My favorite audiobook genre

Once upon a time, I dropped $60 on a stack of nonfiction books at Books-A-Million, and I didn’t. finish. a. single. one.

I’m ashamed.

Really, it’s a complete scandal.

Not the $60 part, but the fact that I couldn’t finish any of them. I just got bored. I don’t know why exactly, but for the longest time, I have struggled to finish (or even enjoy) nonfiction.


In some ways, it’s a classic case of analysis paralysis: I would spend so much time pouring over every single meaningful sentence that it was impossible for me to actually finish. And because of my over-analyzing, reading nonfiction required so much brainpower that I’d rather just pick up a fiction book or magazine — anything that didn’t require deep personal contemplation.

Until recently, when I discovered something beautiful.

Like a glorious, glittering unicorn riding out of the clouds and trailed by a stream of rainbow-colored butterflies, I discovered the magic grail.

The nonfiction audiobook.

Suddenly, my life flashed before my eyes and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me: It was possible for me to love nonfiction!

It was just like the moment I discovered I could like guacamole. I’d wanted to like it for so long, recognized the benefits of liking it (it’s totally hipster to be into guac, obvs), and I’d even tried a few bites at restaurants … but I just hadn’t discovered the perfect method of enjoying it (homemade, extra chunky, light on the onion).

And from that moment forward my whole life has changed. (Ok not really, but this is BOOKS and GUAC we’re talking here people)

I know this is all difficult for my fellow visual learners out there to swallow, but hear me out:

Isn’t finishing a book is better than it laying around, untouched and lonely, for months?

If you’re worried you won’t retain as much knowledge listening to audiobooks as you would reading them, just remember this simple math: you’ll probably remember about 60% of what you listen to via audiobook, as opposed to 85% if you read it with your eyeballs. Contrast that with about 20% remembered if you never finish the book.

I’m 100% making this math up. I actually have no idea and these results have no basis in scientific fact (please don’t sue me).

My math teacher father would be so proud.


What genres do you like listening to on audiobook?

Old book, new review: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

Copy of Copy of YOU ARE SIMPLY THE

Title: Blue Like Jazz
Author: Donald Miller
My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Is it worth reading? Yes. I didn’t find the writing style sophisticated or completely enjoyable, but the perspective and ideas presented make this one worth the read. Expect to be challenged and prepare to ask yourself questions about your own version of faith.


You get a strange mix of feelings when you arrive late to the party — over ten years late, to be exact — on a book like Blue Like Jazz.

On the whole, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this one.

When Blue Like Jazz first came out, I was barely a teenager. Miller was writing to a generation just a little bit ahead of mine, who were tired with a fading 1950’s cultural Christianity and eager to reconcile their beliefs with a postmodern world.

On this point, I think Miller was incredibly successful. He writes about the real struggles a Christian has with living in our present age while juggling the American cultural baggage many grew up with.

In so many ways, Blue Like Jazz is permission to lean in to doubts and questions and permission to push back against “the way it’s always been.” In that sense, even ten years later, Blue Like Jazz a breath of fresh air.

All that being said, I waffled back and forth about whether this was a 3-star or 4-star book for me. Here’s why:


While Donald Miller had some truly insightful and convicting points, the writing style totally bogged me down. In fact, that’s my main beef with the book and the reason I only gave it three stars.

And to make matters worse, many of Miller’s memories and experiences just weren’t that interesting to me. So not only did I not like the way it was written, I found the content largely boring.

Maybe this is a sign of the times. Maybe our culture is addicted to larger-than-life, over-the-top amazing life experiences to justify reading a memoir about them (ahem, celebrity memoirs).

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I think it’s more just personal taste.

I also found his conversational, we’re-just-getting-coffee style of writing was a bit annoying at times. I appreciated his humility throughout the book, but at other times I just wanted him to stop being wishy-washy and make an argument without so many qualifiers.

The editor in me wanted to tighten up sentences, cut down on the unfocused musings and filler text, and totally scrap the pop culture references.

When I read a book, I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a blog post or rambling thoughts. But I know many people who absolutely love Miller’s writing and find his style incredibly approachable. That’s great — just not for me.

I can applaud Miller for talking openly and authentically about his struggles of reconciling Christian faith with secular culture. But I couldn’t decide if his “shock you out of your comfort zone for the purpose of making you think” strategy was totally effective or not.

On the whole, I was disappointed that the writing was (in my opinion) so unfocused for a book that had such great insights.


Reading Blue Like Jazz 14 years after publication was like suddenly discovering the roots of Christian hipsterism. Before it was mainstream, of course.

Case in point: “I read through the Koran before it was even popular.” (Blue Like Jazz, 87)


Don’t let my critique fool you — there is some great stuff in Blue Like Jazz. Like really great.

This is my favorite quote from the book:

“When I am talking to somebody there are always two conversations going on. The first is on the surface; it is about politics or music or whatever it is our mouths are saying. The other is beneath beneath the surface, on the level of the heart, and my heart is either communicating that I like the person I am talking to or I don’t. God wants both conversations to be true. That is, we are supposed to speak truth in love. If both conversations are not true, God is not involved in the exchange, we are on our own, and on our own, we will lead people astray.” (Blue Like Jazz, 222)

This shook me.

I used to think my problem in high school was that I couldn’t stop judging people. But these few sentences made me realize that while I was focused on speaking the truth, I wasn’t communicating love at all. Deep down I didn’t like many people I interacted with (much less love them) because I was too focused on how they weren’t living up to my own made-up definition of what “living for Christ” looked like.

What a wake-up call.

Another great point Miller makes is that all the terrible things in the world — evil, suffering, racism, violence — come back to the problem of our own hearts.

Miller asks, if we’re not willing to fix the problems within us, how can we even begin to fight for justice in the world?


Part of me finds it hard to recommend Blue Like Jazz because I just didn’t enjoy reading it that much.

But at the same time, I learned some really powerful things about myself and my own expression of Christianity precisely because I went along for the ride and saw this thing through. Especially if you’re not sure about this whole Christianity thing, Blue Like Jazz is a great place to start.

Overall, I’m not disappointed I read it, and I’d probably even recommend it (with a grain of salt).

But I’m glad I highlighted all the good parts so I don’t have to read it again.

What did you think about Blue Like Jazz? Love it or hate it?

Quote source:
Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (p. 87). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Have you noticed? WWII books all seem to have blue covers

I recently looked over my list of books that I read in 2016 (as book lovers do) and discovered that, unintentionally, I read several WWII-era books last year.

I also happened to notice one overarching detail: Each book strongly featured the color blue in its cover artwork.

Coincidence? Maybe.

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Or the smart marketing people at publishing houses have discovered we are attracted to blue or associate WWII fiction with blue.

Who can say for sure? In the wise words of the Tootsie Pop owl, “The World May Never Know.”

But for all you fellow conspiracy theorists out there, the evidence is uncanny:

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale Kristin Hannah WWII Blue Book Cover

The most compelling part of The Nightingale, in my opinion, was the perspective — women left behind during war. How they cope, how they fought back, what their lives might have been like. It was fascinating.

However, it did take me a while to get into The Nightingale (the first several chapters seemed to just be Isabel and Vianne bickering constantly), and a few times it seemed to stray into modern chick-lit style writing.

I also found that the same arguments and scenarios kept happening over and over. Cliche phrases and stock filler text were used throughout. I think the book could have been much shorter — and more powerful — if Hannah had cut some of the fat that didn’t contribute to the story.

But overall, The Nightingale was a satisfying, fresh read. I definitely recommend it!

One note on the audiobook version: it’s lengthy. I might have skimmed through a few parts (and enjoyed the book a bit more) if I’d been reading rather than listening.


2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the light we cannot see anthony doerr blue cover wwii booksAll the Light We Cannot See brims with beautiful imagery and symbolism … the town of Saint-Malo, the streets of Paris, and the Museum of Natural History pulse with life as we learn about each place through Marie-Laure’s senses.

I loved experiencing the world through Marie-Laure’s blindness. The imagery alone makes this book a worthwhile read.

When I was reading All the Light We Cannot See, I felt like I was in the story. It was like I was living life right beside Marie-Laure. On the other hand, when I read The Nightingale, I felt like someone was telling me a story.

But I struggled with Werner’s later chapters. I thought his early life was interesting, but by the time he began traveling across Europe, I found myself struggling to continue.

Overall, All the Light We Cannot See started off strong, but I eventually got lost in the middle. The ending was (mostly) satisfying, but it just didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. Maybe I should have listened to this one on audiobook.


3. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Everyone brave is forgiven chris cleave blue cover wwii book

I won’t talk about every detail I went over in my full review of Everyone Brave is Forgiven. But here it is in a nutshell: Skip this one.

There are soooooooo many better WWII novels out there. I was seduced by the lovely cover artwork and the dust jacket filled with promises of racial themes and love triangles … but alas, I was sorely disappointed.

WWII is such a tragic, formative, and fascinating time in history. That’s why I was so surprised to find Everyone Brave is Forgiven lacked any of the drama, suspend, or emotion that usually surrounds art set during this time.

Thankfully, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a fast read, despite its hefty 418 page count.

Overall, I was disappointed at how flat the characters were, how lifeless London felt, and how the most intense, emotional moments left me feeling numb and apathetic. At one point, when the war seemed most dire and a key character was practically dying, I was bored.  I just didn’t care.

4. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman


Ok, so this book is technically not set during WWII.

But I’m still going to include it in the list because helps prove my point. Is that technically cheating? Maybe a little. But this is something I can live with.

I won’t rehash my entire review of this book (you can read it here if you want), but needless to say it probably has the strongest plot tension of any of the other books listed here.

The story picks up after WWI, when Tom is still trying to recover from the horrors of war. He soon finds a new life with Isabel … a life that helps him begin to forget.

And then they make terrible, life-altering choice.

The Light Between Oceans made me stressed, angry, and emotional all at once. And it’s a fast read. The story has a strong hook and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end — and the payoff is surprisingly satisfying.



1. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

47281I’m including Number the Stars in the bonus section because it’s not part of any current book trend if it was published in 1989.

But it’s blue!

Number the Stars was one of my first introductions to World War II when I was assigned to read it for a class project.

Before reading this book, I thought that history was boring because it was mostly about remembering facts, dates, and numbers. But Number the Stars showed me that history is the story of real people with real stories, doing real things that have the power to change the world.

Since then, whenever I learn about a new period in history (in school and out of school), I like to read literature that was written during that time period or about that time period.

There is so much to be learned about human nature when read from the perspective of someone experiencing history in the moment. Number the Stars is a children’s book, but it’s definitely worth the read!


2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

The guernsey literary and potato peel pie society

It’s got a little bit of blue on the cover … sort of. Ok, ok, I know this one completely messes up my “blue cover” motif.

But no WW II book list would be complete without my all-time favorite WWII (or rather, post-WWII) novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

In a word, this book is delightful.

Written in letters, it tells the story of Juliet Ashton as she searches for the subject of her next book and healing from the war. What she discovers is a quirky, lovable village on the English channel island of Guernsey with a unique story of their experiences during the war.

It perfectly balances love, humor, hope, and the pain of war without being heavy-handed or flippant. I highly, highly recommend it for your next historical fiction read!

Whether it’s a new book trend or not, blue is definitely having a moment with WWII fiction.

What’s your favorite WWII novel?

More important question: Does it have blue on the cover?


Snooze Alert: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave


Title: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Author: Chris Cleave
My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Is it worth reading? No. I found it to be long, flat, and confusing at times. Characters are underdeveloped, the plot tries to accomplish too much, and dialogue is tiresome. There are  so many great WWII novels out there … this is not one of them.


Where to begin.

If Everyone Brave is Forgiven hadn’t been the selection for the book club I’m in, I would have DNFed it pretty early on.

In a nutshell, Everyone Brave is Forgiven was one of the most disappointing books I’ve read in a while. All the elements of a great story were there: Little-known history of WWII, racial tensions, love triangle … but somehow it just falls flat. Chris Cleave is a bestselling author and many people have enjoyed this book.

Perhaps it’s just my personal tastes, but this particular book just didn’t work for me.

This is the only Chris Cleave book I’ve read, so I might just not like the way he writes. I’ve thought about reading Little Bee several times, but I don’t think I can do it if it’s similar in style to this one.

Characters & Setting

WWII is one of the most tragic, formative, and fascinating times in history. That’s why I was surprised to find Everyone Brave is Forgiven was so snooze-worthy. It lacked any of the drama that usually surrounds this era of history.

The characters were one-dimensional and the most emotional parts of the story left me nodding off to sleep.

The transitions and descriptions throughout the book were often very strange. At times I didn’t know what was real and what was a dream, what the characters were thinking or doing, or who characters even were (For example, one book club member didn’t know how Hilda was related to Mary until partway through the book). Once or twice I asked myself, Do I have to be British to understand this??

We never get inside character’s heads, understand their motivations, or see how they deal with grief, heartache, or joy.

Another strange thing: Almost all of the dialogue in this book was just witty banter. Characters rarely talked directly about the true, terrible things that were happening. Everything was a sarcastic joke. Maybe Cleave was trying to make the point that the war was too horrible for words, and could only be spoken about in jokes … but it came across as trite and shallow.

And if the dust cover description hadn’t mentioned that Alistair and Mary fell in love when they first met, I wouldn’t have picked up on that fact at all.

This is one of my ultimate book pet peeves: I can’t stand it when a dust jacket description is a bait and switch. The description for this book made it sound like the book was going to go one direction, but it went a completely different one. I don’t know why, but that always leaves me feeling deceived and shortchanged.

Story & Plot

I so wish Everyone Brave is Forgiven had focused exclusively on the relationship between Mary and black students during the war. Not only would it have been timely, it would have been valuable to read a black perspective during WWII. The dust jacket made it seem like that was where the book was going, but it was just a sidebar storyline.

In fact, there wasn’t any clear, dominant storyline throughout the entire book … it’s like it tried to cover too much ground without really making any clear point. We have Mary and Tom’s story, the school story, the war in general, Alastair’s experiences, Alastair and Hilda’s story, Mary and Hilda’s friendship, and then Mary and Alastair’s romance. None were particularly successful.

I walked away from this book not sure what, exactly, I was supposed to learn or get out of reading it.

But perhaps one of the most unbelievable aspects of the book is Mary’s behavior.

She galavants around London doing whatever her heart desires … like spending the night and sleeping with her boyfriend (did people really do this so willy-nilly before birth control?) or frequenting “seedy” clubs. If her family is really as affluent and concerned with image as the book makes them sound, I have a hard time believing that during the 1940s she could have slept at her boyfriend’s house or hung around the club without strong consequences to her parents’ political image.

Even the TV show Call the Midwife (which is set in the 1950s) clearly shows that sex outside of marriage was, in general, publicly frowned upon.

Final Thoughts

The most positive thing I can say about Everyone Brave is Forgiven is that it reads really quickly. Small mercies.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. If the scope of the story had been pared down, and the characters and setting had been more developed, this could have been something special. But it just fell flat for me.

There was no drama. There was no anticipation. There was no conflict, climax, or resolution. And then the ending: No resolution. No hope. It ended on such a discordant note.

I think the most painful part or reading Everyone Brave is Forgiven was this: At the most dramatic, important, and tragic moments, I felt nothing. I felt numb. I just didn’t care.

As a reader, that’s the greatest tragedy of all.

DNF: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney


Title: The Nest
Author: Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
My rating: DNF
Genre: Fiction, General
Is it worth reading? I wouldn’t recommend it. I thought this would be like reading a celebrity gossip magazine — a easy, breezy, guilty pleasure. This was definitely not that. The Nest was more like a romance novel featuring unlikeable characters and catty behavior.



I hate marking a book DNF, especially on books I’ve made significant headway in or purchased (although I got the Kindle version for cheap through a Goodreads Deal email).

I especially hate disliking a book with cover artwork as beautiful as The Nest.

But I just can’t finish. I’m about 55% of the way through, and I just can’t read one. more. line. I can’t pretend to be interested in the sex, selfishness, shallowness, and frankly, boring storylines anymore.

Life is too short to finish books you don’t like. So I gave myself a gold star and moved on.


The Nest started off promising enough, with interesting details and quirks about each character, but it quickly spiraled into mostly focusing on their sex lives. (What happened to the nest? I thought that was what this book was about?)

Honestly, I’m just not that interested in reading about a (gay or straight) character’s sexual experiences and explorations — especially when it doesn’t seem to have a point. The Nest is not a coming-of-age story, and it’s not trying to make a stance or a statement. Several characters felt like they were reduced to their sexual urges … like there was little else notable or interesting about them as people.

And then there’s the plot in general. The first 1/4 of the book actually deals with “the nest,” but halfway through I had no clue where this book was going. The different viewpoints and background stories were interesting, but there wasn’t a central narrative that tied all the random storylines together.

Also, The Nest had practically no sympathetic characters. It was hard to feel compassion, empathy, and understanding to people who are so utterly unpleasant (and made such terrible choices). I couldn’t find much to love or appreciate in any of them.

I had high hopes that The Nest would be a light and entertaining read. Instead, I feel like I need to go take a shower.


What did you think of The Nest? Did the ending justify the means?

Why you need to read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audiobook note: Bahni Turpin does a fantastic job narrating. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her mastery of different accents and character voices. As you’ll see below, I think listening on audiobook really helped me finish this story.
Is it worth reading? Yes, yes, yes. The Underground Railroad is not a “comfortable” read by any means, but it’s an important one. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to listen to voices speaking out about racial tensions in our country. It may be written about the past, but The Underground Railroad is more timely than ever.



It’s taken me some time to chew over what to say in a review of The Underground Railroad. Namely, how do you review a book about horrors that were not committed toward your ancestors? Horrors that your ancestors, in fact, might have committed?

Approaching this book, I wanted to assume a posture of listening and learning, attempting (though brokenly) to grow in my understanding.

In that regard, The Underground Railroad did not disappoint.

As I listened to the audiobook, all I could think was: “This is what reading is all about. This is so important for me to hear.”

The atrocities committed against slaves and blacks in America are easy to forget when we relegate their stories to textbooks and history classes. For me, The Underground Railroad was a powerful reminder of the importance (and power) of narrative in helping us understand not only history, but the experiences of another human being.

And this is what I love about books. I will never understand what it’s like to be a black slave in pre-Civil War America. Or even to be a black person in modern America. But I can begin to listen, learn, and grow through hearing their stories.

Another powerful message from The Underground Railroad is that it’s incredibly easy to celebrate all the good aspects of our country while completely forgetting the horror, evil, and despicable actions of Americans who killed, plundered, and destroyed the lives of Native Americans and blacks.

We cannot forget that much (if not most) of our country was built on the backs of slaves and the oppressed. We cannot sanitize history to ease our consciences. Erasing the horror only makes us blind to the world we’ve created — the world we live in today.

Choosing to intentionally avoid stories like The Underground Railroad is choosing to live asleep.

It’s choosing to willfully ignore — or even worse, willfully deny — the realities of our country’s origins, and the roots of so many racial tensions today. You cannot torture, murder, and dehumanize an entire people group for over two hundred years and then expect all the remnants of that torture to be gone within a few generations.

I know all of these things have been said before, by people much smarter, wiser, and more attuned to the nuances of racial tension than I am. But this is why I think The Underground Railroad is an incredibly important read.

One thing is abundantly clear to me after reading this story: I have not read nearly enough African American literature. Shame on me.

My only minor critique: From a purely personal standpoint, The Underground Railroad was not the most engaging book I’ve ever picked up. If I hadn’t been listening to it on audiobook, I think it would have been easy to put it down and not pick it back up. I think the reason isn’t the content, which was powerful, thought provoking, and highly relevant.

I think the problem for me was more in the style. I wish some of the portions had been in first person, or had delved deeper into the character’s psyche. The characters felt a bit flat at times, and the setting wasn’t fleshed out enough that I could visualize everything Cora and the other characters were experiencing.

The most interesting plot device of the story — the underground railroad as an actual railroad — doesn’t feel fully developed. I was left wanting something a little … more.

Whitehead’s writing felt a bit … clinical, for lack of a better word. The story was powerful. The plot was interesting. But the way it was written just wasn’t my favorite.

So that’s my struggle. On the one hand, you have this incredibly moving story that shines a bright light on the attitudes, atrocities, and belief systems of the slavery-era South.

But on the other hand, you have story that stalled, dragged on, and lost my interest at times.

At the end of the day, not every important story is going to have the readability that suits our absolute particular preferences, and that’s ok.

Should you still read it? Absolutely. But maybe check out the audiobook.

5 reasons I’ll stop listening to an audiobook


I love audiobooks—or “books on tape” as we ’90s kids are still prone to call them.

There’s nothing better then finding a great story you can listen to over and over again (Lord of the Rings narrated by Rob Inglis, anyone?). They’re also a great way to make a dent in your reading goals.

But sometimes finding a great audiobook can feel like a Goldilocks pursuit.

They can’t be too this or too that. They need to be just right.

I’ll be the first to admit—I’m a little picky when it comes to choosing audiobooks.

My top audiobook pet peeves are things that distract me from focusing in on the story. Just like bumpy sentences and dry dialogue in print, certain narrator quirks often distract me to the point that I have to press “stop” and move on.

Here are a few things that make me DNF an audiobook:

Long pauses between words or sentences

I ran into this problem when I tried to listen to Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money. Between every sentence, I could literally hear the narrator take a breath.

No surprise—the book moved along at the speed of mud and I hit stop before I’d even gotten to chapter two.

The opposite is also true.

This may be my Alabama roots showing, but if a narrator is talking so fast I have to tilt my head toward the speaker to keep up, I’m out.

The narrator sounds like Siri

This should be a given, but pretty regularly I come across audiobooks where is seems like the narrator is actually trying to sound a robot-like as possible. What?!

Give me some Jim Dale narrating Harry Potter any day of the week over that.

Audiobook magic happens when the narrator starts to fade away and the story is front and center. It takes an enormous amount of talent for a narrator to give each character their own distinct voice and personality. I love it when narrators craft an immersive world with their voice.

The voice doesn’t match the book’s vibe

There’s something really disjointed about listening to an audiobook narrated by a voice that so clearly does not match the vibe of the book.

Sometimes I can get used to it (like in The Circle), but other times it just doesn’t work. One of weirdest book/narrator mashups I’ve heard was Francine River’s Bridge To Haven. This is a story about a young, impressionable actress in 1950’s Hollywood … narrated in an elderly, mature-sounding voice. I don’t think the narrator is actually old, but the style just didn’t work for me.

The accent is all wrong

Ok, I know this is really a minor pet peeve.

But come on, if I’m going to listen to a British novel, I want to hear a rich British voice dripping with tea and scones and crumpets telling me the story. Not an American.

When the volume ranges from yelling to a whisper … the entire book

This is probably my number one pet peeve.

I listen to audiobooks most frequently in the car, and there’s nothing more obnoxious than constantly having to adjust the volume because one minute the narrator’s practically yelling, and the next they’re whispering.

I ran into this problem with The Light Between Oceans. I loved the narrators voice, but every time I pulled into a parking lot I felt like people were staring at me because I had a loud Australian voice blasting from my car stereo.

BONUS: The editing is bizarre

So this just happened to me recently while I was listening to Scary Close by Donald Miller. Instead of normal pauses between sentences or chapters, every space seems to have been edited out.

This is how it would go: … you knowChapter5When you think about …

I’m wondering if they edited it down to fit within a certain time frame? Either way, I had to stop and borrow the book from a friend because the reading was so fast, my brain didn’t have time to stop and absorb what was just said. Super frustrating!


We all have our pet peeves, but the good new is, most audiobooks are great.

What are some of your audiobook pet peeves? Who are your favorite narrators?

Is The Circle by Dave Eggers worth reading? | Book Review


Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Fiction (Dystopia)
Audiobook note: The Circle‘s main character is a woman. Soooo I’m still trying to figure out why it was narrated by a man. It doesn’t make sense. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to enjoy the audiobook, because Dion Graham honestly sounds like the voice of Aslan (which definitely doesn’t fit the book’s tone). After a while though, I got used to it—plus Graham’s “valley girl” interpretation of Annie’s voice is actually hilarious.
Is it worth reading? If you’re a sucker for anything dystopia, you’ll probably enjoy The Circle. If your only foray into dystopian fiction is The Hunger Games, I’d pass on this one. What I enjoyed most about The Circle was how it built on the dystopia genre and compared to other dystopian books, and not so much for its merits as a stand-alone book.


>>Minor spoilers ahead<<

In the spirit of full disclosure, the only reason I picked up this book was because I saw The Circle movie trailer.

Emma Watson with an American accent? Tom Hanks as a villain?! Creepy dystopian universe eerily similar to our own?!?!?!?

Yeah, I was in.

So I popped over to my local library (tip #2 in my 4 tips for keeping your 2017 reading goals post) and picked up the audiobook.

This is dystopia for our current era. I’m looking forward to more in this genre to come.

The Weird Stuff

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. There were many things I disliked about this book, to the point that it made me wonder if that was the point. Maybe Eggers is intentionally trying to create a certain revulsion in the reader so that we recognize the ultimate message behind the book (read more under The Good Stuff).

Sheep Characters

I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book from the perspective of one of the sheep.

By that, I mean that Mae Holland believes everything the Circle tells her hook, line, and sinker. Even when trusted people in her life challenge her to think critically about the company she works for, she rejects their ideas as stupid, ignorant, and selfish.

The speed with which the world adopts the tyranny of the Circle was a little unrealistic to me, but not too unrealistic that I completely rejected it. I was spooked by how mindlessly and willingly the characters were willing to give up their freedoms—without even realizing it.

(More on this under Critical Thinking is Critically Important)

Mae is Freaking Annoying

What an obnoxious head to be stuck inside.

I’m really curious how Emma Watson is going to play her in the movie. Mae accepts everything without question, ridicules and hates anyone who questions her wisdom or choices, and cares only about the power she has over people or the way they make her feel.

She is petty, vain, people-pleasing, self-centered, and thoroughly unlikable. She is completely asleep to the dangers of the world around her. Listening to her internal dialogue was agonizing at times. But what made it worse was that I was also sort of rooting for her at the same time.

Incongruous Sex Scenes

In general, I’m not a fan of sex scenes. But I have no problem just skipping over them, and normally they don’t ruin my reading experience. I can still find a lot to love about a book aside from the parts I skip over (like in Game of Thrones or Pillars of the Earth).

But for some reason, I never saw the sex coming in this book. It just seemed so oddly out of place with the whole theme/tone of the story to have kind of descriptive sex thrown in there 5-6 times.

I don’t know if Eggers was trying to highlight the vast gulf between the digital and physical at the Circle or what, but it seemed weirdly incongruous with the rest of the book.

The Good Stuff

While I definitely didn’t love The Circle, there were some redeemable points. If nothing else, it served as a warning, and it’s always, always a good idea to examine warnings.

Especially when we live in a world where the plot of The Circle seems plausible.

These were my main takeaways (aka The Good Stuff):

Great World Building

One thing I loved (and which I think is critical for a good dystopian novel) is solid world building. If I’m going to buy into a futuristic, oppressive society, a believable, well-constructed world is key.

The Circle excels at creating a believable setting.

Maybe we’re just used to the idea of sprawling tech company campuses, but I think Eggers takes it to the next level. I could picture going to work with Mae every day and experiencing the things she experienced. Even the sometimes-tedious descriptions of her moment-by-moment movements helped highlight Mae’s increasingly frantic mental world.

Critical thinking is critically important

Every program or initiative started by the Circle was good in theory: microchips to prevent children from being kidnapped, programs to prevent racial profiling, surveys to ensure quality products and services, etc.

But no Circler seems to recognize how each new, exciting advancement is another infringement upon personal freedom and liberty. Every initiative is cloaked under the guise of safety, wellness, and acceptance.

The groupthink was so strong and the ideas were so “good” for society that it’s nearly impossible for any person to disagree without being branded as outlier, anti-social, or luddite.

When society loses the ability to constructively critique itself, tyranny slips in the door.

Disagreement does not equal hate

The more the Circle takes over, the more that negativity, disagreement, or dissent is punished.

I think this reminder is especially poignant in the wake of the 2016 election season. It’s easy to assume someone who disagrees with you hates everything you stand for, or even worse, hates you. But in reality, disagreement is valuable and necessary for a thriving society. It drives us to look at problems from all angles, and it reminds us that each person is unique and brings their own perspective to the the table.

When we seek to erase all disagreement, we encourage a culture of robots.

The dangers of seeking approval in a digital world

The more likes, followers, and approval ratings Mae receives, the better she feels about herself. She gets an endorphin rush from the instantaneous affirmation the Circle encourages.

And the more she’s treated as an object (albeit, a loved object) by her fans, the more she treats other people as pawns in her attempt to feel loved, valued, and approved.

This is a real problem we’re facing right now.

Social media makes it incredibly easy to start basing our value and our worth as human beings on the impersonal approval of people we have no connection to in real life.

The Circle shows us the danger when every action we take is categorized, ranked, rated, and evaluated. When our performance in the job force, the classroom, and the social realm are ranked and rewarded, it’s easy to slip into a mindset where we believe arbitrary numbers correlate to real things like value. It’s a dead-end search that can never be satisfied.

State-imposed morality is bad, bad, bad

The flaw with the goals of the Circle is that Eamon Bailey believes he can eradicate sin and change human nature by instilling “checks and balances” that will ensure everyone is intimidated, harassed, or forced into perfect behavior.

And it’s impossible. You can’t force people to make moral choices and you can’t force people to be perfect.

Although a perfect society would (theoretically) eliminate pain, suffering, fear of the unknown, and heartbreak, it would also eliminate choice. It would rob us of the agency to do good, to love others, and to make mistakes and learn from them. It would remove the ability to heal.

There’s a biblical application here as well: Agency means we have the choice to move toward God or away from Him … He didn’t make us into robots who are forced to choose Him.

Is The Circle Worth Reading?

Either this book is kind of crappy, or Eggers is doing something powerful here. I’m honestly not sure. Maybe I’m reading too much into it … or maybe not.

But that’s what I love about reading. To me, a book isn’t wasted if it teaches or reminds me of something powerful and true.

So is it worth reading?

I’d say yes if you like dystopian novels. If not, some of the subtler themes may not be worth slogging through the droning of Mae’s sheep-like mind or the petty behavior or the sort-of-disappointing twist at the end. If you don’t like this genre, it might just end up on your Did Not Finish pile.


Have you read The Circle? What did you think? Will you go see the movie? Leave a comment below!


Commonwealth by Ann Patchett | Review


Title: Commonwealth
Author: Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: General Fiction
Audiobook note: I highly recommend the audiobook! Hope Davis has this fascinating voice—equal parts smokey, crackly, and hilariously sarcastic—that makes listening to Commonwealth pure pleasure. Each character has a unique vocal fingerprint. I remember thinking while listening, “I could never have brought these characters to life in my head as well as she does.”
Is it worth reading? If you enjoy stories about family dynamics and the power of love that can transcend generations, then Commonwealth is your kind of book. Patchett is a master storyteller who knows how to write a sentence so smooth, you’ll want to stop random strangers and say, “Just listen to this!” While Patchett is perhaps best known for Bel Canto, I actually liked Commonwealth better. Don’t tell anyone.



This is my first Ann Patchett novel. I’ve seen her books around for years in libraries and bookstores, but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve started picking up “adult” novels and moving away from Young Adult.

I also have to confess—the main reason I gave it a shot was because of the cover. The book description didn’t appeal to me. But the dust jacket had this glorious texture and something about the cover design made me stop every time I walked into a bookstore.

(Yes, I’m one of those people who pick up books, stroke the cover, flip through the pages, and then repeat before finally giving in.)

And I’m so glad I did. Commonwealth didn’t disappoint.

Here are some things I loved:

Chronological leaps

Commonwealth spans over five decades, and many chapters end on a cliffhanger … and  the next chapter picks up in the past or future, and you’re left dangling. I could tell from scanning Goodreads reviews that this was a major drawback for some readers. It was infuriating. But I loved it.

The story was bit of a puzzle. You only got a small piece each chapter, but by the end I can assure you (most) everything fits together.

Patchett’s writing style

Before reading Commonwealth, I didn’t know it was possible for a novel to sound like music. Each sentence flows perfectly into the next—a delight for readers and listeners.

Nothing turns me off of a book quicker than bumpy, unreadable sentences. If the plot is compelling enough, sometimes I will stick in it just to find out what happens (see my The Light Between Oceans review), but for the most part, sentence flow is a sticking point.

The fallout of broken promises

So these families are pretty screwed up.

Bert Cousins kisses another man’s wife at her daughter’s christening party for crying out loud. Their children spend the rest of their lives trying to reconcile the brokenness that seems to be the core of their existence. Their ex-spouses must find a way to move on.

Commonwealth is a story of the search for something whole and true.

It’s a harrowing reminder that our relentless search for meaning and purpose can lead us down paths we never intended to take … ultimately hurting those we love the most.

I love that Patchett doesn’t glorify Bert and Beverly’s unfaithfulness. She simply tells a story and lets the reader decide how to feel about it.

Love’s power to heal

Commonwealth could have been a really depressing story.

Instead, it’s strangely hopeful.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, sorrow, betrayal, and disappointment the Cousins/Keating families experience, Commonwealth ends with forgiveness, hope, and a deep love that transcends each person’s faults.

This is the truth Commonwealth offers us:

We are all broken. We hurt each other in selfish and cruel ways. But love has the power to transcend the ugliness in this world.

Our brokenness can be mended.

4 tips for reaching your 2017 reading goals


I am a firm believer in New Year’s Resolutions.

Sure, we could technically make new resolutions any time, but let’s be honest: who really does?

The turning of the new year signals the turning over of a new leaf. There’s something good and fresh about taking stock of the previous year and making the conscious decision to start something new.

Maybe you have a goal to read more this year, but do you have a plan of action?

Here are a few tips to make your 2017 reading goals a reality:

Make it official with a Goodreads Reading Challenge

A little friendly accountability never hurt anyone, and this one is a lot less painful than blasting your weight loss goals all over Facebook.

On your account, you can create reading challenge goal and track your progress. Plus when you sync to your social media, you can see your friend’s reading goals and cheer them on. Goodreads also does a cool end-of-year recap that shows your book stats for the year.

Here’s mine from 2016:


Note: Goodreads did not pay for/endorse this shoutout. I’m just legitimately obsessed.

Hit up your local library

Don’t be like me and buy tons books off the Internet that won’t fit in your tiny apartment.

Throw on your adulting pants and make a trip to your local library instead!

If you haven’t visited the library since you were in elementary school, you’ll probably be surprised at the amazing resources your library has available (like eBooks you can borrow for your Kindle, Nook, or iPad).

My library is pretty small in size, but is connected to a huge network that gives me access to almost any book I want. My online library account even allows me to place a book on hold and sends me an email when it’s arrived and ready for pickup (talk about enabling my laziness). Many libraries will also email you when your book is almost overdue.

If you’re not a book hoarder and don’t have tons of book options lying around (kudos to yo minimalist self), using your library is a budget-friendly way to add variety to your 2017 book list.

Two words: Audio. Books.

Ok, technically audiobook is one word.

But let’s not be held back by minor technicalities.

Audiobooks are, in a word, wondrous. Every time I’m in my car, I’m listening to an audiobook. When I’m cleaning my house, I’m listening to an audiobook. Basically, audiobooks make mundane tasks less mundane, and you’re chipping away at your reading list while you work. Or drive. Or just lay around.

Another library plug: Some offer subscriptions to online streaming services like Hoopla that allow you to borrow audiobooks and play them through an app on your phone.

Borrowing regular old books on CD from your library is another option, and it’s cheaper than Audible. But hey, if you have $14.95 to throw around every month, more power to ya.

Listening to audiobooks is a great way to power through your reading challenge and mark more books off your list. Besides, if you have to be in the car, why not make that time productive?

Don’t set yourself up to fail

Do you have a full time job? Are you a full time student?

Do you have a social life?

Does your body require petty things like food and sleep?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re probably not going to read 150 books in 2017. If you read at the pace of drying paint, you’re probably not going to read 70 books.

Whatever your goal, don’t plan to read the entire Game of Thrones series, five Stephen King books, and the entire Charles Dickens canon. Mix things up. Read a short novel and then tackle the 1,000-page monster. Give yourself mental breaks and avoid being too rigid.

In a nutshell: Be realistic with yourself about your free time. If accomplishing your reading goal makes your friends wonder if you got abducted, your resolution has stopped being positive.


I believe the reason many people scoff at resolutions is this: At some point, they committed to a resolution that failed miserably.

And failing is a sucky feeling.

You can avoid feeling sucky by doing yourself a solid and making a realistic goal. You can even undershoot a little and feel amazing when you surpass your goal.

Whatever your reading resolution is for 2017, you can achieve it if you plan well. Reading is one of the most productive and enriching experiences you can give yourself.

So get out there and conquer the world! (Or at least that book you’ve been putting off reading)


What are your reading goals for 2017? Leave a comment below!