Audiobook: Blood Debts

by Terry J Benton-Walker
Read by Bahni Turpin, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Torian Brackett & Zeno Robinson
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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.

The Flatshare

by Beth O’Leary
First sentence: “You’ve got to say this for desperation: It makes you much more open-minded.”
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Content: There is lots of swearing, including f-bombs, and some almost on-screen sex, as well as talk of sex. There are also references to emotional abuse. It’s in the romance section of the bookstore

Tiffy has just broken up with her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Justin. This time it was because he got engaged to another woman, and even though her heart is broken, she knows she needs to get out. The problem is her job working for a small publishing house isn’t going to get her anything fancy in London, and everything in her price range is, well, unsafe for habitation. That is until she finds an ad: Leon, a night nurse, is looking for someone to share his flat. The deal: he gets it during the day, and Tiffy will get it nights and weekends. Sounds ideal. But, then Tiffy and Leon start leaving each other notes, and over the months they realize that they’ve formed a sort-of relationship that actually blossoms into something more when they actually (well, accidentally) meet face-to-face.

There’s more to the story than that: Leon’s brother is in prison for something he didn’t do, and it’s Tiffy’s barrister friend who helps with that. Tiffy’s ex-boyfriend turns out to be abusive, and it’s Leon who helps (along with a therapist, yes) Tiffy process and deal with the emotional trauma. And there are side jaunts involving Welsh castles, knitting and crocheting, and a search for a lost love of a dying man. 

i heard a lot of good stuff about this one when it came out in 2019, but I stuck it on my shelf and said “I’ll get to it eventually” and then never quite did. It was only when I let my social media friends choose my current TBR pile that it actually made it on there, and I’m so glad it did. O’Leary is a good romance writer, hitting the tropes, but also giving us characterizations beyond the tropes. I liked that Leon and Tiffy seemed like real people and that O’Leary surrounded them with an excellent support system. It was all a big, happy found-family, and I adored it. 

I’m so glad I (finally) got around to reading it.

Tiffy has just broken up with her on-agan off-again boyfriend, Justin. This time it was because he got engaged to another owman, and even though her heart is broken, she knows hse needs to get out.

Audio book: Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

by Talia Hibbert
Read by: Amina Koroma & Jonathan Andrew Hume
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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!

Audiobook: Lightlark

by Alex Aster
Read by Suzy Jackson
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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.

YA Graphic Novel Roundup 4

Hollow
by Shannon Watters, Branden Boyer-White, and Berenice Nelle
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Content: There are some scary moments with a ghost. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Izzy Crane has recently moved to Sleepy Hollow from San Francisco and she’s getting used to the whole small-town feel of things. She’s kind of made friends with Croc, the class prankster, and she has a crush on Vickie Van Tassell, whose family has a Legacy in this town (and who is not supposed to be doing anything with someone whose last name is Crane!). Then a mysterious substitute shows up at school, and Vicky and Izzy realize that Vicky’s life is in danger due to a centuries-old curse on the family). It’s up to the three high schoolers (with the help of the Headless Horseman) to thwart the curse and save Vicky’s life.

I’m a complete sucker for riffs on classic literature, and this is a smart retelling. I liked Izy’s relationship with both Croc and Vicky and the way they worked together. I liked the Headless Horesmeent, and the knowledge the book had that it was playing on the classic story. It was smart, it was fun, and I loved reading it.

Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure
by Lewis Hancox
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Content: There is teen drinking, and some nudity as Hancox tries to describe his gender dysphoria. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this graphic memoir, Hancox chronicles his teen years and growing up in a small English community, which they affectionately (or not) dub “St. Hell”. It’s not pleasant growing up: Hancox suffers from intense gender dysphoria and is struggling with his body. He tries everything – from being anorexic to power-lifting – to get rid of what he finds disgusting: his body. As he navigates this, he has friends and family who, while more supportive than not, often make missteps. But then, it was the early 2000s, and no one really knew what they were doing.

The thing I liked best about this memoir was that Hancox inserted himself into the story as well. His present self would go back and interact with characters in the story, from his past self to his parents and friends. He assures his past self that things do eventually turn out, and he asks his parents what they were thinking and why they acted the way they did. it’s not only a good story, it’s a healing one, and not just for the author, I htink. I think – no matter if we are trans or not – we should look at our past selves with compassion; we didn’t alwyas know what was going on and what we were doing, and hindsight is always 20/20. But it’s also a good look into what is ogin on the brain fo someone who is trans, and how (at least for Hancox) that played out.

Crumbs
by Danie Stirling
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Content: The characters are older – say in their late teens or early 20s, so it might not be too interesting to younger readers. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Ray is a witch, who has her sights on being a Council member. She’s gone to school, and she’s passed her examination to be n intern. Laurie is kind of aimless: he works at his aunt’s bakery, and is trying to be a musician, but keeps flopping at auditions. When they meet, there is an intstant attraction. As they start their relationship, they discover that having magic doesn’t really make relationships easier. They go through the ups and downs of establishing a relationship and communication and balancing that with their own interests and careers.

This was a very sweet graphic novel. I liked the magic system (the cell phones were really cool) ad I liked what Stirling created. I liked the way Ray and Laurie developed their relationship, and how it resolved in the end. It was charming and sweet and cute and fun, all those cozy words. There’s nothing deep here (though it is a good representation of a healthy relationship), but it was delightful to read.

Constantine: Distorted Illusions
by Kami Garcia, illustrated by Isaac Goodhart
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Content: There is underage drinking and demons. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

John Constantine has grown up in London, and his stepfather wants him to go to America and study under a magic master. John wants no such thing, but he does want to get out on his own. So he lies to his parents, heads to Washington, DC to live with a friend of his, and joins a band. He does meet with the magic master and it goes more than badly. But John steals a magic book and he and his friends start dabbling. They unwittingly summon a Greater Deamon which takes possession of Constantine’s friend and creates havoc.

I don’t have much of an attachment to the character of Constantine; I only vaguely know him through Sandman (only the TV show, really), and so I have no idea what Garcia is trying to do with this character. The story wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t really engaging either (there are only so many bad-boy stories you can read). I liked that Constantine’s stepfather was the real parent, being there for his stepson in ways that Constantine’s father wasn’t. I also appreciated that Constatine had a definite growth arc.

I think that those who are interested in the character would be more into this one than I was.

If Anything Happens I Love You
by Will McCormack, Michael Govier, Youngran Nho
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Content: It deals with grief and the trauma of a school shooting. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

An unnamed girl is dead and worrying about her parents’ grief. Her parents have been stuck since the moment they found out she was killed in a school shooting. But, through the magic of – something? – she is able to reconnect with them and remind them of the good things in her/their life before she was so brutally taken away.

I have no idea who this book is for. On the one hand, it shows the absolute grief of parents having their kids untimely taken away from them. It’s a horrible thing, and one I wish we could figure out how to address in this country. But, is it for kids? The girl is 12, but she’s not really a protagonist. Is it for parents who are grieving? Is it for kids who are in school, having to deal with lockdowns and shooter drills? is it to just raise awareness? Also: it’s not really a graphic novel, but more like a picture book for older kids/adults. It wasn’t a bad book, I just have no idea who it’s for.

EMG Graphic Novel Round-up 3

Little Monarchs
by Jonathan Case
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Content: There are some intense moments, fights, and possibly leaving people for dead. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the near future, a sun sickness has killed off all mammals. What humans are left, have gone underground. But 10-year-old Elvie and her caretaker, Flora get live aboveground because of some medicine that Flora discovered: it comes from the scales off monarch butterfly wings. So they follow the migratory paths of monarchs to harvest and make medicine while Flora tries to make a permanent vaccination. That makes it sound very tame, but this has near death experiences, some pretty awful bad guys, and a lot of tension. There are some light-hearted moments, an it’s all about found family, and it’s full of STEM facts. I do have a slight issue with the author being white and the main character being Black, but that’s a minor one. Overall, it’s a remarkable book.

The Real Riley Mayes
by Rachel Elliott
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Content: It deals with crushes, and there is some bullying and homophobia. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Riley just wants to be herself: Short hair, androgenous clothes, drawing as much as possilbe. But, her friend that “got” her moved away, and she’s having a hard time making new friends. One of the kids in class teases her for being a gay, calling her names and excluding her from all-girl events. The thing is, Riley’s not even sure she’s gay. She does make a couple of friends, but she’s not sure if they’ll stick especially after she makes smome mistakes. Maybe she’ll figure out this whole being a 5th grader thing out.

This one was super cute! I loved Riley, and her struggles felt like a real 5th grader’s struggles. Making and keeping friends, figuring out who you are, figuring out how to be a friend. it’s all there. I liked the art, and there wa seven some humor in it as well. Really really good.

Apple Crush
by Lucy Knisley
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Content: It deals with crushes. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Jen is spending the week on her mother’s farm, after he divorce from Jen’s father. She’ getting used to living in the country, and going to school. But her new stepsiste, who visits on weekends, has other plans. One of them is super into boys, and all Jen wants to do is hang out, work on the pumplki patch next door, and draw. It’s a touch line to figure out how to walk.

This is a nice look at the different stages kids are at in middle school. Some are into relationships and “liking” other kids, others not so much. I appreciated the matter of fact way Knisley approaches the suject, and the way she woe a Halloween story in there as well. It’s a cute story and a cute book.

Bunnicula
by James Howe, Andrew Dokin, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
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Content: There is humorous “horror”, and sometimes scary moments. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Bunnicula is one of those books I’ve heard a lot about, but have never read. Things I didn’t know: it’s written suppsoedly, by the dog, who is telling the story of the vampire bunny. I didn’t know that the bunny only sucks the juices out of vegetables, turning them white (i had thought maybe it was a real vampre bunny). I didn’t know that it was the cat who goes pretty crazy tyring to prove that the bunny is a vampire. I thought it was scarier than it actually was.

Still, it wa a fun graphic novel and not a bad way to be introduced to this story

Didn’t finish: Sorceline.

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.

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.”
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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.

Audiobook: Flying Solo

by Linda Holmes
Read by Julia Whelan
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including a couple of well-placed f-bombs. There is also off-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Laurie grew up in a small Main town, and couldn’t wait to get away. She didn’t return often, and once her immediate family moved away, there wasn’t much reason to return. That is, until her Great-Aunt who had no children of her own, passed away. Suddenly, it became Laurie’s job to go through Aunt Dot’s house and get it ready to be sold. Once there, she discovers a wooden duck in a blanket chest, and that starts off a chain of events that leads Laurie to a greater understanding of her aunt. Along the way, she reconnects with her old boyfriend, Nick, who is recently divorced.

I liked that this was a less-than-traditional romance. While it’s still about people falling in love, it features a heroine who called off her wedding because she didn’t feel right about it. She’s nearly 40, she’s she’s a larger woman; Holmes mentions “size18” and “larger body”. Laurie is a woman who knows that she wants to live alone and that maybe being married isn’t for her. She’s bucking societal norms, not doing things the way things are “supposed” to be done. I really really appreciated that. And honestly: it was this embracing of non-traditionalness that made the book a really good one for me.

Whelan is still a delightful narrator; she makes the listening experience super engaging and enjoyable. I will have to listen to her read more! In short: thoroughly enjoyed this one.