Tag Archives: audiobook

Becoming – Michelle Obama (audiobook)

Michelle Obama’s story is the princess story I’ve been dreaming of. Raised in a modest home on the south side of Chicago, she worked her arse off to get to an Ivy League University (Princeton), followed by Harvard Law School (and I’ve watched Suits, so I know how important this is). She landed a really super brilliant lawyer job, but realised she wanted to do something more helpful, so she changed focus and worked with more community driven something or other (read the book for actual details).

Meanwhile, she meets this wonderful, brilliant man. They fall in love and support each other to achieve their dreams. Never holding each other back. They are strong, and in love, and, my god, reading about them falling in love is just what I needed to read right now. It’s so pure. And then she becomes the First Lady of the United States.

Even in this new role, she isn’t swept away by the glamour. She is uncomfortable being a person who is supposed to be defined solely by her husband. She is uncomfortable with the focus on her appearance. She is uncomfortable with the inconvenience she now brings to other people by her mere presence and all the extra security that is required.  She didn’t want her husband to run at all. And, by the way, she can not stand the business of politics and will never run for office herself. That’s not to say she didn’t conform where she needed to, and she has been her husband’s greatest support. I like Michelle Obama for her straight talking, determination to do a good job, and for her honesty.

You can take it that I liked Becoming. I really did. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Obama herself, and it’s a joy.

The insight into daily life in the White House is interesting. The staff and the routines. The international travel and the duties that now fall on her. The getting used to living in a giant house, only to visit Buckingham Palace and realising your new giant house is small fry.

Huge shout out to Michelle Obama’s mother, a true hero. The stories of Obama’s  upbringing, and her mother’s attitude to parenting and how she dealt with her children, I found inspirational. It’s hard to describe succinctly, but she was always aware she was preparing her kids to go off and be independent, strong adults. She never tried to step in and sort out troubles for her kids, she gave them chance to deal with things themselves. She listened and supported, but she didn’t go overboard. She said she wasn’t raising babies. A lot of it resonated with my own parenting style, a lot of which goes against much of current popular parenting.

It’s impossible to read Becoming without making comparisons to the White House today, and hopefully making a horrified face at the same time. Obama’s description of the Trump inauguration, and her decision at some point to stop fake smiling and just go with showing the emotion she was feeling is so relatable. I recall watching it on TV and being in awe of her face.

I loved Becoming. There’s so much more to it than I have described here. Give it a go.

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Calypso – David Sedaris (Audiobook)

I’m used to Sedaris’ books making me cry, always with laughter before this one. Now I can add tears because of how heartbreaking some of the stories are in Calypso. Here, Sedaris has hilarious stories mixed in with tragedy, most notably when talking about his sister, Tiffany’s, suicide, but they also cover relatives becoming elderly, and the death of his mother, who was an alcoholic.

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A lot of the stories in Calypso are about family. His father is ageing, his sister has committed suicide, he reminisces about his mother’s death, but this is not a depressing book. Of course it isn’t, Sedaris is hilarious. Most of these more sombre subjects are still dealt dark humour.

I found myself laughing out loud at some of this book – particularly the stories to do with language and observations about strangers and their behaviour. His discussion of creating his own ‘English for business travellers’ is a highlight.

Additionally, parts of Calypso were very moving. His sister’s suicide is so tragic. But he also talks emotionally about the US allowing gay marriage at last. Calypso is a true emotional roller coaster, and you get the feeling you are actually seeing some of the real Sedaris – mostly missing from his other books I’ve read.

It still leaves so many questions though. Did Sedaris really let someone who came to a book signing cut out a benign tumour he had, in order that he could keep it and feed it to his favourite turtle? Did he??

You go on an adventure of emotions with Sedaris, and you come out the other side with a renewed sense of wanting to make life more interesting. He makes you want to explore opportunities and to make the most of what presents itself to you. And he will make you laugh, that’s for sure.

Ponti – Sharlene Teo

Ponti is about three Singaporean women: Szu, an awkward and lonely teen, Circe, Szu’s abrasive new (only) friend, and Amisa, Szu’s cruel mother. We start out in 2003 when Szu and Circe are 16 and meet in high school. We are gradually introduced to Amisa’s childhood and teenage years, and Circe’s life in 2020. It’s a great story about the relationships between these women, and their shared and personal histories.

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The whole novel is set in Singapore. The oppressive, muggy heat and polluted atmosphere infect all the stages of the Ponti story.  There’s sweat and stench everywhere.

Amisa, Szu’s mother, was the star of some vanity project horror films, when she was around 20 years old. She was a stunningly beautiful Pontianak – a female vampiric ghost of a woman who dies in childbirth. This wasn’t the launch of the fabulous career she wanted, and by the time Szu is 16, she runs a clairvoyant business from their run down home, with her sister. Szu’s mother is bitter and cruel, especially to Szu.

Szu and Circe’s friendship is similarly strained. Circe can be viscous with her humour and makes sharp, cutting comments. Their friendship is intense, but unbalanced. Circe is well off and is able to get along with other girls, while Szu is awkward, clingy, and struggles to fit in.

In 2020 Circe is recently divorced, working for a digital marketing company and still as viciously funny as she was as a teenager. Her descriptions of how she feels about a tapeworm she has is just… great. And disturbing. This theme of monsters runs throughout the book. Sometimes the characters act like monsters, while there’s also the tape worm and the Pontianak horror film throughout the story.  We know from quite early on that Circe and Szu are no longer friends in 2020, and that something happened during their friendship at high school. Guilt is another theme that holds these characters together.

I read Ponti as an audiobook, read by Vera Chok, and it was really well narrated with a clear distinction between the different characters voices.

Since I’ve finished Ponti, I’ve read about the very scathing review of it that appeared in The Observer, and the backlash to this review of a debut novel. I do think a reviewers honesty is extremely important, but I disagree with this particular review because I loved this story! I have read books that have been very highly acclaimed, that I have hated though, so fair enough! (*cough* Reservoir 13 *cough*)

Overall I really enjoyed this story about these three complicated, interesting women. They all have flaws and this just makes the relationships more believable. I would really highly recommend Ponti!

Still Me – JoJo Moyes

I’m not going to say a lot about this book. I am definitely not the right person for the series of books this is part of (though I enjoyed the first one, Me Before You). Many, many people love this series, and that is great. They aren’t wrong, this book just isn’t for me.

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I ended up reading it because it was chosen for book club. I had already read the first in the series, but clearly I couldn’t skip the second book (After You), so this as a book club book, actually meant I had to read two books! Two books I didn’t like….. urrrghhhhhhhh…

Our main character is Louisa Clark. While still grieving for Will, and drifting aimlessly, she takes a job in New York as an assistant to a rich lady. We meet her as she arrives in New York having friendly banter with an immigration officer. Because that’s what immigration is exactly like in the USA.

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I did this one as an audio book.

She becomes the assistant of Agnes. I won’t give away the rest of the plot, but she is concerned about men a lot. Then things happen where she feels sorry for herself, but then magical amazing things just land in her god-damned lap.

I get irked by the number of characters who are basic stereotypes, and I don’t really like Louisa either, though her character develops in this book to be more like I wanted her to be from the start!

The saving grace of Still Me is old lady Mrs De Witt. Fiesty, fashionable, ferocious Mrs De Witt. Thank you Mrs De Witt.

The End.

Book Review: Holidays On Ice – David Sedaris

All the stories in this collection have a Xmas, Halloween, or Easter connection in them somewhere. There are some real gems, especially where Sedaris is writing as himself. The stories where he is writing pure fiction often fall a little flat, though I enjoyed Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol, where school Xmas plays are reviewed as serious theatre. All the stories are veerrrrryyyyy dark, which you’d hopefully expect if you know David Sedaris at all. His fiction stories are ultra dark. We’re talking vantablack

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I listened to this audiobook and it’s the perfect way to experience  David Sedaris because you get so much from the way he tells a story. There were parts of it where I was cackling like a witch on my commute to work. This was mostly during 6-8 Black Men, a tale about the Dutch Xmas story. It’s one of the final few stories and these last few seem to have been added to the audio book at a later date because they aren’t listed as being in the original, and I think I’ve heard them on the radio before too. Jesus Shaves (also in Me Talk Pretty One Day) is similarly about trying to explain the Easter story during a beginners french class.

Originally published in 1997, re-released in 2008, there’s been plenty of time to add them. It feels like they have been added because the original stories are not that great. Dinah, the Christmas Whore is the stand out from the original stories, and unsurprisingly, is written from his point of view. It’s about his sister Lisa taking him out on a late night mission to rescue a prostitute from her abusive boyfriend. With hilarious consequences!!!!

I have neglected to talk about the main story that the book opens with SantaLand Diaries. An account of a 33 year old David’s stint as a Christmas Elf at Macy’s. So good. We all know that these stories of David’s life are not all 100% factual, and hopefully you all don’t care either!

This is my second Sedaris of the year. I read Me Talk Pretty One Day earlier in the year. I’m quite sure I’m going to read all his books, and I have kindle versions of the others already. The only question now is, do I read them, or find the audiobooks?!?