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.

Read more and sample the audio →

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STAFF PICK: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Narrator: Blair Brown

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is my first foray into the author’s fiction and what a first experience it was. This book is everything you could want and more. There is tension, sex, subtlety; there is despair, there is realness, and there is life.

Gilbert’s narrator is Vivian, an old (in age only) woman who is looking back at her life with clear eyes and telling her story in all its gritty glory. Blair Brown’s performance as Vivian is steadfast yet spunky, capturing perfectly the airs that Vivian exudes as she shares her stories. We are transported back to the world of the New York theatre in the 1940s with such depth and layers that you feel the fabrics, people, and joie de vivre of the era.

Vivian is 19 when she is sent to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg in New York City after she failed out of Vassar College. She is self-assured in the sense that she knows who she isn’t and is open to who she is about to become. She throws herself into the life of the theater and she puts her sewing skills to good use. Through parties and engaging with nightlife, Vivian ends up perfecting a few other skills as well. This lifestyle, however, doesn’t last for long. As we have the benefit of Vivian telling her story from old age, we get to see how she moves past scandals, the war, and the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s.

The first two-thirds of the book are upbeat, carefree, and almost flippant. But it’s the last part that drew me in the most. Vivian in her middle age is a true treasure. She continues to live by her own rules but does so with such poise and determination that you can’t help but cheer her on and wish she could impart more life lessons on you.

Gilbert expertly transports you to another time and place, and they consume you as Vivian’s story unfolds. Don’t be disheartened by the switch in the pace of the book. It is here in the slowness that we truly see the beauty of a woman building her life, her values, and her family. And it is here that we are treated to perhaps the most endearing part of Vivian’s life. It is here that she offers the best of herself to us, dear reader: she offers a reminder of the value in the love of friendship.

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The King’s (and Queen’s!) Speech: A Majesty of Narrators!

If you’re a fan of British royal family-themed fiction, then almost certainly you’re a fan of two things: The Crown on Netflix, and Philippa Gregory. Out now is a new audio version of The Queen’s Fool, narrated by Yolanda Kettle, which follows The Other Boleyn Girl, narrated by Vanessa Kirby. Both Kettle and Kirby have been *spoiler alert* recent love rivals in The Crown, which got us to thinking, which other books have been narrated by The Crown stars? Let’s take a look!

The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory, narrated by Yolanda Kettle

Philippa Gregory does it again!

Hannah Green is a young girl who is placed in the Tudor court as a holy fool to Mary I. Hannah, who has many of her own secrets, ends up trapped between the Catholic Queen and Elizabeth, her Protestant sister. She must choose between living a safe life of a commoner or risking everything for the fame and fortune of the court.

Yolanda Kettle’s narration really brings Hannah’s character to life. She has a very youthful voice, which is very apt for the characters in this novel.

Publisher’s Summary:

Winter, 1553. Pursued by the Inquisition, Hannah Green, a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl, is forced to flee with her father from their home in Spain. But Hannah is no ordinary refugee; she has the gift of “Sight,” the ability to foresee the future, priceless in the troubled times of the Tudor court. Hannah is adopted by the glamorous Robert Dudley, the charismatic son of King Edward’s protector, who brings her to court as a “holy fool” for Queen Mary and, ultimately, Queen Elizabeth. Hired as a fool but working as a spy; promised in wedlock but in love with her master; endangered by the laws against heresy, treason, and witchcraft, Hannah must choose between the safe life of a commoner and the dangerous intrigues of the royal family that are inextricably bound up with her own yearnings and desires.

Teeming with vibrant period detail and peopled by characters seamlessly woven into the sweeping tapestry of history, The Queen’s Fool is a rich and emotionally resonant gem from a masterful storyteller.

Read more and sample the audio →

The Secretary by Renee Knight, narrated by Victoria Hamilton

Christine Butcher is a devoted and loyal secretary to Mina Appleton. She listens, watches, and is privy to secrets that she always keeps safe…

But those years of discretion come at a high price—which Christine discovers at her peril.

Victoria Hamilton’s (Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother) narration is perfect for this novel. Her calm voice adds an eerie and suspenseful tone to this thriller.

Publisher’s Summary:

From her first day as Personal Assistant to the celebrated Mina Appleton, Christine Butcher understands what is expected of her. Absolute loyalty. Absolute discretion. For twenty years, Christine has been a most devoted servant, a silent witness to everything in Mina’s life. So quiet, you would hardly know she is there.

Day after day, year after year, Christine has been there, invisible—watching, listening, absorbing all the secrets floating around her. Keeping them safe.
Christine is trusted. But those years of loyalty and discretion come with a high price. And eventually Christine will pay.

Yet, it would be a mistake to underestimate such a steadfast woman. Because as everyone is about to discover, there’s a dangerous line between obedience and obsession.

Read more and sample the audio →

Drama: An Actor’s Education by John Lithgow, narrated by John Lithgow

John Lithgow’s (Winston Churchill) memoir, which he narrates himself, is an absolute treat. He talks in depth about his life, his family, and his career, which has spanned decades and various genres. His stories about his parents are poignant and touching.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I love listening to authors narrating their own memoirs, since it adds real depth to the story being told. And of course, an actor with such gravitas as Lithgow brings much richness to the narration.

Publisher’s Summary:

Emmy Award-winner John Lithgow presents a charming, witty, and revealing memoir about his family, his work, and his life in Drama—an intimate story of insights and inspirational reflections from one of America’s most beloved actors. Lithgow pays tribute to his father, his greatest influence, and relives his collaborations with renowned performers and directors including Mike Nichols, Bob Fosse, Liv Ullmann, Meryl Streep, and Brian De Palma. A compelling reflection on the trials, triumphs, and changes across his long career, Lithgow’s Drama illuminates the inner life of a celebrated talent, and points the way forward for anyone aspiring to greatness in their own life.

Read more and sample the audio →

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, narrated by Vanessa Kirby

When Mary Boleyn comes to court, she falls in love with Henry VIII. However, she’s forced to step aside for her sister, Anne, when the King’s attention for Mary starts to wain.

As Mary realizes her family’s ambition is overriding her own needs and wants, she decides not to take it lying down…

Vanessa Kirby’s (Princess Margaret) regal narration style is so appropriate for this historical listen. The determination and strength of Mary’s character really come through in her reading.

Publisher’s Summary:

When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of the handsome and charming Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane, and soon she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. With her own destiny suddenly unknown, Mary realizes that she must defy her family and take fate into her own hands.

With more than one million copies in print and adapted for the big screen, The Other Boleyn Girl is a riveting historical drama. It brings to light a woman of extraordinary determination and desire who lived at the heart of the most exciting and glamorous court in Europe, and survived a treacherous political landscape by following her heart.

Read more and sample the audio →

Forever and a Day: A James Bond Novel by Anthony Horowitz, narrated by Matthew Goode

Anthony Horowitz, a famous and talented writer in his own right, has taken on the character of James Bond to create an amazing origin story, with all of the excitement, intrigue, and passion that we all expect from the world’s favorite spy.

Matthew Goode (Lord Snowdon) is every inch the right narrator for this book, bringing the suaveness needed for the James Bond character.

Publisher Summary

A spy is dead. A legend is born. This is how it all began. The explosive prequel to Casino Royale, from bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.

Forever and a Day is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera, taking readers into the very beginning of James Bond’s illustrious career and the formation of his identity.

***

M laid down his pipe and stared at it tetchily. “We have no choice. We’re just going to bring forward this other chap you’ve been preparing. But you didn’t tell me his name.”

“‘It’s Bond, sir,’” the Chief of Staff replied. “James Bond.”

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time. 

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand. 

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organized crime. 

It’s time for James Bond to earn his license to kill.

Read more and sample the audio →

Pet Sematary by Stephen King, narrated by Michael C. Hall

If you had to pick an author who really symbolizes everything great about the horror genre, most of us would pick Stephen King.

Pet Sematary is a horror classic, centered around the character Louis Creed, who moves his family to a lovely small town that seems too good to be true.

Michael C. Hall (John F. Kennedy) is very compelling and right on the money as narrator for this book. With his background in thrillers in TV shows like Dexter, he brings a great presence to this listen.

Publisher’s Summary:

When Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job, and moves his family to the idyllic, rural town of Ludlow, Maine, this new beginning seems too good to be true. Yet despite Ludlow’s tranquility, there’s an undercurrent of danger that lingers…like the graveyard in the woods near the Creed’s home, where generations of children have buried their beloved pets.

Behind the “pet sematary,” there is another burial ground, one that lures people to it with seductive promises…and ungodly temptations. A blood-chilling truth is hidden there—one more terrifying than death itself, and hideously more powerful. An ominous fate befalls anyone who dares tamper with this forbidden place, as Louis is about to discover for himself…

Read more and sample the audio →

New to Audiobooks.com? Get a free audiobook when you sign up for our one month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobook!

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STAFF PICK: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Title: The Gilded Wolves
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Narrator: 
P. J. OchlanLaurie Catherine Winkel

Paris, 1889. Underneath the façade of this dusty, churning city lies a world lush and ripe with mystery. A powerful secret society by the name of the Order of Babel runs rampant underground, throwing elaborate parties and harboring dangerous secrets.

It is the eve of the Exposition Universelle, and the excitement of the city is at a breaking point. The wonder and ugliness of a distant world over a century old are on display—Claude Debussy gathers inspiration from his first encounter with Javanese gamelan music, and some 400 people make up the main attraction in the “Negro village.” In the midst of this, Roshani Chokshi weaves a tale of pure enchantment, gifting select people with the ability to Forge, a power believed to come from the broken pieces of the Tower of Babel.

Wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie is trying to reclaim his inheritance and position as the patriarch of House Vance, one of the former reigning houses of the Order of Babel. When the Order seeks his help in finding an ancient artifact in exchange for his inheritance, listeners are thrown head first into a fast-paced heist that leads Séverin and his friends to discover some startling secrets.

The audiobook weaves together the stories of six characters: Séverin, a thief and heir to the dead House Vance; Laila, a dancer with a tragic past; Tristan, Séverin’s brother in all but blood; Zofia, a girl with a wicked sense for numbers and science; Enrique, a snarky, lovable history buff; and last but not least, Hypnos, the patriarch of House Nyx. The diversity of the cast in race, orientation, experiences, and perspectives is what truly makes this audiobook shine. Narrators P. J. Ochlan and Laurie Catherine Winkel embody each of the characters so thoroughly that I can’t help but become engrossed in their losses and triumphs. Their laugh-out-loud banter endears me to them, and their quirks and personalities make them feel so complex and real that you can’t help but fall in love with the entire cast.

Around them, 1889 Paris unfolds spectacularly. Chokshi’s lush descriptions lure you into an irresistible and mysterious world that is cocooned in a city on the cusp of transformation. The Gilded Wolves may be a tale of pure fantasy, but it is grounded in reality. Amidst the fast-paced plot and large cast of characters, Chokshi still finds the time to breathe depth into the story by bringing in honest discussions about colonialism, exploitation, and cultural erasure. She doesn’t hesitate to criticize and challenge—in fact, Chokshi aptly uses the post-industrial Parisian setting as an opportunity to deconstruct colonialism. That’s the true mark of a brave and astute writer. If you haven’t listened to Chokshi’s work before, there is no better place to start.

Whether you’re here for the characters, the gorgeous writing, or that one particularly lustful romance that will leave you swooning, The Gilded Wolves is a listen you won’t want to miss. Full of twists and delightful puzzles, this is an enchanting experience that will keep you on your toes until the very end.

Read more and sample the audio →

New to Audiobooks.com? Get a free audiobook when you sign up for our one month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobook!

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Page to Screen in May 2017

The month of May will see its fair share of shows and movies adapted from popular books. Check out what’s upcoming and take a listen before they hit the screen!
The Dinner
, by Herman Koch
Expected Release: May 5th

Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, conversation between two couples remains a gentle hum of polite discourse-the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love… Read more and listen to a sample


King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
 – a classic legend rewritten many times over. We linked to a great version but search the site for others!
Expected Release: May 12th

Uther Pendragon, High King of Celtic Britain, is nearing death, and his kingdom is being torn apart. Only one man can bring the Celts together as a nation and restore peace—King Arthur. Artorex (Arthur) doesn’t yet seem like the great man he will grow into. We meet him as a shy, subservient twelve-year-old living in the foster home of Lord Ector, who took in Artorex as a babe to protect him from murderous kin. Life has been unremarkable until the arrival of three influential men who arrange for Arthur to be taught the martial skills of the warrior. Little does Artorex know that these three men—one of whom is Merlin—secretly hope that one day he will take Uther’s crown and restore peace to Britain… Read more and listen to a sample


Everything, Everything
, by Nicola Yoon
Expected Release: May 19th

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster… Read more and listen to a sample


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
, by Jeff Kinney
Expected Release: May 19th

A family road trip is supposed to be a lot of fun… unless, of course, you’re the Heffleys. The journey starts off full of promise, then quickly takes several wrong turns. Gas station bathrooms, crazed seagulls, a fender bender, and a runaway pig—not exactly Greg Heffley’s idea of a good time. But even the worst road trip can turn into an adventure—and this is one the Heffleys won’t soon forget… Read more and listen to a sample

Which of May’s renditions are you most excited for? Let me know!

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STAFF PICK: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

What a journey. OH man. For past 5 months I’ve committed myself to the magical adventure that is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and it’s safe to say I’ve been on a 5-month high. The story is captivating, I love her writing style, and I have yet to enjoy a better narration than that of Davina Porter. Now, I’m not about to summarize 8 books worth of plot. I’m just here to gush a bit and hopefully convert you into an Outlander fanatic like me.

Notoriously hard to categorize, the Outlander series is a cross between romance, historical fiction and war, with a sprinkling of action, fantasy and time travel. Possibly a strange mix but it works fantastically. It begins with the heroine, Claire, a WWII nurse that finds herself transported back to 1743, where she has to put her trust in Scottish Highlanders to stay alive. She falls in love with a man named Jamie and gets wrapped up in war and politics, all the while trying to adapt to 18th century living. Gabaldon does a good job of maintaining historical accuracy. She paints a vivid picture of Claire applying modern medical knowledge in a time that lacks basic sanitation as she to recollect her history lessons in the midst of war.

The pace of the story shifts from a gentle meander to heart-pounding action and back, keeping you hooked with plot twists and sassy wit, all of which is conveyed masterfully by Davina Porter’s narration. Her changing voice pitch and accents portray the characters perfectly. When called for, her voice has the right edge or drips with sarcasm. She IS Claire. She IS Jamie. She brings the story to a whole new level. I like to listen to her best at 1.25x the speed and her voice is still steady and clear.

I’ve seen complaints that there are too many side plots and the descriptors are too detailed. I entirely disagree. I enjoyed every side story that unrolled before me, feeling appreciative just to be welcomed along for the ride.

I do not know when the next book is out (other than Gabaldon’s “it will not be in 2017”), but I am MOST excited to get my ears on it. Have you read the series? If not, are you convinced to try? Let me know!