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All the books in this post are audiobooks and were recommended by the same source – Anne Bogel, A.K.A. Modern Mrs. Darcy, who has an amazing podcast that is horrible for both my bank account and my to-be-read stack. I love it! These four books include my favorite book from last year and one that I disliked so much, I actually used Audible’s return feature for the first time.
First the return: the audio version of Three Sisters, The Queens by Philippa Gregory. I love history. I like historical fiction. I’m not a huge fan of chick lit, but I’m not morally opposed to it if it’s a good story. And I hate stupidity. That last point is key. (I once had a professor tell me I had a low tolerance for stupidity. I considered that a compliment.) I can forgive a lot, but I can’t forgive stupidity.
The book isn’t actually about three queens; it’s about one queen, Margaret, Queen of Scotland. The other queens that play a tangential role (unless they got a bigger role in the second half of the book) are Katherine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of France. It’s a fascinating time in history, and the events should have made for a captivating story. However, by the midpoint of the book, I couldn’t take it any longer. I loathed the protagonist. If it had been a physical book, I’d have thrown it across the room. If Margaret had been around, I’d have thrown the book at her.
The book starts out when Margaret is thirteen years old, and she never grows emotionally or intellectually beyond this point. It’s okay to be self-absorbed and clueless at thirteen, but at some point you stop being a naive, pampered girl and start being a vapid, selfish twit. I swear, I wanted to punch her in the throat. So I abandoned her and got my credit back. (This was the first time I’ve returned a book to Audible and it was easy peasy. Thanks, Audible!)
I had used four credits at once to get a $10 credit, and I chose all four based on Anne Bogel’s recommendations in this podcast episode. I’ll admit to feeling a little trepidation after the Queens fiasco, but there was no need for worry. Man Called Ove (pronounced oo-va) by Fredrik Backman is my favorite book I read or listened to from last year – and that includes some gems like The Boys on the Boat. It is wonderful. It’s actually translated from Swedish, but other than the obsession with Saabs, you’d hardly know. The story is universal, and I recognized more than one character from my own life.
It’s hard to describe this amazing book without giving away spoilers. Briefly, it’s about a curmudgeon of a man, how he came to be that way, and how there’s more to him than his seemingly bad attitude. It’s also one of those you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you laugh again, all within about five minutes. The narrator of audio version was perfect. Dangit, I think I’ll go listen to it again.
This is not a book of action or big plot twists, although there are some surprising developments. It took me a little while to get into it, but that may just be my personality. It generally does take a bit for almost any book to hook me. It is a gentle book, so give it a couple of chapters at least. One of the things I liked is that almost nobody is shown in their best light – at least not initially. But while there are a couple of characters completely without merit, most are revealed to be more or less decent folks doing their best. I can relate.
The other two books were The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Madness, and the Love of Words by Simon Winchester and The Martian by Andy Weir, and I really enjoyed them both. The Professor and the Madman is about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and one very … unusual volunteer. If you like history or language, you’ll probably like this book. If you like both, you’ll love it. (See also: me.)
The Martian was a hit movie, which I had no real desire to see before listening to the book. Seriously, how many times can Matt Damon get himself in a scrape before we just let him rot? But the book was fun and smart and so entertaining that my husband and I actually did watch the movie just to see how it held up. I was worried that they’d get the psychology of the protagonist wrong – so many movies do that. (Looking at you The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe!). Damon got him just about right, in spite of a lot of the detail from the book being cut. We liked the movie, but agree the book was better – lots more drama and tension. Or maybe it’s just because the story was fresh when I heard the book that it seemed more intense. Anyway, if you liked the movie, you’ll probably enjoy the book. And because movies have to cut out some of the action, there are some exciting moments in the book that will be new to you.
If you’re looking for a good audiobook, I highly recommend any of these three. If you’re looking for a source for good book recommendations, I highly recommend What Should I Read Next, with the understanding that not every book is for every person.
Do you have an Audible subscription? If not, you can try Audible and get two free audiobooks. I’ve become a huge fan because I can listen to those books that always get backburnered in favor of things I have to read for homeschool or work or whatever. It also makes menial chores go much quicker.
What have you read lately that you’ve loved? What have you hated?