Road Trip Audiobooks For Kids 8-12 and the Grownups Driving The Car

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I brought my two kids on an epic East Coast road trip last week, and as the only driver I really wouldn’t have survived if it weren’t for audiobooks. The problem with family road trips though is you have to be selective about the books you pick. Here are several that have been acceptable for all the kids ages 8-42 in my family.

Leave recommendations for our next trip in the comments section!

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My 2017 Five Star Reads

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I was looking at my 2017 reads, and it was really clear to me that I wasn't going to be able to pick a favorite. In truth, the books I ranked the highest in 2017 were mostly re-reads. I'm sure this is situational, and not a reflection of the books of 2017.

So, instead of a favorite I bring you all of my 5 star reads from 2017:

In Harm's Way and Apollo 8 were both non-fiction that read like the best on the edge of your seat fiction. A Piece of the World and How The Light Gets In both left me gutted, but in a good way. Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, and The Martian all hold truths universally acknowledged, and are worth reading every few years. The Hate U Give is billed as a Young Adult book, but should be required reading for everyone in the country. I loved reading Ramona The Pest out loud to my daughter; we laughed and laughed.

Here are some honorable mentions (4 1/2 star reads.)

And two books I'm reading right now that I love, but didn't finish in time to include on any 2017 lists.

Happy New Year!

Life According to Steph

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Audiobooks December 2017

Hot buttered rum and reading by the fire pit = early winter

Hot buttered rum and reading by the fire pit = early winter

I've been taking a break from blogging since work's been flipping nuts, but I'm happy to say despite all that I've been reading and listening to some good ones lately. Nothing Earth shattering, but some good, solid reads. That wasn't my experience through most of the summer, so I'm optimistic that things are looking up in my reading life.

Here are some of the audiobook highlights since the last time I posted.

I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn -- This book didn't get the best reviews, but I listened to the audio over a couple of long nights of Thanksgiving baking. The contemplative nature of this book was perfect for that, like taking a walk with a friend who had to tell you a really long story.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys -- This World War II novel examines the history of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that not many of us know anything about despite its deadly past. Even if you think you've read so many WWII books that you never want to read another this one's worth the exception.

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman -- Thanksgiving books always seem to be so melancholy, and this one was no different. It's my favorite holiday, and one of the few times of the year that I don't feel melancholy, so I usually avoid Thanksgiving books. However this book had good characters, and I liked the ending, so I'll forgive a little bit of melancholy.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy -- When I was a young physics student I was under the impression that there just hadn't been a lot of women in the STEM fields. According to this book, and several others I've read this year, we've been there all along. We just haven't been acknowledged or written about.

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Life According to Steph

August 2017 Quick Lit

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My summer of amazing reading continues! I usually try to keep my posts to three great books, but I could only narrow it down to six this month.

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review. Here are the best of them:

Three Books That Gutted Me

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline -- If you have ever felt like you're invisible, or taken for granted by the people around you, I think you'll really feel for the main character in this book. (Even as she makes bad choices.) I appreciated that this wasn't the usual artist has affair with muse story.

Shoes for Anthony by Emma Kennedy -- Yes, another World War II novel. BUT this one is set in Wales, so it's different. Well, not really, but if you can take one more World War II book this should be it. This book was as heartwarming and hopeful as a book about war can be.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman -- One hundred pages in I was like "I am not going to finish this book. Too much hockey." One hundred twenty pages in I was like "NO ONE TALK TO ME UNTIL I FINISH THIS BOOK." I thought about rating this one five stars, but had to knock it down to 4 1/2 because of the hockey at the beginning.

Books That Were Just Plain Fun

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier -- I didn't like this one for the story, but more for the fun Tracy Chevalier had with making Shakespeare her own. Of course I would probably read the telephone book if Tracy Chevalier wrote it.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal -- I was smitten by the characters in this book. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but that was okay. It was a little romance, some coming of age, a bit of mystery, and some naughty parts involving fruit. Not too many naughty parts though, and they're all in italics so you can skip them if they bother you. Did get some weird looks reading this on the metro though.

Sometimes I'm So Smart I Almost Feel Like a Real Person by Graham Parke -- Harold was another character I liked a lot. Read my full review here.

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June 2017 Quick Lit

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

The weather has been very rainy, but I'm starting to get a few chances to do summery things like read outside by the fire. I haven't even bought our pool pass yet, but I'm looking forward to reading by the water soon.

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk -- I really liked losing myself in this long book about a family on the cusp on World War II. I'll admit to skimming some parts about military history though. Beware if you read this; it ends on a cliff hanger. Don't do it unless you want to commit to the doorstop of a sequel as well.

Margaret from Maine by Joseph Monninger -- I would describe this book as thought provoking. There's so much there about today's veterans and their families, marriage, motherhood, and life.

Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods -- This was a good travelogue about the National Parks. It's not a I did this and then I did that kind of book. It's a this is what the parks mean to me kind of book.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan -- This short book was good, but I wish I had read it around Christmas time.

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And The Armchair Audie Goes To...

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton is my pick for the 2017 Audie Award in the History/Biography category.

This was a hard decision, but in the end this was the book that stuck with me the longest.

Audie Awards are announced on June 1. Follow @ArmchairAudies on Twitter to see if my pick matches up with the real thing.

UPDATE: The official results are in, and In Harm's Way won the Audie! Congrats to Doug Stanton!

All Audie Award Reviews:

In Harm's Way

Paul McCartney: The Life

A Time to Die

Valiant Ambition

The Year of Lear

REVIEW: In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton (Audiobook)

I didn't think I had heard of the story of the USS Indianapolis, and it's sinking during World War II. Then someone reminded me of the scene in Jaws.

Oh, yikes. That ship.

The audiobook doesn't start with Jaws. It starts with Captain McVay, the ship's commander, and his suicide. In a story that sounds like it belongs on the Podcast Serial we're told Captain McVay was in charge of the USS Indianapolis when it sank, and was court-martialed under some dubious circumstances.

This is one of those books that is non-fiction but reads like fiction. It's a horrific yet inspiring story of men stuck in treacherous water for five days without water, most with just a life vest on to keep them afloat. I mean, imagine being in the water so long that you have time to name the shark that wants to eat you.

By the time you get to the court-martialing, it's almost unbelievable that any body would dare bring to trial a man who went through all of that. They even had the Japanese commander of the submarine that sunk the boat as a witness against Captain McVay. I'll admit to tears of rage over the kitchen sink as I listened.

This is a great book. A powerful book made all the better by a steady narrator. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of other non-fiction World War II narratives such as Unbroken and Boys in the Boat.

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This is my first review in the History/Biography category for the Arm Chair Audies. Check back for more reviews, and to see who I think should be the winner.

February 2017 Audiobooks

My February spirit animal

My February spirit animal

Twitter and political podcasts have been distracting me from reading and listening lately. Still I did manage to get in some winners (and some junk that I listened to with my kids and won't discuss here.)

A Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalin - A thriller that takes place during WWII and in the years after. A bit greusome in parts, but a pretty good story. It kept me guessing until the end.

A Trick of the Light and A Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny - I'm still chugging along with these. Each time I start a new one I think "Oh really? Another body in Three Pines? Boring" and then before I know it I'm sucked in. As everyone who reviews these books says these books start with murder, but they're about so much more than the mystery. (To be fair A Beautiful Mystery doesn't take place in Three Pines.)

Bag of Bones by Stephen King - There was a part at the end of this book that almost made me stop listening. Up until then it was a near perfect audiobook. I kept going past that part, and I'm glad I did. Read by the author, and it contained music that added to the story. However I don't think I'll ever re-read it like I usually do with King's books. I know that's probably not very helpful to anyone trying to decide if they should read this book, but I'm not sure what else to say!

Also see Books That Are Saving My Life Right Now.

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Life According to Steph

January 2017 Quick Lit

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

Hello readers! Happy New Year!

I read so many wonderful books at the end of last year, that it's no surprise that I'm in a bit of a reading slump now. I'm hoping now that new year work craziness has eased it'll pick back up again.

Here are the winners from late December and early January.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne - This is a World War II book told from a perspective you don't often hear. It's an interesting look at how power corrupts, and an example of just how Nazi Germany came to be.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - So, so good. Perfect for curling up with on a cold day. It's a fantasy book that is not a trilogy! Imagine that!

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner - I've been meaning to read more about the Cold War, and starting with this book really enhanced my interest. It's a non-fiction account of a family on both sides of the wall. Don't let the length or the subject matter worry you. This is a super engaging quick read. (Review copy from Library Thing)

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson - I read this, oh , probably about 15 years ago. I wanted to read it again to see if it held up. I'm happy to say it did. It's a World War II book with touches of To Kill A Mockingbird. If you missed it when it first came out, it's not too late.

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My favorite fiction from 2016

I read a lot of good books this year, books that had me ignoring my family, missing stops on trains, and hoping that my plane would be delayed just a little bit longer. Here are the stand outs.

End of Watch by Stephen King - This book, the last one in the Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King, pushed all my good book buttons. I loved the rsolution, and the call backs to King's earlier books.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith - It's been a long time since I felt like I was actually in a book, but The Farm took me to Sweden in the snow. This book had a great ending too.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne - Yeah, I know there's a lot wrong with the timelines, depction of the characters, etc. I just loved being back at Hogwarts.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - An amazing audiobook loved by my whole family. Would be great for a family road trip.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein - My favorite read out loud all year. Had us up reading way past bed time. The first book that ever made my son say "Just one more chapter, please???"

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry - The circumstances of this working mom's day to day were kind of far fetched, but I feel like this is one of the few books that got the details of my experience right.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - I just finished this not too long ago, and loved it. The only thing that made me give it 4 1/2 stars instead of 5 was that it dragged on just a bit too long at the end. Other than that, this is the kind of book that will make you want to curl up and just keep reading.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng - A powerful story about a part of World War II you don't often hear about.

And some re-reads...

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King - A must read after a crazy trip to Maine - still good, and a trip down memory lane to the years before the Red Sox finally won the World Series.

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder - My favorite of the series. I'm so glad I got to read it again.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume - I read this for a reading challenge, and it still holds up after all these years.

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My favorite non-fiction books from 2016

Earlier this year, I made a goal to read or listen to fifty non-fiction books. I read 47 - not bad, considering I'm in the middle of 3 non-fiction books right now, and I still have 11 days left to go in the year.

My non-fiction books look a lot different from my reading list I created at the end of last year. I managed to get through only 15 of 40 on my list. I can't decide if I need to read harder, or if I need to ease up a bit on my list. I have some very ambitious books on my list while my actual non-fiction reading leaned more towards travel memoirs and cook books. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Here are the non-fiction highlights from 2016. (Note, I'm talking about books I read in 2016, not necessarily books published in 2016.)

Best General Non-fiction from 2016:

Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean - Makes you sad that you didn't pay more attention to the space shuttle program when it was around.

The Road Not Taken by David Orr - An in depth look at the poem everyone quotes without understanding.

When Books Went To War by Molly Guptil Manning - A testamnet to the power of reading.

Best travel memoirs from 2016:

Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery - Read this book if you want to feel weak (but in a good way.)

Walking with Plato by Gary Hayden - An excellent walking book where the walkers don't end up fighting or divorced at the end.

Braving It by Ben Campbell - A father and daughter go to backwoods Alaska. What could go wrong?

Best Biographies from 2016:

Hissing Cousins by Marc Plyser and Timothy Dwyer - A great look at a historical rivalry.

Rosemary by Kate Clifford Larson - So sad, but extremely interesting.

Best Cookbooks from 2016:

100 Recipes by America's Test Kitchen - Everything in this book is amazing. I keep having grand plans of cooking through it.

Home Cooked by Anya Fernald - Another book of delicious food, but also a great book to curl up with on a stormy day.

Everyone is Italian on Sunday by Rachel Ray - No gimmicks in this book, just great food. Try the oatmeal.

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My favorite audiobooks from 2016

I put off naming my favorites until now because it always seems like December gets the short shift in terms of being able to add anything to a favorites list. Christmas is less than a week away though, and then it will be time to forget about 2016, and start setting goals for 2017.

Note, when I say favorites from 2016 it's favorites that I listened to in 2016, not favorites that were published in 2016. Also, great audiobooks don't necessarily mean great writing. It helps, of course, but the reader makes a huge difference too.

Here are my top five favorite audiobooks that I listened to in 2016:

 

1.

The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny - Hands down the best thing I've listened to all year. The stories are absorbing, the characters are wonderful, and I could listen to the reader talk all day long. I'm so excited I still have many more volumes in this series to go.

2.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - We listened to this in the car and my kids really got into the story (as did I.) It was a great book that led to a lot of discussion in our house.

3.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - Read by Jim Dale, simply the best. A classic book read by one of the greatest voices around. Listen to it now if you can. It will get rid of any Scrooge like feelings you might have.

4.

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza - This isn't classic literature, but the CRAZY narrator had me rooting for the main character in a big way. Highly relate-able for those of us who are too old to sit at the cool young people's table at the company holiday party any more.

5.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - I listened to this again with my brother on our way to Mt. Katahdin this year. It's not the first time I've heard it, and the version narrated by the author is funny enough to shop up on my top five any year.

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November Audiobooks

Sometimes wasting hours on Pinterest is so worth it...

Sometimes wasting hours on Pinterest is so worth it...

It's my busy time at work, and I've been cranking through audiobooks as I program my life away. I never used to listen to mysteries, because I thought I wouldn't be able to follow them. I gave a couple a try last month though, and now I have a whole new world open to me.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal was enjoyable enough. It's a World War II book with a bunch of twists and turns, but nothing too mentally taxing. I didn't realize it was part of a series when I started. I'm not sure I'll seek the others out, but wouldn't turn them away if they showed up on my doorstep. Has anyone else read anything from this series?

Foul Play by Janet Evanovich bills itself as a mystery, but really it was a romance that had a little bit to do with a missing chicken. Total fluff, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Everyone who told me that the Gamache books got better with time was right. This month I listened to The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, and loved every minute of it. I went out of order and read #3 before #2, and I'm hoping that doesn't mess things up too much. That's the risk when you depend on Overdrive!

Linked to:
Life According to Steph

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October 2016 Quick Lit

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review. That adds up to a grand total of two books this month! Despite weather that is perfect for reading under blankets I'm just not getting it done. My nerdy spreadsheets that I use to graph my average books read per month show me that is normal for this time of year. I guess this is my reading off season.

When I first started reading Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave I kind of felt like I have read this same World War II story several times over the past two years. But then I got sucked in and ended up loving it just like all of the other World War II stories. This one takes place mostly in London during the blitz, and does a good job of showing what it did to people as time went on.

I started reading the Little House series again, starting with, of course, Little House in the Big Woods.  This book is more instructional than story driven, but I did enjoy all the descriptions of old time food preparation. It made me want to fill my basement with pumpkins and mason jars.

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My Five Star Summer Reads

I read a bunch this summer, and I'm happy to say I had six five star reads - pictured above. Click on any of the images to see a description on amazon.

I'm trying to think if there's any common theme among them, and can't come up with anything. They're just awesome books.

What was the best book you read this summer?

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