Fidelma McBride, a beautiful forty-year-old woman, lives in a small Irish village. Having experienced two miscarriages, she now feels trapped in a stale marriage to her faithful, much older husband. Enter Vlad, a mysterious older gentleman with a commanding presence. His recent move into their sleepy village has brought up a flurry of gossip. Vlad is Eastern European, handsome, educated, and well-traveled. He’s a healer of some sort, specializing in Eastern medicine, and it isn’t long before he starts winning people over…especially the women.
Partly because she desperately wants a baby, and partly out of curiosity, Fidelma approaches the good doctor about helping her get pregnant. Before long, the two are having an affair. But just as quickly as it begins, it is over. Vlad is recognized by someone who escaped his cruelty long ago, and finally the truth comes to light: he isn’t Vlad at all, but a man on the run who is wanted for war crimes in Sarajevo. He is arrested and taken to the Hague, and Fidelma pays a heavy price as well. Broken and shunned, she has no choice but to leave everything in Ireland and flee to the anonymity of London, where she finds herself surrounded by immigrants and refugees, themselves often fleeing horrific pasts.
Forget extraterrestrials arriving in spaceships powerful enough to scorch Earth. The “war with no name” has begun, and our own pets are the ones turning against us.
The mastermind of this attack is the queen of the Colony. For centuries, ants have been refining biological warfare with the goal of eradicating the violent humans from the face of the planet. The time has come to put the plan into action, and a key element of the attack is to give all animals human-like intelligence and self-awareness, as well as the ability to walk on their hind legs. Upon realizing what humans have done to them throughout history, many animals turn on their former owners.
At the center of the story is a former housecat named Mort(e). He rises through the ranks of the military, always volunteering to go into the most dangerous missions. He and his partner are are also determined to understand the cause of EMSAH, a biological weapon the humans produced to fight the animals. But really, Mort(e) is really just a cat looking for his best friend, Sheba, a dog he knew and loved before the war with no name began.
I listened to more audiobooks this year than any other year of my life, and I suspect the trend will continue. The first three titles below are my top three favorites of 2015; everything else is in alphabetical order.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, read by Rosamund Pike (1813)
Someone get Rosamund Pike an Audie (or all the Audies). I’ve long loved her velvety voice, and I think that’s what finally pushed me to “read” Pride and Prejudice after all these years; I pre-ordered this audiobook as soon as I saw she was the narrator. It’s a story Pike has a history with; she played Jane in the 2005 film adaptation. She does an amazing job with all the voices in this production; all of her characterizations are spot on.
The Martian by Andrew Weir, read by R. C. Bray (2013)
I don’t know if I would have loved The Martian as much as if I had read a print version of the book, but I’m head-over-heels in love with R. C. Bray’s narration. He does a great job of channeling Mark Watney’s smartass attitude, and he makes all the science jargon-filled sections fly by. When Watney says he’ll “science the shit” out of something and proceeds to describe how, Bray makes it all very entertaining.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, read by the author (2015)
I’m sure I would have loved this book anyway had I read it in print, but I think there was an added poignancy in listening to Coates speak to his son. I’m sure a narrator would have done a wonderful job with the book, but it felt more meaningful with Coates reading his own words; there’s a special wistfulness when he talks about France, and added gravity when he’s recounting some of his past traumas.
Today’s dating landscape is completely different from that of previous generations’. Heck, it’s even different from my high school years! We are now living in a time where there are more options than ever before. Our grandparents’ generation tended to marry people they grew up with; even in big cities, it wasn’t uncommon for people to marry people from their same neighborhood or apartment building. Previous generations tended to marry and start a family early in life. That was the status quo.
These days, the concept of settling down with one’s high school sweetheart sounds quaint and unlikely (although, for the record, I actually do have a few friends who have been married for a decade+ to the people they were with in high school). Thanks largely to technology, we are inundated with more options than ever before, and whether we’re looking for a one night stand or a long-term relationship, we now have countless resources at our fingertips to facilitate our search for The One. As a society, our values have also changed. A career outside the home was not a possibility for either of my grandmothers. My parents married at twenty-one while they were finishing college and began having children at twenty-four. When I was little, I thought I would wait until twenty-four to get married. (Why twenty-four? No idea.) Now I’m thirty-four, and the idea of getting married now, much less at twenty-four, just makes me go, “LOLOLOL. No.”
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2013
Narrator: Meryl Streep
Length: 5 hours, 30 minutes
What it is: Seven months pregnant, cookbook writer and food personality Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband has been having an affair with someone she knows. Meanwhile, her well-heeled friends spend their time planning events and gossiping about The Other Woman; they suspect she’s having an affair, but they can’t figure out with whom. Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes for Rachel’s various comfort foods. Rachel just doesn’t know what to do: she wants to make things work with her husband, but she also wants him to drop dead. The book was originally published in 1983.
Why I listened to it: I was looking for a short, light-hearted audiobook. I’d been meaning to read this for a while now because it seems to be universally loved, and it didn’t hurt that Meryl Streep was the narrator (she also starred in the 1986 film adaptation).
What I thought: I think I might have to come to terms that I love Nora Ephron the screenwriter and director, but not Nora Ephron the author. Heartburn is indeed light and entertaining — I can see why people seem to love it so much, and there were moments that genuinely made me laugh — but it felt very one-note/stand-up comedy routine.
Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans
Publisher/Year: Verso, 2015
What it is: A graphic novel about Rosa Luxemburg, who was born into a poor Jewish family in Poland. She was tiny (probably from malnourishment) and sickly (she would walk with a limp for her whole life), but by the age of fifteen, she was rabble rousing on behalf of the working class. She fought to be sent away to receive an education and grappled with Communism in a way that would make it accessible to the people. By her twenties, in a time when women still lacked any authority in important matters, Luxemburg had earned a PhD and made a name for herself in Germany as an important theorist, organizer, and writer whose ideas are still relevant to this day.
Why I read it: I love books on women’s history, and I loved that this one was presented as a graphic biography.
What I thought: First off, I commend Kate Evans for being able to work so much theory into the text in an accessible way! It was still a little clunky at times, but…have you ever read Marx? Overall, though, Evans did a wonderful job of showing Luxemburg as a person — someone with a fiery determination to make her ideas known, but also someone with a rich and fascinating private life. I’d never heard of Luxemburg before reading this, and I am grateful for the introduction.
You can view some of the artwork from the book after the jump. You can also read an excerpt at The Nation.