Audiobook Review: The To-Do List by JC Miller

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Author: JC Miller

Narrator: Sara K. Sheckells

Length: 8h 13m

Publisher: Booktrope

Genre: Fiction

Release date: Audio 2017 (Originally 23 December 2014)

Goodreads  –  Amazon  –  Audible  –  Barnes & Noble

Between unending housework and thankless efforts to appease a loutish husband and acid-tongue teens, Ginny Cooper’s to-do list never seems to get done. Her guilty pleasure—fantasizing about her husband’s demise—her weakness—the drive-thru at Arby’s. On the job as head librarian at the county’s obsolete library, tedium reigns. One afternoon Ginny innocently stumbles upon a dating website, where the rabbit hole awaits.
Who is Ginny Cooper? She is every woman who knows the exact number of calories in a Snickers bar, every woman who has ever struggled with her weight. She is every woman who has grappled with the gray areas, every woman who has wanted to escape her own life. At times the reader will want to reach between the pages, shake her, and talk some sense into her. But Ginny will have to navigate her own road. And through it all, we root for her.
Ginny’s childhood memories of her fading hometown provide a bittersweet backdrop for The To-Do List.

Rating: 1 Star

This is the book that did it, the one that made me want to invent a negative star rating system because I hated it so much that it was the audio version of watching a train wreck that only seemed to get worse by jumping the track and going down Main Street, taking out little old ladies and puppies along the way.

I’ll be quite frank with you, I hated this book. If it were possible to give a negative star rating, something I’ve never hoped for before, even in the case of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, this would be the book. Therefore, things might get a little rant-like at times. I encourage you to bear with me because I have reasons for hating it as much as I do and I’ll explain them.

First, let me start with some not quite so horrible things.

Cover

This book is a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. It’s a good cover in general, but for this particular book it was all wrong. Going by what I saw, I thought that it might be a murder mystery of some kind. Why you might ask? There’s the titular to-do list with “Kill Cal” on it, a cleaver on the table, and blood dripping from the “t” in “List”. It’s the perfect cover for one of those “lite” mysteries that I imagined it to be. For the book it ended up being? It fails at conveying almost anything in relation to the book.

Narration (Sara K. Sheckells)

The sound quality of the narration was good. There was no static like quality to it and I could hear the narrator’s enunciation well.

The narrator herself was something of a 50/50 situation. Her narration when not dealing with character voices was good. It was neither too high pitched nor too low. However, when she tackled the different characters, the male voices sounded quite fake. A good narrator should be able to, even with a different gendered character, present a decent front in their act, but I didn’t get that in the portrayal of either Cal or Luke. Clark’s stutter sounded accurate, but when his diction got better, his voice blended with the narrator’s natural voice and faded into the background.

The women’s voices were slightly better. They were each unique, at least, but the life behind them didn’t feel special or particularly vivacious. Ginny’s voice had a bit of a nasal, speaking-to-a-child-like quality to it that didn’t make sense and probably added to the reasons why I didn’t like her.

This is the first time I’ve heard this narrator and I might be willing to give her a chance again, but I think that I’d prefer it if it were a non-fiction book or one with no conversation, as that seems to be her weakness.

The Book – Plot

This part is going to be long. There will be SPOILERS and a Trigger Warning (sexual assault) within because I wrote notes as I was listening to this story and expounded upon the parts that bothered me, so fair warning. Also, I will make notes as to what percent I noted some things at, which pertain to the Audible version of this book, in case you decide to listen to this yourself.

Starting very early on in the story (7%), it was evident that the people in Ginny’s life were awful. I was still on her side in the beginning mostly because she only seemed to have one decent person around: her co-worker, Clark. Margie, her only other co-worker and one that she insinuates has the job because of her connections to the mother of Ginny’s boss, makes comments behind Ginny’s back that we overhear and is “subtly” rude to her face.

Ginny herself was a confusing character here too because she had issues with flip-flopping emotions regarding people and things, making it difficult to get a grasp on what she really felt about them or thought: i.e. first she says Margie is cold/distant, then she’s personable and able to get the children at the library they work in to listen; also Ginny’s comments about her leather shoes being unforgiving, then breaking in wonderfully, then horribly tight again. The inconsistencies in her observations of things made her a conundrum to me.

Things got worse because it became evident, once we met Ginny’s husband Cal (10-14%), that she was being emotionally abused. The problem with the handling of this subject in the book was that it wavered between possibly being severe underappreciation and downright emotional abuse. It takes so long for anyone to even hint at anything being wrong, let alone address the actual issue, that I couldn’t be sure if that was what the author was intending, for Ginny to be an emotionally abused character.

Noticing it before the characters did, though, made it easy to spot the parts in her life where it was affecting her (17%). It made it difficult for her to complete her job, for her to work with anyone at the library, including Margie and her boss, Owen.

At (24%), while Ginny is blind to her own situation, I am glad that she sees and tries to intervene for her daughter. It’s heartbreaking to see her not realize that she’s ​in the same position she’s warning Kelly away from, which Kelly is smart enough to finally confront her on. Ginny’s kids have grown up seeing her abused and thinking it’s ok, which is why Kelly’s in this pickle. After the night when this occurs, though, it gets dropped again and not really talked about, which seemed like an odd moment of clarity before getting swept under the rug again.

I was painfully aware of how done with this book I was at (28%), but little did I know that things would get worse. At (42%), the book took a turn from the unlikeable and boring to the downright disgusting. We’ve already established that Ginny is an abused character and given the visual marketing for this book, I would never have suspected that there was this kind of content within, but I have to include a TRIGGER WARNING for instances of sexual assault.

Cal rapes his wife and all Ginny is worried about is soothing his ego. If she hadn’t been set up as so damn unlikable earlier in the book, before the emotional abuse even took place, this might have had a different effect other than disgust. The fact that it happens and is never mentioned again, not even to Ginny’s divorce attorney later in the book, feels like a slap in the face. Such a traumatic event shouldn’t be used for shock value.

Ginny, at some point, thought that it would be interesting and fun to sign up for a trial subscription to a dating site. Okay, fine, but then she starts to lead one of the men on (44%). Doing so is a despicable action. She knows that he’s a real person and yet she pretends to be a real person, someone that can be with him for something like a date for coffee, when she is not. This is prior to her separation, so no, it’s no okay. It definitely would’ve been cheating, even with the sorry excuse for a husband she has. To make matters worse, she used a fake name and a fake picture, so right then she was cat fishing and I hated her for it. While I did feel sorry for Luke initially, once he does find out about her deception, he completely forgives her for it and they start moving towards dating. That is either completely unbelievable or the moment when I gave up on Luke as a serious person. How could he trust a thing she said when she admitted that everything they’d shared until that point was a lie, even her name?

To further why I don’t like Ginny, despite her being a pitiable character at this stage in the book, she’s started constantly makes snide little remarks about people. Like Jackie, the receptionist at Curves and old friend (remakes about her “prepubescent” body). Like Margie, an elderly woman who, while admittedly not a great person, has hearing problems and can’t cope as well these days.

Moving on in the book, once she’s separated from Cal and she’s thinking of dating Luke, she has this interaction with Jackie, her friend, that begins something in the narrative I felt was disturbing.

When Ginny is talking to Jackie about meeting Luke, she wonders if she’s racist because she reveals that Luke is black (which, to my memory, is the first time his race is ever mentioned) and she’s nervous. Jackie comments that she doesn’t think Ginny is racist, merely cautious because all women need to be cautious these days, especially if you’re meeting someone from online. That was said, I was done, moving on.

HOWEVER, then Ginny is waiting in the car prior to her date with Luke and is having second thoughts and, rather than thinking she’d made a mistake meeting a man from the Internet, she specifically states a black man from the Internet. While she’s not a vile racist spewing slurs all over the place, that statement right there is evidence there’s at least a little racism going on in that head of hers and excusing it under the guise of caution annoyed me. The author could’ve left Ginny’s thoughts at a man from the Internet, but by adding that note she added another layer of meaning and not a good one, rather a potentially harmful one that wasn’t necessary.

And while we’re on the subject, once she does meet Luke for the date, while I’m saying caution is good, Ginny throws what little she had, laced as it was with the aforementioned bad feeling, to the wind because she assumes that based on Luke’s appearance he couldn’t possibly be a rapist or a murderer. This has nothing to do with skin color, just his clean cut appearance. Dear God, woman, ANYONE can be a serial killer or rapist, have you not seen American Psycho? I don’t understand how Ginny could flip between these two extremes so quickly.

(87%) really highlighted something a genuinely foolish act on Ginny’s part that felt like the cherry on top of the hate I’d gathered for this character. She and Cal are moving on with the divorce. He has, at some point, found out about her trial dating service, and threatens to use that as leverage in the divorce (yet another thing that is mentioned once and never again). So, when Ginny finally does read the divorce contract that was served to her, she reads it carefully, apparently…and then signs it without showing it to her lawyer.

That was the single STUPIDEST thing I think she did in the entire book. She had no history with law, other than reading a couple of books in preparation for getting divorced, she knows nothing about the intricacies of a contract, but because she thinks it sounds fair after a couple of reads she decides to just go ahead and sign it without showing her lawyer. I was really hoping for something to back to bite her in the ass at that point because she would’ve deserved it for being so quick to sign and careless. She only thought about how foolish it was after she’d dropped the contract off in the mailbox.

After that horrible incident, things were starting to wrap up and I was coming to the conclusion that, while I felt sorry for Ginny because of the emotional abuse and disliked her for a great deal of other things, there was no way the author could make me hate her more. I was wrong. She holds a barbecue at her house, inviting some friends, and while that was nice, one of the people she invites is her old co-worker, Clark (he was downsized early on in the story) and his girlfriend Maya. Her treatment of Maya demonstrated that she puts down other people to, ostensibly, make herself feel better about being plus size (which is NOT a bad thing, but it’s her issue here).

(95%) When Clark shows up with his girlfriend, Maya, Ginny describes her as bland. Seeing as Ginny doesn’t know her very well and doesn’t have the slightest idea what the relationship is like, this was insulting. When she accepts the tulips that Maya brought and is out of the room, she was internally gleeful that Maya was bland. This haughty and bitchy reaction was due, in part, to Ginny believing that Clark had had, and might still have, a crush on her, which she enjoyed even though she hadn’t been in a position to act upon it.

Maya was among strangers and it never occurred to Ginny that maybe she’s uncomfortable around them. Ginny never had any interest in Clark as a love interest until he was taken by someone else. That was infuriating because, again, she has NO idea what Clark and Maya’s relationship is like outside of this one time she’s meeting her.

At the end, the very end, Ginny has decided to go to law school and start a practice to help abused women and their families. That was the best move she probably made the entire book.

The Book – Pacing

The book lagged so badly through the majority of the story. I would check the finished percentage fairly infrequently and still be astonished at how little progress was being made. The littlest things were dragged out, like Ginny’s obsession with Arby’s or her engaging with her dog; the trouble with Kelly that never really amounted to anything. She was never really punished, not in a meaningful way, nor did she have to see a counselor of any kind for her acting out behavior (pot smoking, excessive lying, etc). The only time a counselor was brought up was after the divorce papers were signed, when Kelly’s whole demeanor had changed. It’s like a light switch flipped and I still don’t know why.

I think that a lot of the excess material from this book could have been removed, turning it into a novella, and maybe, MAYBE, it would have been salvageable. As it is, there’s no way I’ll consider picking up another book by this author. This was too bad of an experience to warrant trying again.

I received this audiobook at no-cost from Audiobookworm Promotions. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Audiobookworm Promotions
All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.
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