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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STAFF PICK: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Title: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Narrator: Derek Perkins

A mere half-decade ago, a brilliant albeit obscure Israeli professor of history took the literary world by storm. Published first in Hebrew in 2011 and translated into English in 2014, Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens transformed the history of humankind—a gargantuan topic in itself—into a household conversation piece. In 2016, Harari published a follow-up, Homo Deus, which extended the scope of Sapiens to examine the future of humankind. Now, he has turned his sights to the present with 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, which reflects on topical issues plaguing the here and now.

Harari poses some big questions in his introduction: “What are today’s greatest challenges and choices? What should we pay attention to? What should we teach our kids?” The book, broken into five sections that cover technology, politics, fear, truth, and resilience, attempt to examine the major forces that will influence the future of our planet. The scope of the book is huge, yet Harari acknowledges the lessons and issues he grapples with within 300 pages is not exhaustive of all that we could learn. Rather, 21 Lessons for the 21 Century is, as he puts it, a stepping stone to “help readers participate in some of the major conversations of our time.”

Harari delves into topics ranging from immigration to religion to artificial intelligence with eloquence and clarity. As was made clear in Sapiens and Homo Deus, the true mark of his talent as a scholarly writer is his ability to delineate information in an accessible and engaging manner. Much of the content builds on what he has discussed before in Sapiens and Homo Deus, so readers familiar with Harari’s previous works will recognize certain arguments and strands of thinking.

Derek Perkins is, as always, an exquisite narrator. If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine I am once again sitting in a grand lecture hall at university, listening to a particularly captivating professor muse about the predicament of our world. Perkins, without fail, manages to transform Harari’s words into a lively conversation.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century may not be an exhaustive book, but it is a crucial book for anyone who wishes to join the global conversation. Those who have read Harari’s previous works will not be disappointed, and those discovering him for the first time may well stumble upon a new favorite.

 

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STAFF PICK: Ponti by Sharlene Teo

Post by Miranda Winters-Sayle

Title: Ponti
Author: Sharlene Teo
Narrator: Vera Chok

Capturing the profound affect relationships have on our futures, Ponti is cleverly told through three perspectives that reflect the past, present, and future. Sixteen-year-old Szu struggles to connect with her distant mother, Amisa, a once beautiful actress who claimed her 15 minutes of fame in a B-list horror movie. Szu befriends Circe, a sharp-tongued privileged girl equally lonely as her, and the two develop an intense friendship that will change their lives forever.

Set in Singapore, Amisa’s younger years are explored as she stars in Ponti!, a horror movie about a monster that masquerades as a beautiful young woman to lure in its victims. Amisa, who plays a ghost, must come to terms that the movie has neither kick started her career as an actress or brought her the fame and happiness she dreamed of.

In the future, we learn that Circe is helping produce a remake of the Ponti! trilogy, which causes her to confront her own guilt for abandoning Szu after she experiences a major loss.

I was surprised that Ponti is Sharlene Teo‘s debut novel. The imagery she uses made me feel as though I were in Singapore, and the characters were so well developed that I felt like I knew them personally. The teenage relationship between Szu and Circe were written so realistically — their bond, dialogue, and teenage angst were relatable and recognizable.

Vera Chok was a fantastic choice to narrate Ponti, as she was able to seamlessly portray young Szu just as effectively as middle-aged Circe. Her knowledge of Chinese and Malay allowed her to perform accents, which is vital for a novel like Ponti, which reflects a distinct culture and its surreal cities and people.

 

Ponti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: The Piranhas by Roberto Saviano

Title: The Piranhas: The Boy Bosses of Naples
Author: Roberto Saviano
Narrator: Edoardo Ballerini

Seduced by easy money and pushed by a complex reality, Nicolas Fiorillo is the 15-year-old protagonist of The Piranhas: The Boy Bosses of Naples, which exposes the real-life phenomenon of youth gangs, or paranza. Paranza refers not only to gangs, but to the “boats that go out to catch fish through trickery of light… It takes possession of it, and the fish come looking for it.”

The author, an Italian journalist who grew up in Naples, saw his first murder victim at 13. His own father, a doctor, suffered a beating for trying to help an 18-year-old left to die in the street, who was a victim of the Camorra, an Italian Mafia-type crime syndicate.

Saviano begins his stunning novel with a profound statement:

“What you are about to read actually occurred. Facts have been modified and connected to others in order to make a violent and complex world more comprehensible…”

Violent and brutal and glamorous, The Piranhas is weaved with details found in his international crime classic, Gomorrah, which traced the decline of Naples under the Camorra rule. Since its publication, he has been placed under police protection.

Nicolas, an ambitious and promising teenager from the slums of Naples, has a dark desire to acquire power and wealth. Backed by a group of loyal friends, he sets out to create his own paranza, roaming the streets while learning how to become gangsters. What begins with small-time cheating and stealing soon becomes shooting semiautomatic pistols and AK-47s. Saviano succeeds at reminding listeners of the stark reality of child gangsters, such as having Nicolas and his friends play PlayStation in between committing crimes.

Narrator Edoardo Ballerini‘s ability to portray a variety of characters made listening a smooth and entrancing experience. Filled with inevitable consequences that all criminals face while climbing to the top, The Piranhas will leave you in awe of Naples while also grieving for it.

The Piranhas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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STAFF PICK: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Post by Miranda Winter-Sayle

Title: Vox
Author: Christina Dalcher
Narrator: Julia Whelan

Imagine you could only speak 100 words a day. How do you determine the importance of every word? This is the decision that Dr. Jean McClellan and all female citizens of the United States must make every day, in the world of this debut novel.

Vox, by Christina Dalcher, is a precautionary tale of a possible future for the United States. Women are not allowed to speak more than 100 words a day – a law that is upheld by bracelets that emit an electric shock that grows worse with every word spoken above the limit. Women are not permitted to have jobs, read, or travel outside the United States.

(I reached the end of my own 100 words in the middle of the previous sentence. Of course, in the society in Vox, I would not be permitted to write this review at all.)

Dr. Jean McClellan is a cognitive linguist who was researching the reversal of brain damage that caused a person’s inability to speak. Her research abruptly ended when religious extremists took over the United States and the subsequent introduction of patriarchal laws forbid women’s participation in society. But when the president’s brother is injured, she is given a choice: regain her voice and continue her research to save one of the men responsible this new world, or refuse and face implicit consequences – in silence.

As a fan of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I was incredibly excited to listen to Vox — and it did not disappoint. The premise is well-executed and the world that Dalcher creates is terrifyingly believable. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Vox’s dystopia is in its early days, which allows the audience to witness the before and the after of the new world. The description of the evolution of modern day society into this universe was easily my favorite part of the novel.

Julia Whelan is a narrator I’ve heard before and she never fails to disappoint. Her tone perfectly reflects the anger that Dr. McClellan feels through the duration of the novel. She captures the somber tone of the novel expertly.

Vox was included on many most-anticipated summer releases lists, and now I understand why: its timely subject matter and original storytelling make it a compelling listen, and one I would definitely recommend.

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The Best Audiobooks For Books Lovers Day

Sans the pressure of chocolates and roses, Book Lovers Day is the Valentine’s Day for bookish people around the world. Celebrate with these great audiobooks (and tell us in the comments what listens you’ve been loving lately!).

 

1. Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware, narrated by Imogen Church

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person, but also that she may be able to claim the money. Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased… where it dawns on her that there is something very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.
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2. Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too by Gary Vaynerchuk, narrated by Gary VaynerchukRich RollAmy Schmittauer

Crushing It.

In this lively, practical, and inspiring audiobook, Gary dissects every current major social media platform so that anyone will know exactly how to amplify their personal brand. He offers both theoretical and tactical advice on old standbys and emerging platforms. For those with more experience, Crushing It! provides innovative tips and tweaks proven to enhance more common tried-and-true strategies.
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3. The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, narrated by Dennis Quaid

The President Is Missing

Uncertainty and fear grip the nation. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the Cabinet. Even the President himself becomes a suspect, and then he disappears from public view… The President Is Missing sheds a stunning light upon the inner workings and vulnerabilities of our nation. Filled with information that only a former Commander-in-Chief could know, this is the most authentic, terrifying novel to come along in years.
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4. Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, narrated by Rachel Hollis

Girl, Wash Your Face

With wry wit and hard-earned wisdom, popular online personality and founder of TheChicSite.com founder Rachel Hollis helps readers break free from the lies keeping them from the joy-filled and exuberant life they are meant to have.
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5. Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman, narrated by Catherine Steadman

Something in the Water.

If you could make one simple choice that would change your life forever, would you? Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banked with big plans. Passionately in love, they embark on a dream honeymoon in Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving, they find something in the water.
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6. Factfulness by Hans RoslingOla Rosling, and Anna Rosling, narrated by Richard Harries

Factfulness.

When asked simple questions about global trends, we get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess us. Factfulness reveals the instincts that distort our perspective. It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think.
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7. I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara, narrated by Gabra Zackman

I'll Be Gone In The Dark.

For more than 10 years, a mysterious and violent predator committed 50 sexual assaults in California before perpetrating 10 sadistic murders. Then he disappeared. Three decades later, true crime journalist Michelle McNamara was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer” by poring over police reports and interviewing victims.
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8. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown, narrated by John CurlessTim Gerard ReynoldsJulian Elfer, and Aedin Moloney

Iron Gold.

Honor and betrayal fuel a caste-shattering revolution. Ten years after the events of Morning Star, Darrow and the Rising are battling the remaining Gold loyalist forces and are closer than ever to abolishing the color-coded caste system of Society for good. But new foes will emerge from the shadows to threaten the imperfect victory Darrow and his friends have earned.
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