★ Trick Mirror
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, a book of nine original essays from New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, makes for great listening. She finds a personal angle to big topics within our modern culture, such as in “The I in the Internet” when Tolentino takes the listener through her personal history with the internet (which will be familiar to anyone who browsed the web in the 1990s and early 2000s), traces it to the modern day and reveals how it has shaped our realities. She draws connections between radical political movements and the way popular websites encourage us to turn inward. She comes to a stark conclusion about the way we allow ourselves to be used by corporations. In another essay, she reflects on her experience as a reality TV star and provides insight into the medium. Tolentino narrates the essays herself, which emphasizes her sharp wit and adds an intimacy to the more personal stories.
Never Have I Ever
In Never Have I Ever, Amy’s blissful, suburban Florida life is turned upside down when new neighbor Roux shows up at her book club and turns the discussion toward everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets. Roux earns a living through blackmail, and Amy gets tangled up in something far beyond a party game. This is a fun thriller grounded in textured relationships that include a controlling best friend and a quirky teenage stepdaughter. I kept thinking I knew where the story was going, but there were twists upon twists I truly could not see coming. Author Joshilyn Jackson does a pitch-perfect job narrating her own novel. The Alabama-born writer gets the pretend-nice, passive-aggressive, classically Southern voice just right.
All the characters in James Gregor’s debut novel are horrible people, but I couldn’t help but root for them. Richard is a Ph.D. candidate struggling with writer’s block. His classmate Anne helps him by doing his work for him, buying him fancy meals and paying for taxis. In return, she expects a romantic relationship, and he is happy to oblige—despite being gay. It all comes to a head when things get serious between Richard and a former online fling. He is forced to choose between the handsome lawyer, who’s definitely husband material (even if he’s a little too into Ayn Rand), and the woman who holds the key to his academic success. Going Dutch pokes fun at online dating, New York intellectuals, money and manners. Narrator Michael David Axtell infuses Richard’s inner monologues with wry humor, making his observations even more biting.