Audio book: The Night in Question

by Liz Lawson and Kathleen Glasgow
Read by Sophie Amoss, Holly Linneman & Mehr Dudeja
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Release date: May 30, 2023
Others in the series: The Agathas
Content: There is some mild swearing, talk of out-of-wedlock babies, violence (both domestic and other), and talk of murder. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first one, kind of.

Iris and Alice have developed a pretty solid friendship since solving Brooke’s murder four months ago. Their parents and Alice’s old friends don’t really understand it, but it’s harmless, as long as they refrain from solving any other crimes. But at the winter dance, which takes place at the Levy Castle, Alice stumbles upon another crime: Rebecca Kennedy lying in a pool of her own blood, with Helen Park standing over her. While Rebecca’s not dead, she’s severely injured enough to not say what happened, but the evidence is clear: Park stabbed her. Right? 

Well, Alice and Iris think the police are wrong (again) and take it upon themselves to figure out what happened. It takes them on a twisty path involving family (there’s a genealogy project that lurks in the background), old movie stars, the things people will do for money and fame, and will test the bounds of both Iris’ and Alice’s parents. 

I liked The Agathas, but I think this one is better. I liked the twisty mystery, and how all these disparate parts come together in the end. And while there were twists and turns, I never felt like anything was out of left field. Lawson and Glasgow are good plotters, dropping enough hints and foreshadowing that nothing felt out of place. 

And the narrators were fantastic. They all kept me engaged, helped me figure out who was who and kept the mystery from getting sluggish. This is a smart, fun series – who doesn’t love a couple of kids outsmarting the cops and figuring out mysteries? I’m here these as long as Lawson and Glasgow want to write them. 

Audiobook: Rubi Ramos’s Recipe for Success

by Jessica Parra
Read by: Karla Serrato
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Content: There is some kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Graduation is fast approaching and Rubi Ramos has everything all planned out. She is going to go to Alma college and study pre-law, and do Great Things. The only problem? She’s been waitilsted at Alma. And what she really wants to do is bake. However, for her Cuban immigrant parents who own two bakeries, baking for Rubi isn’t an option. So, Rubi has a plan: she’s going to get a math tutor to help pull her class standing up (who turns out to be really cute), and she’s going to compete in the Bake Off (without her parents knowing) and hopefully win – which comes with a trip to Cuba.

Of course, things don’t go smoothly, and there are bumps along the way.

This was a delightful romp. It’s got a baking competition! It’s got a surfer dude! It’s got immigrant parents! It’s got Cuban heritage! I liked the relationship Rubi had with her parents; they were firm and wanted a lot for Rubi, but in the end weren’t unreasonable about working with what she wanted. I loved Rubi’s friends, and the support system she had. And the whole baking competition – which was quite definintly a reference to the Great British Bake Off – with it’s baking puns and Johnny Oliver judge, was charming and silly.

The narrator was quite good as well, and I enjoyed the time I spent listening to this one. A good, fun, summery YA book.

Audiobook: Darkhearts

by James L. Sutter
Read by Ramon de Ocampo
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Release date: June 6, 2023
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including quite a few f-bombs, talk of sex, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It will be in the Teen section of the bookstore.

In middle school, David started a band – Darkhearts – with his friends Eli and Chance. They had some success playing gigs in the Seattle area, where they lived, but after a while, David got annoyed with Eli and Chance hogging the spotlight and so quit the band. However, after he left, Darkhearts got huge. Like super huge. And David’s held a grudge ever since because he feels he missed out. 

But, Chance is back in town – Eli died of an overdose, and Chance came for the funeral and to regroup – and wants to reconnect with David. At first, David goes along with it grudgingly, but after a while he realizes something: he really likes Chance. Like really likes Chance. Is he going to be able to get past everything else – Chance’s fame, his own resentment, his father’s concern – and be able to throw himself into this relationship? Does he even want to? 

This was so incredibly delightful. The characters, the depection of a teenage boy band, the cool things they went. David’s best freind, Rachel. The fluidity of his sexuality, and the total non-issue that it was. The romance – and while it kind of followed the beats of a romance novel, I appreciated David’s growth over the whole thing. De Ocampo was a fabulous narrator as well; pulling me into a story that I may have dismissed in print. 

Highly recommended.

AudioBook:Harvest House

by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Read by Shaun Taylor-Corbett and Charley Flyte
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Content: There are some intense moments involving danger for young indigenous women, instances of racism, some mild swearing, and mention of murder. It’s in the YA section ( grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s the fall, and since the play at school has been canceled, Hughie Wolfe has been looking for something else to do with his time and talents. Enter Sam, who talks Hughie into volunteering at the Harvest House haunted house. This sounds like a good idea until the person in charge decides to set up an “Indian” burial ground and lean into the legend of the “Indian Maiden” ghost at the crossroads. This makes Hughie, who is Muskogee (I think; at least that’s what is sticking in my head and I don’t have the book to check), angry, and so he and his friends decide to investigate the legend and see what truth lies behind it.

It’s part high school drama set in a small Kansas town, nearby Lawrence – Hughie is a sophomore, so there is some drama with bullies and he has his first date with Marie, who is Ojibwe, in addition to the drama about cutting the funds for the drama department – part ghost story. Hughie’s chapters are interspersed with Celeste’s, who is the ghost of the crossroads and whose mission is to protect indigenous girls from the predator that lurks there.

I liked a lot of this book. I liked that it’s an indigenous story set here in Kansas, I liked Leitich Smith’s portrayal of indigenous kids in a non-reservation environment. She really leaned into the racism – so many instances of racism by white people towards the native kids, and in ways they didn’t even think about. I felt like she didn’t go hard enough in the ghost story and backed away from a truly macabre ending, but it is a young YA book, so I can’t really fault that. The narrators were good, though I thought it was dragging by the end, and I sped up the listening speed just so I could finish.

I’m glad it’s out there, though, and I hope it can find its audience.

Don’t Call Me a Hurricane

by Ellen Hagan
First sentence: “‘Grab your board,’ Isa shouts, throwing open the screen door letting sunshine and cool breeze into our living room.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at work
Content: There is mention of teenage drinking and some intense moments with a natural disaster. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Eliza’s life hasn’t been the same in the five years since the hurricane hit her island off the Jersey shore. Sure, her family’s still living there, still scraping by, but the island itself has changed. Developers have come in, and bought up houses, knocked them down, in the name of progress. The latest example? They want to build out the marshland. And Eliza – and her friends – don’t want to lose that much of their island.

It also doesn’t help that a new boy – Milo – is from New York City, is one of those rich summer-only island visitors and that Eliza seems to be falling for him.

This one had all the elements I like: it’s about the ocean and island living! It’s got a strong female character! It’s a novel in verse! There’s a strong environmental message! But it fell completely flat. Not so flat that I didn’t finish it, but flat enough that I found myself skimming the chapters, just enough to get the information. I wanted to like this one so much more than I actually did. Not sure where it went wrong: Eliza is a good character and Hagan does a good job of showing the trauma after a natural disaster (though she did amp up the stakes by almost killing Eliza’s brother in the storm), but I just didn’t connect with it.

Audiobook: Forget Me Not

by Alyson Derrick
Read by Natalie Naudus
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Content: There is homophobia, overt racism, mention of teenage drinking, and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Stevie and Nora are in love. They have been secretly dating for two years – secretly because they live in a conservative town, in conservative families, who – they know – would kick them out for being gay. So, they date in secret and have made a plan to get out and go to California, so they can live together, out in the open. 

But, as they were together in the woods one day, Stevie has a bad fall, with a bad head injury, and after two weeks in an induced coma, she woke up with no memories of the past two years. Which means she has no memory of her relationship with Nora.  

When I first started listening to this one I thought it was super contrived: who loses just two years of their memories? But the more I listened, the more I got it. Derrick is exploring some interesting things here. Like: if you were acculturated to believe you were straight, and forgot about your discovery of your sexuality, will you be straight or gay? It’s gay, of course, but I thought it was fascinating how Derrick got there after the accident. Also: I felt so much for Nora – the one person who knew everything, and yet couldn’t say anything. I also found it interesting the way Derrick portrayed the parents. Stevie’s dad is a Fox-news watching mechanic, so I formed Opinions about him. He didn’t do much to refute that, until the end. I’m not sure I believe it, but it’s there. It was a fascinating exploration. 

It helped that Naudus is an excellent narrator, keeping me engaged and propelling the story forward. This one would be a good book for a book group; there’s a lot to think about and discuss here. And I quite liked it.

Audiobook: Ander & Santi Were Here

by Jonny Garza Villa
Read by: Avi Roque
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including many f-bombs, marijuana use, and mention of sex (it’s not quite on-screen, but not entirely off- either)

Ander is taking a gap year after they graduated high school to figure things out. They’ve been accepted into a prestigious art school in Chicago, but for right now, they’re doing an internship with a non-profit in their hometown of San Antonio. But then their parents and grandmother hire Santi at their taquira, and Ander’s world turns upside down. But it’s not just first love: Santi is an undocumented immigrant, which poses all kinds of complications for their relationship.

I really enjoyed this one, especially on audio. The narrator was fantastic, and kept me interested the whole way through. But, it was also about art and finding one’s voice (can you find a voice in art?) and expressing the true version of oneself. It’s about this country’s messed-up immigration system. But it was also about family, and being there for and supporting each other.

I loved how effortless that Latinx elements were, and how much Villa just sprinkled it with Spanish. it felt very authentic and real, and I could just imagine Ander and Santi at different places around San Antonio. An excellent read.

Audio book: Pet

by Akwaeke Emezi
Read by Christopher Meyer
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Content: There is a lot of mild swearing and one f-bomb, and illusions to sexual assault. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Jam lives in a world free of monsters. The citizens of the city of Lucille defeated the monsters and created a just and equitable world. But one night, Jam’s mother, Bitter, paints a monstrous-looking creature, and Jam accidentally brings it through the canvas into the real world. Initially, Jam thinks the creature is a monster, but it – Pet – is out to Hunt monsters, which it says is in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Hunting monsters is not an easy task, and it is one that Jam resists at first, but eventually, they recruit Redemption’s help to find and defeat the monster.

The thing is: the monsters aren’t “monsters”. They’re people who do monstrous things. Which is what I thought at the beginning, but then an actual non-human being showed up, and I was confused: is monster literal? Is it metaphorical? Is it both? I don’t know.

That’s not saying that I wasn’t intriged by this one. Myers was a fabulous narrator, and he kept me engaged in the story when I was confused about what was going on. I loved the representation: Jam is trans and Black, and the matter-of-fact-ness of Jam’s personhood was refreshing.

And in the end, the book is probably more about complacency than anything else: Lucille thought that they had defeated the monsters, which meant there were not going to be any more monsters, ever. This turned out to be untrue, so maybe we just have to keep fighting the monsters even if it’s hard and we don’t want to?

Anyway, that’s what I got out of it.

Audio book: The Black Flamingo

by Dean Atta
Read by the author
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Content: There is some swearing, talk of gay sex, and (older) teen drinking and drug use. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Michael has spent his life feeling different from everyone else. A mixed-race kid (half-Black, half-Greek-Cypriate) in a mostly white London neighborhood, and as a boy who likes more traditionally “girly” things. He tries to find a place for himself in a religious school, with a female best friend, and in the drama department, though some of his crushes on boys don’t go over well (he gets the “you’re going to hell” speech more than once). But it’s not until he gets to university, and finds the Drag club, that he truly begins to Find Himself.

I read this as part of Trans Awareness Readathon week, mostly because I thought there would be more about gender fluidity and drag. There wasn’t. However, there was a lot about identity in general, both as a Black man in a majority white society and as a gay man in a conservative school. It was good – though listening to it on audio means I missed out on the novel as verse aspect. And because it was read by the author (who did well with it), I mistakenly thought it was a memoir for a while (there are some striking similarities between Michael the character and Atta the author). Even with all of that, it was a short, good listen, and I’m glad I got to experience Michael and his story.

Warrior Girl Unearthed

by Angeline Boulley
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Release date: May 2, 2023
Content: It addresses r*pe, sexual assault, predatory behaviors, and missing Indigenous women. There is some swearing and talk of drug use. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

What Perry Firekeeper-Birch wanted for the summer: to be lazy, to go fishing, to enjoy the sunshine. What she got: a job with the Ojibwe summer intern program, working at the Tribal museum. What she expected: the summer to be Boring. What she got: a fascinating education in her Tribal history, and in the repatriation (or not) of the items stolen by museums and colleges, including the local Mackinac State University.

That’s just where the summer starts, though. It’s 2014, and there is unrest in the country, with the shooting of Michael Brown, and that hits close to home because Perry’s dad is half Black. Additionally, Indigenous women in the community have gone missing, and her sister, who is working with the Tribal police, is helping look for them. But it all comes to a head when Perry discovers unearthed graves in the yard of a local “businessman” who was going to donate artifacts back to the tribe, but instead gives them to Mackinac State.

It sounds like a lot – and this is just scratching the surface – but Boulley is a talented enough storyteller to weave these seemingly disparate story threads together into a very satisfying whole. The story is less about missing Indigenous women and repatriating lost/stolen artifacts than it is about Perry learning how to take responsibility and be a leader in her community. It’s her growth arc – though the characters of her friends and twin sister (and yes, Daunis from Firekeeper’s Daughter shows up) are fully fleshed out and not simple caricatures. I love how Boulley is able to weave in the Ojibwe language and traditions in a way that feels respectful but is also informative for those of us who are not Ojibwe. It’s a feat to be able to put so much into a book and have it flow seamlessly.

In short: I loved it.