The past year has been a challenging one for the entire world. The pandemic turned our lives upside down and forced us into a quarantine that seemed to have no end in sight. With schools shut down and businesses operating remotely, we had no choice but to reinvent our work and home life. In my corner of the world, the quiet house where I had spent the last several years writing with my dog at my feet suddenly became a flurry of activity. While my husband conducted business meetings on Zoom just steps away from my favorite writing spot, my tween and teen constantly barged into the room with a new need. They were hungry and wanted lunch, they were confused and needed help with their homework, they were bored and wished they could hang out with their friends, or they were worried about the pandemic and just needed to talk. It was a difficult time on so many levels, and my anxiety was through the roof. I was in desperate need of an escape.
Enter the audiobook. I had heard about Audible and Kobo before the pandemic, but had not really given these services much thought. I was perfectly content reading physical books while nestled under my covers late at night. But when Covid turned my once peaceful home into my husband's noisy conference room and my kids' chaotic school, I needed refuge. Folding laundry within earshot of meetings about lumber shortages and Spanish and algebra lessons—all happening at the same time—was just too much stimulation for my introverted brain. I set up an Audible account and bought my first book. Within minutes, the chaos in my house fell away, and I was lost in another time and place.
Over the past year, I have listened to at least a dozen audiobooks. Driving my kids to school and doing household chores has never been so much fun! I actually look forward to folding laundry now and don't mind cleaning the beastly Viking range that I just had to have. I simply play my audiobook and escape the mundane task at hand. The stories are always captivating, but even more compelling are the soothing voices of the characters that pull me into their world and make me feel as though I'm part of their story. The most recent book I listened to was The Dutch House, which was narrated by Tom Hanks. His voice was so spellbinding and intimate that I often thought an old friend was confiding in me as I drove around Maryland and Delaware these past few weeks. Circe was narrated by Perdita Weeks, a British actress with a smooth, sultry voice that cast a spell over me. She brought Circe to life so completely that I couldn't stop thinking about Greek mythology for weeks.
Audiobooks will never completely replace the traditional books that I love so much. There is something very special about the feel of a book in your hands and the experience of reading a story on a porch or at the beach surrounded by the soothing sounds of nature. That magic is irreplaceable. But when life becomes overwhelming or a task becomes insanely boring, an audiobook is the perfect way to escape. Below are three of my favorites from the past year.
Ann Patchett, the number-one New York Times best-selling author of Commonwealth, delivers her most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love, and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves, and of who we really are.
At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.
The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.
Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child -- not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power -- the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.
On a humid afternoon in 1933, American Jessie Lesage steps off a boat from Paris and onto the shores of Vietnam. Accompanying her French husband Victor, an heir to the Michelin rubber fortune, she’s certain that their new life is full of promise, for while the rest of the world is sinking into economic depression, Indochine is gold for the Michelins. Jessie knows that the vast plantations near Saigon are the key to the family’s prosperity, and though they have recently been marred in scandal, she needs them to succeed for her husband’s sake―and to ensure that the life she left behind in America stays buried in the past.
Jessie dives into the glamorous colonial world, where money is king and morals are brushed aside, and meets Marcelle de Fabry, a spellbinding expat with a wealthy Indochinese lover, the silk tycoon Khoi Nguyen. Descending on Jessie’s world like a hurricane, Marcelle proves to be an exuberant guide to colonial life. But hidden beneath her vivacious exterior is a fierce desire to put the colony back in the hands of its people––starting with the Michelin plantations.
It doesn’t take long for the sun-drenched days and champagne-soaked nights to catch up with Jessie. With an increasingly fractured mind, her affection for Indochine falters. And as a fiery political struggle builds around her, Jessie begins to wonder what’s real in a friendship that she suspects may be nothing but a house of cards.
Motivated by love, driven by ambition, and seeking self-preservation at all costs, Jessie and Marcelle each toe the line between friend and foe, ethics and excess. Cast against the stylish backdrop of 1920s Paris and 1930s Indochine, in a time and place defined by contrasts and convictions, Karin Tanabe's A Hundred Suns is historical fiction at its lush, suspenseful best.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. Her debut novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash, is being released by She Writes Press in September 2021. Visit www.tammypasterick.com to learn more.