Category Archives: Book Lists

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: Memoirs of Traveling with Family #books

Travel memoirs are one of my favorite types of nonfiction. There’s one on this list for every mood. Some of these are literally laugh-out-loud funny; others may start you bawling before the end, or will at least bring a tear to your eye.

The list is in alphabetical order, of course.

cover imageFour Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr (Scribner, 2007)
Before Anthony Doerr became famous for the novel All the Light We Cannot See, he had to write the book. He writes about working on it (and about not working on it) in Four Seasons in Rome, a memoir about the author’s year in Rome with a studio to write in and an apartment to live in, covered by a stipend.
Literary and lyrical except for a few episodes of parenting panic and moments when he wonders “what was I thinking when I accepted the Rome Prize with newborn twins?”, this book about reading, writing, and the terrifying and wonderful experience of being a new parent and living for a year in the heart of Rome when you don’t speak much Italian will appeal to readers of literary memoirs.

cover image audiobookIncontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker, and Our Grand Tour of Italy (Audio) by Jane Christmas, read by Eileen Barrett (PostHypnotic Press, 2009)
Incontinent on the Continent is a serio-comic travelogue about a six-week trip through Italy that the author, an adult (in her 50s) takes with her aging mother in an attempt to repair their fragile relationship before it’s too late. The dream trip turns into somewhat of a nightmare as the author’s expectations and what her mother wants to do (and is physically capable of doing) don’t coincide; the weather won’t cooperate; and the hoped-for mother/daughter bonding doesn’t come easy. The book is funny, but cringe-worthy in a lot of places.
The audiobook narration is great and, since the author learned conversational Italian in preparation for the trip, the book includes frequent snippets in Italian.
Read AudioFile review of Incontinent on the Continent

cover imageAn Innocent, a Broad by Ann Leary (William Morrow, 2004)
Back in 1990, when her husband Dennis Leary was an unknown comedian, he was hoping for his big break on a weekend jaunt to London. He got his big break, but his pregnant wife’s waters break while she’s walking down a London street. Only 26 weeks along, Ann Leary is put on bed rest, and due to the premature birth of their son, the Learys don’t return home to the U.S. for five months.
If you’ve read either of the author’s novels (The Good House, Outtakes from a Marriage) you know Ann Leary has a caustic sense of humor that manages to be essentially kind, and she writes about her experience figuring out the English people, the National Health Service, and first-time parenthood with a graceful wit.

cover imageTaking the Kids to Italy by Roland Merullo (PFP Publishing, 2013)
Originally published in serial form, Taking the Kids to Italy is the author’s account of a disastrous family vacation with his wife, two very young daughters, and his mother (who has the patience of a saint, and is a tremendously good sport). The humor that the adults can see in retrospect doesn’t always manage to cover the despair that seeps into the narrative, but I found myself laughing despite myself. The author has also written a memoir about a wonderful family trip abroad – The Italian Summer: Golf, Food, and Family at Lake Como (Simon & Schuster, 2009) – which would probably make a good companion read.

cover imageThree Weeks with My Brother by Nicholas Sparks and Micah Sparks (Grand Central, 2006)
It’s been years since I read this with a book club, but I do remember being surprised at how much I liked it. The bestselling author of tear-jerker novels such as The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks has actually experienced more than his share of tragedy in real life, and this book is a result of realizing your world can change in an instant. In Three Weeks with My Brother, he and his brother – both in their mid-thirties and the only surviving members of their family – share their experience of traveling around the world, hitting major global landmarks like Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal, and musing on fate and faith. (The Christian or spiritual aspect of the book is very low-key, if I remember correctly.)

cover imageTraveling While Married: How to Take a Trip with Your Spouse and Come Back Together by Mary-Lou Weisman (Workman, 2003)
This is a collection of humorous essays, illustrated with drawings by Edward Koren, that are laugh-out-loud funny. (Or maybe you have to be married?, I don’t know!) From the publisher: “This is the real skinny on what happens when Mars and Venus hit the road. With a sly wink, a comic nod, and just the right amount of optimism, Weisman shows us that despite the shortcomings of one’s beloved, harmonious travel is possible.”
Written by a wife, but her own foibles and failings are just as funny as her husband’s.

cover imageUntil I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living With Joy  by Susan Spencer-Wendel (HarperCollins, 2013)
When the author, a journalist, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), she has been in denial for some time, so her physical decline is steep and sharp after the diagnosis. If you choose to read this memoir, which she laboriously typed out first on an iPad and then on a phone, which was all she had the physical ability to manage, you will probably cry your way through it as I did, but you will marvel at the emotional strength she holds onto for the sake of her husband and three children. She decides to fill the year she has left with trips with family members – going with each child to a place of his/her choosing, and taking trips with her sister, her best friend, her husband.
While every page may not be beautifully written, the language she uses to tell the story of her final months spent making joyful memories for those she’ll be leaving behind is never sugarcoated and is very moving.

Nonfiction Friday badge with text listing different Dewey Decimal subjects, e.g. literature, religion, technologyThis post is linked up to Nonfiction Friday at Doing Dewey

2015 Favorites — Literary Fiction Audiobooks #audiobooks

Looking for a good listen? Here are my favorite audiobooks of 2015!  Links go to my reviews (if I wrote one) – either here on the blog or on LibraryThing (baystateRA). Clicking on the images will take you to the publishers’ pages where you can listen to audio samples.

2015 Favorite Audiobooks

cover image of audio CDDinner with Buddha by Roland Merullo, narrated by Sean Runnette (Highbridge Audio, 2015)
Dinner with Buddha follows Breakfast with Buddha and Lunch with Buddha. They are all road trip novels with a twist – the buddy in the front seat with Otto Ringling, a completely normal middle-aged man without even a drop of crazy, is Volya Rinpoche, a joyful Russian monk. While Otto’s idea of a spiritual experience is a perfectly cooked gourmet meal, Rinpoche (pronounced Rin-po-shay) has been gradually opening his mind to other possibilities over the span of time in which these books take place.
Otto’s story doesn’t seem to end here, which means more of Volya Rinpoche and audiobook narrator Sean Runnette, I hope. Highly recommended!

cover image of audio CDEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, narrated by Cassandra Campbell (Blackstone Audio, 2014)
A Massachusetts Book Award 2015 winner, this novel about a biracial Chinese-American teenage girl and her family before and after her death, will take your breath away with its terrible beauty. Stunning!
The audiobook narration by Audie Award-winner Cassandra Campbell fits the tragic, questioning  tone of this book perfectly.

cover image of audiobookIt by Stephen King, narrated by Steven Weber (Penguin Audio, 2010)
At just barely under 45 hours long, It is probably the longest audiobook I’ve ever listened to, but it is worth the listening time if you’re a Stephen King fan. (If you’re not a Stephen King fan yet, I recommend starting your King audiobook journey with Lisey’s Story – that’s the one that got me hooked.) Childhood friends from Derry, Maine grow up and lose track of each other pursuing their successful careers, but are compelled to return to Derry when “It” comes back to town. Sad, scary, and gory, but also about friendship, youth, small town life, and what it means to be good.
Remarkable narration by actor Steven Weber! I think he (a New Yorker) messed up here and there on the pronunciation of place names such as Bangor, Maine, but the Maine accent sounded good to me!

cover image of audio MP3-CDOff Course by Michelle Huneven, narrated by Amy Rubinate (Tantor Audio, 2014)
The bare bones of the story: In 1981, a young woman goes to live in her parents’ cabin in the Pacific Northwest woods to write her dissertation and gets sidetracked by a man. But it’s the fleshing out of those familiar bones that makes Off Course mesmerizing. Narrator Amy Rubinate is a multiple AudioFile Earphones Award-winner.
“A complex portrait of a woman under the influence: of love, then obsession.” — The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

cover image of CDThe Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, narrated by Mark Bramhall (Blackstone Audio, 2014)
Another story set in the Pacific Northwest, but the time frame is the early 1900s and the main character is a man. William Talmadge avoids most human society by living alone and tending to his fruit trees, but he decides to help as best he can after he catches sight of two young women on the run from an abusive situation.
The pace of the story is deliberate and careful, like Talmadge, and the story spans years. Listening to, instead of reading The Orchardist forced me to slow down and pay attention to the writing. Audiobook narrator Mark Bramhall is fantastic.

cover image of audio CDThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, narrated by Juliet Stevenson (Books on Tape, 2014)
I first got hooked on Sarah Waters’ books on audio when I listened to The Little Stranger, narrated by Simon Vance. The Paying Guests is an even more compelling tale. In 1920s London, an unmarried young woman and her widowed mother are forced to take in lodgers, and settle on a young couple. The man is rough around the edges and shocks the already shaken Mrs. Wray with his careless behavior, but the wife seems to understand their social station and is grateful to live in this upper-class house, even if only as paying guests. Frances, Mrs. Wray’s daughter, is the main character and the story revolves around the changes the lodgers bring about in her life.
Bringing in class identity, sexuality, feminism, and life after the War, The Paying Guests is  narrated to perfection by Juliet Stevenson.

cover image of audio CDThe Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, narrated by Dan O’Grady (Simon & Schuster Audio, 2015)
First listen to The Rosie Projectwait a while…and then listen to The Rosie Effect. Too much at once of Don Tillman, Assistant Professor of Genetics, and the love of his life, Rosie, could be an overload. But if you enjoyed The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect picks up where it left off. Still humorous, The Rosie Effect gets a little more serious, as Don’s life and relationships become more complicated, making it hard for him to schedule his time efficiently and maintain his focus.
Actor Dan O’Grady, an Australian native, does the voice of Don Tillman (who is the first-person narrator of the story) with a debonair Australian accent.

cover image of audio CDThe Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, narrated by Juliet Stevenson (Penguin Audio, 2013)
If Juliet Stevenson hadn’t been the narrator, I might not have decided to listen to this historical fiction chunkster spanning the turn of the 19th century at all, despite the glowing reviews, but I’m glad I did.
If you’ve ever wondered what the intrepid women of the past who overcame all odds to become scientists, explorers, doctors, or something else that women weren’t allowed to be might have been like, spend 21 hours and 44 minutes with Juliet Stevenson as she narrates Elizabeth Gilbert’s sprawling saga of the life of botanist Alma Whittaker!

Still can’t get enough Best Of 2015 lists? Visit Largehearted Boy for best-of book lists gathered together for you in one place.

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Favorites — Books

Links go to my reviews (if I wrote one), either here on the blog or on LibraryThing (baystateRA).

2015 Favorite Books

All_Together_NowAll Together Now by Gill Hornby
Little Brown, 2015
A feel-good story for the heart and the brain! A dying community choir comes back to life in a suburban English village.

 

cover imageBradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman
Crown, 2015
A Harvard University student is murdered right before graduation. Did the weirdly charismatic professor kill her or a jealous fellow student? Warning: Unlikeable characters abound.

Grant ParkGrant Park by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
Overlook, 2015
The kidnapping of a prominent African-American newspaper columnist by two scarily wacky white supremacists launches this provocative novel about U.S. race relations and protest movements.

Library at Mount Char coverThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Crown, 2015

Dark fantasy with a surreal library. If you liked The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, try this one. Maybe the first in a trilogy of its own?

 

cover imageA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Doubleday, 2015
A sprawling saga of friendship and family with a broad vein of tragedy throughout, this is the story of four male college friends and their lives before and after. To be savored!

cover imageThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Granta, 2013

Written in the style of a 19th-century novel, The Luminaries has the scope, depth, structure, emotional resonance, and humor of an instant classic. (Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize)

cover imageMy Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Europa, 2012
First in the Neapolitan Quartet, My Brilliant Friend is the story of a rocky friendship between two girls growing up together in Naples, translated from the Italian. Lots of character development and conflicted people…my favorite kind of novel!

She Came from BeyondShe Came from Beyond by Nadine Darling
Overlook, 2015
I reviewed this quirky novel for Library Journal but despite other good reviews, the book hasn’t taken off. Its dark humor and likeable actress-heroine (Easy Hardwick) make it a good choice for readers who like campy sci-fi movies and sarcasm.

cover imageA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Knopf, 2015
I’m a big Anne Tyler fan, so her new one was bound to make my 2015 list. Although I didn’t like the ending of A Spool of Blue Thread, the flawed but likeable characters and family dynamics still make this a five-star read.

cover imageWeekends with Daisy by Sharron Kahn Luttrell
Gallery, 2013
A memoir by a Massachusetts journalist about her experience as a weekend puppy-raiser, sharing the training of Daisy, a loveable yellow Lab, with a prison inmate through the Prison Pups program.

cover imageWool by Hugh Howey
Simon & Schuster, 2013
A post-apocalyptic dystopian novel that envisions literal strata of society living together in an underground silo after the planet’s surface has been poisoned. A trilogy that became a quintet with a prequel and a sequel?

Library Thing Top Five of 2015 badgeClick image for my Top Five of 2015 on LibraryThing and other members’ Top Five lists.

Can’t get enough Best Of 2015 lists? Visit Largehearted Boy for best-of book lists gathered together for you in one place.