mini reviews #7: audiobooks with long titles & an ARC

You can see all my previous mini reviews here, and feel free to add me on Goodreads to see all of my reviews as soon as I post them.

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A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
audiobook narrated by Colin Farrell
★★★☆☆
date read: July 2019
Audible, 2019
originally published in 1916

In spite of my whole ‘Irish lit thing’ I have never once felt compelled to pick up Joyce. But then Colin Farrell went and narrated this audiobook, so that was that. And though he does a terrific job, this is, unfortunately, probably a book that I should have read in print – I’m just not an auditory person at all and there is a lot going on in this book. So I’m not going to lie and pretend that I got as much out of this as I arguably should have, and I’m sure I’ll want to revisit it one day. But I ended up surprising myself with how much I did enjoy it – Joyce’s language isn’t as impenetrable as I had feared, and more mesmerizing than I had expected, and Stephen Dedalus’s journey was occasionally, unexpectedly, thrilling. There’s a lot to unpack here about religion and family and nationality, and if I ever reread this I will vow to attempt to unpack it all then.

You can pick up a copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man here on Book Depository.

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BUT YOU DID NOT COME BACK by Marceline Loridan-Ivens
translated from the French by Sandra Smith
audiobook narrated by Karen Cass
★★★★☆
date read: August 2019
Faber & Faber, 2016

This is a slim, hard-hitting book that doesn’t dwell on the horrors that Loridan-Ivens experienced in Birkenau so much as examine their aftermath. Returning to a family who was spared from the concentration camps while losing the only other family member who was sent to Auschwitz with her, she writes this memoir as an extended letter to her father, whose death overshadows her own survival. Sparse and poignant, But You Did Not Come Back is certainly worth a read even if you feel oversaturated with WWII lit.

You can pick up a copy of But You Did Not Come Back here on Book Depository.

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THE NEED by Helen Phillips
★★☆☆☆
date read: September 2019
Simon & Schuster, 2019

Right book, wrong reader. I don’t have much else to say. I think The Need is a smart, unexpected book that blends genres and arrives at something unique that I can see working for plenty of readers who are willing to embrace a bit of weirdness. I just don’t like books about motherhood, and at the end of the day, that’s what this book is. The science fiction/speculative element is only there to enhance the main character’s anxieties about juggling motherhood with her career, and if that’s a theme that usually makes you reach for a book, by all means, give this one a try; I unfortunately was just bored senseless.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

You can pick up a copy of The Need here on Book Depository.

Have you guys read any of these, and what did you think? Feel free to comment if you’d like to discuss anything in more detail.

32 thoughts on “mini reviews #7: audiobooks with long titles & an ARC

  1. Solidly with you on Joyce—Portrait has some rather lovely bits, but I’m not sure I’d have gotten far with it if I’d listened to it (page one would sound bloody weird, surely, for a start?!) But you’re right, he’s not totally incomprehensible, although people like to think he is.

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    • What happened with the beginning was that I listened to the first 20 minutes driving home from work, and when I got home I picked up my copy and read those pages because what in the actual FUCK was I listening to. But I settled into the audio after that – it just wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. Audio is hard for me. Harder than Joyce, arguably. But yes, it definitely wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be – I should give him another proper try on paper at some point.

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  2. Great reviews! Definitely going to add But You Did Not Come Back to my TBR!

    Ugh, I’m concerned about The Need. The concept sounds SO good and I was really excited about it. I don’t mind books that explore motherhood in the ‘it’s a complex and difficult role’ kind of way. But books that explore motherhood in the ‘you just haven’t lived unless you’ve given birth’ kind of way can frankly piss right off. I’m scared to ask which kind this is, lol.

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    • Sorry I’ve kept you in suspense for five days but I can confirm that it’s actually the former! It’s very much about the difficulties and complexities of motherhood and how mothers are often stretched too thin between all of their demands. So it’s arguably interesting stuff, just, not stuff that I find interesting. What I will say is that it’s VERY short so it’s worth giving it a shot if you’re curious. Just… you can expect weirdness, just don’t expect anything particularly earth-shattering from the horror/home invasion angle.

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  3. I’m with you, I’m not auditory so if it’s too info-dense or too much going on then audio is a total loss for me. But You Did Not Come Back seems like it would’ve been good for audio though, glad I could introduce you to that one and that you enjoyed it! I agree that it was worth a read even in the oversaturated WWII genre.

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    • I’m thinking of eventually doing a post like ‘WWII books that are actually worth reading’ – I say eventually because I don’t think I have enough of them at this point, lol, even though I’ve read so many. Right now Maus is at the top of my list, and I’d include But You Did Not Come Back, but I’m like… what else is actually unique enough???

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      • Oh I love that idea! WWII stuff can be so good but such an oversaturated genre, and I get the impression a lot gets churned out (including poorer quality stuff) just because it sells well. I think, from a nonfiction side, Svetlana Alexievich’s Unwomanly Face of War, because it focuses on a topic (oral histories from women in the Red Army) that I’d never read much about anywhere else, especially so personally. And it’s just brilliant and moving and haunting as a document itself, not only in this genre.

        Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz (much better non-US title: If This is a Man) is a classic but deservingly so. Out of all the concentration camp/Holocaust books I think it’s the best. His observations are so human and haunting, and really does stay with you. He wrote a sort-of sequel, and they’re often published in one edition, called The Truce or The Reawakening (can’t remember which is US and which international) about what he did immediately after the liberation and what was going on across the continent then, so also a really interesting perspective.

        A Woman in Berlin (I think we’ve talked about that one before) is also unique for the firsthand perspective the author gives of the Soviets in Berlin. She wrote it anonymously and that seems to have given her the freedom to be candid about what she experienced and how she survived it. It’s a tough and intense read but her writing is exceptional.

        For fiction, have you read Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky? That’s my favorite novel covering that period, and her own story makes it even more poignant.

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      • Ooooh you have so many good ideas – we should collab on this!

        The popularity of WWII literature fascinates me – especially because I’m hardly immune to it myself. I’m finally getting to a point where I’m a little wary of WWII novels because there a suspicious amount coming out every year, as you said, but I’m still kind of drawn to them for some reason! I don’t know what it is about this period that’s so widely appealing?!

        Oh Primo Levi is on my TBR – another one where I like the idea of reading it in Italian so I keep putting it off! But that sounds really great. Have you read (I assume you have) Elie Wiesel? Because I actually have not but he seems like someone who belongs on these essential lists…

        I haven’t read A Woman in Berlin yet but I’ve had it on my shelf for years! I vowed to read it next August for Women in Translation month if I haven’t made time to read it before that – but it sounds like I should. I’m a little scared by how harrowing it’s going to be, but it sounds incredible.

        Suite Francaise is another one on my shelf! (Actually, I think I have 2 copies of it, for some reason, lol.) That’s one of the books I’ve owned the longest so I should really make a point of prioritizing it.

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      • I would love to collaborate with you on it!! It’s the same, I’m immediately drawn to WWII stuff but I’ve read so many duds in that area too. I think more so in novels than nonfiction, but still. I really don’t know why it’s such a widely appealing genre!

        I can only imagine it would be amazing to read Primo Levi in Italian. He’s one of my favorite authors. All of his work deals in some way with his Auschwitz experiences and how he made sense of them, and of humanity, really, in his later life. There’s something so warm and wise about his tone that I always loved. He’s one of those authors that you really feel is teaching you something. I can’t recommend him enough. His books are basically the bar for me in comparing other WWII memoirs.

        I’ve read Elie Wiesel’s Night, and it is brutal. It’s incredible, of course, but I remember it made me feel depressed and down in a way that Levi’s didn’t. I mean, that’s not his fault, and it absolutely deserves its classic status but I guess the way Levi uses his experiences to talk about other things appealed to me more than Wiesel’s style. But it’s absolutely worth reading too. I’ve been meaning to read Day but I kind of recoil every time I remember how hard Night was.

        That’s SO weird because I actually have 2 copies of Suite Francaise too! That almost never happens but I bought it once and then I guess forgot and bought it again. I was just reminded of it when going through my books at my family’s a couple months ago. Our book friendship was meant to be, lol.

        You’ll have to let me know what other good WWII ones you come across, you know I already love Maus.

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      • That’s so interesting re: Wiesel and Levi’s approaches – they both sound like essential reading for different reasons.

        Oh my god that’s so funny 😂Well in that case I feel like the universe is telling me I need to read Suite Francaise soon!!! I honestly have NO clue how I ended up with 2 – maybe one is mine and one is my mom’s? But I love that we have this ridiculously dumb thing in common.

        I feel like it would be fun if you did a nonfiction post about WWII lit that’s worth reading and I did a fiction one, but I also feel like I’d be so ill-prepared on my end!! So few WWII novels I’ve read I would consider worth reading, and there aren’t nearly enough hidden gems in my repertoire (like, one that I’d recommend is Catch-22… groundbreaking).

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      • Catch-22 is one of my favorites. It was one that I read because I thought, well, if I love WWII-centric books, eventually I need to read this one. I didn’t expect it to be what it was, really.

        I love your idea! But yeah, it’s tough with the novels. So many that I’ve read just weren’t exceptional, and actually once I started thinking about it I realized I used to DNF a bunch of them. I tried to think of what else might be a hidden gem, but the only other novel that’s coming to mind that I truly loved is City of Thieves. Have you read that one? It’s set in Leningrad during the siege. Or Hans Fallada – Alone in Berlin, have you read it? That one was really good too.

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      • Catch-22 was nothing like I expected either, and I found it really annoying and frustrating at times, but ultimately the impression it left me with years later is that it was utterly brilliant, definitely one of the best war novels I’ve ever read.

        I haven’t read City of Thieves – I’ve been kind of hesitant about that one because I think the writing in Game of Thrones is dreadful so the fact that it’s the same guy is not a huge selling point to me, but come to think of it I’ve only heard really good things about it? And my friend lent me her copy ages ago and I still have it. I haven’t even heard of Alone in Berlin, I’ll look that one up! Oh my god it’s so long. Another one that I thought was pretty good was The Night Watch by Sarah Waters… oh and going back into kid lit, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry!

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      • I had NO idea the author wrote for Game of Thrones!! I’m not interested in that show whatsoever, that would’ve been a major turn off for me too. But I thought the writing in City of Thieves was great, at least from what I remember!

        And I didn’t even remember that Alone in Berlin was really long, eek…I’m also hesitant about overly long books. But it was really good, it’s based on a true story of an older couple who joined the German Resistance so also presents an unusual angle. Maybe try a library copy and see if you want to commit to it? I haven’t read The Night Watch, but Number the Stars was so good! Also in kid lit I loved The Upstairs Room, did you read that one? It was a fictionalized account of the author’s experience being hidden during the war.

        Agreed, Catch-22 left me the same impression. It wasn’t like anything else I’d read, especially among war novels, I thought it was just brilliant too.

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      • YES David Benioff was one of the two show runners for Game of Thrones. I started out loving that show in its early days, and then became increasingly frustrated at its failure as an adaptation and then eventually its failure to even be entertaining television. Plus it was just inexcusably misogynistic all the way through. So I still have this visceral ‘ugh’ reaction to Benioff’s name, but… again, I have heard such great things!

        Hahaha I just looked up Alone in Berlin and it’s 668 pages! That does sound great though, I don’t think I’m going to rush out to get a copy but I’m glad to have it on my radar – hopefully it will come into my life when I’m craving something long and immersive.

        I’d never even heard of The Upstairs Room! It’s interesting that there’s so much kid lit about WWII – obviously The Boy in the Striped Pajamas too (which I haven’t read despite the fact that John Boyne is one of my favorite authors for his adult lit).

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      • I never even gave Game of Thrones a chance as fantasy isn’t my thing, so surely not fair for me to judge, but I heard about the misogyny and so! much! rape! so I can understand the visceral reaction. If I remember correctly City of Thieves had some crude moments but they were more comic, not offensive or upsetting. But it’s been like a decade since I read it so I can’t say for sure. It’s not overly long like Alone in Berlin though and especially if you have a copy it’s worth a try 🙂

        It is a little weird that there’s so much kid lit in this genre! I liked The Boy in the Striped Pajamas but it has one of those shock twist endings and it felt so forced. I mean, it’s the whole point of the book, that it builds to this, but it was just kind of ridiculous.

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      • Fantasy isn’t usually my thing either and my friends had to drag me to watch GoT kicking and screaming, but I ended up falling head over heels for the characters – enough that I even read the books which I never thought I would do, I just couldn’t get enough of it. But ugh the show went down the drain so quickly and YES THE RAPE UGH. So much and so gratuitous and so POINTLESS. The ‘final straw’ for me (I say in quotes because I did keep watching, I just kind of emotionally checked out at this point) was in season 4 when they turned a consensual sex scene in the book to rape in the tv show (between Jaime and Cersei, I don’t know if you heard about this but it was a big drama at the time) and then in interviews the show runners were like ‘oh we didn’t see it as rape, she kind of submitted in the end’ like what the FUCK!!! Ugh I hate that show so much. THAT SAID I’m definitely open to giving his book a try, but he really has to win me over.

        I’m definitely going to read Striped Pajamas at some point just because I love John Boyne but… honestly I think I’ll hate it? It sounds kind of exploitative, idk… I hear ‘Holocaust porn’ thrown around in relation to this book more than most WWII kid lit?

        SPEAKING OF WWII kid lit – the children’s publisher I work for is publishing a WWII-era book and long story short my manager and I started talking about Maus and she informed me that it’s a children’s book?! What?! She started sending me links to forums where people were like ‘is my 8 year old too young to read Maus’ and I was a little horrified – I mean, I’m usually… less conservative about what kids should be exposed to, but I think that’s the most harrowing book I’ve read in my life, I can’t imagine giving that to an 8 year old!

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      • That’s what I heard, that the rape is so gratuitous. Ugh. I just can’t. It’s also why I stopped watching The Handmaid’s Tale for a long time, it just became torturous at some point. And I heard Game of thrones was worse so like, I can’t even imagine. That sounds somewhat familiar, about them changing something consensual to rape, which what the actual fuck. Why would we need any more of that. And “she submitted in the end”!!! just fuck off, really.

        Yeah, exploitative is exactly it for Striped Pajamas. It’s just so blatantly emotionally manipulative and finger-waggy, which, come on. It’s a Holocaust story, we KNOW how bad it is and there doesn’t need to be this like, weird moral lesson or whatever it was. I don’t even know what it was supposed to be, it just bugged me. But it’s not terribly written or anything, from what I remember, and if he’s an author you love then it’s always worth checking out.

        Re: Maus being a children’s book — seriously?? I worked in the kids’ section of a bookstore for awhile and it was not allowed to be there. It was one of the more harrowing books I’ve read too, and I read it well into my twenties. Just no way. On a sort-of related note, we had read all of these WWII-for-kids books in elementary school and then made a trip to the Holocaust Museum in DC. I was 9 and came home and clung to my mother for days. It was just beyond what anything had prepared me for and as much as I don’t think kids should be overly sheltered, it was so upsetting. I feel like Maus could have a similar effect on sensitive kids and then you kind of shut down and that doesn’t help anything. Just because it has pictures does not mean it’s for kids….

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      • I only watched the first ep of The Handmaid’s Tale – I thought it was fine, but I wasn’t dying to continue. But I’ve heard a lot of people stopped watching for the same reason. It’s just like… with shows like this, medieval fantasy and dystopia, it’s like, we KNOW that things are/were shit for women? We absolutely fucking know? We don’t need to see women raped on screen every 5 minutes to get the point across?! And especially with fantasy, it’s like, here you have the opportunity to subvert gender norms and power structures in your world building, and instead you’re just going to keep sexually assaulting women because ‘that’s just how it was’? Were there actual dragons back in the old days too, because I’m pretty sure this all wasn’t just ‘how it was’.

        Oh god the moralizing in Striped Pajamas sounds awful, cringe. Again, I’ll check it out but I’m not expecting much from it at this point.

        Ok I’m glad you are likewise horrified at the thought of giving Maus to children! I just texted a librarian friend to get her opinion on this. I cannot imagine putting Maus in the children’s section anywhere. I’d MAYBE give it to a very mature 12 year old, but I think that’s the youngest I’d go. I only read it this year – I’m 27 and I felt like I wasn’t emotionally prepared for it!

        Oh god, that sounds like a HORRIFYING trip for a 9 year old. What the fuck! A few years ago I was visiting a friend in Germany, we went to the Topography of Terror in Berlin and I literally almost fainted – like, blurred vision, had to go sit down and sip water for half an hour. I don’t even know what came over me but it was just too much all of a sudden. And I was like… how old was I, 22 or 23? Definitely not saying that children shouldn’t be taught about the Holocaust – on the contrary, it’s essential – but there are ways to do it, and I think giving them Maus or taking them on a trip to a Holocaust museum is not the right way to go about it.

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      • You make such a good point!! So well said. And yeah, it’s ridiculous that THAT’S the area where they insist on historical accuracy despite the whole thing being an exercise in world building. But dragons are totally fine. Misogyny at its finest.

        We used to get people who asked in kids’ for Maus all the time though. Like why would you even think that’s where it was?? It would never even cross my mind to think it was child-appropriate. A very mature 12 year old as the limit for sure.

        I have no idea why they were taking 4th graders (I think it was that) to the Holocaust Museum. It wasn’t long after it had initially opened so I have a feeling that particular field trip couldn’t have continued for very long. The Topography of Terror is intense! I know exactly what you’re describing. It just kind of all comes together and hits you, and being in a space that’s significant makes it even more affecting and overwhelming. And I totally agree, it’s a subject that’s essential to teach and I mean, there’s a wealth of appropriate literature and material to do so. But some sensitivity is also key. I think some adults forget how it is to experience things as a kid.

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      • That’s so crazy that people looked for Maus as a children’s book! I just, what?! Like you said, just because it has pictures doesn’t make it a children’s book. If I were a parent and I saw a book with a giant swastika on the cover I’d at least want to read it first to make sure it’s appropriate to give a child.

        But yes, that’s exactly it – adults just need to be more sensitive about how kids absorb things. Giving them a harrowing book or taking them to an immersive location just doesn’t seem like the right way to go about it. I’m sure there are kid-friendly documentaries on the subject that could at least help ease them in before taking them to a Holocaust museum.

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  4. Ah, bummer you didn’t get on as well with The Need as I did! I forgot you weren’t big on motherhood books. For me the speculative element was enough to keep the identity crisis interesting even without much particular interest in the motherhood angle, but I can totally see where you’re coming from.

    I’ve been a bit wary of reading Joyce, mainly because I suffered through some very dense excerpts in college, but this one doesn’t sound so bad… I would definitely struggle with the audio though!

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    • I am now wondering how far your dislike of motherhood books goes… I know I recommended Turn of the Key recently, of which the main character is a nanny, and does the in loco parentis bit. Which isn’t exactly ruminations on motherhood, but I’d feel bad recommending two in a row that you dislike the same element of! If you don’t want to read about child care in any form, I’d say The Death of Mrs. Westaway would be your next best bet with Ruth Ware.

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      • I appreciate the updated rec! But, mothers/in loco parentis in thrillers are usually fine for me. My thing about motherhood books isn’t so much that I can’t abide any ruminations on motherhood whatsoever, it’s more that when the central thesis is like, ‘motherhood is hard,’ and that’s what the entire book is about, I mentally and emotionally check out because I just don’t care. Thrillers about moms protecting their children aren’t my favorite thing in the world (I swear this all stems from overdosing on Jodi Picoult as a teenager) but if that’s just one of many elements I can stomach it.

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      • Ah, that makes sense. There is some underlying commentary about crummy parenting in Turn of the Key, but not of the “motherhood is the ultimate struggle but the greatest reward” variety. But as far as I remember Mrs. Westaway is all adults, so it’s totally up to you, of course!

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    • Joyce was SO difficult on audio even if Colin’s narration was very accessible – I still struggled to follow long sections of it. But, it really wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be! Definitely worth a shot if you’re curious enough. On my Goodreads review, the one I kept getting recommended was Dubliners, so that’s probably a good place to start.

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  5. I feel like Joyce would be so hard on audio! But I’m not an auditory learner either so I struggle with audio books in general. I read an ARC of But You Did Not Come Back a couple years back and I completely agree – sparse, poignant, definitely worth reading. And interesting that you didn’t like The Need because it’s about motherhood. I’ve avoided it because I am a mother and being home alone with my children while experiencing a home invasion is maybe my worst nightmare!

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    • It was SO much harder than it needed to be – I should have just read it in print, but I’m too much of a Colin Farrell fan, lol. And it was a good audio, just challenging!

      In that case I would absolutely not recommend The Need! The home invasion angle isn’t really the focus, and it’s not traditional horror in that respect, but the whole book is about the challenges of being home alone with your children when your partner is away and everything becoming a bit too much to deal with – I can imagine it would be difficult reading for someone with children.

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      • Yeah, I’m curious because I’ve heard there is a twist and that it’s more psychological than traditional horror but maybe it needs to wait until my kids are grown up! I’m a bit of a wimpy when it comes to anything scary.

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      • I’m the opposite – I’m not really scared by anything fictional so the scarier the better for me! That definitely played into my disappointment – I was hoping for more of a creepiness factor. But if you aren’t into that kind of thing it might still be too much, it’s hard to say!

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