Audiobook: Thank You for Listening

by Julia Whelan
Read by the author (who happens to be a very excellent audiobook narrator)
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Or listen at Libro.fm!
Content: There is swearing including multiple f-bombs and some pretty steamy on-screen sex. it’s in the Romance section of the bookstore.

Sewanee Chester was an aspiring actress untl a tragic accident took that off the table. She turned to audiobooks, doing romance unders a pseudonm for a while, but has let that go too, doing more mainstreem books these days. That is until an offer she couldn’t refuse – a dual record with unknown but super steamy narrator Brock McKnight – came along. While she’s heating up the emails and texts with Brock, she still has her mind on Nick, the one-night stand she had in Vegas after a book convention.

Of course there are ups and downs, of course there are high stakes (and low stakes), and of course there is a Happily ever after. But what I thorougly enjoyed about this one is that it was the thing – a romance book – whiile poking fun at all the romance tropes and romance authors and audiobook narrators out there. I love it when the thing is the thing while poking fun at the thing. And this is definitely lots of fun.

I think it was especially fun because Whelan is an excellent narrator, and she did All The Voices, which just made it that much more enjoyable. (In fact, sometimes I wondered if she made certaincharaters the way there wer just so dhe could do that particular voice for them.) I may not have loved it as much if I had just read it, but it was absolutely delightful and hilarious in audio.

I had a hilariously fun time listening to this one. Definitely recommended.

Nona the Ninth

by Tasmyn Muir
First sentence: “In the dream, he told her the words about where he took his degrees his postdoc, his research fellowship.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 13, 2022
Review copy snagged from the publisher when it came in.
Others in the series: Gideon the Ninth Harrow the Ninth
Content: It’s violent and sweary. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Things you should know:

  1. It’s MUCH better if you read Gideon and Harrow right before reading this one. Seriously. I spent so much time trying to remember things, I finally gave up, found a Wiki, and spent time looking up things to remind myself. If you remember stuff from the previous two books, you will better understand and grasp what is going on in this one.
  2. It’s the …. cheeriest? possibly.. of the three so far. Nona is an endearing character and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her, Pyrrha, Cam, Palamedes, and all the new characters we met.
  3. I have no idea what the heck happened in the last 1/4 of the book, and I’m not sure I care that I didn’t know. Truthfully: upon reflection, all the pieces were there, I just didn’t catch them. (See, #1.)
  4. Muir blew my mind in the best. way, and I am utterly impressed with her world-building, with her character development, and just the way this story is unfolding.
  5. Bring on Alecto. I can’t wait to see how this ends.

The Honeys

by Ryan La Sala
First sentence: “My sister wakes me with a whisper.”
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Release date: May 3, 2022
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and descriptions of sexual assault and rape. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Mars is a twin, the undesirable twin, the one who lives in the shadow of Caroline, the Chosen One. He/they is gender fluid, doesn’t quite fit the norms of the rich, societied life his parents set out for him. Especially when it comes ot the summer camp, Aspen. Mars had a falling out years ago at the camp, when he pushed back against the gender norms and roles at the camp and hasn’t been back since. So when his sister unexpectedly shows up in the middle of the night, crazy and delious, attempting to kill Mars and then dying herself, he knows something is up. And that something has to tdo with the Honeys.

The Honeys, as he finds out when he goes back to Aspen, are a clique of girls, set apart, yet welcoming to him. At first, seems heavenly, to be accepted and understood by people who also knew and loved Caroline. But the farther he gets in, the more sinister it becomes.

I really had no idea what to expect when starting this. There’s a lot about bees and the way the hive works (most of which I knew from reading The Bees). But it’s also about societal expectations and the ways in which conforming to those hurts individuals. I have a theory that the hive/honey is Capitalism, but it could also be greed and power, both of which teen girls, even white ones from weathly families, have little of. It’s a fascinating study of groupthink and the power of suggestion, and how sometimes good things go bad.

I don’t know if it’s a book for everyone, but it’s a good book, one that will lead to fascinating discussions. I will be thinking about it for a while.

Gallant

by V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “The master of the house stands at the garden wall.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 2, 2022
Review copy pilfered from the ARCs at work.
Content: There’s a lot of narration, and not a lot of external action. It’s mostly an internal book, which may turn off younger readers. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This book is many things. It’s about an orphan — Olivia — being summoned to her family’s home (a family she never knew she had). It’s about standing up for yourself, and finding a place in life. It’s about found family, and belonging. The plot is simple: Olivia is in an orphanage, and gets called home to Gallant — where there are secrets she has to uncover.

What it really is, at its heart, is a Gothic Novel. I din’t realize this while I read reading it; I just felt a vague sense of being unsettled while reading. It’s not gory, it’s not “spooky”. There are monsters, but they are shadows in the night, and you don’t really understand them. No, it wasn’t until I was helping my youngest with an assignment on Gothic novels, that I realized that Schwab has capitalized on a main element of the genre: an uncertainty on the part of her main character. She keeps Olivia in the dark to help build tension (and it works) and to give the climax that much more punch (and it works).

It’s a very, very good story told by a very, very good storyteller. I loved it.

Under the Whispering Door

by T. J. Klune
First sentence: “Patricia was crying.”
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Content: There is some mild swearing and talk of death. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Wallace is a partner in his own law firm, successful, powerful, demanding. He is not well-liked, but that doesn’t bother him. He is determined to milk the most out of his employees and works twice as hard as he demands they do. And yet, one weekend, he finds himself strangely outside his body. That’s odd, but what is even odder is when he finds himself at his own funeral, and the only person who can see him is a woman who calls herself his Reaper. That sets Wallace on a very interesting path as he lands at Charon’s Crossing Tea and Pastries with Mei, the Reapers, and Hugo, the ferryman. Wallace sets about trying to figure out his (after)life, and learning how to live and love better than he did when he was alive.

Oh, my heart. I picked this one up when it came out in October and I have been just waiting to have a chance to sit and savor it. And it was just as wonderful — heartfelt, funny, poignant, bittersweet — as I was hoping it would be. Seriously: if you haven’t given Klune’s books a try, do. His storytelling is incredibly affirming, and you can’t help but be happier having read them. I loved his vision of the Afterlife, of what it means to come to grips with your life and death, and just the overall love and care he put into this story.

I will most definitely be reading everything he writes from here on out.

Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1, Volume 1

by Miya Kazuki and Suzuka
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Content: Aside from it being a manga, which is kind of tricky to learn to read, there’s nothing. It’s in the manga section of the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Urano is a college student who loves books. Loves them so much that she surrounds herself with them. And, unfortunately, that is her downfall: she dies in a book-related accident. And then wakes up, reincarnated into 5 year old Myne, as a peasant in a world with a low literacy rate. It becomes Urano/Myne’s goal to find a book, and when she can’t find one, to make one.

My youngest told me that I would really like this manga series, and she’s right: it’s bookish, it’s cute, it’s fun. And unlike other isekai manga, this one is centered on a girl with a goal is really quite fun. I adored the fish-out-of-water aspect as Urano tries to figure out how to operate in this new world and body. And her focus on inding and then making a book is completely relatable.

So, yes, I have picked up the next few volumes of this one. I have found a magna that I like!

King and the Dragonflies

by Kacen Callender
First sentence: “The dragonflies live down by the bayou, but there’s no way to know which one’s my brother.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some parental abuse, and kids run away. It’s in the middle grade section of the bookstore.

King’s brother Khalid recently died, and he and his parents are struggling to adjust to the new reality. It doesn’t help that King things his brother has come back as a dragonfly. And that his old good friend, Sandy, has come out as gay. In their small, conservative Louisiana town, and with Sandy’s abusive father as sheriff, that doesn’t bode well. Not for Sandy and not for anyone who wants to be his friend.

King spends the book coming to terms with both his brother’s death and with Sandy’s revelation (and the realization that he might be gay as well). It’s a quiet book, but it’s captivating. Callender is a phenomanal writer, and the feelings and emotions they invoke are incredible. They capture not only grief but friendship and parents struggling to do what they think is best. It’s a journey, one that is not readily summarized in a plot, but that is incredibly moving all the same.

Definitely deserving of the National Book Award it won, and highly recommended.

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence “Maraud awoke to the sound of retching — a retching so violent his own stomach clenched into a fist and tried to punch its way out of his throat.”
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Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark TriumphMortal Heart, Courting Darkness
Content: There is a lot of violence and abuse. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

I am thinking that LaFevers needed to write this duology because, while Mortal Heart ended on a positive note, there were many threads left hanging open. And it’s just nice to tie everything up.

Picking up where Courting Darkness left off, this one is more political intrigue (beause Genevieve has the ear of the French King and is trying to sway him away from being advised by his sister, the regent), machinations (Sybella vs. her horrible brother), love (which is always quite satisfying) and war (Sybella, Genevieve, Beast, and Maurad manage to spectacularly put down a rebellion).

At this point, it’s safe to say that if you liked the rest of the series, you will like this one. It’s a bit overlong, and I was truly losing patience with the king who was petulant and super dense, but I suppose LaFevers needed to keep it a little bit historically accurate.

In the end, though, it tied up all the loose ends and gave everyone if not a happy, then a hopeful, ending.

Dear Universe

by Florence Gonsalves
First sentence: “You know that moment when it happens?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, teen drinking, and talk of teen sex (though none actual). It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Chamomile (call her Cham, please) is a senior at the Gill School, a private school she transferred to after she got kicked out of public school in 8th grade for fighting. She has friends, she has a boyfriend — Gene Wolf, track star and super cute — and everything is Perfect.

Except it’s not, because her father is in denial about his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis and doesn’t want anyone to know. So Cham is trying to keep her worlds separate. Of course, that doesn’t work terribly well. Which puts her two worlds on a collision course.

I didn’t dislike this book; I thought Gonsalves balanced the “sick parent” (and “stressed parent” — Cham’s mother is the sole wage earner and is also trying to take care of Cham’s dad mostly alone) with “high school ending” pretty well. I even kind of liked Cham and her attempts to be “normal” by obsessing about sex and prom and spending time with her friends.

But. (And you knew there was a but.) I don’t know. None of the characters had hardly any physical descriptions – Cham had “frizzy” hair, her friend Abigail was a bit overweight and could dance, Brandon had a “man bun” — but I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone what white. I’m not sure I would have noticed that a few months ago, but I did now. And it bugged me. (I get that authors do this so that people could see themselves, but my default is white, so there you go.) It bugged me that she wouldn’t tell her friends about her dad’s illness. Are they really your friends, then? It was little things like that (like school ended in April for seniors. Really?) that pulled me out of the story.

I guess I just wanted to like it more than I did, and was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I hoped.

The Afterlife of Holly Chase

by Cynthia Hand
First sentence: “The first thing you should probably know is that Yvonne Worthington Chase was dead.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing. It would be in the Christmas section if we carried it, but I’d also shelve it in the YA section (grades 6-8).

Holly Chase is dead. She was the recipient of “Project Scrooge” — which is based on A Christmas Carol, going around and finding callous individuals who need redemption — and failed. Miserably. She didn’t believe it was real, she didn’t believe she would die (granted: she wasn’t quite 17), and she ignored all the warnings. And ended up dead.

Now she works for Project Scrooge as The Ghost of Christmas Past. For the past five years, she’s stayed 17, and gone into peoples’ memories, searching for moments of good that could change them. But this year is different. The target is Ethan Worthington III who has a lot of similarities to Holly (and is super attractive too!): they both can pinpoint their increasing materialism and callousness to the point when they lost a parent.

I’m going to leave the rest of the story for you to find out. It was incredibly enjoyable; I liked how Hand echoed the Dickens book without coping it outright. It’s not a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but more a riff on it. Which makes all the difference. I enjoyed Holly as a character, even when she was being a brat, and Hand genuinely surprised me with the direction the story took.

An excellent addition to the world of Christmas books. Maybe not an instant classic, but very, very good.