Maya Fleischmann

In this often hilarious and consistently stirring performance, comedian, actor and all-around celebrity Jamie Foxx dishes on his toughest role: being a father. Throughout Act Like You Got Some Sense: And Other Things My Daughters Taught Me (6 hours), Foxx brings honesty and heart to touching stories about his childhood—growing up with an absent mother and being raised by a loving and unyielding grandmother—and shows how these experiences guided him when he became a parent. Foxx’s impersonations of family members are dynamic and animated, as are his exasperated (and sometimes expletive-filled) responses to the trials and tribulations of parenthood. 

In an equally candid and heartwarming foreword, Foxx’s eldest daughter, Corinne, affirms that, despite some unconventional parenting, her father always showed up for her and her sister, and always conveyed his love for his family. Throughout his rise to fame, Foxx’s continual efforts to stay grounded and live by the values instilled in him by his grandmother shine through in the raising of his daughters. 

This inspiring, raucous and entertaining listening experience brims with attitude and positivity about embracing parenthood and the ups and downs of life. 

In this often hilarious and consistently stirring performance, comedian, actor and all-around celebrity Jamie Foxx dishes on his toughest role: being a father.

In Travels With George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy (9.5 hours), author and narrator Nathaniel Philbrick retraces his adventure, beginning in the fall of 2018, to follow the trail of George Washington’s presidential excursions after his 1789 inauguration. Through observing the landscapes and towns he visits and interviewing the people he meets, Philbrick compares and contrasts our history with our present moment, and ponders the strengths and fragility of our nation. As he recounts his travels, including fond anecdotes of his dog, Dora, Philbrick examines who Washington was—as a man, a plantation owner dependent on the labor of enslaved people and a reluctant president facing complex social issues.

A natural storyteller, Philbrick switches seamlessly between Washington’s voice and his own personal reflections, revealing a profound respect for the country, its history and the lessons it imparts to us. His fascinating journey will appeal to travelers and historians, but his likable performance as an audiobook narrator will engage even those typically averse to historical narratives. Travels With George is as insightful and thought provoking as John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley.

Read our review of the print edition of ‘Travels With George.’

Tracing the trail of Washington’s presidential excursions, Nathaniel Philbrick reveals a profound respect for the country, its history and the lessons it imparts to us.

In Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty (9 hours), broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper joins historian and novelist Katherine Howe to recount the rich and tumultuous history of his mother’s family, the Vanderbilts. The engaging and detailed narrative explores the chaos and charm of the Vanderbilt name and the family’s social status from the 19th to the 21st century.

Cooper’s narration is even, his voice distinctly resonant and professional throughout, yet there is a notably heartfelt quality to his memories of his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. His tender descriptions of her dignity and optimistic spirit—in spite of the public and media scrutiny that came with being a Vanderbilt—lend a touching and respectful tone to this in-depth look at an American dynasty.

This revealing family history will be especially interesting to readers who loved Cooper’s The Rainbow Comes and Goes, a book of letters between Cooper and his mother, and those who enjoy celebrity memoirs such as The Boys by Ron and Clint Howard.

Anderson Cooper’s tender descriptions of his mother’s optimistic spirit lend a touching and respectful tone to this in-depth look at the Vanderbilt dynasty.

Helen Ellis, author of American Housewife and Southern Lady Code, once again unleashes her irreverent outlook on life in a warm and funny collection of essays. In Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light (3 hours), 40-something Ellis’ exuberant narration is cheeky and comedic, powered by a Southern drawl that adds charm to even her most unabashed discussions of sex and toilet habits, as well as her observations on meds, marriage and menopause.

Packed into these 12 essays on living, aging, food and fashion is a lifetime’s worth of lessons on resilience and gratitude. While Ellis' reflections are often outrageous and punchy, they also have a down-to-earth quality that is relatable and touching, especially when describing her longtime, tightknit friendships with women who have unreservedly shouldered each other’s weighty, deeply private experiences, including cancer treatment. 

Ellis’ embracing, uplifting and energetic performance delivers a perfect listening experience for readers who enjoyed How Y’all Doing? by Leslie Jordan and Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.

Helen Ellis’ energetic narration offers a perfect listening experience for readers who have enjoyed the audiobooks of Leslie Jordan and Mindy Kaling.

Generations of Cambodian immigrants and their children bring their heritage and culture to America’s melting pot in Afterparties, a bold and incisive collection of short stories by the late writer Anthony Veasna So.

There’s a mesmerizing quality to these nine beautifully brash, interconnected stories filled with feisty, flawed characters living in central California. Each tale touches on themes of history, family, sexuality and identity, topics that are inextricably tied to all cultures. 

In “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts,” Sothy is the Cambodian owner of a donut store, which she’s named Chuck’s because she thought the American-sounding name would attract customers. She is haunted by memories of the concentration camps she survived during the Cambodian genocide by the Khmer Rouge. However, a strange new source of dread appears in the form of a stranger who bears an unusual resemblance to Sothy’s ex-husband. As Sothy and her two American-born teenage daughters wonder about this stranger, they also come to a new understanding of their own complex identities as Cambodian Americans.

In several stories, So handles sexuality and religion unabashedly to illuminate the paradoxes of life. In “Maly, Maly, Maly,” teen narrator Ves reflects on his and his cousin Maly’s explicit sexual adventures amid preparations for the celebration of Maly’s dead mother’s reincarnation. And in “The Monks,” Rithy, who appears as Maly’s boy toy in “Maly, Maly, Maly,” is confined to a temple for a week to ensure his father’s smooth transition into the afterlife, making Rithy’s loyal duty to his unworthy father sound more like he is doing time.

So died in December 2020, leaving behind this collection as an important legacy that challenges stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans. Respecting the challenges of history while simultaneously giving voice to generations, these refreshingly unsterilized stories transcend race, culture and time.

Insightful and energetic, Afterparties’ tales about the complex communion of history and identity will intrigue fans of Chang-rae Lee’s My Year Abroad and Souvankham Thammavongsa’s How to Pronounce Knife.

These nine beautifully brash, interconnected stories are filled with feisty, flawed characters living in central California.

Unembellished and forthright, The Tiger Mom’s Tale is a touching story that illuminates intricacies of race, ethnicity, traditions and stereotypes.

Thirty-something Lexa Thomas is a fitness trainer living in New York City, and she’s trying to adjust to the news that her white mother is divorcing Lexa’s white stepfather after falling for an Asian American acupuncturist. Then Lexa receives a call from her half sister in Taiwan, Hsu-Ling, who informs Lexa that their biological father has died. This stirs up memories of what happened during Lexa’s last visit to Taiwan, when she was forced to abandon her father and her heritage 22 years ago.

But Hsu-Ling has more news. Their Uncle Pong has also died, within moments of their father’s death, and he left a mysterious letter for Lexa. Encouraged by her two half sisters, one Taiwanese and the other a white American, Lexa returns to Taiwan to claim her rightful place in the family.

Lyn Liao Butler’s tale is a literary melting pot brimming with blended families and cultures. The straightforward, exposition-heavy narrative is sprinkled with Mandarin and broad references to different Asian foods and cultural elements, although the lack of development of these aspects may distract the reader from fully immersing themselves in Lexa’s journey to connect with her heritage. Scenes that reveal backstory and the surprising events that turned Lexa away from her Taiwanese relatives slowly tease out the novel’s climax.

Lexa’s gentle humility and quiet confidence will garner the support of readers looking for a likable protagonist. A heartwarming romantic subplot is a sweet result of Lexa’s transformation and self-acceptance and provides another union of ethnic backgrounds.

Filled with potential book club discussion topics and perfect for fans of YA novels by Jenny Han, The Tiger Mom’s Tale will unleash timely dialogue about identity, family secrets and cultural divides.

Filled with potential book club discussion topics, The Tiger Mom’s Tale will unleash timely dialogue about identity, family secrets and cultural divides.

In this disquieting tale by three-time Bram Stoker Award winner Sarah Langan, neighbors have a falling-out amid a natural disaster, unleashing a frenzy of madness, malice and misunderstandings throughout a quiet Long Island community.

Before the drama really begins, something is already amiss on Maple Street. Gertie Wilde realizes that her family is the only one that Rhea Schroeder, the neighborhood queen bee, hasn’t invited to the community’s Fourth of July picnic at nearby Sterling Park. While Gertie and Rhea exchange words, their daughters Julia and Shelly are in the midst of their own feud until a sinkhole opens in the park, sending everyone scurrying.

Sarah Langan takes readers on a descent into depraved suburban drama.

The hole, a microcosm of the larger climate crisis, is cordoned off, and the neighborhood children are warned to stay away. Then a child falls into the hole, which sets off a disturbing chain of events as stories and secrets spread throughout the tightknit community.

Langan weaves interviews and news clips into her tightly written, fast-paced narrative, conveying the infectious spread and mutation of stories goaded by media sensationalism and attention-seeking neighbors. As gossip and rumors swell and proliferate, the stakes grow exponentially as well. The richly complex main characters reveal flawed pasts and duplicitous natures as the story transforms into a witch hunt, trying to discern which of the suspects may be responsible for the child’s erratic behavior before she fell. Horrific claims pit the children against their parents and the adults against one another.

Langan skillfully casts this suburban neighborhood in sinister light, building a sense of discord and apprehension from the first page. Intricate and edgy, Good Neighbors is a descent into depraved suburban drama, perfect for fans of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Stephen King-style thrills.

Sarah Langan takes readers on a descent into depraved suburban drama.

Fresh and funny, Hench exposes the inner lives of superheroes, villains and sidekicks with all their mundane vulnerabilities.

Anna Tromedlov is a struggling, hapless temp who “henches” for evil villains. When she is badly injured during a battle between the forces of good and evil, she finds herself broke, broken and unemployed. So she does what she does best: runs the numbers to discover the extent of damage caused by those supposed do-gooders. Anna’s database goes viral, and she is soon employed by Leviathan, a mysterious and powerful villain who uses Anna’s expert skills in collecting and collating data to bring down superheroes by the numbers. They’re targeting one superhero in particular: Supercollider, who caused Anna’s downfall and, ultimately, her rise.

Familiar tropes are turned upside down in this fast-paced caper, and no one is perfect. Superheroes carelessly cause damage while fighting for justice. The villains are more efficient and professional than the so-called “good guys.” Even the downtrodden Anna, who becomes a dangerous asset when she wields her database skills, continues to wrestle with self-doubt despite her success.

Toronto writer and journalist Natalie Zina Walschots deftly choreographs the dynamic skirmishes between superheroes and villains, who sport suitably fabulous names like the Electric Eel, Glassblower, Quantum and Auditor. (Guess who gets the latter title.) While there is some bloodshed and gore, the attention falls mostly on the often humorous dialogue and commentary by Anna and her cohorts. Wry observations about the corporate world, our litigious society and how our chaotic lives are ruled by dry-cleaning tickets and family obligations are sprinkled throughout.

Rousing and irreverent, Hench is an entertaining adventure that challenges the stereotypes of heroes, villains and the humble temp.

Fresh and funny, Hench exposes the inner lives of superheroes, villains and sidekicks with all their mundane vulnerabilities.

What happens when the person who finds your balloon bursts your bubble? Dear Emmie Blue is a delightful story about a sweet, downtrodden woman’s journey to self-discovery after she believes she has lost everything.

Fourteen years ago, when Emmie Blue was 16, she released a balloon into the sky over Kent, England, with her email address and a message attached to it—a dark secret she could no longer keep. The balloon was discovered in France by Lucas Moreau, a boy originally from London who has the same birthday as Emmie, who quickly became her best friend and with whom she has been in love for the last six years. 

Lucas has told Emmie that he plans to ask her a question on the eve of their 30th birthdays. Emmie has rehearsed her answer to what she assumes will be a romantic invitation—but what he asks her makes her question everything about her life.

Emmie is a tremendously flawed character who might be self-pitying if she weren’t so darn self-effacing and nice. It’s hard not to sympathize with her, cheering her along as she muddles her way—repeatedly—through one disappointment after another. Her back­ story is woven into her dynamic stream-of-consciousness narration, which causes some confusing moments but also sets a pace that reflects her psychological and emotional state. She’s dealing with a lot—the truth of Lucas and his brother, Elliot; her neglectful mother; the search for her father—while struggling to make peace with her dreadful secret.

The comedic value of secondary characters, such as Emmie’s friends Rose and Fox, balances the weight of heavier themes to keep the story from getting too bogged down in drama. The dialogue, which is amply seasoned with profanity, effectively captures Emmie’s close relationships with other characters, especially with her quiet and wise landlady.

Ebbing and flowing with the ups and downs of life, Dear Emmie Blue is a delightful read that fans of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine will enjoy.

Ebbing and flowing with the ups and downs of life, Dear Emmie Blue is a delightful read that fans of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine will enjoy.

It’s poetic that internationally bestselling author Wade Rouse uses his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, as the pen name for his books centered on family and heirlooms. His portrayal of strong, emotionally engaging protagonists is fresh and free of excessive sentimentality, while his unrushed pace and elegant language capture an old-world charm that makes for an enchanting reading experience. His latest novel, The Heirloom Garden, is a beautifully understated story about the loss and discovery of family and ourselves.

In the summer of 1944, Iris Maynard loses her loving husband to World War II. Four years later, she loses her beloved daughter, Mary, to polio. Flash forward to 2003, when Iris, now reclusive, finds sole comfort in the flowers she propagates. They are her friends, family and the focus of her lonely life. When the Peterson family—steadfast Abby, husband Cory, who returned from the Iraq War a changed man, and their precocious daughter, Lily—moves in next door, Iris is drawn to them. Together, the four find healing connections and become a family.

Shipman patiently and gently unearths the deeply flawed characters’ sorrows and reveals the delicate buds of happiness that eventually blossom. Iris’ anguish over the loss of her loved ones is palpable, and every memory stirs sadness, which makes bright moments—when she talks to her flowers and connects with the Petersons—so uplifting. Without making a political statement or moralizing, Shipman incorporates themes of loss and war into the story, credibly revealing how Abby’s family works through the effects of Cory’s PTSD. Iris’ and Abby’s alternating perspectives add a dynamic element to the story, while Iris’ flashbacks smoothly add backstory that deepens the connections among the characters.

At once heart-rending and hopeful, this story is a bouquet of sorrow and joy, perseverance and patience.

The latest novel from Viola Shipman is a beautifully understated story about the loss and discovery of family and ourselves.

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