Friday, February 23, 2024

Mini Reviews: Non-Fiction Audio Books

You all know I love fictional audio books and getting immersed in the world the author creates, but sometimes I need to switch it up with some non-fiction. Sometimes I find myself really engaged with an non-fiction memoir more than I expected and I get sucked in. Today I'm sharing two non-fiction audio books that I thought were really engrossing, each in their own way. 

The First Kennedys: The Humble Roots of an American Dynasty by Neal Thompson
Genre: Biography/Audio Book
Pub. Date: February 2, 2023
Publisher: Harper Audio
Source: Library
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "Based on genealogical breakthroughs and previously unreleased records, this is the first book to explore the inspiring story of the poor Irish refugee couple who escaped famine, created a life together in a city hostile to Irish, immigrants, and Catholics, and launched the Kennedy dynasty in America.
Their Irish ancestry was a hallmark of the Kennedys’ initial political profile, as JFK leveraged his working-class roots to connect with blue-collar voters. Today, we remember this iconic American family as the vanguard of wealth, power, and style rather than as the descendants of poor immigrants. Here at last, we meet the first American Kennedys, Patrick and Bridget, who arrived as many thousands of others did following the Great Famine—penniless and hungry. Less than a decade after their marriage in Boston, Patrick’s sudden death left Bridget to raise their children single-handedly. Her rise from housemaid to shop owner in the face of rampant poverty and discrimination kept her family intact, allowing her only son P.J. to become a successful saloon owner and businessman. P.J. went on to become the first American Kennedy elected to public office—the first of many.
Written by the grandson of an Irish immigrant couple and based on first-ever access to P.J. Kennedy’s private papers, The First Kennedys is a story of sacrifice and survival, resistance and reinvention: an American story."

Most people when they think of the famous Kennedy family think of Joe Kennedy, JFK, RFK, and other influential male Kennedys. However, this book peels back the layers of the Kennedy family. It brings us to Ireland in the 1800s and a woman named Bridget Murphy, JFK's great-grandmother. It starts there with the struggle in Ireland during the Great Famine and their escape to Boston. But while in Boston things weren't easy for any of the Irish immigrants. Bridget married Patrick Kennedy and had many children, but then Patrick died of consumption, like many others, in 1858. She had no choice, but to provide for her family and return to work as a servant with a family member watching her brood. She went from a servant to a hairdresser, to working at a fancy hotel, to becoming a female entrepreneur by opening her grocery store. She ended up being so successful, that she bought the building and surrounding real estate. This is unheard of in the 1800s for a female widow to not only thrive after her husband's death but to become a successful businesswoman. Thompson credits the Kennedy family's success to Bridget's, which is fascinating as most biographies don't even mention her. Bridget's son, PJ, thanks to her success and money, opened his saloon after struggling for a bit. He then became a liquor importer and involved in local politics, which led him to become a Democratic party boss. He ended up being one of the most influential men in Boston and he also paved the way for the Kennedy family. The First Kennedys: The Humble Roots of an American Dynasty by Neal Thompson is a fascinating look into the Kennedy family as well as all Irish immigrants in the 19th century.

I was completely glued to The First Kennedys: The Humble Roots of an American Dynasty and blown away by Bridget's grit and determination. What I also really appreciated was Thompson's ability to explain the Kennedy's situation in Boston as an Irish Catholic immigrant, but also relate it to all Irish immigrants during the time. Thompson really highlighted the immigrant experience and while I was aware of a few things, I found all the details about the hardships that they had to endure to be eye-opening. If you have family that also immigrated from Ireland during this time, this is a must-read as it will explain the experience. If you love books about the famed Kennedy family or about the American Dream, look no further.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry
Genre: Biography/Audio Book
Pub. Date: November 1, 2022
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Source: Library
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "“Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.” So begins the riveting story of acclaimed actor Matthew Perry, taking us along on his journey from childhood ambition to fame to addiction and recovery in the aftermath of a life-threatening health scare. Before the frequent hospital visits and stints in rehab, there was five-year-old Matthew, who traveled from Montreal to Los Angeles, shuffling between his separated parents; fourteen-year-old Matthew, who was a nationally ranked tennis star in Canada; twenty-four-year-old Matthew, who nabbed a coveted role as a lead cast member on the talked-about pilot then called Friends Like Us. . . and so much more.

In an extraordinary story that only he could tell—and in the heartfelt, hilarious, and warmly familiar way only he could tell it—Matthew Perry lays bare the fractured family that raised him (and also left him to his own devices), the desire for recognition that drove him to fame, and the void inside him that could not be filled even by his greatest dreams coming true. But he also details the peace he’s found in sobriety and how he feels about the ubiquity of Friends, sharing stories about his castmates and other stars he met along the way. Frank, self-aware, and with his trademark humor, Perry vividly depicts his lifelong battle with addiction and what fueled it despite seemingly having it all.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing is an unforgettable memoir that is both intimate and eye-opening—as well as a hand extended to anyone struggling with sobriety. Unflinchingly honest, moving, and uproariously funny, this is the book fans have been waiting for."

Everyone knows Matthew Perry from Friends, but do people know the real Matty? I certainly did not. This memoir was eye-opening. It takes readers through Matthew's childhood, which at times was tumultuous and seems to be something he can't get over. It takes readers to his first drink of alcohol and his breakthrough in Hollywood, the women, the success, and the parties. At first, he was just partying like the rest of the celebrities, but then it became something more and he got hooked on opioids. He certainly tried for years to get clean with many stints in rehab, but he could never seem to completely break away. He had many surgeries, which broke my heart, and after each one, he was offered opioids to help with the pain, which only furthered his addiction cycle. But not all of his stories were sad, as many of the details surrounding Friends and various movie sets were honest and fun. Matthew Perry's memoir Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing is heartfelt, self-deprecating, funny, and honest. I am glad I read it and anyone who has an addict in their lives should read it, too.


He had such success but was so unlucky at times and my heart felt for him as he fell into his problems again and again. What was so heartbreaking is that he tried for years to break away from drugs. He spent millions on rehabs that didn't completely work. Also, I had no idea that during a few seasons of Friends, he was on the amount of drugs he was on. This was eye-opening and explained addiction to me and how people can function and hide it. I will say Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing hits differently as you listen to his voice narrate the audiobook now that he has passed away. It makes it that much more heartbreaking and haunting because by the end of the memoir, readers think he had it figured out. He was always searching for something to fill that void and it broke my heart that he never found it.

Have you read either biography? I am glad I listened to these two as they really lent themselves to the format of an audio book. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. I find nonfiction, and especially memoirs, always so powerful (and I'll admit, sometimes easier than fiction) to listen to on audio.

    1. I agree - sometimes non-fiction on audio is so much more compelling! Thanks for visiting, Angela!


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