Audiobook: Blood Debts

by Terry J Benton-Walker
Read by Bahni Turpin, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Torian Brackett & Zeno Robinson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or Listen at Libro.fm
Release date: April 4, 2023
Content: There is a lot of violence, a lot of swearing, including many f-bombs, and an on-screen sex scene. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The basic plot? Clem and Chris Trudeau are practitioners of Generational magic – a branch of magic along with Light and Moon and Necromancy. But their family hasn’t had the best history with it. Their grandmother was the leader of the Gen magic council but was framed for murder and killed by an angry mom. Their father was killed after something went wrong with a spell Chris cast. And their mother was slowly dying until they found the cause: a hex doll. Chris and Clem are determined (in spite of adults telling them to stay out of it) to figure out why their family has had such a run of bad luck with magic and fix it.

Truth be told, it’s a LOT more than just that. This book has everything. Family drama? Check. Solving multiple murders? Check. Stupid white people with grudges and guns? Check. Authorities refusing to help because the Trudeaus are black? Check. Zombies? Check. (Seriously.) Wonderfully sweet gay love? Check. Complicated gay love? Check. This book has EVERYTHING. It’s so much.

That’s not to say it was bad. It wasn’t. The audio is especially good – the narrators pulled me in and kept me coming back for more, even as I wanted to cringe and pull away because it’s a LOT. But, I really liked the magic system Benton-Walker dreamed up, and I liked the way he wove the challenges and triumphs of Black people into the book. There’s surprisingly a lot to talk about. (There’s just a LOT. Period.)

In the end, I think it was good? I’m still reeling from the end, and I want to know if there’s another, so at the very least, it hooked me.

Audio book: Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

by Talia Hibbert
Read by: Amina Koroma & Jonathan Andrew Hume
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is talk of sex and lots of swearing including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Celine Bangura is a driven person. She wants to succeed, be the best, and — not least on her list — show her deadbeat dad who left her, her sister, and their mother to start a new family that he’s better than he is. So, she signs up for an elite scholarship opportunity that will not only allow her to study law but will also give her that prime opportunity to show up her dad. But when her ex-best friend-turned-traitor Bradley Graeme decides to do the program as well? It’s just become that much more important that Celine get one of the coveted golden compasses.

However, once they get into the program, Celine and Bradley discover that not only do they work together well, their old friendship – once everything has been explained and forgiven – just might be something more.

This one was super cute. I liked that both characters were driven and smart, and that they didn’t sacrifice their goals for the sake of “being together”. I liked that neither character was perfect: Celine was dealing with the trauma of her dad leaving, and Bradley has OCD and anxiety and has to deal with at. But, most of all I adored listening to the narrators. They were delightful to listen to, and made an already fun story even more entertaining.

Highly recommended, and I may go check out some of Hibbert’s adult books too!

Saint

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “There was a blue door with a black lantern on Forsyth Street.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Fable, Namesake, The Last Legacy (which I read but never wrote a blog post for!)
Content: There is some mild swearing, violence, and one off-screen sex scene. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

In this prequel to Fable, we follow her father Saint, and her mother, Isolde, as they start out and first meet. Saint is a scrappy helmsman with a dream and a bit of a legend surrounding him. He’s not ruthless, but rather willing to get the job done no matter what it takes. He has dreams that the Narrows can be so much more than it is. Isolde is on the run from her mother, Holland, a master gem merchant and a terrible parent, someone who uses Isolde for her skill as a gem sage rather than caring for her as a daughter. When Isolde and Saint meet she is contracted to Zola, Saint’s nemesis, but things go sideways when Zola steals from Saint and he gets Isolde to get it back. From there, it’s history. 

Look: it’s not a great book. But it is a fun story, and I’m invested in this world that Young has built. I’ll read pretty much any story set in the Narrows, even if it’s kind of lame. But, there is something about these characters, and I really did enjoy getting to know a different side of Saint. So, no: not high literature. But it was fun.

Audiobook: Lightlark

by Alex Aster
Read by Suzy Jackson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is violence, including multiple deaths and one (mostly off-screen) sex scene. It’s in the Teen Section (grades 9+) at the bookstore.

Lighlark is in a world that has been plagued ed with a curse for the past 500 years. Isla knows this: as the Wildling ruler, she has been raised to go to the Centennial, compete, and win – all to break the curse and get the power she has been wanting. But, once she gets to the competition, she realizes that it’s not as simple as all that. There is love, pain, betrayal, and a twisting, winding path to get to the end, and hopefully break the curse.

Is this book a good one? Well, if you mean well-written, with a tight plot that kept me guessing? No, it’s not. But it is fun. I guessed the twist about a quarter of the way into the book, and the love story was SO smarmy. There’s a love triangle between an 18-year-old girl and two 500-year-old men! Ugh. But, it hit every single YA trope you can think of, and it was fun getting to the end of the book – the narration was excellent – even if it wasn’t a good book. Am I clamoring for the next one? Not really. But I don’t regret listening to this one.

Audiobook: Whiteout

by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon
Read by Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Dion Graham, Imani Parks, Jordan Cobb, Shayna Small, A.J Beckles & Bahni Turpin
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Others in the “series” Blackout
Content: There is some mild swearing and one almost on-screen sex scene. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Much like Blackout, this book has an overriding premise: a snowstorm has hit Atlanta and has shut down everything (which, to be honest, I’ve experienced. It’s not fun.). People are stranded all over town, from the airport to the stadium to the local music venue. And everyone has a purpose: to help their friend apologize to her girlfriend and win her back.

It’s kind of a silly premise, but then this is not only a YA romance, but it also is a Christmastime/holiday YA romance, so of course, it’s a bit implausible. Everyone ends up with their happily ever after, though the authors do leave you guessing for a bit as to whether or not it will actually happen. It’s a whole lot of spectacle, though not a whole lot of falling in love. Instead, the authors chose to focus on established relationships: whether they are friends looking to level up, or old flames, or making up after a fight. It made the whole story smoother, knowing that these teenagers all had a past together. Additionally, there was so much gay in this book, it was wonderful.

On top of that, the full-cast recording made the whole book just a pleasure to listen to. I really loved this one.

Greywaren

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “At the beginning of this story, years and years ago, two dreamers arrived at paradise.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Call Down the Hawk, Mister Impossible
Content: There is violence (the body count is high) and swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Stiefvater starts “Call Down the Hawk’ thus: “This is going to be a story about the Lynch brothers.” Lest you forget and think this series is about Ronan (or Ronan and Adam) or Bryde, or Hennessey or Jordan, or any of the other characters that weave in throughout the series, at its heart, this is a story about the Lynch brothers. It is a story about family – the family of origin, yes, and how it became that way – but also found family. It’s about sticking together through any odds and letting go when you need to. It’s about art and the power that it has – in this world, literally – but also the way it touches all lives. it’s about relationships between people who are different and the same, sometimes literally the same. It’s about forgiveness and acceptance. It’s about so much, all packed into a story about preventing the end of the world and figuring out one’s role in it. It’s about choices and the consequences of those choices.

But most of all it has a heart that is so, so big. Yes, I cried when it was over because it moved me in ways that I didn’t think I could be moved. My life is so vastly different from the Lynch brothers (obviously), and yet the themes are universal. It’s a more mature book than I think Stiefvater’s younger readers will realize, and I appreciate the way these books – beginning with the Raven Boys – grew up over time.

I am sad to see them all go, but I am glad that they went out this way It was a perfect ending.

Bloodmarked

by Tracy Deonn
First sentence: “My veins burn with the spirits of my ancestors.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Legendborn
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

We pick up where Legendborn left off, so spoilers for that, obviously.

Bri has been chosen as the Scion of Arther, Pendragon, who has woken up after 250 years. The problem is, though, that she’s an outsider (read: black) and the (white, racist) Order doesn’t accept her as what she is: their King. Instead, they gaslight her, drug her, and kidnap her, institutionalizing he. But, her friends are awesome, and they break her free and they all set about doing what needs to be done: training Bri how to better use her powers. This involves meeting new people, facing new dangers, and unraveling a bit more of the corruption behind the Order. Also (and I think we knew this was coming) – there’s a nice love triangle between Nick, Bri, and Sel (the Kingsmage), which is very fitting for an Arthurian tale.

Oh, I love this series. I love the way it plays with race, expectations, and magic. I love the characters (I would do anything for Alice!), and I love the way Deonn has woven different elements – from Bloodwalking, to being marked by demons, to rootcraft, to the aether of the Order – together so effortlessly. The only thing I don’t like is that I have to wait at least a year for the final book in the series.

So much great here.

Heat Wave

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “Near dusk, shadows stretch like reaching darkness, the heat from the summer day like molten claws to the chest, digging into the beating heart of a city under siege.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Extraordinaries, Flash Fire
Content: There is an extended discussion of gay porn, how to have anal sex, and a very awkward sex scene. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but really needs to be moved.

We pick up with our illustrious heroes soon after the events of Flash Fire. Except Nick’s mom isn’t dead. Right? It’s all weird. Owen is back as a villain, and Simon Burke is the Big Bad – not only is he running for myor of Nova City, he wants to do away with Extraordinaries.

Underneath all of that Nick is trying to enjoy his relationship with Seth, and figure out how to be an Extraordinary. Plus apply for college. It’s a lot for a kid.

Honestly, while this was fun, and an okay ending to a series, it wasn’t my favorite. I don’t know if it’s because I wanted and lost the momentum I had between the other two, but even though I adored Nick, Seth, Gibby, and Jazz and their very healthy relationships with their parents, I didn’t really like the book. Maybe because I felt like it took too long to get going. Maybe it was because I ahdn’t read the others in ages Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood.

Not Klune’s best book, but I am still glad for the LGBT representation. Not a bad book, just not for me.

The Agathas

by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson
First sentence: “Alice Ogilvie is crazy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there.
Content: There is some swearing, including 3 F-bombs, some mention of teenage drinking, drug use, and sexual activity.

Alice Ogilvie is persona non grata in Castle Cove: last summer, she disappeared for five days. Everyone in town panicked and sent out searches for her. And then she reappeared, much to everyone’s chagrin, and refused to talk about her summer. She’s trying to get back into school – after being on house arrest for two months – and is failing at it.

Iris is trying to get her and her mother away from her abusive dad. This means she needs money. So, when the school counselor hirs her to be a tutor to Alice, she’s a little wary, but needs the $3,000 enough to take it on. But when Alice’s former best friend, Brooke, goes missing and then turns up dead, Alise is determined to get to the bottom of it. Iris is just along for the ride, and for the reward money. The question is: can two teenage girls figure out the mystery?

If you can’t tell from the title: this is really a straight-up murder mystery, the kind Agatha Christie used to write. It hits all the mystery beats: a dead body, a falsely accused person, and so on. And it did it all really well. I liked the voices of Alice and Iris, and the way the story was told through both of their eyes. I liked that the mystery was just high enugh stakes that I woudl fl a sense of danger when Alice and Iris get into questionable situatons It’s a strong story ad a fun one. Definitely recommended.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

by Axie Oh
First sentence: “The myths of my people say only a true bride of the Sea God can bring an end to his insatiable wrath.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Mina is just a girl in a village, one who was never supposed to be given as the Sea God’s brie But when her brother’s beloved, Cheong, was chosen for the sacrifice, Mina knew she must do something to save her brother’s happiness. So, she jumps into the sea, sacrificing herself in Cheong’s stead. what she finds in the Sea God’s kingdom is a whole world of gods and demons, of betrayal and friendship, and a puzzle as to what will wake the Sea God.

This is not something I would have picked up on my own, but a customer I really like gave it to me, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. It was a bit too formulaic for my tastes (I guessed the twist ending) but Oh’s writing was evocative, and it wasn’t a bad story. There were some genuinely tender moments, and I did like the tales that Oh spun.

Give this one to kids who like fairy tales.