Favorite Listening Experiences of 2019

This weird and wonderful story focuses on a powerful Southern political family with one tiny problem: when their kids get mad, they spontaneously combust. The husband is angling to become Secretary of State, and may even run for president one day—but if the truth gets out, his career is over. And so the family calls on an unlikely candidate to step in as a nanny-of-sorts: an estranged old friend with a troubled past who has no idea what she’s in for. A surprisingly poignant meditation on friendship and motherhood, hopes and dreams, triumph and defeat, and a story about becoming your own person, and forming your own family—whether that’s the one you’re given, or the one you find. This is a SHORT book, so if you need some momentum in your reading life, this could be the ticket.
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This is the first installment in a new series from seasoned historical novelist Gregory, in which she focuses on what the lives of everyday people might have been like centuries ago. The characters all live in the Tidelands, a part of England that can't be mapped because land and water are constantly shifting due to the movement of the tides. They live on an island accessible only by ferry; there's one way in, one way out, and one family that controls all these comings and goings. The unstable mood and atmosphere permeate the story, and Louise Brealey's narration draws you right in to this world. In the background, King Charles is imprisoned on the Isle of Wight, but the story centers on a midwife and herbalist whose husband's follies have plunged her into a socially and economically perilous position. I tried this book out of curiosity, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
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From the publisher: "This is the highly anticipated second novel by Angie Thomas, the author of the award-winning The Hate U Give. Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri's got massive shoes to fill. But it's hard to get your come up when you're labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons. Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn't just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn't always free."
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The Alice Network author Quinn also takes on the aftermath of WWII in her latest historical release. Inspired by a true story she stumbled upon in the historical archives (which would totally spoil the big reveal—you’re going to have to read the Author’s Note to learn all!), Quinn weaves together three perspectives to tell a gripping story: Jordan is a Boston teenager who works in her father’s Boston antiques store, Ian is a British journalist determined to bring his brother’s killer—known as “the Huntress”—to justice, and Nina is a Russian fighter pilot and the only woman alive who can identify the Huntress. There’s no weak link in the story; each thread is fascinating—and when they began to come together I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. A mesmerizing tale of war crimes, coming of age, love and fidelity, and the pursuit of justice, with stirring implications for today.
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Michelle Obama’s memoir is breaking literary records and it’s easy to see why. The former First Lady recounts growing up on the South Side of Chicago, meeting her husband Barack, and exactly what it’s like to watch your husband run for and then win the presidency. She doesn’t shy away from the hard parts of her story, such as miscarriage and the racism she’s encountered over the years, and reflects on how her experiences have shaped her and the woman she’s still becoming. A moving, inspiring, engaging read.
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In the ten years she’s known her, Lucy has never felt her mother-in-law Diana approved of her—an especial disappointment because she’d hoped Diana would finally be the mother she’d never had. Yet she’s distraught when the police show up to announce that Diana has died by apparent suicide—and even more so when they reveal that the evidence points to possible murder. As we get to know the family members, we discover each of them had a motive to harm Diana, and stood to benefit from her death. The story is told alternately from Lucy and Diana’s points of view, so we get to understand what’s going on in their minds, and how badly they misunderstand each other through the years. But is it badly enough to lead to murder? A wholly satisfying domestic mystery, perfect for Liane Moriarty fans, that kept me guessing till the end. I devoured this on audio.
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In 1953 Tehran, a young man failed to meet his betrothed in a Tehran square. Sixty years later and half a world away, the woman, now grown old, is about to discover why. This sweeping love story spans 60 years and two continents, taking the reader between contemporary New England and 1953 Tehran, thoroughly immersing the reader in the volatile political climate of 1950s Iran. This is easily one of the best books I've read this year: listen to me recommend it on Episode 194 of What Should I Read Next ("No plot, no problem!"), and we'll be reading it in the MMD Book Club in January, where we'll pair it with A Place for Us. If you enjoyed either of these books, add the other to your TBR right now.
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I recommended this on a recent episode of WSIRN: episode 196 with Anudeep Reddy as a gateway fantasy, a fantasy novel for people who don't like fantasy. I loved this so much that we're reading this in February with the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. This is a literary mystery, a book about books, coming-of-age story, a tale of adventure and suspense and revenge, and tattoo artistry is a main theme. This was creative and inventive and lots of fun. Also note, this was great on audio.
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