STAFF PICK: Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

Title: Girls with Sharp Sticks
Author: Suzanne Young
Narrator: Caitlin Davies

Girls With Sharp Sticks, by Suzanne Young, New York Times bestselling author of The Program was an exciting new addition to Audiobooks.com in March. I have to admit, it was the intriguing cover of this book that drew me in and then with a description likening it to Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale, I was ready to dive right in. This comparison made me wonder if Girls with Sharp Sticks could go toe-to-toe with such hard-hitters, but it definitely held its own!

Girls with Sharp Sticks is set at Innovations Academy, an old technology factory turned finishing school for girls. From the moment the story opens, there is the looming feeling that there’s more to this academy and these girls than meets the eye.

The protagonist, Philomena (Mena for short), is a model student at Innovations Academy, but begins to question certain practices and suspects that there’s something that they aren’t telling the students. This leads to lots of shocking revelations and twists and turns that keep you hooked.

I saw myself in Mena with the way she was vulnerable yet strong and her unfaltering dedication to her friends was what drew the strongest connection for me. Listening to this book was exciting, suspenseful and it made me want to yell “GIRL POWER!” from the rooftops.

It helps that the narrator, Caitlin Davies, portrays the characters distinctly, so that you are immersed in the shut off academy in the mountains. There are definite times where I got lost in Mena’s world so much so, that I didn’t even realize it was one single person narrating each one of the characters. This is especially true for the creepy feeling I got every time Davies would read the lines from the Guardian, one of the staff at Innovations Academy.

If you’re a fan of The Program series from Suzanne Young, then this listen is right up your alley. Girls with Sharp Sticks has many of the same themes throughout it and a similar dark, dystopian-type setting to it that you will find all too familiar.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, mystery/thriller that will have your ears glued to your headphones, Girls with Sharp Sticks is the perfect next listen for you. I think there’s definitely more to this story, so I’m looking forward to the next installment from Young to see what other twists she can throw into the mix.

Publisher’s Summary:

Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this start to a thrilling, subversive near future series from New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young about a girls-only private high school that is far more than it appears to be.

Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardian, they receive a well-rounded education that promises to make them better. Obedient girls, free from arrogance or defiance. Free from troublesome opinions or individual interests.

But the girls’ carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears. As Mena and her friends uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations Academy will learn to fight back.

Bringing the trademark plot twists and high-octane drama that made The Program a bestselling and award-winning series, Suzanne Young launches a new series that confronts some of today’s most pressing ethical questions.

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STAFF PICK: The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz

Title: The Lost Night
Author: Andrea Bartz
Narrator: Kristen Sieh

Sometimes, a book can really sum up a particular time in history, or a feeling. When I had just finished university, two books really spoke to me. One was Generation X, by Douglas Coupland, and the other was The Graduate by Charles Webb. Both of these novels summed up the feeling of having been given opportunities, but not living up to them, and not knowing where to go next in life.

If you lived in Brooklyn in the late 2000s, then The Lost Night may very well be your “Zeitgeist” novel. Set in a time of mass unemployment and economic uncertainty, this dark “whodunnit” is a unique murder mystery, since you’re very much enveloped in the dark world that the characters inhabit, in addition to being wrapped in the mystery itself.

In 2009, Edie is a graduate with the world at her feet – or so it seems. From the outside, she has a supportive family, friend group, and is incredibly talented and bright. But one fateful night, she’s found dead – an apparent suicide, leaving her friends and family devastated. This brings the drug-fueled party lifestyle that her friends are living to an abrupt halt. Lindsay (the main narrator, and Edie’s best friend) is so anguished that she decides to disappear, from both Brooklyn and her friends, for a decade.

Fast forward ten years, and Lindsay’s life has changed dramatically from the hedonistic party lifestyle she once had. After a meet up with Sarah, another friend of Edie’s, Lindsay starts to suspect Edie’s death was not a suicide. After she discovers a disturbing video from the night in question, she becomes convinced that there was foul play. This is further backed up by the fact that Lindsay is unsure of where SHE was on that night, due to random blackouts. So she begins to investigate, which ruffles feathers, disrupts and breaks relationships, and ultimately, leads Lindsay to confront her own violent past.

The story is told mostly from the perspective of Lindsay, who is not a very reliable narrator, since we know that she cannot remember what happened. A few of the chapters are also narrated by other friends in the group, which adds perspective, but also confusion. This multiple-narrators format really lends itself to audio and reinforces the notion that Lindsay’s story alone isn’t enough to solve the mystery. Kristen Seih‘s narration (who narrates the Lindsay sections) really adds to the darkness and suspense of the story.

The end of the book has a great twist. Of course, I’m not going to ruin it for you, but because of the different perspectives that you hear the story from, you go from character to character, wondering if they are the murderer, or if it was ever a murder at all….

I would recommend this listen to anyone who was in their twenties in the early 2000s, and anyone who is a fan of Paula Hawkins or Gillian Flynn.

Publisher Summary
“Tightly paced and skillfully plotted, The Lost Night is a remarkable debut.”—Jessica Knoll, New York Times bestselling author of Luckiest Girl Alive

What really happened the night Edie died? Years later, her best friend Lindsay will learn how unprepared she is for the truth.

In 2009, Edie had New York’s social world in her thrall. Mercurial and beguiling, she was the shining star of a group of recent graduates living in a Brooklyn loft and treating New York like their playground. When Edie’s body was found near a suicide note at the end of a long, drunken night, no one could believe it. Grief, shock, and resentment scattered the group and brought the era to an abrupt end.

A decade later, Lindsay has come a long way from the drug-addled world of Calhoun Lofts. She has devoted best friends, a cozy apartment, and a thriving career as a magazine’s head fact-checker. But when a chance reunion leads Lindsay to discover an unsettling video from that hazy night, she starts to wonder if Edie was actually murdered—and, worse, if she herself was involved. As she rifles through those months in 2009—combing through case files, old technology, and her fractured memories—Lindsay is forced to confront the demons of her own violent history to bring the truth to light.

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STAFF PICK: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Title: The Hunting Party
Author: Lucy Foley
Narrators: Moira Quirk, Imogen Church, Elle Newlands, Morag Sims, Gary Furlong

When I was 12, my mum and I used to go to the library every week, and I would get four Agatha Christie novels, read them all in a couple of days, return them, and then pick out another four the following week. This was my first introduction to the mystery genre, and it lead me into becoming a big fan of everything mystery, thriller, and suspense.

I was intrigued by this book, because the premise seemed very like And Then There Were None, but apart from the idea of a group of people going to a remote house in the country, this psychological suspense thriller is quite different.

A group of old college friends spend every New Year’s Eve together. Now in their thirties, they have grown apart but still continue to plan this event (even though you get the feeling that for many of them, it’s not something that they want to be a part of). This year, they have chosen to stay in a secluded Scottish hunting lodge, which is the perfect place for them to unwind and reconnect with each other…in theory.

They arrive on December 30th, but within a day, a blizzard has trapped them inside the lodge, and by New Year’s Day, one of them is found murdered. But who did it? One of the other guests? A lodge staff member? Or one of the friends themselves?

Lucy Foley does an amazing job of creating characters who, on one hand, are sympathetic enough for you to identify with, but on the other, have enough secrets and faults to make you dislike them, and think that they might be the murderer. The chapters are narrated by a series of narrators, so you can’t be entirely sure that the accounts you are listening to are at all accurate. Not only do you not find out who the murderer is till the very end, you also aren’t entirely sure of the victim until part way through, which is quite an interesting twist on the “whodunnit?” theme.

In an almost Breakfast Club way, each character is quite different, and at points, somewhat stereotypically so. Miranda is beautiful, but troubled. Katie is seen as quiet and plain, but is hiding a secret. Emma seems like the perfect girlfriend and friend, but is she? Emma’s boyfriend, Mark, seems calm, but has a wicked temper, and Miranda’s husband Julien is certainly hiding something, but what is it? And what about the staff at the lodge? Heather, Doug and Iain? Who would choose to live in the middle of nowhere, unless they had something to hide or were running away from something?

The multi-narrator format of this book really lends itself to the audiobook format. It feels like a group of people are narrating an account of what really happened – which makes it even more spooky.

I truly loved this book. I went through the whole thing in one day, and didn’t want to stop listening. If you’re a fan of Ruth Ware or Gillian Flynn, this is definitely the listen for you. So far my favorite listen of the year!

Publisher Summary:

Everyone’s invited…everyone’s a suspect…

For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.
During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?

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7 Audiobooks to Listen to On Your Winter Getaway

The holiday season is very much over, and it’s a loooongg time till spring (Boo!). So what better way to beat the winter blues than to go on a vacation, a weekend trip, or even just take some time off work to stay at home? Why not enjoy those times by bringing an audiobook or two along for the ride?

 

Something to listen to on a road trip
An Anonymous Girl
by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, narrated by Julia Whelan, Barrie Kreinik

Depending on where you are driving to, the journey can be more exciting than the destination. Make that trip even more thrilling by listening to An Anonymous Girl, which is by the authors of The Wife Between Us.

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. However, before long, the questions grow more and more invasive and Dr. Shields begins to get more and more controlling. The twists and turns will add some excitement to your long drive!

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Something to listen to at the ski lodge
Bite the Biscuit: A Barkery & Biscuits Mystery by Linda O. Johnston, narrated by Carla Mercer-Meyer

You’ve been skiing all day, now you’re nice and snug, curled up with a boozy hot chocolate and wrapped up in a nice warm blanket. What better to listen to than a cozy mystery?

Carrie Kennersly is a veterinary technician and owner of “The Barkery” where she sells dog cookies and treats. Myra and Harris Ethman, who own a rival store selling pet products, publicly badmouth Carrie and her business. Suddenly, Myra is found dead with a Barkery cookie beside her, and Carrie, with help from her dog, Biscuit, must prove she wasn’t involved in the crime.

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Something for your cruise
Embrace Yourself by Taryn Brumfitt, narrated by Taryn Brumfitt

Is there anything better than being on a cruise, sitting in the sunshine, eating delicious food, and being safe in the knowledge that everyone else you know is at home in the snow, rain, and cold? I don’t think so. 

While you’re working on your tan, why not work on your wellness and self-esteem? Taryn Brumfitt, the director of the award-winning documentary Embrace has helped people all over the world embrace their bodies and reject the destructive images we are bombarded with every day. Taryn Brumfitt narrates the book herself, which means it feels like a friend is telling you how great you are. So start now — love your body, and be an all-round more “sparkly” person. 

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Something for your tropical beach getaway
The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson, narrated by Marisa Calin

Ah, when you’re relaxing on that beach, you finally have time to sit and listen to a really good book. If you’re a fan of The Crown, you’ll love this. While there have been a number of novels set in the 40s and 50s, this takes a fresh angle — written from the perspective of the dressmakers of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress. Jennifer Robson balances behind-the-scenes details with an in-depth portrait of British post-war society and introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines: embroiderers Ann and Miriam, and Ann’s granddaughter, Heather. 

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Something for your staycation
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last month or so, you’ve heard about Marie Kondo, her Netflix series, and her amazing techniques for decluttering and organizing. My husband and I have already managed to watch the show and read the book, but the bit where we have to actually declutter hasn’t really happened yet. We are all about the KonMari Method…once we get off the couch.

If you’ve decided to take some time off work to hang out at home, what better way to take advantage of your time off than to start cleaning and tidying! With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy,” this international bestseller will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home.

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Something for your boys’ weekend
Positively Unstoppable: The Art of Owning It by Diamond Dallas Page, narrated by Joe Barrett, Diamond Dallas Page

Gearing up for a boys’ weekend? Do you need some motivation to get you ready for your trip? World-renowned WWE Hall of Famer turned fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page will totally get you pumped! 

In Positively Unstoppable, he breaks down his understanding of what really motivates people to change their lives. Full of tips, goal setting guides, and more, there’s a whole lot of humor and fun that’ll keep you listening.  

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Something for your girls’ weekend
Love Me Tinder by Nicola May, narrated by Penny Scott Andrews

Off with the ladies for parties and prosecco? This is a fun, bawdy listen that you’ll enjoy from the start. I was initially attracted to this book because there’s a foul-mouthed (or should I say fowl-mouthed — hahaha) parrot called Lady P, and since I have my own overly vocal parrot, I thought this would be a fun listen. I was not disappointed!

With her marriage in pieces, Cali Summers hits the world of fast love on an internet dating app. With a charming F1 engineer, a handsome army officer, and her adulterous ex all on the scene, a predictable love match is far from on the cards!

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STAFF PICK: An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendriks and Sarah Pekkanen

Title: An Anonymous Girl
Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Narrator: Julia Whelan and Barrie Kreinik

After getting pulled into the deep end of The Wife Between Us fan base, I was ecstatic to hear that Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen were coming out with a new thriller, An Anonymous Girl (and devastated that I had to wait an entire year before I could listen to it). I always get anxious with anticipation whenever an author I love (or in this case, authors) comes out with a new audiobook. Will it live up to my expectations after being blown away by their first work? In the case of thrillers, will it follow a similar climax be too predictable? Of course, the very best suspense audiobooks are the ones we think we have figured out before being knocked off our feet and high horses.

When Jessica, a struggling makeup artist signs up for a psychology study conducted by Dr. Shields, she thinks she’s in for answering a few questions and collecting an easy check. But the questions are uncomfortably intense, and Dr. Shields is more interested in Jessica than she ever could’ve imagined.

The more Dr. Shields is inserted into Jessica’s life, the more paranoid she grows — but so does the money she’s being offered. A wicked game of cat and mouse is played throughout the book, which had me hooked right from the beginning. I was so pleased that Julia Whelan performed, as she did a fabulous job narrating The Wife Between Us. She speaks fluidly in a low, tantalizingly suspenseful tone. Having her paired with Barrie Kreinik made me extra glad I listened to the audio version of this book.

Each time I thought I had things figured out, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen threw me for a loop. Just as their last one did, this book kept me up into the wee hours of the night so I could finally get to the end. I was sad when I did, but one can hope that this powerful duo will return with another delicious thriller.

An Anonymous Girl.

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STAFF PICK: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

Title: Broken Things
Author: Lauren Oliver
Narrators: Sarah DrewSaskia Maarleveld, and Erin Spencer

Five years ago, when Summer Marks was found stabbed to death in a ritualistic killing, suspicion immediately fell on her two best friends, Mia and Brynn, who had described the exact crime in a co-written sequel to a book all three girls were obsessed with, The Way into Lovelorn. Although there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, the town nevertheless pointed fingers at Mia and Brynn, who consequently became ostracized from the community.

In the aftermath, Mia transferred to another school in hopes of outrunning her classmates’ vicious remarks, while Brynn deliberately prolonged her stint in rehab to avoid rejoining society. However, when Mia makes a strange discovery about Summer, she resurrects the mystery of Summer’s death and begins her hunt for answers alongside Brynn, Owen Waldmann—an old friend and Summer’s then-boyfriend, and Abby—a teenage YouTube sensation whose need for homeschooling brought her and Mia together.

Lauren Oliver unfolds her story through alternating chapters from Mia and Brynn’s perspectives that shuffle between ‘then’ and ‘now.’ Slowly, snippets from the past coalesce with the present narrative to form a story of two young girls brought together by the enigmatic Summer Marks, who had always seemed undeniably perfect to Mia and Brynn—until they begin to examine her life in retrospect.

The characters leap off the page with excellent narration from Sarah Drew, Saskia Maarleveld, and Erin Spencer, whose passionate performances kept me captivated and utterly unable to press pause.

Shortly after the novel opens, Mia and Brynn’s hometown, Twin Lakes—a name that conjures the shadowy, atmospheric intensity of Twin Peaks—is ravaged by a hurricane. As the girls meet for the first time since Summer’s murder—in a community on the precipice of chaos and recovery, no less—old wounds and dark memories are dredged up. Before they can begin to heal and stitch their lives back together, Mia and Brynn must unravel the mysterious circumstances of Summer’s murder so they can close this chapter of their lives and clear their names.

The heart of the mystery revolves around fictional author Georgia C. Wells’ The Way into Lovelorn, which inexplicably ends mid-sentence, and its unofficial sequel Return to Lovelorn, which spawned from the girls’ obsession with the original text. In excerpts peppered between chapters, The Way into Lovelorn and Return to Lovelorn unfold like Narnia-esque tales with a sinister undercurrent. As Wells’ fiction creeps into reality, gripping the minds of three young, impressionable girls, I can’t help but recall the Slender Man stabbing in 2014 wherein two girls lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her to impress the fictional Slender Man.

The mystery will keep you hooked, but Broken Things is much more than that. It’s about the complexities of friendship, the meaningful bonds stories can forge, and how long and complicated the road to healing can be. Broken Things is an unmissable entry from one of today’s most prolific voices.

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