BACKLIST BUMP: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Title: The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Narrators: Emily Woo ZellerJames Fouhey

Every year, twice a year, everyone and everything between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn loses their shadows. For a few brief moments, the sun shines directly overhead in that area, and everyone’s shadows shrink ever and ever smaller until they magically disappear. The shadows always return, of course, after which everyone goes about their lives. Until, one day, in a marketplace in India, a man named Hemu Joshi inexplicably loses his shadow forever.

He becomes a global sensation, strutting about without his dark companion. Doctors and scientists are baffled; news outlets are enraptured. It seems like a miracle until Hemu begins to lose his memories—and then, as the consequences of his memory loss become apparent, horror ensues. Before long, others begin to lose their shadows, forgetting themselves and their realities, collapsing the world as we know it. And so, the story begins.

In the aftermath of the Forgetting, Orlando “Ory” Zhang and his wife Max have taken refuge in the hotel they had been staying in for a wedding when the Forgetting reached the United States. When Max loses her shadow, she quietly slips away while Ory is out scavenging to spare him the pain and anguish that will inevitably follow.

The story unfolds as Ory embarks on a desperate journey across an unrecognizable United States to find Max before she forgets completely. The opening chapter is a powerful emotional hook, compelling and tender with just the right amount of exposition—by far one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

The Book of M straddles the line between science fiction and romance, and Peng Shepherd is an expert at threading tender, human connections through a world that is wholly new, disturbing, and at times nonsensical. As the inescapable shadowless disease spreads and reality becomes unhinged, listeners are anchored by Ory and Max’s bond, which is a steadfast, comforting force that propels the story through strange and frightening terrain.

James Fouhey is a transformative narrator, bringing to life three out of four characters through whom the story is told: Ory Zhang; Mahnaz Ahmadi, an Iranian athlete training in the USA; and The One Who Gathers, a mysterious individual with a unique understanding of memory. Rounding out the cast is Emily Woo Zeller as Max, whose poignant, heartbreaking performance is an absolute standout.

Clocking in at just over 17 hours, The Book of M isn’t exactly a short listen, but Shepherd makes every second of it necessary and meaningful. With plenty of post-apocalyptic intrigue and lyrical prose, Shepherd’s stunning dystopian debut manages to be innovative and extraordinary in a genre that is inundated with repetitive stories. Capped off with an ending that will pull the rug out from under your feet, The Book of M is a novel that you’ll want to treasure in your memory for a very long time.

Publisher’s Summary:

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

Like The Passage and Station Eleven, this haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.

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STAFF PICK: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow

Post by Jennifer Joudrey

Title: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow
Author: E.K. Johnston
Narrator: Catherine Taber

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

Star Wars fans are familiar with the legendary story of Luke Skywalker and how he used to bullseye womp rats back on Tatooine, leading him to successfully bring down the Death Star, or how about the unforgettable tale of the Millenium Falcon? It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. These stories are heavily embedded in Star Wars lore, but what about some of the unknown stories?

In Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow we are reunited with Padmé Naberrie, formerly the Queen of Naboo. Now leaving her nobility behind, she finds herself in the middle of the chaotic and dangerous Galactic Senate on the planet of Coruscant. As Queen, Padmé was always so certain of her actions, but as a Senator everything is new. Trying to maneuver her way through the volatile political climate proves challenging as she learns who she can trust and who she cannot.

The narrator Catherine Taber delivers the action-packed book in an energetic and exciting manner. Listeners familiar with the Star Wars saga will enjoy this movie-like audio experience. This book is full of characters that are well-known in the Star Wars universe, and she gives each character a dynamic presence in audio form. Through her tone, the listener can hear both the strength of Padmé as a character who successfully defended her home planet of Naboo from invasion, and her vulnerability as a new Senator attempting to navigate an ever changing political environment.

This is E.K. Johnston’s second Star Wars novel. Similar to her previous novel, Johnston was able to provide more background and history to a character that has such an important role in the fandom that Star Wars fans know and love. She has provided us with a detailed account of the struggles that Padmé faced entering the Galactic Senate because of factors such as her age, gender, and inexperience. There has been a lot of debate recently regarding the way that female characters are portrayed in the media, and Johnston’s portrayal of Padmé shows strength and determination in the face of adversity. Writing a book about such a pivotal character could be a daunting task, however, Johnston effectively bridges what we know about Padmé’s past and future in an exciting read.

Listening to a Star Wars audiobook will be a game-changer for any fan of the movies. I cannot recommend them enough. Other amazing titles to check out would be:
Star Wars Ahsoka, Phasma, and Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi Leia, Princess of Alderaan.

Publisher Summary:

Written by the #1 New York Times best-selling author of Star Wars Ahsoka!

When Padmé Naberrie, ‘Queen Amidala’ of Naboo, steps down from her position, she is asked by the newly-elected queen to become Naboo’s representative in the Galactic Senate. Padmé is unsure about taking on the new role, but cannot turn down the request to serve her people. Together with her most loyal handmaidens, Padmé must figure out how to navigate the treacherous waters of politics and forge a new identity beyond the queen’s shadow.

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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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