STAFF PICK: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Post by Kaleisha

Title: The Water Dancer
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Narrator: Joe Morton

Ever since it was announced that The Water Dancer was coming out, I could not wait to get my hands on it. I mostly read historical fiction, books on racial issues, and the occasional fantasy novel. This book checks off all three categories, not to mention it’s written by a man who is one of my idols.

The story takes place at a tobacco plantation in Virginia in the middle of the nineteenth century where we are introduced to our main character, Hiram Walker, a motherless young slave whose father is also his master. Hiram possesses a near-perfect memory and can remember almost every detail of his life, except his long lost mother who was sold away further south into “the coffin.” Without giving away too much, he is also gifted with a mysterious power that he calls “conduction” which he discovers after almost drowning in a river. After his brush with death, we see Hiram go from a member of the ‘Tasked’ to a captive runaway, and eventually an agent of the ‘Underground.’ Here he uses his knowledge to fight in the quiet war for freedom for himself and the ones he loves.

Even though this book is about slavery, Ta-Nehisi Coates never mentions the word “slave” in the entire book. Those who own land and slaves are called “Quality,” while whites who are not slave masters are called “Lows,” and slaves themselves are called “Tasked.”

The characters show real emotion and human flaws; their relationships are deep and complex. The story is meticulously accurate, while the element of magical realism makes it wildly imaginative. The story is filled with separation and pain but it is balanced with just enough love and hope. The plot flows at a steady, rhythmic pace. I do admit, it did take a little time to get through it due to the serious subject matter and the richness of Coates’ writing style. This is not a light and fluffy beach read but rather a beautiful piece of literature that I plan on reading more than once to soak it all in.

Joe Morton’s powerful voice matches that of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing. I hadn’t listened to any audiobooks narrated by him before this, but they could not have picked a better narrator. He captured Hiram’s nature perfectly. Morton did a wonderful job of voicing all of the other characters and their unique accents from the deep south of Alabama to the northern city of Philadelphia

I’ve been a longtime fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates. He was a journalist and editor for The Atlantic for over a decade, writing about racial, social, and political issues. He shook the world in 2015 with his memoir Between the World and Me, which was written as a letter to his teenage son about what it means to be a young black man in America. I highly recommend checking that out, too.

The majority of Coates’ works that I have experienced, however, is through graphic novels. He has been writing for Marvel since 2016. His run of Black Panther is so powerful and moving that it rekindled my childhood love of comics. Being a diverse author who can produce imaginative works for comic books, as well as rich and moving pieces of non-fiction, it was a matter of time before he released a novel. The Water Dancer lived up to and exceeded my expectations of what a novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates would be. It was everything I wanted, and then some.

Ta-Nehisi Coates truly deserves congratulations for his debut novel. It brought me to tears and is unlike any book on slavery or the Underground Railroad that I have ever listened to. I hope this is just the beginning of his work as a novelist and cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next.

Publisher Summary:

From the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

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STAFF PICK: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow

Post by Jennifer Joudrey

Title: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow
Author: E.K. Johnston
Narrator: Catherine Taber

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

Star Wars fans are familiar with the legendary story of Luke Skywalker and how he used to bullseye womp rats back on Tatooine, leading him to successfully bring down the Death Star, or how about the unforgettable tale of the Millenium Falcon? It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. These stories are heavily embedded in Star Wars lore, but what about some of the unknown stories?

In Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow we are reunited with Padmé Naberrie, formerly the Queen of Naboo. Now leaving her nobility behind, she finds herself in the middle of the chaotic and dangerous Galactic Senate on the planet of Coruscant. As Queen, Padmé was always so certain of her actions, but as a Senator everything is new. Trying to maneuver her way through the volatile political climate proves challenging as she learns who she can trust and who she cannot.

The narrator Catherine Taber delivers the action-packed book in an energetic and exciting manner. Listeners familiar with the Star Wars saga will enjoy this movie-like audio experience. This book is full of characters that are well-known in the Star Wars universe, and she gives each character a dynamic presence in audio form. Through her tone, the listener can hear both the strength of Padmé as a character who successfully defended her home planet of Naboo from invasion, and her vulnerability as a new Senator attempting to navigate an ever changing political environment.

This is E.K. Johnston’s second Star Wars novel. Similar to her previous novel, Johnston was able to provide more background and history to a character that has such an important role in the fandom that Star Wars fans know and love. She has provided us with a detailed account of the struggles that Padmé faced entering the Galactic Senate because of factors such as her age, gender, and inexperience. There has been a lot of debate recently regarding the way that female characters are portrayed in the media, and Johnston’s portrayal of Padmé shows strength and determination in the face of adversity. Writing a book about such a pivotal character could be a daunting task, however, Johnston effectively bridges what we know about Padmé’s past and future in an exciting read.

Listening to a Star Wars audiobook will be a game-changer for any fan of the movies. I cannot recommend them enough. Other amazing titles to check out would be:
Star Wars Ahsoka, Phasma, and Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi Leia, Princess of Alderaan.

Publisher Summary:

Written by the #1 New York Times best-selling author of Star Wars Ahsoka!

When Padmé Naberrie, ‘Queen Amidala’ of Naboo, steps down from her position, she is asked by the newly-elected queen to become Naboo’s representative in the Galactic Senate. Padmé is unsure about taking on the new role, but cannot turn down the request to serve her people. Together with her most loyal handmaidens, Padmé must figure out how to navigate the treacherous waters of politics and forge a new identity beyond the queen’s shadow.

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STAFF PICK: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Post by Graeme Rassenti

Title: Anansi Boys
Author: Neil Gaiman
Narrator: Lenny Henry

Have you ever imagined a version of yourself that was more suave, more talented, and cooler than you thought you could ever be? What if you met that person? Have you ever felt like nothing ever goes your way? What if you met the person for whom everything always works out? And what if that person was a brother you never knew you had?

Anansi Boys tells the story of Charles Nancy (Fat Charlie) who, upon learning that his embarrassing and estranged father has died on stage singing karaoke, finds his entire past opening its mysteries to him. Charlie learns of his father’s hidden identity as the African god Anansi, and of his long lost brother, Spider, of whom he has no memory. After an evening of drinking, Charles invites Spider into his life, only to find everything turned upside down. Spider has the powers of a God, and with a word can make people believe whatever he chooses. And Spider chooses a lot of things: including making Fat Charlie’s fiancée believe Spider is Fat Charlie, prompting her to fall in love with the much more dynamic and interesting version of her fiancé.

In this novel, Neil Gaiman explores the idea of stories and storytelling. Interspersed through the various characters’ stories are Anansi’s origins in African mythology. We learn how the trickster Anansi stole all of the stories and controls the flow of stories. We hear how he does bad things, but isn’t a bad person. We also hear of Tiger, a brutal killer, and how he is so often tricked by the clever Anansi. These stories are, like many stories of myth, simple in their presentation, but they serve to offer lessons that the heroes of the tale often need to learn in order to survive the strange circumstances that they find themselves in.

Charles Nancy’s journey is one of self-actualization that so many of us strive for ourselves. He has dreams and aspirations but puts them on hold because he’s afraid of being mocked for trying, and because he believes it’s a failure in itself to lack the very things he wants. It’s only as events with his brother unfold that he is forced to face his own potential, and to move out of his comfort zone.

The entire audio experience is expertly narrated by Lenny Henry, who brings to life the wide cast of characters very well. From Charles’s enigmatic boss to Charlie’s old next door neighbor Mrs. Higgler, Lenny Henry does a terrific job bringing this cast of characters to life.

Anansi Boys is an excellent listen for anyone who wants to believe in a world a little bigger than our own, and who would love to discover their own amazing place in it.

Publisher Summary:

God is dead. Meet the kids.

Fat Charlie Nancy’s normal life ended the moment his father dropped dead on a Florida karaoke stage. Charlie didn’t know his dad was a god. And he never knew he had a brother. 

Now brother Spider’s on his doorstep — about to make Fat Charlie’s life more interesting… and a lot more dangerous.

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STAFF PICK: Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah Mccoy

Post by Pam Campbell

Title: Marilla of Green Gables
Author: Sarah Mccoy
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

As I was getting ready to begin Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy for the first time and get lost in Avonlea life, I suddenly became nervous. Would this story live up to my love and appreciation for the classic Anne of Green Gables stories? What if it didn’t? (This has happened to me before and it’s heartbreaking.) Within the first few minutes of listening, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and settled in for the long haul as I knew I would listen to this book in one go.

Readers are transported back to Avonlea to meet Marilla Cuthbert at the tender age of 13, where she brings us into her life and the lives of those around her. We meet a shy,  teenaged Matthew, who wears his heart and morals on his sleeve. Miss Rachel Lynde is just as strong-willed and free-speaking as ever in her teenage years, and we finally get to know the story behind Marilla and John Blythe’s much alluded to romance. We get a glimpse into the reasons for adult Marilla’s hard exterior, but we are so lucky to see her hopes, dreams, trials, triumphs, and, most importantly, her heart as a young lady.

Sarah McCoy did a wonderful job of keeping the integrity, heart, and soul of these beloved characters. To add to this delight, Cassandra Campbell narrates the audiobook, and she does not disappoint. Her delivery of such tender sentences such as, “June arrived in a torrential downpour of sunshine,” is sure to take you back to the beautiful tone, pacing, and style of the original stories. Thankfully, McCoy has crafted many more of these captivating sentences throughout the book for Campbell to bring to life.

Marilla of Green Gables is a delightful imagining of one of literature’s greatest female characters. Anne would be so proud to see Marilla’s story come to life. It truly is a long awaited hug from a kindred spirit.

 

Marilla of Green Gables

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

Post by Laura Laidman

Title: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
Author: Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
Narrator: Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

Hollywood marriages are rarely ones that people would consider long lasting, inspirational, or ‘great love stories’, but Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman have never been the type to follow trends. From their May-December partnership (Mullally is 12 years older than Offerman), to their courtship while she was an Emmy Award winning superstar on Will & Grace and he was sleeping in a friend’s unfinished basement and struggling for work, they’ve trumped the expectations society has put on Hollywood stars, and on love itself.

In The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, Mullally and Offerman dissect their marriage, careers, childhoods, passions, and what makes them work as a unit. Both are known for being hilarious scene stealers in two outrageously funny sitcoms (Will & Grace and Parks & Rec, respectively), as well as their many guest appearances in other shows that always capture an audience’s attention. As a team, they play off each other’s humor brilliantly, and listening along with their back and forth had me laughing in the car all the way to work each day.

Unlike most traditional books, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told is an open dialogue between our two narrators rather than a structured linear timeline of their courtship and relationship. Mullally and Offerman go off on tangents, sing songs, side bar, and tease each other (and the listener) in a playful, sweet way that comes with the intimate knowledge of nearly two decades together. Intercut between topics such as family life, having kids, acting, and music are solo chapters more akin to traditional biographical works, where Offerman shares his personal histories and views on his life in Hollywood, and his devoted love for his wife, and a few from Mullally exploring her eccentric childhood, career, and aging in Hollywood.

This was easily the most fun I’ve had listening to an audiobook, and I had to pause several times simply because I was missing chunks of the story because I was laughing too hard. Even with the laughter, sidebarsm, and tangents, at the heart of the book are two people who are very much in love after 18 years together in Hollywood. And that is pretty inspirational.

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Post by Pam Campbell

Title: A Spark of Light
Author: Jodi Picoult
Narrator: Jodi Picoult and Bahni Turpin

We begin at the end in Jodi Picoult’s latest mesmerizing audiobook, A Spark of Light. It speaks to her storytelling abilities that we’re able to follow along in reverse. The theme of the audiobook is controversial, but her writing is in top form. To be honest, I am at a loss as to where to begin this review. Trying to keep my personal beliefs about this topic to myself and simply review the story line, characters, writing, and world that Picoult has created is difficult. I’m going to borrow her method and start with how I normally end a review and work my way backwards.

At the heart of this story is a woman’s right to make decisions with regards to her body; her self; her worth. What Picoult brings to this sensitive subject is a somewhat balanced view of individuals on either side of the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. Bahni Turpin does a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life and enhances the heightened atmosphere created by Picoult.

Exploring every aspect of women’s health and how it can affect those around us, Picoult takes a private matter and shines a light on how it becomes a public matter, exposing the raw emotions of why this topic is so provocative, and why there are such extreme opinions.

A Spark of Light is fast-paced, which made it difficult to press pause. Every chapter represents an hour in time on the fateful day when a women’s health center is held hostage. We are immediately taken to the end of the day and the end of the hostage situation. We are introduced to the survivors in disbelief, and to Hugh McElroy, the hostage negotiator and father of 15-year-old Wren, a hostage in the center.

The end unfolds before us, before we have bonded with the characters, before we know their motives. And it works. I was immediately invested in knowing how this came to pass. I wanted to know more about Wren, Hugh, Janine, Dr. Ward, Joy, Aunt Bex, and George. A Spark of Light begins like a newscast interrupting your daily programming to bring you a breaking story. It is a story that needs to be told and one that Picoult expertly delves into with passion, respect, and conviction.

A Spark of Light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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