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I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs
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I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss is a look back at the hard road of comedy and the bumpy road to stardom, but it is also explores Hart’s own life and how it impacted his future career and family. Hart pulls no punches in this one and lays everything bare, including his problems with alcohol, domestic abuse, and more.

Growing up near Philadelphia was hard, especially with a strict single mother and a father who was addicted to drugs and hardly ever home. His stories about his family are outrageous to say the least, and Hart will say that he couldn’t have made them up if he tried.

Throughout the book he offers advice he received from other comics on the scene in Philly, New York, and LA. But he also offers lessons from his own life. One takeaway that really resonated with me is that even though his mother forced them to take public transportation even when they had another option, trained him for his rigorous show schedule and the waiting on TV and movie sets that can be not only frustrating but tedious. His mother’s tenacity also inspired him to keep striving for his goals, as he faced empty bank accounts and non-paying venues.

Hart is funny throughout the audio, which he narrates, but there are moments of crassness early on when he talks frankly about becoming an adolescent boy and later in life when he’s in Hollywood. These are part of his story, and if you don’t like profanity or detailed information about sex, you may want to skip this one or those parts.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss was wildly entertaining, funny, and enlightening. I learned a great deal about where my own determination and drive comes from by Hart reminding me of those restrictive days as a kid in my parents’ home. I can now see how those restrictions helped me become the disciplined person I am. Hart’s still on a journey, but his journey is now aimed at improving the lives of his children, encouraging him in the way his mother did, and ensuring they don’t think they can skip school and do the things that he did. There were many laugh out loud moments, but there are lessons that you won’t soon forget.

RATING: Cinquain

When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audible, 3+ hours
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When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, explores a “what if” scenario regarding Jane Bennet’s reaction to when she learns the Bingley’s have been in London and that Caroline has effectively kept Mr. Bingley in the dark about her presence in the city. This novella will have you on your toes for a bit, especially as Jane Bennet becomes a bit more daring like her sister, Lizzy, and seeks to “bump” into Mr. Bingley on the streets of London.

Kincaid’s Jane has a bit more backbone that Austen’s original, and I enjoyed her “light” scheming. She’s no where near the level of Caroline Bingley, but she does give her a run for her money. We also find a different Mr. Bingley in Kincaid’s work. He’s prone to being led about in Austen’s novel, but when he learns that people he loves have meddled with his happiness look out! Although there are breaks in social convention, there’s nothing overly outrageous — just a pushing of the boundary here and there.

Zimmerman is a fantastic narrator as always, and I never lost interest in the story with her narrative lead.

When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a wonderful addition to Jane Austen-related fan fiction. My one complaint would probably be I wanted to know more of what Lizzy would have thought of Jane acting more like her. Wonderfully written and no loss ends. Kincaid has a talent for these kinds of “what if” stories.

RATING: Quatrain

Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 4+ hours
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Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine is a collection of four creepy camp stories written by others and introduced by R.L. Stine — The Werewolf in the Woods, The New Camper, Battle of the Bots, and The Ghost in the Cabin. The stories are sufficiently creepy and probably should be read with others if you get scared easily. I listened to these in the early morning hours while getting ready for work, and definitely got the chills a couple times.

My favorite of the stories was The New Camper in which a young man soon realizes that his new cabinmate is slowly usurping his personality and friends. Soon, his friends are calling his new cabinmate by his name. Battle of the Bots was a bit predictable, but it was still entertaining, as as The Werewolf in the Woods. The Ghost in the Cabin was spooky in all the right places, and the laughter was sufficiently creepy. However, to be more accurate, this should have been called “The Ghosts in the Cabin,” since there was clearly more than one (not a spoiler).

These are probably more frightening than the Goosebumps series of books, but they are definitely great campfire stories to add to your own tales in the woods. This is family friendly, and would be OK for younger readers, probably not under age 10. Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine would be a fun listen on a road trip, especially in the wilds of the Northeast or in the woods.

RATING: Quatrain

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hours
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The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins, narrated by the author, is a long narration of how to use the 5-second rule to change your behavior and achieve your goals. In addition to a short explanation of how the rule works and how to apply it, she does offer some answers to frequently asked questions she’s received over the years and information about the psychology behind why the rule works.

Much of our indecision and regret are tied to our emotional responses to thoughts and goals — we effectively talk ourselves out of acting on our goals or ideas. Count down from 5 and then act — this leaves no time for your emotions to talk you out of accomplishing your goals or taking action. This advice can be life changing, and her examples demonstrate how it can change behaviors and build confidence in yourself. Invaluable advice and information.

However, there are far too many testimonials and it ends up sounding like a long-winded sales pitch. This could have been much shorter and succinct, with a link to a bunch of testimonials on her website for those who were interested.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins is a little long-winded and promotional, but if you want the CliffNotes version, view her TEDTalk.

RATING: Tercet

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace (audio)

Source: Purchased from Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
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A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace, narrated by Barry Shannon, is well researched, offering tidbits about Regency versus Victorian traditions. Whether Jane Austen would have had a Christmas tree, is one big question many wonder about — you’ll find out in this volume. I love that the length of the holiday celebrations are longer than our own — imagine taking several weeks to spend time frolicking, playing games, and more. Sounds like a child-like illusion, doesn’t it?

A time when Christmas was not just about presents and kids, but about adults and enjoying one another’s company. On audio the cooking and recipes are not as interesting as seeing them in print, but getting a chance to see how things really were in the past, is an eye-opener.

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace, narrated by Barry Shannon, is a book that any writer in the Jane Austen spinoff/continuation realm must have on the shelf.

RATING: Quatrain

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (audio)

Source: Audible Purchase
Audiobook, 5+ hrs.
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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson takes elements of Buddhism and westernizes them in a way that most readers can relate to them. This is an approach to life that requires an individual to take a hard look at themselves, realize their own limitations, and keep those in mind as they make choices about their work, play, and relationships. Unlike the generations he talks about in his book, I was not treated as special simply for showing up and I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons. Some of the lessons I learned may not be as hard as lessons learned by others, but they have provided me with a certain perspective on my own limitations.

We all have flaws and limitations and we need to accept them. Point taken.

Manson expresses himself with his no-holds-barred language and jokes — some of which may make you cringe — but his points are these:

  1. Deal with the bad and the good equally.
  2. Stop relying on outside forces or values to make you happy.
  3. Establish value priorities and stick to them. (not like earning more money)
  4. Be honest with yourself and others.

I do feel the author relied a little too much on a certain four-letter word, but even with that, the book offers some advice that many people might need. Do I think those people will pick up this book? Maybe, but most likely not. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is an interesting listen, but much of the Buddhism is lost in the tropes and the humor.

RATING: Tercet

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 12+ hours
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Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover explores Tara’s experiences as a child of survivalists in the mountains of Idaho who also have very restrictive views on Mormonism. As a child, all care was provided by her mother who was an herbalist and midwife. The children were not allowed to go to doctors, nurses, or hospitals. As the family prepared for the end of the world and tried to remain detached from public services, Tara helped her mother collect herbs and worked with her father in the scrap junkyard. Without any public education or barely any homeschooling, Tara entered the classroom for the first time at age 17.

The gaps in her knowledge became very clear to her and her thirst for knowledge propelled her career in education — taking her to Harvard and Cambridge — but she also noticed that her family’s Mormonism was very different from that of her classmates at Brigham Young University. Her will power to educate herself is amazing, as is her ability to learn things on her own or with very little help until she passes the ACT.

But as she becomes more educated, a sense of disconnect begins to emerge between herself and her family. While listening, it seems as though things between her brother and herself are glossed over and then overly dramatic. It’s like watching a train wreck, and I suspect that the things she’s writing about that she wrote journal entries about are a bit like “out of body” experiences for her in some ways. She’s disconnected from that self and her family. This memoir will have readers feeling that acutely, and its a grieving process that doesn’t seem to have reached a conclusion by the end of the book.

For some readers, this could be a trigger given the violence she witnessed and endured throughout her life. Readers will either believe all that occurs from Tara’s point of view, or believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. The family has different points of view on these incidents and Westover does the best she can in sharing those early on.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a deep dive into a family life that may seem impossible. For instance, the burns her father sustains and survives is nothing short of a miracle. This is just one incident and result that seems impossible to believe. The overarching theme of how education can set you free, however, should not be ignored. Westover is a talented writer.

RATING: Quatrain

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 13+ hrs.
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Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, is a true-crime look at murder in Los Angeles through the lens of one reporter and a case of black-on-black crime that was solved. The murder of a black cop’s son, Bryant Tennelle, by a gang member and a young man trying to fit in and stay on the good side of a gang member is not the case I expected to hear about in this book. With all Leovy’s talk about black-on-black crime and how there is a sort of lawlessness and take-it-in-their-own-hands mentality there, I expected to hear about someone other than the “good” son of a cop who chose to raise his family in the district where he worked as a homicide detective and police officer.

The case does highlight a bit of hero-worship on the part of the author with regard to Detective John Skaggs, who led the investigation. Skaggs is a persistent investigator, and Leovy does mention that his skills have closed many cases, which made me wonder why she focused on the case he helped solve related to the death of a cop’s son. Although it seems she is trying to suggest that the case wasn’t solved effectively because the victim was the son of a police officer, her entire book does the opposite, especially when there is no counterpoint to this case. As a reader, I would like to have seen another case in parallel involving another black man who was not the son of a police officer and how that case unfolded in the department.

The most enlightening part of the narrative is the commentary on how the criminal justice system has devalued the lives of all black men in these communities by failing to invest the time and resources necessary to investigate their murders. In her passages about how departments were merely pushing papers around and closing cases without putting the time in — unlike Skaggs who persistently visited and revisited communities to find evidence and witnesses — it is clear that real police work was not being done and that the officers gave up easily and had too little resources to follow-up on evidence or tips, etc. This is not to say that there were not officers and detectives in those departments who were not dedicated to finding the murderers, but without appropriate resources, the deck can be stacked against them actually closing cases.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, takes on a large problem in America — black-on-black on crime. The topic is a bit broad, and while she uses one case as an example, it might be the wrong one for her to have used. In the author’s note, it is clear she relied heavily on reports she wrote for news outlets, and she did offer a great many statistics. But what she espouses is a tougher state-based control over enforcement, and I’m not sure that’s the right answer, especially given many cases of bias, policy brutality, and the over enforcement/sentencing of minor crimes involving black men. This book has a lot of discussion points, however, and would be fantastic for book clubs.

RATING: Tercet

The Journey by Jan Hahn (audio)

Source: Meryton Press
Audible, 10+ hrs.
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The Journey by Jan Hahn, narrated by Leena Emsley, places Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in the hands of road bandits who kidnap them for ransom as they make their way to London. In an effort to save Elizabeth from the rogues, Darcy proclaims that she is his wife, placing them in close quarters as they await rescue or a ransom payment. Elizabeth and Darcy try to come to an agreement about how to share a room, despite the impropriety of it all.

As you can imagine, there is danger from Nate Morgan and his bandits, but there is also danger in being so close to someone you admire and love. Darcy must fight his feelings as Elizabeth makes it clear that his character is not admirable, especially given Wickham’s tales. This adventure from Hahn is high in tension but there also is more intense emotional tension, as Elizabeth comes to know the real Darcy. She begins to admire him, but she also admonishes him when she feels he is arrogant or high-handed.

Without spoiling the adventure for readers, I will say that what happens after they are recovered is a bit ridiculous. Elizabeth Bennet’s reputation hangs in the balance, as does her family, but yet she makes the most awful choice. I fear given the societal norms at the time even Elizabeth would not have made the decision she does in the book. She would have felt the pressure and the love of her family and sisters most acutely. However, with that said, perhaps her PTSD from the situation made her act rashly and without practicality.

Hahn’s Darcy and Elizabeth are like opposites most of the journey, but once flipped, their attraction is undeniable. Emsley is a suitable narrator and she does the characters justice, enabling readers to tell them apart. There are instances where the Austen dialogue should have been shifted more away from canon to suit the story, but it didn’t detract much from my enjoyment.

The Journey by Jan Hahn, narrated by Leena Emsley, is a good adventure for our favorite couple with dashing rogues, danger, and time alone that will change their hearts.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Jan Hahn is fascinated by Jane Austen, 19th Century England, and true love. Having spent years in the world of business, she is now content to leave it behind and concentrate on writing about Austen’s characters finding true love in 19th Century England. A storyteller since childhood, she’s written skits and plays for local organizations and owned a business recording, writing and publishing oral histories. Jan is a member of JASNA and began writing novels based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 2002. Jan’s first novel, An Arranged Marriage, won the award for Best Indie book of 2011 from Austen Prose.

 

The Child by Jan Hahn (audio)

Source: Meryton Press
Audiobook, 8+ hrs.
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The Child by Jan Hahn, narrated by Neil Roy McFarlane, imagines that Mr. Darcy is so heartbroken by Elizabeth Bennet’s rejection of his proposal at Hunsford that he drags Mr. Bingley on a European tour to forget about her. Upon his return, things have changed for the worse for the Bennet family and an illegitimate child has been born. He assumes that Elizabeth Bennet is the mother when he sees her on the streets of London with the child. It is this child that has driven a deep wedge between them, and Darcy must not only address Elizabeth’s assessment of his character, but also just how much, if at all, he had changed.

The narration was well done, and McFarlane was a convincing Darcy, as well as other characters. I loved that he brought a passion to Darcy’s inner thoughts. Something that is rarely seen or heard in other novels.

Told from Darcy’s point of view, we get an inside look at how heartbroken he was when he was rejected and how hard it is to see his unrequited love with a child that is not his own. He must learn to suppress his renewed desire for her, as he also strives to eliminate the blight on the Bennet family name. Unfortunately, in doing so, Darcy sinks to disguise (something he abhors) and in many ways falls below Elizabeth’s already scathing assessment of him. This was a bit tough to like, as was his sudden proposal at a time when his own reputation would be harmed. I do see how he was desperate, and those in love will do foolish things.

The Child by Jan Hahn, narrated by Neil Roy McFarlane, was a treat in terms of ingenuity on the part of the author and her rendering of the characters given the situation they found themselves in. Without giving too much away, Elizabeth and Darcy have even more obstacles to overcome, especially as Wickham plays a pivotal role in what could keep them apart forever.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Jan Hahn is fascinated by Jane Austen, 19th Century England, and true love. Having spent years in the world of business, she is now content to leave it behind and concentrate on writing about Austen’s characters finding true love in 19th Century England. A storyteller since childhood, she’s written skits and plays for local organizations and owned a business recording, writing and publishing oral histories. Jan is a member of JASNA and began writing novels based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 2002. Jan’s first novel, An Arranged Marriage, won the award for Best Indie book of 2011 from Austen Prose.

Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hours
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Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely — narrated by Andi Arndt, Sebastian York, and many others — is an audiobook I just had to listen to after listening to the short, Lucky Suit, which involves Lulu Diamond’s best friend Cameron. Blakely’s Leo Hennessy is smokin’ hot in a suit and for some reason, Lulu is just noticing this now, at a chocolate convention, after more than 10 years of friendship and a marriage to his best friend. But Lulu is a new woman who is laser-focused on the career she’s always wanted and felt held back from, and she’s not about to let romance get in the way of that again. Leo, on the other hand, has been ripe for romance with Lulu and his opportunity is now, but will guilt hold him back?

The main narrators — Arndt and York — have a believable chemistry and I loved that this audiobook has a full cast of narrators for a lot of characters. I would love to see this as a series of romance movies with all of these characters — Hallmark would definitely have to tone down the smut though.

Leo and Lulu solving riddles together is a delight — another case of witty repartee between characters. Blakely’s dialogue is lovely, and you can see how easily these two fall back into their friendship. There’s a comfort in how well they know each other, but they also are discovering so much more.

Leo and Lulu are endearing together, and I love that they are friends who find they cannot live without each other, but will self-imposed rules get in their way? Or can they learn to reach for the golden chalice? Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely — narrated by Andi Arndt, Sebastian York, and many others — is like decadent chocolate that you can’t tear your eyes or mouth away from.

RATING: Cinquain

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hours
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The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams is a quick look at the effects of being out in nature and how it can “calm” the brain. Cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah, found in his studies that creativity increases after three days spent in natural settings and his subjects improved in cognitive testing.

She takes several nature trips with different groups of people. The first group of veterans tackles the obstacles and hardships of nature easily, while the second group of women who have faced abuse in the past have a harder time dealing with nature’s struggles. Williams also takes a trip in Utah with her city friend, who writes about the benefits of city living.

Williams clearly sees the benefits of nature, but the 3-day effect may not have the same impact on everyone. The veterans took to the hikes and time in nature as a way to get some peace from the PTSD they normally experience at home with their friends, family, and others. The second group of women needed a bit of modification to see the benefits of nature, as they lived in fear for many years, reinforcing those fears in the elements was not the best option. One women who had been homeless and lived outside expressed serious concerns about camping outside where wild animals would be. Williams’ friend struggled with some of the hiking and was less than convinced that the effort to reach summits was worth it.

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams offers some scientific data and testing, but I wouldn’t call this a scientific study as there are no control groups for comparison and many of the data sets are too small. I also wouldn’t recommend this to people who are likely to take these anecdotal experiences and drop their medications and treatments on a whim without medical advice from a professional. I did find the book interesting to listen to and see how people reacted on the hiking trail and sleeping in nature, as well as how they felt afterward and what effects the stint in nature had on their productivity and real life.

RATING: Tercet