Staff Pick: ‘A Deadly Education’ by Naomi Novik

Title: A Deadly Education

Author: Naomi Novik

Narrator: Anisha Dadia

Can anyone say with absolute confidence that they had a good high school experience? Are there people out there for whom those long, cringe-worthy years didn’t turn into a black hole of memories you no longer talk, much less think, about once you’re safely outside the reaches of adolescence? It turns out even witches and wizards have a rough time of it at the magical Welsh school, Scholomance. Only, in addition to battling the crippling embarrassment of their teenage years, they also have to fight their way past the maleficaria—monsters with a particular thirst for young witches and wizards—just to graduate.

Now that’s rough.

A Deadly Education sees Nebula Award-winning author Naomi Novik returning to series form after her two previous standalones, Uprooted and Spinning Silver. Set at the Scholomance school in Wales, A Deadly Education follows prophesized villainess-to-be Galadriel, or El, who despite her affinity for dark magic is trying to thwart her ominous destiny. Her acerbic attitude keeps people at arm’s length—that is until she inadvertently catches the attention of school darling Orion Lake. She could care less, though. All she wants to do is keep her dark powers in check and maybe, hopefully, form an alliance by graduation so she can make it out of the Scholomance alive.

I was primed to love this audiobook because my two guilty pleasures just happen to be books about witches and books about boarding schools. But even the most magic-adverse person would find themselves hard-pressed to not love El in her more vulnerable moments. Novik’s masterful ability to create memorable characters is on full display here, and narrator Anisha Dadia’s animated performance only serves to heighten El’s sharp tongue and no-nonsense attitude. If you’ve been searching for the antihero of your dreams, look no further—El is your gal.

Clocking in at just under 11 hours, A Deadly Education is a thrilling ride that puts an unexpected spin on the magic school genre. In a world where students learn magic or literally die trying, you can’t help but root for these hapless young pupils as they risk their lives to stand in the cafeteria line.

Novik has once again proven herself to be one of the most imaginative fantasy writers of our time. With A Deadly Education, she has created an endlessly fascinating albeit grotesque world for listeners to discover. Just proceed with caution and make sure the maleficaria don’t get you.

Publisher Summary:

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a school bursting with magic like you’ve never seen before, and a heroine for the ages—a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.


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Staff Pick: Fable by Adrienne Young

TitleFable
Author: Adrienne Young
NarratorsEmma Lysy

As a millennial who grew up obsessing over The Pirates of the Caribbean (and all the sequels), I’ve always had a fascination with ships, pirates, lost treasure, and the open sea. Jump to the present — I’m all “grown up” and still can’t say no to a good book about an adventure at sea. Enter Fable by Adrienne Young.

Fable follows a spunky, clever, and underestimated teenager aptly named Fable. We meet her a few years after her father abandoned her on an island of thieves just after their family ship had sunk, killing her mother. Fable bargains with West, a local trader, to gain passage to The Narrows on his ship, the Marigold, so she can reunite with her father. It turns out that it’s not as simple as that, since West isn’t exactly who she thought he was.

If you find it hard to get into a book right away, don’t worry, that is not an issue for Fable. This young adult fantasy audiobook immediately pulled me in with the immersive writing and before I knew it I felt as if I were standing aboard the Marigold listening to the crashing waves.

Emma Lysy creates the perfect picture through her narration for how I viewed Fable. She’s matter-of-fact, bold, and determined, which is the exact type of heroine I’d like to look up to as a young adult.

Need I say more? Well, if you need any other reason to pick up this adventurous listen, Fable was selected as the October pick for Reese’s new YA book club! So, there’s bound to be lots of talk about this book over the next while. Plus, it’s a duology, so there’s more to come and I for one can’t wait to hear what’s next for fearless Fable.

Publisher Summary:

Filled with all of the action, emotion, and lyrical writing that brought readers to Sky in the Deep, New York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young returns with Fable, the first audiobook in this new captivating duology.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Fable takes you on a spectacular journey filled with romance, intrigue and adventure.

Read more and sample the audio →


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Staff Pick: Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

Title: Charlotte’s Web
Author: E. B. White
Narrators: Meryl StreepRobin MilesKirby HeyborneCassandra CampbellKimberly FarrLincoln HoppeMark DeakinsTavia GilbertDanny CampbellEmily RankinJanuary LavoyMacleod Andrews, Bahni Turpin, Julia Whelan

“Terrific.” “Radiant.” “Humble.”

It turns out that the words of praise Charlotte the spider writes in her web to describe Wilbur the pig, are equally suitable when considering the audiobook of this classic story.

Helmed by the unparalleled Meryl Streep as the narrator, this recent version is the first re-release since author E. B. White’s beloved original recording from 1970. It’s a short and sweet listen – only 4 hours long – but one I know I’ll return to. The adventures of Charlotte, Wilbur and the Arable children are phenomenally brought to life in this full-cast production, in which no narrator does double-duty. For audiobook lovers, the supporting cast is a who’s who of nearly two dozen prolific narrators: January Lavoy plays Charlotte with superb subtlety; Cassandra Campbell is a nuanced Mrs Zuckerman; Tavia Gilbert is a very fun Goose; Emily Rankin expertly plays Fern; Bahni Turpin is a wonderfully memorable Lamb; even Julia Whelan makes a small cameo as Charlotte’s daughter, Joy.

Charlotte’s Web is a masterpiece of juvenile literature for its moral sensibility, quotable truisms, depth of feeling, and fantastic sense of humor. White’s prose, while of course suitable for children, can truly be appreciated only in adulthood. I was particularly touched by the gentle melancholy with which he describes the changing of the seasons – so resonant for me at this time of year:

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone, over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” A little maple tree heard the cricket song and turned bright red with anxiety.

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when summer is changing into fall the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

Everybody heard the song of the crickets. Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again. The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again. Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn’t much time left. Mrs. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too. “Another summer gone,” she sighed. 

Sad, sweet, and true – and when read to you by Meryl Streep (et. al.), nothing short of breathtaking. Charlotte’s Web is my staff pick for September for now is truly the perfect time of year to enjoy this story, but it’s also now one of my top recommendations of all time.

Publisher Summary:

Brought to life by Meryl Streep and a full cast, this beloved book by E. B. White, author of Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan, is a classic of children’s literature that is ‘just about perfect.’

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spider web tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.

E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

Includes an appreciation written and read by Caldecott Honor winner Melissa Sweet, the cover artist of this edition and author/illustrator of Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White.

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Staff Pick: The Gown by Jennifer Robson

TitleThe Gown
AuthorJennifer Robson
NarratorMarisa Calin

I don’t know about you, but between the popularity of the historical drama The Crown, and the real-life drama of the comings and goings of the Royal family of late, The Gown, written by Jennifer Robson and narrated by Marisa Calin is just what the doctor ordered! You must forgive the pun when I say that this piece—an audiobook of historical fiction—talks to the making of the wedding dress that was to be worn by Princess Elizabeth in her marriage to Philip Mountbatten. And what an intriguing subject of choice by Jennifer Robson! The weighty anticipation for Meghan Markle’s wedding dress pales in comparison to the expectancy for the dress worn by Princess Elizabeth, if for no other reason than the socio-economic backdrop of her engagement in what was then a war-exhausted England.

Even setting aside the recent fascination with the Royals, The Gown is an audiobook that is well worthy of every minute of its 11 hours and 38 minutes’ narration. Jennifer Robson carefully builds its storyline around three female protagonists: Ann, a 25-year-old self-admitted “plain girl”; Miriam, a French Holocaust survivor; and over 6 decades later, Ann’s granddaughter, Heather, who is determined to discover the significance of a box of exquisitely embroidered flowers bequeathed to her by Ann. This, in and of itself—the growth of the characters and their relationships—makes for an intriguing tale.

Add to that narrator Marisa Calin‘s voice and narrative flair are perfect for the subject matter at hand. She transports the listener effortlessly from wherever they may choose to listen and thrusts us into the throes of the lives of these three strong female characters, and the interesting and unexpected twists and turns their lives take over the span of multiple decades.

Whether you devoutly devour every bit of the daily barrage of news about the Royals, passionately take sides on Harry and Meghan’s UK exit (like my mum!), stand passively by with mere (mild) curiosity (more like I do), or lie somewhere in-between, The Gown—interwoven with just the right amount of drama and historical fact—is skillfully wrapped around the tale of three captivating characters which makes for a riveting story that you will not want to miss!

Publisher Summary:

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

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Staff Pick: More Myself by Alicia Keys

Title: More Myself: A Journey

Author: Alicia Keys

Narrator: Alicia Keys with Oprah WinfreyMichelle ObamaClive DavisAmerica FerreraBonoSwizz BeatsTerri AugeloCraig CookDj WaltonJay-ZKrucialLeigh Blake

There is something so special about listening to a memoir read directly by the person who lived through it. Their emotion and dialect humanize the story, making the audiobook a deeper, more intimate experience. But even my love for author-narrated memoirs did not prepare me for the work of art that is More Myself: A Journey by Alicia Keys.

Keys walks us through her life with an air of pleasant nostalgia, reflecting on the good times while sharing the lessons she learned during the hard times. From her modest upbringing in New York City, where she learned to play piano and got herself into all the typical kinds of teenage trouble, to her big break into the ruthless music industry and her experience working with huge names like Prince and Oprah. Her journey to becoming the Alicia Keys we all know and love hasn’t been easy, but she still manages to recount these heartaches with a profound positivity.

I knew that listening to Keys read this audiobook would be a treat. Even still, it needs to be said that she is an incredible narrator with a buttery-smooth voice that is somehow soothing and rousing at the same time. Not to mention that she adds another layer to this listen by integrating her musical talents and breaking into song or playing the piano throughout.

As if Key’s narration wasn’t enough of a gift, More Myself is studded with star voices from all aspects of the entertainment industry. Oprah, Bono, Michelle Obama, and Jay-Z are among some of the big names that contribute their experiences to help form a full 360-degree picture of her life.

More Myself was the beautiful journey of a talented 14-year-old girl whose dedication pushed her forward into a difficult but rewarding industry. If you’re a fan of Alicia Keys, or even just in the mood for a well-made, inspiring audiobook, this is the perfect next listen for you. 

Publisher Summary:

As one of the most celebrated musicians in the world, Alicia Keys has enraptured the globe with her heartfelt lyrics, extraordinary vocal range, and soul-stirring piano compositions. Yet away from the spotlight, Alicia has grappled with private heartache—over the challenging and complex relationship with her father, the people-pleasing nature that characterized her early career, the loss of privacy surrounding her romantic relationships, and the oppressive expectations of female perfection.

Since Alicia rose to fame, her public persona has belied a deep personal truth: she has spent years not fully recognizing or honoring her own worth. After withholding parts of herself for so long, she is, at last, exploring the questions that live at the heart of her story: Who am I, really? And once I discover that truth, how can I become brave enough to embrace it?

More Myself is part autobiography, part narrative documentary. Alicia’s journey is revealed not only through her own candid recounting but also through vivid recollections from those who have walked alongside her. The result is a 360-degree perspective on Alicia’s path, from her girlhood in Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem to the process of growth and self-discovery that we all must navigate.

In
More Myself, Alicia shares her quest for truth—about herself, her past, and her shift from sacrificing her spirit to celebrating her worth. With the raw honesty that epitomizes Alicia’s artistry, More Myself is at once a riveting account and a clarion call to listeners: to define themselves in a world that rarely encourages a true and unique identity.

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Staff Pick: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

TitleA Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
AuthorHolly Jackson
NarratorRobert FassCarol MondaKevin R. FreeMarisa CalinMichael CrouchPatricia SantomassoSean Patrick HopkinsBailey CarrGopal DivanShezi SardarAmanda Thickpenny

Like many others, the very first podcast I ever listened to was Serial. It was so addicting and kept me enthralled during my long commute to my job at the time. It’s been a while since something caught my attention like that, until I listened to A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder follows Pip, a high school senior who chooses to investigate the infamous case of a murdered girl in her hometown. Pip is convinced that the prime suspect didn’t actually commit this crime, so she starts digging into the details and someone in town isn’t too happy about it.

The story is told through Pip’s project log, which gives us an insight to her inner thoughts and information that she gathers from her investigations. I also loved the fact that this audiobook featured a full cast, so that the interviews Pip did in-person or over the phone seemed that much more real.

While I did notice some similarities in this story to Serial and some investigations did mirror the ones that were featured in the Serial podcast, this story definitely took a different route than I expected and it had me guessing the whole way through. I got so heavily invested in these characters, I even shed a tear while listening on my drive home one night.

Even though I’m a fully grown adult, I’m shamelessly a fan of teen dramas. There, I said it. Riverdale, Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Degrassi…you name it, I’ve watched it. Plus, I love all things horror, thriller, and true crime. If that sounds like you too, then you’re not going to want to miss A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.

Publisher Summary:

For readers of Kara Thomas and Karen McManus, an addictive, twisty crime thriller with shades of Serial and Making a Murderer about a closed local murder case that doesn’t add up, and a girl who’s determined to find the real killer–but not everyone wants her meddling in the past.

Everyone in Fairview knows the story.

Pretty and popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town.

But she can’t shake the feeling that there was more to what happened that day. She knew Sal when she was a child, and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer?

Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her final project, at first just to cast doubt on the original investigation. But soon she discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent . . . and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

This is the story of an investigation turned obsession, full of twists and turns and with an ending you’ll never expect.

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