STAFF PICK: Ponti by Sharlene Teo

Post by Miranda Winters-Sayle

Title: Ponti
Author: Sharlene Teo
Narrator: Vera Chok

Capturing the profound affect relationships have on our futures, Ponti is cleverly told through three perspectives that reflect the past, present, and future. Sixteen-year-old Szu struggles to connect with her distant mother, Amisa, a once beautiful actress who claimed her 15 minutes of fame in a B-list horror movie. Szu befriends Circe, a sharp-tongued privileged girl equally lonely as her, and the two develop an intense friendship that will change their lives forever.

Set in Singapore, Amisa’s younger years are explored as she stars in Ponti!, a horror movie about a monster that masquerades as a beautiful young woman to lure in its victims. Amisa, who plays a ghost, must come to terms that the movie has neither kick started her career as an actress or brought her the fame and happiness she dreamed of.

In the future, we learn that Circe is helping produce a remake of the Ponti! trilogy, which causes her to confront her own guilt for abandoning Szu after she experiences a major loss.

I was surprised that Ponti is Sharlene Teo‘s debut novel. The imagery she uses made me feel as though I were in Singapore, and the characters were so well developed that I felt like I knew them personally. The teenage relationship between Szu and Circe were written so realistically — their bond, dialogue, and teenage angst were relatable and recognizable.

Vera Chok was a fantastic choice to narrate Ponti, as she was able to seamlessly portray young Szu just as effectively as middle-aged Circe. Her knowledge of Chinese and Malay allowed her to perform accents, which is vital for a novel like Ponti, which reflects a distinct culture and its surreal cities and people.

 

Ponti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: Locked In by Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Victoria Arlen

Post by Pam Campbell

Title: Locked In: The Will to Survive and the Resolve to Live
Author: Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Victoria Arlen
Narrator: Victoria Arlen

Imagine being 10 years old, and suddenly losing your ability to move your arms and legs. Imagine also losing your ability to eat at the same time. Now imagine being told that there is nothing wrong with you, that it’s all in your head.

In Locked In: The Will to Survive and the Resolve to Live, Victoria Arlen recounts her extraordinary story of living through the most unimaginable circumstances and then moving forward to accomplish old dreams, and live out fantastic new realities.

At 10 years old, Victoria’s health quickly deteriorated, to the point where she was suffering from multitudes of seizures a day and was unable to move. She became unable to communicate or even eat. She became locked in.

While she was locked inside herself, Victoria was able to hear, see and understand everything that was going on around her. Her memories remained intact and she was fully aware of her surroundings. She was aware of the abuse being imposed on her, both mentally and physically, by some of her doctors and nurses. And yet she fought to survive and never gave up.

It would be four years before Victoria would be able to move or communicate. And as soon as she could communicate with her family, she was even more determined to achieve her very own miracle. She recovered. She thrived. She beat the odds, so far out of the water that she went on to achieve great success. She still has great success ahead of her and she is very aware that she will always have to work to maintain her movement and mobility.

Victoria reads her own story for the audiobook and to hear her speak of the struggles and triumphs herself, definitely enhanced the book. Her story is inspiring in these turbulent times, and her message is clear: never give up on second chances, work for what you want, and miracles happen every day. But perhaps the message that stood out most to me was her thoughts on unkindness. While she was experiencing cruelty and horrible methods of treatment, she knew that unkindness never improves a situation. Inflicting pain or giving hatred is not the answer; kindness and love are.

After all, it was the love and kindness of her family that saw her thrive. It was through her love for her family that she was able to endure being locked in for years. It is with love and kindness in her heart that Victoria was able to beat the odds and live out her dreams and make new ones.

Locked In

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Post by Miranda Winter-Sayle

Title: Vox
Author: Christina Dalcher
Narrator: Julia Whelan

Imagine you could only speak 100 words a day. How do you determine the importance of every word? This is the decision that Dr. Jean McClellan and all female citizens of the United States must make every day, in the world of this debut novel.

Vox, by Christina Dalcher, is a precautionary tale of a possible future for the United States. Women are not allowed to speak more than 100 words a day – a law that is upheld by bracelets that emit an electric shock that grows worse with every word spoken above the limit. Women are not permitted to have jobs, read, or travel outside the United States.

(I reached the end of my own 100 words in the middle of the previous sentence. Of course, in the society in Vox, I would not be permitted to write this review at all.)

Dr. Jean McClellan is a cognitive linguist who was researching the reversal of brain damage that caused a person’s inability to speak. Her research abruptly ended when religious extremists took over the United States and the subsequent introduction of patriarchal laws forbid women’s participation in society. But when the president’s brother is injured, she is given a choice: regain her voice and continue her research to save one of the men responsible this new world, or refuse and face implicit consequences – in silence.

As a fan of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I was incredibly excited to listen to Vox — and it did not disappoint. The premise is well-executed and the world that Dalcher creates is terrifyingly believable. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Vox’s dystopia is in its early days, which allows the audience to witness the before and the after of the new world. The description of the evolution of modern day society into this universe was easily my favorite part of the novel.

Julia Whelan is a narrator I’ve heard before and she never fails to disappoint. Her tone perfectly reflects the anger that Dr. McClellan feels through the duration of the novel. She captures the somber tone of the novel expertly.

Vox was included on many most-anticipated summer releases lists, and now I understand why: its timely subject matter and original storytelling make it a compelling listen, and one I would definitely recommend.

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STAFF PICK: From The Corner Of The Oval

Post by Pam Campbell

Title: From The Corner Of The Oval
Author: Beck Dorey-Stein
Narrator: Beck Dorey-Stein

 

Thanks to Beck Dorey-Stein and her book From the Corner of the Oval, I know with absolute certainty that I don’t have the stamina or the party animal ability to work for the White House.

After answering a Craigslist add online, Dorey-Stein lands the job of a lifetime (and yes, the White House really did put a job posting on Craigslist) working as a stenographer for the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. She takes us inside the daily lives of the lucky individuals who travel around the world with the president and it is nothing short of a whirlwind: a high-flying, up-and-down party that is mixed in with hard work, and long hours. Dorey-Stein and her colleagues are dedicated to their jobs, but that doesn’t stop them from letting loose on a regular basis.

This is not a tell-all book of the president’s or nation’s secrets. You will not get any dirty gossip about Obama. This book is in fact a front row seat to a woman discovering who she is while she is learning the ropes of her new job in a high stakes working environment. She makes mistakes – professionally, yes, but mostly personally – and I found myself wanting to shake her and say “NO! Not again! Stop.” But just when you think you can’t keep up with the full throttle pace of her life, Dorey-Stein gifts the listener with moments of stillness, reflection, and exhalation.

Most of these moments come from her interactions with Obama himself or her watching his interactions with others. We learn of the heartfelt moments that Obama shares with survivors, we learn of his genuine kindness and more importantly we see the proof that the kindness, leadership, and grace of one person can have a profound impact on those around them. It was these moments throughout the book that really resonated with me. Knowing that in the midst of the very loud, adventurous, chaotic everyday comings and goings, your actions, your words, and attitude can have a positive impact both directly and indirectly.

So while this is a memoir of a stenographer for the 44th President of the United States of America, it is so much more than that. While Dorey-Stein’s story unfolded in a most amazing setting, at a daily pace much faster than the average person, it is easy to relate to her; to her setbacks, her triumphs and her doubts. The fact that Dorey-Stein narrates herself lends to the personal nature of the audiobook experience. I found myself not only cheering her on, but also enjoying her eloquent and witty perspective on navigating life.

From The Corner Of The Oval.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: Her Pretty Face by Robyn Harding

Post by Laura Laidman

Title: Her Pretty Face
Author: Robyn Harding
Narrator: Kirby HeyborneCassandra CampbellRebekkah Ross

Frances Metcalfe has a secret; a secret that could tear apart her home, her family, and the one real friendship she has managed to forge. But in Robyn Harding’s Her Pretty Face, Frances isn’t the only one holding on to a dark secret that lies in waiting just below the surface of her life.

Between her distant husband, her difficult son, and the gossiping mothers at her son’s school, Frances finds solace in Kate Randolph. Kate is everything Frances is not – confident, beautiful, successful, and happy. It’s with her that Frances finds motivation to come out of her shell and move past the pain that haunts her. Unfortunately for Frances, Kate isn’t everything she seems. Darkness looms in Frances’s new friend, one that might be worse than anything Frances herself has to hide away from the world.

Told from three perspectives, Frances herself, Kate’s rebellious teenage daughter Daisy, and DJ, a young man with a haunting past of his own, Her Pretty Face is a perfect pick for fans of domestic dramas and thrillers alike.  Each perspective is read by its own narrator, with Kirby Heyborne (Gone Girl), Cassandra Campbell (Small Great Things), and Rebekkah Ross (All The Missing Girlsall giving amazing performances. They bring Frances, Daisy, and DJ to life with the passion and desperation that each character radiates.

Full of twists and turns, Her Pretty Face was an audiobook I just couldn’t press pause on. Each chapter brought the characters deeper down their own dizzying rabbit holes, which twisted together as the story progressed. Fans of true crime will love this one too, with its subtle influences from famous crimes that were interesting to pick up on. Her Pretty Face is the perfect listen for those long summer nights.

Her Pretty Face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: The Woman In The Woods by John Connolly

Post by Miranda Winters-Sayle

Title: The Woman In The Woods
Author: John Connolly
Narrator: Jeff Harding

A young woman is found buried in the Maine woods, her body showing signs that she gave birth shortly before her death. Private detective Charlie Parker is hired to recover the missing child — but he isn’t the only one looking him. Someone else is interested in the whereabouts of the child, and they are leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.

The latest installment to John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series has something for lovers of various genres: mystery, paranormal thriller, and horror. What makes the audiobook even more exciting is that it isn’t a typical “whodunit” mystery — in fact, the reader is made aware of the whereabouts of the child within the first few chapters. The question is: Who will find him first?

I was a little hesitant to listen to this book as a first time Connolly reader. Launching headfirst into the 16th title in a series can be intimidating. However, the author does a fantastic job of giving enough information that I felt like I knew Charlie Parker without being overwhelmed with exposition of the events from previous titles in the series.

Listeners are able to follow both Charlie Parker and his adversary Quayle as they search for the missing child. This was hands-down my favorite part of the novel, as many authors do not allow the reader inside the head of the antagonist. Quayle is the perfect villain: clever, cruel, and absolutely creepy.

Fans of previous Charlie Parker audiobooks will be pleased to know that Jeff Harding continues narrating the series. His tone matches what you would expect from the protagonist in a gritty detective novel that doesn’t disappoint.

The Woman in the Woods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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