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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Staff Pick: Layoverland by Gabby Noone

Post by Erin O’Neill

TitleLayoverland
Author: Gabby Noone
Narrator: Sophie Amoss

When I first heard about Layoverland, I was told that it’s comparable to one of my favorite shows, The Good Place. For anyone who hasn’t watched the show, it follows a morally-unsound lady after her death and through her journey in the afterlife. She builds friendships with some memorable characters, gets herself in some cheeky trouble, and finds a little bit of romance. For me, The Good Place has it all. How could anything compare?

Let me tell you, Layoverland did not disappoint. It’s like a delicate nod to all of the things I loved about the show but with a different take on the afterlife. Though it may sound like a drama, the story maintains light-hearted humor throughout. And just like The Good Place, the audiobook brings lots of light to a dark situation.

Beatrice Fox, a bitter, mean, and hilarious high school student, wakes up in an airplane with no idea where she’s going. One minute she was driving home, the next flying through the air. At the airport, Bea finds out she died in a car crash and was taken to… neutral ground, a.k.a Layoverland. She is told that she will, one day, be sent to Heaven but must earn her spot by proving she has a good heart. Because of Bea’s natural sarcasm and extreme pessimism, she’ll have to work extra hard to make it to Heaven. Her task: help 5000 people on their way to Heaven say goodbye to the life they lived on Earth.

Like a real airport, people are constantly coming and going through this story, which is quite impressive of Gabby Noone. Her characters were all lovable and had their own distinctive personality. I especially loved Bea’s mentor in her airport job, a perky beauty queen named Sadie, who died during a pageant in the 80s – very memorable. Noone’s writing reminded me of what I loved about The Good Place but her witty style made the story all new and exciting.

I was equally impressed with narrator Sophie Amoss, who nailed how I’d expected Bea to speak: with a young but very jaded voice. And even with so many characters, I could always distinguish who was talking by the sound of their voice. I would definitely listen to her narrate another audiobook in the future.

Overall, Layoverland was a lot of fun to listen to. It was sharp, funny, and at times even really sweet. Just like The Good Place, this book surprised me with a thought-provoking and enticing story of the afterlife, a story that I didn’t want to end.

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STAFF PICK: Theme Music by T. Marie Vandelly

Title: Theme Music
Author: T. Marie Vandelly
Narrator: Sarah Mollo-Christensen

Dixie, when I let you go
Thought you’d realize that I would know
I would show
The special love I have for you
My baby blue

Upon first reading the synopsis for Theme Music I immediately thought of The Amityville Horror and it definitely had a similar feeling to it with a mysterious family murder and a ghostly presence in the place where it all began. What set Theme Music apart for me was the unique twists and turns that the story took. From horror to psychological thriller to family drama – this fast-paced listen kept me hooked all the way through.

When Dixie Wheeler was just a baby her father murdered her entire family on Thanksgiving day. A neighbor found her, the only survivor, in her high chair while Baby Blue by Badfinger echoed through the empty house. Thus, Dixie’s nickname Baby Blue was born and the Wheeler murders became something of a local legend.

After being raised by her aunt and uncle, 25 years later Dixie wants answers about what happened that day. Dixie moves into her family home where her life was forever changed and now, she must come face to face with the ghosts of her past…which seem a little too real. Once people start to turn up dead around her, she wonders how real those ghosts actually are.

I must warn you, if you do plan to embark on this twisty tale, there is a fair bit of gore – especially right off the bat. But the way that T. Marie Vandelly describes the macabre really sets the scene and allows you to immerse yourself in the story. Since Dixie was only a baby when the murders took place, she can only recount that day from what she’s read in newspapers and heard from rumors and gossip from people around town. In a way, the reader is in the same position as Dixie – we see everything through Dixie’s eyes and we learn everything she learns about what happened that day. This makes every twist that much more suspenseful! I’m telling you, I couldn’t listen to this audiobook fast enough – I had to know what would happen next!

Theme Music was narrated by Sarah Mollo-Christensen, an Audie-nominated narrator who has lent her voice to over 70 audiobooks on Audiobooks.com. Sarah’s portrayal of Dixie expertly mixed Dixie’s dark humor and uneasiness, which allowed me to connect with her character that much more.

Ghost story? Check. Psychological thriller? Check. Crime fiction? Check. If you’re looking for a new listen that’s packed with all of the goodness listed above, then you’ll definitely want to give T. Marie Vandelly‘s debut novel, Theme Music a listen.

Publisher Summary:

She didn’t run from her dark past. She moved in. 

For the lucky among us, life is what you make of it; but for Dixie Wheeler, the theme music for her story was chosen by another long ago, on the day her father butchered her mother and brothers and then slashed a knife across his own throat. Only one-year-old Dixie was spared, becoming infamously known as Baby Blue for the song left playing in the aftermath of the slaughter.
 

Twenty-five years later, Dixie is still desperate for a connection to the family she can’t remember. So when her childhood home goes up for sale, Dixie sets aside all reason and moves in. But as the ghosts of her family seemingly begin to take up residence in the house that was once theirs, Dixie starts to question her own sanity and wonders if the evil force menacing her is that of her father or a demon of her own making. 

In order to make sense of her present, Dixie becomes determined to unravel the truth of her past and seeks out the detective who originally investigated the murders. But the more she learns, the more she opens up the uncomfortable possibility that the sins of her father may belong to another. As bodies begin to pile up around her, Dixie must find a way to expose the lunacy behind her family’s massacre to save her few loved ones that are still alive—and whatever scrap of sanity she has left...

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STAFF PICK: 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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