STAFF PICK: Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

Title: Girl, Stop Apologizing
Author: Rachel Hollis
Narrator: Rachel Hollis

Have you ever felt like a book was literally written just for you and that it fell into your life at exactly the right moment? That is the feeling I got when I started listening to Girl, Stop Apologizing, which was released on March 5, 2019.

I have been working on a dream of mine since the beginning of this year, but I started to feel like the dream was fading and I didn’t know what to do next. I started doubting myself and wondering if it was still worth it. As soon as I started listening to this book, I felt so motivated that my self-doubt was gone almost instantly!

Rachel Hollis gives you real examples from her life experiences—both personal and professional—to help you reach your goals. She talks about how she started her company, The Hollis Co., and all the failures she endured in order to get to where she is now. Hollis’s mantra is that it is okay to fail; what really matters is how you decide to continue working towards your goal or dream. That toolbox of knowledge in your head is going to be overflowing with all of the tools she supplies, and you’ll be left motivated to do that thing you have feared for so long. Your dreams will seem less daunting and you will be able to create a road map of the steps needed to reach your goal.

There are plenty of motivational self-help books out there, but Hollis has really set herself apart from the crowd with her relatable writing and narrative style. I honestly felt like she was speaking to me as a close friend, giving me advice on how and what to do in order to bring my dreams to fruition. You’ll finish the book with the understanding that it is perfectly okay to work on your goals and dreams, and not just to help others with theirs (as women sometimes fall into the trap of doing).

Hollis narrates the audiobook herself, and this further enhanced the whole experience; her engaging, positive manner and personal touch indeed captivates the listener. The conviction with which she shares her ideas are sure to make an impact—you will immediately want to start taking action and striving for more.

I highly recommend this book if you are currently working towards a goal or dream, or if you’re simply a fan of motivational self-help books. Her drive and passion for helping other women strive for more are truly inspiring. I would also highly recommend her previous book Girl, Wash Your Face for even more wisdom and motivation.

Publisher Summary:

“I believe we can change the world. But first, we’ve got to stop living in fear of being judged for who we are.”

Rachel Hollis has seen it too often: women not living into their full potential. They feel a tugging on their hearts for something more, but they’re afraid of embarrassment, of falling short of perfection, of not being enough.

In Girl, Stop Apologizing, #1 New York Times bestselling author and founder of a multimillion-dollar media company, Rachel Hollis sounds a wake-up call. She knows that many women have been taught to define themselves in light of other people—whether as wife, mother, daughter, or employee—instead of learning how to own who they are and what they want. With a challenge to women everywhere to stop talking themselves out of their dreams, Hollis identifies the excuses to let go of, the behaviors to adopt, and the skills to acquire on the path to growth, confidence, and believing in yourself.

As an audiobook exclusive, join Rachel in a guided meditation bonus track designed to ground you in gratitude with focus and intention!

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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: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Title: Daisy Jones & the Six
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Narrator: Jennifer BealsJudy GreerBenjamin BrattPablo Schreiber

Believe the hype. Daisy Jones & the Six will seduce you, then chew you up and spit you out with raw emotions. It will leave you in a state of wonder as to how this amazing rock band could let the unthinkable happen. How could the legendary band Daisy Jones & The Six break down and eventually break up? Well, Taylor Jenkins Reid is about to let you in on their story in her latest novel, Daisy Jones & the Six.

It’s a tour de force of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that will make you forget the fact that the band you’re reading about is fictional. I found myself pausing from listening to google a song of theirs, or to google an event mentioned in the book, only to stop short and remind myself that the book was fiction. It’s gritty, it’s real, and Daisy Jones & The Six is about to take you on a whirlwind ride. There are moments of true 70’s rock and roll: you’re partying with the band and you’re recording in the studio at all hours of the day. But, there are quiet moments too, where we get to watch pure creativity happen between two musical geniuses as they collaborate on songs, along with glimpses into the personal, tender moments of the band and their families.

The list of narrators is long and perfectly cast. Jennifer Beals and Pablo Schreiber take on Daisy and Billy, and they let you feel every high and every low. It truly is a unique listening experience which complements the unique story of Daisy Jones.

This book plays out like a Rolling Stone magazine interview or TV special. This is the unspoken story of a fictional rock band that will leave you wanting to listen to their albums and to be among the lucky fans at their concerts who chant Daisy’s name until you’ve lost your voice. And it completely works.

Publisher Summary:

Everyone knows DAISY JONES & THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity…until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

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STAFF PICK: The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Title: The Huntress
Author: Kate Quinn
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld

Oh my goodness. Dear reader, you will not be able to stop listening to Kate Quinn’s latest book, The Huntress. I found myself so engrossed in this book that I would sit in my car once I’d arrived at my destination just to finish a chapter—and sometimes this was for 15 minutes or more.

The Huntress is story of how the lives of a Soviet Night Witch, a British war correspondent, and a young American photographer’s lives are impacted by a Nazi murderess, known only as the Huntress. As some spend their days haunted by her actions and longing to bring her to justice for her crimes, others spend their days welcoming her in their lives, unaware of her past and her true story.

Not only is the premise for the book well thought out and impeccably researched, Kate Quinn has also created a cast of characters who are believable and well-rounded. She has crafted the bold, headstrong Nina—our Night Witch Soviet bomber—to be vulnerable but true to her spirit. We meet Jordan, a young woman who catches a glimpse through her camera that reveals all is not what it seems, and we watch her struggle to make her own choices and learn to trust her herself. And Ian, our reliable British war correspondent who is wrestling to come to terms with his own experiences in the war and his own demons.  Not to mention The Huntress herself, who, while trying to live a quiet life after the war, has obviously not shaken off her past. All of these characters are brought to life through Saskia Maarleveld’s marvelous narration. She has treated not only the characters with perfect tone, but her overall pacing and treatment of the work are all on point.

Told through alternating perspectives and years, The Huntress will leave you asking “how?” How does this all fit together? How are they going to find her? How can I not have heard of the Night Witches before? How could someone do this? How did Kate Quinn craft such an excellently paced, fascinating, informative, gripping novel with everything from romance to suspense, to humor? I, for one, will not question Kate Quinn’s writing abilities but be forever in awe of them.

Publisher Summary:

In the aftermath of war, the hunter becomes the hunted…

Bold and fearless, Nina Markova always dreamed of flying. When the Nazis attack the Soviet Union, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on the invading Germans. When she is stranded behind enemy lines, Nina becomes the prey of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, and only Nina’s bravery and cunning will keep her alive.

Transformed by the horrors he witnessed from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials, British war correspondent Ian Graham has become a Nazi hunter. Yet one target eludes him: a vicious predator known as the Huntress. To find her, the fierce, disciplined investigator joins forces with the only witness to escape the Huntress alive: the brazen, cocksure Nina. But a shared secret could derail their mission unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Growing up in post-war Boston, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride is determined to become a photographer. When her long-widowed father unexpectedly comes homes with a new fiancée, Jordan is thrilled. But there is something disconcerting about the soft-spoken German widow. Certain that danger is lurking, Jordan begins to delve into her new stepmother’s past—only to discover that there are mysteries buried deep in her family . . . secrets that may threaten all Jordan holds dear.

In this immersive, heart-wrenching story, Kate Quinn illuminates the consequences of war on individual lives, and the price we pay to seek justice and truth.

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STAFF PICK: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Title: On the Come Up
Author: Angie Thomas
Narrator: Bahni Turpin 

Two years ago, when I was attending a publishing program in New York City with a big group of book-minded people, one debut had made a particularly big splash. Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give dominated conversations amongst professors and classmates alike; I simply couldn’t escape the hype around it. However, it wasn’t until my roommate left several teary Snapchat messages to me a year later praising the book to the heavens that I finally picked it up. Needless to say, I am fully on the Angie Thomas bandwagon now.

The Hate U Give was such an emotional and eye-opening book for me—and many, many others I’m sure—that it almost seems unfair that On the Come Up would have to live in the shadow of Thomas’s phenomenal debut. But, no matter how high expectations were for her follow up novel, Thomas has shattered them again. On the Come Up absolutely stands on its own, and it is already making huge ripples with Fox—the studio that brought The Hate U Give to the big screen—picking up the film rights.

On the Come Up begins after the events of The Hate U Give, with Garden Heights still reeling in the aftermath of protests and riots. Sixteen-year-old Brianna “Bri” Jackson yearns to be a rapper. She breathes flow and rhymes and dreams about her chance to break out when she should be focusing on ACT prep. Bri has lived a life marred by violence and struggles: her father, the legendary underground rapper Lawless, was murdered when she was a child; her mother, who battled addiction and has been eight years clean, just lost her job; and her brother, Trey, can only find menial work at a pizza shop despite graduating from college with honors.

Rapping for Bri is not just an avenue for honest expression, but also a way to lift her family out of poverty. When she is inspired to pen a bitter song after a particularly violent and targeted incident with a security guard at her school, Bri thinks her time in the spotlight has finally come—and it has, but not in the way she expected.

On the Come Up highlights the difficulty and frustrations of speaking the truth, your truth, in a world full of people who are bent on policing your speech. As Bri’s song goes viral, her words are twisted and used as evidence that she really is an aggressive hoodlum—an image that many around her want her to adopt.

This is a book that demands not just to be read, but also to be heard. Narrator Bahni Turpin returns with the same power and passion that she brought to The Hate U Give. Bri’s lyrics, which are already compelling on the page, are simply brought to life with Turpin’s performance. I can almost see myself standing in the garage-turned-recording studio, watching Bri speak her truths into the mic.

Thomas, who herself was a teen rapper, wrote the book for “black girls who are often made to feel as if they are somehow both too much and not enough in a world that makes wrongheaded assumptions about them.” It’s frankly remarkable that a novel so heavily entrenched in the issue of systemic racism can also be lighthearted and, at times, surprisingly funny. So, plug in your headphones, and treat yourself to a compelling, fun, and earnest story of a girl who finally gets to step into the spotlight.

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons. 

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.  

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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.

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