STAFF PICK: Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

Title: Girls with Sharp Sticks
Author: Suzanne Young
Narrator: Caitlin Davies

Girls With Sharp Sticks, by Suzanne Young, New York Times bestselling author of The Program was an exciting new addition to Audiobooks.com in March. I have to admit, it was the intriguing cover of this book that drew me in and then with a description likening it to Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale, I was ready to dive right in. This comparison made me wonder if Girls with Sharp Sticks could go toe-to-toe with such hard-hitters, but it definitely held its own!

Girls with Sharp Sticks is set at Innovations Academy, an old technology factory turned finishing school for girls. From the moment the story opens, there is the looming feeling that there’s more to this academy and these girls than meets the eye.

The protagonist, Philomena (Mena for short), is a model student at Innovations Academy, but begins to question certain practices and suspects that there’s something that they aren’t telling the students. This leads to lots of shocking revelations and twists and turns that keep you hooked.

I saw myself in Mena with the way she was vulnerable yet strong and her unfaltering dedication to her friends was what drew the strongest connection for me. Listening to this book was exciting, suspenseful and it made me want to yell “GIRL POWER!” from the rooftops.

It helps that the narrator, Caitlin Davies, portrays the characters distinctly, so that you are immersed in the shut off academy in the mountains. There are definite times where I got lost in Mena’s world so much so, that I didn’t even realize it was one single person narrating each one of the characters. This is especially true for the creepy feeling I got every time Davies would read the lines from the Guardian, one of the staff at Innovations Academy.

If you’re a fan of The Program series from Suzanne Young, then this listen is right up your alley. Girls with Sharp Sticks has many of the same themes throughout it and a similar dark, dystopian-type setting to it that you will find all too familiar.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, mystery/thriller that will have your ears glued to your headphones, Girls with Sharp Sticks is the perfect next listen for you. I think there’s definitely more to this story, so I’m looking forward to the next installment from Young to see what other twists she can throw into the mix.

Publisher’s Summary:

Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this start to a thrilling, subversive near future series from New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young about a girls-only private high school that is far more than it appears to be.

Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardian, they receive a well-rounded education that promises to make them better. Obedient girls, free from arrogance or defiance. Free from troublesome opinions or individual interests.

But the girls’ carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears. As Mena and her friends uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations Academy will learn to fight back.

Bringing the trademark plot twists and high-octane drama that made The Program a bestselling and award-winning series, Suzanne Young launches a new series that confronts some of today’s most pressing ethical questions.

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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: Lies You Never Told Me by Jennifer Donaldson

Post by Laura Laidman

Title: Lies You Never Told Me
Author: Jennifer Donaldson
Narrator: Jorjeana Marie and Dylan Calderon

Two people hold secrets that could not only tear apart their lives, but the lives of those they care about most. Told in dueling perspectives, Lies You Never Told Me by Jennifer Donaldson follows Gabe, an Austin native whose latest toxic relationship isn’t ready to let him go, and Elyse, a talented young actress in Portland who finds herself falling for exactly the wrong kind of man. Separated by thousands of miles, Gabe and Elyse’s lives are about to come crashing together in a way that will leave them both changed forever.

I was immediately sucked in by the premise of this book. Just like the secrets the protagonists hold, the story itself unfolds slowly before the reader until you’re left racing through the minutes, unable to press pause until every detail is unveiled. Listening to Gabe navigate through the ending of his relationship with an obsessed woman who won’t let him go while meeting a new woman who is everything he needs is heart wrenching and, at times, terrifying. But it’s Elyse who truly held my attention throughout the audiobook. The layers of her life unfurl themselves in a dizzying display that keeps racing forward until her story left me wide-eyed with shock.

As the point of view switches throughout the book between Gabe and Elyse, so does the narration. This switching narration makes Lies You Never Told Me all the more engrossing. Jorjeana Marie’s soft, determined Elyse is met perfectly by newcomer Dylan Calderon’s compassionate and sometimes impulsive Gabe. The back and forth flow of storytelling keeps the plot crisp and quick, and helped me feel closer to both protagonists as I listened to the book.

I was honestly a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and more so how it stuck with me for days after I completed it. I found myself returning to parts of the story to look for clues I missed along the way, and to revisit the moments that really tugged at my heart. I may have a second complete listen in my near future!

Lies You Never Told Me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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