Audiobook review blitz – Talking to Strangers, The Brilliant Death, & The Five

Oh boy, more audiobooks! Yaaaayyyy! In lieu of a long intro, I’ll just describe them quickly and then get straight to the mini-reviews. We have, in order, a social science book about miscommunication, a super-queer YA fantasy with genderfluid and genderqueer main characters, and a thoroughly-researched book detailing the lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Talking to Strangers

Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Genre: nonfiction, social science
Narrator: the author himself, but with lots of cool other effects (see below)
Plot summary (in 10 words or fewer): We think we understand others, but we don’t. Here’s why.
My rating: 4/5 stars

Best parts:
– The formatting was so cool. This almost felt more like a podcast than an audiobook.
– The book was interspersed with snippets from “Hell You Talmbout,” a Janelle Monae song with a relevance that becomes increasingly clear as the book progresses
– Anytime there was a section quoting somebody else–say, a speech, or an interview–Gladwell put in the audio of their original words, rather than him reading them as a quote, so we could hear them with their original inflection
– The points he brought up were definitely interesting, pointing out common heuristics and fallacies we fall for when evaluating the words of people we don’t know. It left me with things to think about, for sure
– As one would expect, his research was thorough, and he blended narrative with theory/data to convey his points

Worst parts:
– There didn’t seem to be a real unifying conclusion. Each chapter worked on its own, but it didn’t seem to build toward anything at the end
– The book was purportedly trying to unravel what specifically went wrong in the Sandra Bland case from a few years ago, how a traffic stop turned into an unnecessary arrest and subsequent suicide, but its connection to that specific event felt tenuous at best

The Brilliant Death

Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Genre: young adult, fantasy, LGBTQ+
Narrator: did a solid job–she is originally from Italy, so her voice was able to capture the Italian-influenced names in the book and the Italian-esque accent that many characters spoke with. My only gripe was that sometimes, her voices for all the characters felt too similar, and it got easy to lose track of who was talking.
Plot summary (in 10 words or fewer): Genderqueer strega seeks revenge for father’s poisoning. Romance, politics, scheming.
My rating: 4/5 stars
TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNINGS: death of a child, torture, abusive sibling

Best parts:
– The nonbinary rep. Hands-down the coolest part of this book. Strega (basically witches) with the ability to shape-shift, including shifting their bodies to be masculine or feminine, depending on which one feels more right to them at any given time?? HECK YES.
Queer romance, because the world can ALWAYS use some more queer romances
– The scheming and politics, including the intersection of politics, religion, and prejudice
– The Italian-inspired setting was a newer-feeling take on the classic “witches and witch-hunters” trope
Cielo, the genderfluid strega who introduces our heroine to everything else in this story, because they’re a charming, dark-haired, super-powerful character and apparently that’s a trope I love reading
– The main character’s little brother, who loves science; seeing more contemporary science (or at least things like electricity) alongside magic was a cool twist.

Worst parts:
– Sometimes, it felt like the romance started to overshadow the actual plot
Nothing felt very surprising within the actual plot. Like, I’m a big fan of schemes, but none of the betrayals we saw were shocking
– Sometimes the characters were kind of flat; I would have liked more depth on most of them

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Author: Hallie Rubenhold
Genre: nonfiction, history
Narrator: standard audiobook narrator with a British accent, and did an excellent job with everything.
Plot summary (in 10 words or fewer): Jack the Ripper’s victims’ life stories. (Hint: not just prostitutes.)
My rating: 4.5/5 stars
TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNINGS: sex work, homelessness, alcoholism

Best parts:
– Exceptionally well-researched. She made a point of using eyewitness testimony as little as possible, instead drawing from historical sources like records of who stayed at workhouses, letters, marriage records, and more.
– I love a feminist reclaiming of history. This book is like the more-serious, more-factual cousin of the musical Six (a comedy musical-in-concert, which I love, that tells the story of the six wives of Henry VIII), with the same idea of totally ignoring the man and instead getting to the heart of the women he is known for mistreating.
– There is almost no gore. I’m serious, outside of the brief description at the start of the book on who Jack the Ripper was, these stories were just the women’s lives from birth to death, none of the bloody and lurid details of their deaths.

Worst parts:
– The only issue I had was that it was sometimes dry and/or excessively slow. Sometimes the story would get a little too bogged down in details and lose my interest for a bit. But as a whole, it was still great!

That’s all for now!

Have you read (or listened to) any of these? Got any of them on your TBR? Want to rant about something totally unrelated? Leave a comment and let me know!

As always,

Kathryn (“K-Specks”)


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