleased than a seagull stealing chips!

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Princess Consuela:

Joey-Chandler-Dance-In-The-Apartment-On-Friends

And really, isn’t that a better way to celebrate anyway?

Here’s to the next 200!

betty


Behind Blue Eyes

Spoilers ahead. I’ll put most of them beyond the jump, but be ye warned.

book trauma

No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes. 

Bright baby blues make all of the Mackeys instantly recognizable. Behind Frank Mackey’s blue eyes is the memory of Rosie Daly. Hope springs eternal that she’ll show up on his doorstep one day or drunk dial him at 3am or get picked up for hooking so he can go visit her in jail. Rosie was supposed to elope with Frank back when they were 19. They had big plans to start over à la Livin on a Prayer, but she never showed up for their great escape. Instead, Frank found a note that suggested that she had left without him, and he has spent his life thinking that that she had changed her mind because his family is batshit insane. Louis Grizzard really said it best: she tore out Frank’s heart and stomped that sucker flat. Continue reading


Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock

Statistical Probability cover4 minutes. 17 year-old Hadley Sullivan misses her flight to London by a mere 4 minutes. Though Hadley’s only very reluctantly flying out to attend her estranged father’s wedding to a woman she’s never met, she’s still not overly anxious about getting stuck at the airport and possibly being late to the wedding. And then she meets a boy. A British boy. And they just happen to be seated in the same row! So in the darkened cabin on their redeye flight, Hadley and Oliver banter charmingly and reveal deep thoughts and it’s basically a less pretentious YA version of Before Sunrise. But then they’re cruelly separated at customs and Hadley is left feeling more adrift than ever. Will Hadley and Oliver ever see each other again? Probably. It would be a real bummer if they didn’t.

Between the title, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (Poppy/Little Brown 2012) and the description, I was intrigued but worried that this would devolve into some kind of Twu Luv soulmate nonsense. I love a good romance as much as the next … romance lover, but I hate it when YA characters (or real teenagers for that matter) declare their undying love and act like they’re destined to be together forever. Quite frankly, I thought this was ridiculous when I was a teenager and I’m the daughter of two people who’ve been together since the ninth grade. Thankfully, there was nothing of the sort. The jacket copy makes it seem like the story is all about the romance (and to be fair, so did my description. I’m lazy that way), but this book is really about connection, whether that be familial, friendly, or romantic connection. What happens when you first meet someone you click with or when you drift away from someone you were once close with? How do you repair that connection and what do you do when you realize it’s too late? The story was at times adorable and hopeful while at other times melancholy and contemplative, but that’s part of what I liked about.

The characters are all flawed but likeable and interesting, which is good since this book is more character driven than plot driven. Hadley could have very easily wandered into obnoxious, whiny teenager mode, but she is a grounded and sympathetic character. Oliver is the perfect YA dreamboat in that he’s charming without being smarmy and wounded without being damaged. Hadley’s parents also feel very real and I appreciated that the dad’s fiancé wasn’t some kind of evil home-wrecking stereotype.

This book is also well written and well paced. The story sure does move, especially when you consider that it’s mostly just people talking for 300 pages. There are hardly even any shenanigans! There’s also a great sense of atmosphere, from the intimacy of the plane at night to the jumbled confusion of London streets. And as someone who’s had a few panic attacks in her day and does NOT like crowds, I appreciated how sensitively Smith handled Hadley’s burgeoning claustrophobia.

YA has been all about the dystopias, paranormals, and fantasies recently, so it’s nice to read a straight-up contemporary story. The plot is pretty low stakes, after all nobody’s saving the world or anything, but there’s a lovely universal quality to Hadley’s journey that I think a lot of teens (or former teens) can relate to. In fact, lovely is just how I’d describe the book overall. Check it out, if that’s your thing. As for me, I’m already looking forward to author Jennifer E. Smith’s next book which sounds like a cross between Notting Hill and You’ve Got Mail. Who doesn’t want to read that?

This is what I automatically think of when I hear anything about 4 minutes. I cant help it!


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