Tossing and Turning? Try an Audiobook!

I think we all have nights when sleep eludes us. Our brains start whirling and it’s hard to quiet our thoughts enough to fall asleep. Some people take a pill. I take a book, an audiobook, that is.

I have found that listening to audiobooks in bed at night is the best way to redirect my thoughts away from all the stuff that’s keeping me awake. I discovered this by accident when my children were young and would wake up from a nightmare. They would inevitably be too keyed up to fall back to sleep, and I would stay up with them, usually telling them a story to get their mind off the bad dream until they could drift back off to sleep.

Years later, I had trouble sleeping myself and decided to adapt the storytelling method that had worked with my kids. I started listening to audiobooks at bedtime. What a help they were! I would inevitably fall asleep faster with the audiobook than without, and I found a way to squeeze a little extra “reading” time in!

Now, not all audiobooks are suitable for relaxing bedtime listening. A gruesome crime novel or horror story kind of defeats the purpose – I reserve grittier fare for print reading. Likewise, I find most mysteries require too much attention to detail, so are not the best for my “bedtime stories”. Romance, humor, fantasy, and classics have become my nighttime listening go-tos.

Here are a few suggestions if you want to give my insomnia-cure a try (great for daytime listening, too!):

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, read by Dan O’Grady. A perfect match of book and narrator, this quirky Aussie love story is a delight.

The Martian by Andy Weir, read by R.C. Bray. Terrific narration by Bray gets character Mark Watney’s nerdy genius and dry humor just right.

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Bachman, read by George Newbern. You’ll quickly embrace the prickly Ove, and the neighbors who invade his formerly well-ordered life.

The Harry Potter audiobooks by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale. Jim Dale is a perfect example of how the right narrator can elevate even the best books. He’s won many awards for his narration of the Harry Potter series, and all the accolades are deserved.

The His Dark Materials audiobooks by Philip Pullman, performed by a full cast. Another series that absolutely blooms to life in audio, with this full cast performance pulled together by Pullman’s narration. It’s stunning.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, read by Rob Inglis. Even if you’ve read the book, you’ll get something new out of the audiobook. If you like Inglis’s narration of The Hobbit, you can listen to him read the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well.

The Outlander audiobooks by Diana Gabaldon, read by Davina Porter. Again, even if you’ve read the Outlander series before, you will find new things to love about it in Davina Porter’s skilled narration. And it’s nice to hear all the Gaelic words pronounced correctly!

Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author. This book is, quite frankly, hysterical, and Tina Fey’s narration will have you chuckling into your pillow.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, read by Jeremy Irons. Sure, it’s the story of a middle-aged man’s unhealthy obsession with a teenager, but the prose is practically poetry and Jeremy Iron’s narration is mesmerizing.

Ceòl na h-Alba (Music of Scotland)

wallacesco-368349William Wallace is a Scots folk hero who, it is believed, was born around April of 1270. Wallace was a Knight who fought for Scottish independence from English rule, and was immortalized in the Oscar-winning film Braveheart, at least in name. Braveheart, while an entertaining drama, is about as factual on Scottish history as a tub of Cool Whip is the equivalent to Whipped Cream.

Braveheart’s soundtrack, while pleasant,  is also a modern composition, in the style of 468e4c6be98b994f6e8abf87e1f95732Scottish music but not containing a single actual Scots tune. This begs a greater question: what’s the difference between Scottish Music and Irish Music? Aren’t they the same, but with bagpipes? The question might just get you decked for saying that.

Truth is, they are quite similar, passing traditions back and forth. If you listen to folk steeped in the music, there are subtle differences in rhythms, traditional Scots music tends to be in the key of A (there’s only so much you can do on a bagpipe), while the Irish prefer drums and the key of D. Scots tunes tend to be more “snappy,” while the Irish are more “driving” (the Clancy Brothers version of “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” all but jumps out and strangles you through the speakers). But, as in anything, the styles change song to song. Each will tell you theirs is better.

brigadoonIrish music tends to be better known for several reasons. Far more people have emigrated from Ireland than Scotland, a country with the same population as Dallas-Fort Worth. The Irish tended to have more children than the Scots, so they beat them on sheer numbers as well. Many of Scotland’s great ballads get lumped in with English, but Scottish music is far from unknown. Amazing Grace, played on bagpipes though it’s an English hymn, is a funeral standard. Pipe bands are often a staple of parades. There is the Broadway play Brigadoon by Lerner and Loewe, complete with kilts and dancing. There’s a 1954 film version, but even for its day it’s rather awful. If any film needs a full Hollywood reboot, this one is 60 years overdue.

If Ancient Scottish Ballads aren’t your thing, and you think bagpipes sound like boiling rodstewartdm1306_468x431witches, there’s a much better chance you’ve enjoyed modern Scottish music. So many of the songs we hear today and think of as American or British acts are actually the work of Scots, since accents aren’t always that obvious in song. Perhaps the best known Son of Scotland would be Rod Stewart, the gravel-voiced rock singer who worked his way from rock to swing music. Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics is a Scottish lass. Sheena Easton, KT Tunstall, Mark Knopfler, now solo but formerly the lead singer of Dire Straits, David Byrne of The Talking Heads, the folk group The Corries, Average White Band, and current smooth hit-maker Paolo Nutini (yeah, that had me fooled, too – his father was Italian, his mother Scotch, and he was born in Scotland). Add in Ian Anderson (lead singer for Jethro Tull), Lulu (you might remember her for the theme from the Bond film “Man With the Golden Gun”), Big Country (a one-hit wonder in America), Gerry Rafferty, Simple Minds, and the Celtic folk group Capercaillie.

200px-wallace_tartan_vestiarium_scoticumThat’s a lot of tartan pride!

So whether you like traditional Celtic folk, the plaintive reels of a good piper, or feel like rocking out to Maggie May, sit back and raise a pint to old William Wallace, a patriot who died keeping his country and culture from being lumped with Ireland and England.

Strong Girls, Stronger Women

stb-jaylah-3While previewing the DVD for Star Trek: Into Darkness (as if I didn’t see it in the theater and wasn’t buying it myself 5 days later), I realized that Jaylah, the lead female character, is everything I want my daughters and granddaughter to be: strong, brave, smart, resourceful, a planner, a leader, and even when emotionally wounded, she never, ever gives in. Surely one of the strongest female leads ever, without losing her femininity in the process, like Grace Jones as May Day in A View to a Kill, or Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It may even be safe to say that Jaylah’s the strongest female lead ever in Star Trek itself – and no, not even Uhura, who, although she could kick butt, was often saddled with lines like, “Captain, I’m frightened.”

And that made me start thinking on who the strongest female leads might be. By strong I don’t mean nastiest or most vicious goal-driven women, no Joan Crawfords or Cersei Lannisters or Erica Kanes. I mean women or girls who started out ordinary, but when faced with impossible odds, had the grit and determination and education and smarts to work their way into survival.

First on almost any list is Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, from Alien. While you can say it ec93835d9542a13ce50f467297565f63already took guts and grit to be a warrant officer aboard a deep-space ship, finding out your mission was a suicide run to bring back an alien life form and you’re its food can either send you screaming in helpless panic (as Lambert did), or make you hike your bra straps and shoot first. Ripley is a real woman – no makeup, no unrealistic sexy uniforms, and not afraid to be pushy when she needs to be. And almost 40 years later (can it possibly be that long?) Alien still holds up on every level of film making; truly, a masterpiece.

katniss_prim_hugKatniss Everdeen is also a favorite for strongest female: just sixteen at the start of The Hunger Games, Katniss is already a survivor, having raised a sister and cared for a dysfunctionally depressed mother following the death of their father, in a world where people are kept in line through fear and starvation. Sacrificing herself to the Hunger Games to save her sister is just the start; surviving the Hunger Games not once but twice, surviving on luck, wits, and the smarts acquired through a lifetime of survival makes Katniss a formidable – but sympathetic and realistically feminine – heroine.

Sarah Connor of Terminator fame would round out my top three: a simple waitress who thought she was minding her own business until she’s hunted down by a terminator from the future – because when push comes to shove, Sarah will become a serious survivalist to save her son – a son who will grow up to be the leader against the machines that take over the world. Sarah is thrown into an impossible situation but comes out on top through sheer determination and a survival instinct that won’t quit.

Why so many women from science-fiction? That’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because “strong” women in literature or film are often seen as detestable power-hungry ladder-climbers who will use murder or sex to achieve their goals, and it is only in the realm of “fantasy” that women are allowed to be every-day humans, both strong and vulnerable at the same time, without boob jobs and fake nails. Yet the real world is peppered with incredibly strong women – Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Sanger, Harriet Tubman, and so many more. Not one of them is sexualized by the media, either.

turn_me_loose_it_s_ashleySo, to be fair, there are literary women who also struggled against formidable odds: Scarlett O’Hara’s entire world was ripped from her by the Civil War: her income, her inheritance, her mother, her husband (whether or not she wanted him alive) wind up Gone With the Wind. She takes charge in a time and place when genteel women did not do that, and through guile and determination pulls her life and the lives of her family back together. And as the anti-Scarlett, I would include Mammy, who carried on through war and starvation, caring for former slaves and slave-owners alike, facing the same dangers as Scarlett but with even less means or social approval. In The Color sofiaPurple, yes, Celie has to survive an ugly life, but to me Sofia is far more of a tough cookie, taking her lumps and even prison because she won’t take the abuse anymore. Sofia is limited by society, but she’s every bit as tough as Katniss.

And moving further away, I would also nominate Maria, from West Side Story. She’s sixteen and stands between two warring gangs for love. The Sharks don’t frighten her. The Jets don’t frighten her. The police don’t frighten her. She gets in the face of each and every west-side-story-1961-dvdrip-moviecenter-avi_snapshot_02-16-56_2016-07-21_15-39-34one, standing up for what she believes in. No one is telling Maria what to think or do.

I could add more – Elizabeth Swan, Marion Ravenwood, Molly Weasley, Natasha Romanov – but if you’re looking for role models for girls and teens, real women who aren’t villainous or overly sexualized or vacuuous but incredibly strong and resourceful, there are plenty to choose from.

The Cover Was Blue.

How many times has someone recommend a book, or you saw a book on the shelf and did not have time to read it, and you thought you would remember the author or title when it came time to find it and read it yourself? It happens to us too. We know exactly who wrote that book or series, at least until someone asks us. When that happens, we use our skills and look it up, even though we feel like we should already know the answer.

bluebooksSometimes no one can remember enough of the author or title to do the necessary searching to figure out the answer. Often times at this point all any of us can remember is the color or image on the cover. For some reason, the cover in these cases is almost always blue. So, here are some of the most popular books that might fit the bill if you are looking for a popular read and all you can remember is that the cover was blue. I have noted any books shelves in or children’s room with a J, and any books shelved in our young adult or teen area with a YA.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (YA)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult
The Selection by Kiera Cass (YA)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (YA)
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (YA)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (J)
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (J)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Eragon by Christopher Paolini (YA)
Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (YA)
The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton
The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

This is only a small portion of possibilities, as blue seems to be a very popular color for book covers. Are you still searching or need a different cover color? Comment with the information you do have and I will do my best to find the book for which you are searching!

Jane Austen Spinoffs

If one way to measure the popularity of an author is to note the number of spinoffs that his or her work has created, then Jane Austen is high on the popularity list!

longbourn Longbourn by Jo Baker
This is the story of Sarah, the Bennet’s housemaid in Pride and Prejudice, as she serves in their household while the events of the classic unfold. However, the downstairs is just as eventful as the upstairs, especially when a new footman arrives.

 

prideandprejudiceandzombiesPride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
This is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice during a zombie apocalypse. Elizabeth Bennett is fighting off the zombie infestation after a plague has settled on the village. However, she also finds herself fighting Mr. Darcy after his arrival.

 

scargravemanorJane Austen and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron
This is the first book in a mystery series about Jane Austen as a detective. In this book, Jane’s friend Isobel is newly wed to a man who is many years her senior. Then, during the night, her new husband dies. Soon after his death, Isobel’s maid accuses Isobel of murdering her husband and committing adultery with her late husband’s nephew.

anassemblysuchasthisAn Assembly Such as This by Pamela Aidan
This is the story of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of Fitzwilliam Darcy. This is the book to read if you wish to know more about the mysterious man and his view of the events in the classic novel.

 

janeaustenThe Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford
Anne Sharp was Jane Austen’s governess. Ever since Jane’s death twenty-six years earlier, Anne has held onto a lock of Jane’s hair. However, Anne is following up on a suspicion that she has carried with her all this time. Jane may have been murdered, and the lock of hair may prove it.

 

missingmanuscriptofjaneaustenThe Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James
Samantha McDonough finds a letter that laments a missing manuscript at an estate in Devonshire. The author of both the letter and the manuscript is thought to be none other than Jane Austen. All that that Samantha needs to do is figure out a way of working with Anthony Whitaker, the handsome owner of the estate.

 

emmaEmma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith
As the title describes, this is the modern version of the classic novel about a young woman who interferes in the lives of those around her. Fresh from college, Emma is kept busy by running her own business, caring for her father, and playing matchmaker.

 

northangerabbeyNorthanger Abbey by Val McDermid
This is a modern retelling of Northanger Abbey. Cat Morland, who loves to read novels, constantly fantasizes about experiencing adventures. So, when she travels to Edinburgh to attend a festival, she begins to wonder about the mysterious Northanger Abbey and its seemingly perfect residents, one of whom is very handsome.