March 2020

Children's/Teen Reviews
*Tomi Adeyemi. Children of Virtue and Vengeance. The Legacy of Orisha, #2.
Read by Bahni Turpin.
13.5 hrs.
Macmillan. 2019.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi is a more exciting sequel to its predecessor Children of Blood and Bone in the Legacy of Orisha Trilogy. And this audiobook version also provides a magnificent performance by the talented Bhani Turpin, who brings a wonderful authenticity to the characters and fidelity to pronunciations, place, and spirit of the book. The book zips along nicely, ebbing and flowing and rising and falling like the tides dictated by the high action sequences and the calm moments of reflection and discussion. Turpin's rhythm is true to the often poetic prose. Her métier is a careful consistency in narration and pacing, paying attention to the fine details of the written word.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance picks up almost immediately from where its prequel, Children of Blood and Bone left off. Zelie has succeeded in bringing magic back into the world, not without terrible sacrifices. Her parents are dead, so is the despotic monarch. But the return of magic is like that wish that comes with a curse. Magic did not return just to Zelie's clan, the Maji, but also to their fierce enemies, the despised ruling monarchy. Zelie's plans to unite Orisha by putting the princes Amari on the throne fails spectacularly and Orisha devolves into a civil war. A great deal of violence follows. Characters give in to their worst instincts; blood flows and frustration mounts. Things fall apart. The novel is full of action and is always suspenseful and surprisingly literary. The world-building and magic system is unique and wonderfully evocative. The characters are well-rounded and well-realized. They come alive in Turpin's performance. She is superb in character depictions, appropriating a variety of African speech patterns, rhythms, and tones to make the characters distinct from each other, making them authentic to the listener. This is no small feat in a book teeming with exciting complex characters. Turpin switches between them with remarkable seamlessness. This an exciting well-performed audiobook of an exciting novel.

Reviewed by Berkley W. Semple
Ann Bausum. Viral. The Fight against Aids in America.
Read by Vikas Adam, with a note read by the author.
4 CDs. 4.5 hrs.
Listening Library 2019.
Ages 12-17.

Viral: The Fight Against AIDs in America is an account of the AIDs pandemic in America focusing on the earliest years, 1981-1992. Speaking of the culture of the late 1970s, Bausum details how a mysterious illness disrupted a generation of gay men who were just beginning to find their freedom in a culture of restriction. Bausum also details the drive and fight required for people infected with HIV/AIDS to receive treatment, housing, employment, and respect at a time when the diagnosis was a death sentence.

Viral is a timely account for the political climate of today, as it highlights how political leaders still have the power to determine who lives and dies, especially when people view AIDs as a thing of the past. Viral reminds the listener that AIDs is still here and still changing the lives of many every day. Bausum stresses the use of protection. Although a diagnosis of AIDS is now not always a death sentence, living with the disease is still not an easy life.

Vikas Adam's narration is clear. He attempts to fully voice. His pacing allows the listener to absorb and understand the detailed research and history. This is a good listen for those interested in political history or the spread of viruses.

Reviewed by Michelle Skaar
*Betty G. Birney. Exploring According to Og The Frog.
Read by John H. Mayer.
3 CDs. 3.75 hrs.
Books on Tape. 2019
Ages 8-12

Og, the classroom frog, longs to go out exploring like his friend Humphry, the classroom hamster. Too bad he will dry out if he is outside of his tank too long and he isn't a great climber like Humphrey. Og gets the chance to have adventures when the school Principal takes him home for a weekend. At the Principal's house Og gets to explore and help a sister and brother learn to work together. Og learns that he has to take chances and be brave. He hopes to eventually get out and explore with his friend Humphrey. Narrator John H. Mayer fully voices the many characters in Exploring According to Og The Frog. His voice can be heard on numerous televisions shows and over sixty audiobooks His variety in voices here makes it easy for the listener to know which character is talking. Og has a unique frog-like voice making this audiobook especially entertaining. Children who love Betty G. Birney's Humphry series will enjoy the charming new Og series.

Reviewed by Amy Hogue
*Holly Black. The Queen of Nothing.
Narrated by Caitlin Kelly.
8 Discs. Approx. 9.5 hrs.
Hachette Audio. 2019.
Older Teens

The Faerie and mortal worlds come together in this thrilling conclusion to the "Folk of the Air" series. The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King set up The Queen of Nothing as the third installment nicely. We join Jude Duarte in the mortal world having been exiled and forbidden to return to the land of Faerie, the land that belongs to her. Jude's twin sister, Taryn, seeks Jude's help and begs her to impersonate her in Faerie. What lengths will Jude go through to help her sister and to trick those who can see through her disguise? What other sorts of things will she run into while in Elfhame? Will she escape unharmed or unmaimed? (Spoiler alert: she does not completely.) Will she and Cardan get along? (Spoiler alert number 2: definitely, and then some.) Will all end well in this complex compelling conclusion to a very well-developed story? (Spoiler alert number 3: surprisingly, yes.)

Betrayal, action, adventure, kissing, violence, blood, storytelling and yes, even a little sex scene thrown in the middle for good measure (not too graphic,but those younger readers who get a little bashful around these sorts of things, may want to skip through parts of chapter 21) along with some fun side stories and folk tales; this audiobook keeps you on your proverbial listening toes. Action-packed pretty much throughout with a pleasantly happy ending for pretty much all of the characters.

Narrator Caitlin Kelly does a wonderfully fully-voiced performance making sure to give each of the many characters a different voice and really making it an enjoyable experience from beginning to the end of the epilogue. The sound quality of the recording itself is really good, no notable hisses or pops. The one thing that was missing with the audiobook is the map of Elfhame that exists in the physical book, other than that this is a lovely, though long awaited, ending to a wonderful fantasy series for mature young adults. Recommended to anyone interested in Holly Black's other books to give this one a listen as well.

Reviewed by Erin Bassett
Erin A. Craig. House of Salt and Sorrows.
Read by Emily Lawrence.
11 CDs. 13 hrs.
Listening Library. 2019.
Ages 12-17.

If I were to describe this audiobook in one word it would be "beautiful." Erin A. Craig delicately establishes this world; its people, their beliefs, and their surroundings. Narrator Emily Lawrence's performance brings it all to life.

The House of Salt and Sorrows is a new take on the Brother's Grimm fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses." The story follows Annaleigh and her potentially "cursed" family. Annaleigh, once one of twelve girls, mourns the loss of her mother and four of her older sisters, each dying of different causes in a short period of time. Due to their customs, the family has been in mourning for around five years. Thus, the daughters were unable to socialize in the same manner as other girls their age and several of them were prevented from coming out to society. At this point, their new step mother insists they have mourned enough, to the dismay of the community. This is where everything begins to go awry. Annaleigh is concerned one of her sisters was murdered and the rest want to live their lives before they no longer can. This is a very confusing, dark, and at times terrifying tale. You don't really have a complete grasp of everything until the end. Some readers may be put off by the overly descriptive language and the inclusion of the romantic plot.

Narrator Emily Lawrence's performance is gripping and emotive. She expertly narrates characters of different ages and genders, establishing a full cast. The pacing seemed reflective of a horror film, in a good way, not letting you miss a single terrifying word, but also having moments of ease and comfort. Recommend this to listens of suspense and horror.

Reviewed by Michelle Skaar
Helene Dunbar. We Are Lost and Found.
Read by Tom Picasso
7 Hrs 11 Mins
Recorded Books. 2019.
Ages 13-18.

In 1983, New York City was fearful of a newly named AIDS virus. Michael was worried for his brother, Connor, who was out and proud and not living safely. He was afraid for his friend James who was surrounded by the gay theatre community as well as a member. And most of all he was afraid for himself, a closeted gay teen looking to find love and hoping his family, who have already kicked out his brother, don't find out. With James and his other friend Becky by his side, he navigates his junior year of high school. He meets Gabriel at his favorite club and he is head over heels. Now he starts to question if staying in the shadows is really what he wants. A coming of age story about being gay in NYC in the height of the AIDS crisis, with some amazing historical background about what was really going on in that time and in real gay life experience.

Tom Picasso has an MFA in acting and his experience is evident. He has a different voice for every character that portrays that character's personality. The emotion is raw and true in his voice. This listener found the pauses in between sections to be a little too long but it does not take away from the overall book. Picasso lets you immerse yourself in the book and never feel confused about who is talking or how they are feeling.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost
*Shannon Greenland. Scouts.
Read by Kathleen McInerney.
5 CDs. 5 Hrs.
Hachette. 2019.
Ages 8-14

When five middle school friends celebrate the end of another school year with a camping trip in, what their parents believe, one of their backyards, the adventuresome group finds themselves running from bears, escaping kidnappers, trekking through bat-filled caves, and trusting the wrong people. Their quest to find what looked like a meteor that landed outside of town just might kill them, or, at best, tear their friendship apart.

Kathleen McInerney is an excellent audiobook narrator. She is able to bring to life several characters with varying backgrounds and a wide-range of ages. McInerney deftly personifies the five young stars of the story and offers each a distinctively different voice and personality. Older characters, including the leader of the notorious Mason clan and Annie's loving parents, are also unique. Listeners won't become confused as to who is talking during this adventurous tale. McInerney's efforts are spot on.

McInerney has narrated countless titles for as many authors, including Danielle Steel, Meg Cabot, Linda Castillo, Mary Kay Andrews, Judy Blume, and Pam Munoz Ryan.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
Watt Key. Hideout.
Read by Charlie Thurston.
7 hours 2 minutes.
Tantor Audio 2019.
Ages 10-13

To keep his mind off an incident at school, twelve-year-old Sam takes his fishing boat out to explore the bayou near his home. Much to his surprise, he finds a kid about his age living in one of the abandoned fishing camps in the swamp. Named Davey, he insists his dad and brother are going to join him at any time, but Sam isn't so sure. As Sam becomes more entwined in Davey's mystery, he finds himself in real danger. Can Sam keep quiet, and keep what he knows, from his policeman father and help Davey on his own? Although this book starts slowly at first, it picks up speed and interest as the mystery and tension deepen. The story requires some suspension of disbelief but narrator Charlie Thurston provides an enjoyable listen as he adopts an atmospheric southern accent for this reading, which helps ground the story in Mississippi. Thurston is a Renaissance man in terms of performing-- in addition to narration, he's also an actor, puppeteer, acrobat, and musician.

Watt Key is from Alabama. In addition to Hideout, he's written a number of adventure stories including Terror at Bottle Creek, Fourmile, and Alabama Moon.

Reviewed by Marissa Antosh
*Kwame Mbalia. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in The Sky. (Rick Riordan Presents...)
Read by Amir Abdullah.
9 CDs. 11 hrs.
Listening Library. 2019.
Ages 8-12.

When his best friend and fellow storyteller Eddie passes away, Tristan Strong is sent into exile in Alabama to visit his grandparents on their farm. To make matters worse, the night before his departure, he loses his first boxing match, disappointing his father and grandfather who expect him to live up to the Strong family legacy and become a champion boxer. Although Tristan prepares for a boring summer, his world is upended when Eddie's journal, which the pair used to collect stories, is stolen by the sticky, wise-cracking doll, Gum Baby from the Anansi myths. His desperate chase to reclaim the journal causes him to accidentally punch and break a bottle from the bottle tree near his grandparents' farm, releasing a haint called Uncle C and ripping a hole between his world and another magical realm, Alke.

In Alke, he comes face to face with figures from African mythology and Black American folklore such as John Henry, High John, and Brer Rabbit, who enlist his help to find Anansi and convince him to repair the hole in the sky. He also must face off against the evil Maafa, an enemy with links to the evils of the slave trade including terrifying bone ships that rise from the sea and iron monsters made of chains known as fetterlings. Luckily, Tristan discovers his courage and new abilities as an Anansesem, a powerful storyteller with ties to the Anansi's abilities, to fight the evil he released.

Actor and writer Amir Abdullah expertly narrates this fully-voiced reading of the book, seamlessly switching between voices and accents of characters. Notably, his high-pitched, smart-mouthed Gum Baby springs to life in hilarious fashion and provides the comic relief for the story. Abdullah's reading perfectly captures the adventurous highs and the emotional lows of the story with appropriate tone and pacing and emotional voice breaks at key points in the story. His reading breathes life into the Mbalia's story and characters and makes for a delightful listening experience.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, part of the Ricki Riordan Presents Imprint, is the debut novel of Coretta Scott King Award honoree and bestselling author Kwame Mbalia. He is currently at work on a sequel to Tristan's adventures.

Reviewed by Carlina Arsenault
Kate Messner. Chirp.
Read by Merissa Czvy.
4 CDs.
Recorded Books. 2020.
Ages 10-14.

The only thing 14 year old Mia is looking forward to the summer she and her family are moving back to Vermont is seeing her grandmother again. Gram has a cricket farm, and is trying to get the public to accept crickets as a food source.

Mia has a lot of anxieties – she had broken her arm in gymnastics back in Boston, and the injury has made her fearful of trying new things. She doesn't want to do gymnastics any longer; she does not look forward to having to choose summer camp activities; she is not happy about having to make new friends. The reader gets the sense that something else is going on, but her secret is not revealed until halfway through the book.

The story moves along while Mia develops the confidence to tell someone what happened. In the meantime, she manages to enjoy Warrior Camp and her maker activities; she does make new friends; and she stumbles on a mystery. Someone is sabotaging her Gram's cricket business. Mia's friends Clover and Anna give her the confidence to investigate and the girls come up with a plan. And she does end up confiding her traumatic experience of inappropriate behavior by her old gymnastics coach. This is great story of creativity and entrepreneurship, of making friends, and of confronting the scariest things. Girl power reigns, and there is a very satisfying ending.

Merissa Czyz's narration is pitch perfect: her young-sounding voice really channels the characters, and her great diction enlivens the story.

Reviewed by Stephanie Tournas
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, ed. The Hero Next Door.
Read by Adenrele Ojo, Caitlin Gold, Dominic Hoffman, Kirby Heyborne, Erin Cahill, Kristen Ariza, Renee Dorian, Chris Browning, Laura Ortiz, Maxwell Glick, Taylor Meskimen, Dylan Moore, Franklin Corzo, Mike Chamberlain.
5 CDs. 6.25 hrs.
Listening Library. 2019.
Ages 8-12.

The Hero Next Door is filled with thirteen short stories about fictional everyday heroes and encourages listeners to shine despite their circumstances. These heroes include inner-city camp counselors who protect their lot from "zombies," a child who helps a homeless man who eventually morphs into a wolf, an autistic boy who battles his fears using martial arts, ghost-seeing lads who dispel an angry mob, and more.

Most of the narrators in this varied cast of audio book talent rise to the top. Erin Cahill is one such narrator. She shares the story of a family from India who adopts a three-year-old boy. Cahill's efforts are flawless. She draws the listener in immediately as she embodies both the joys and frustrations of adding a non-English speaking sibling to a busy household. Somehow, Cahill's voice smiles during the joyful moments and weeps when hurtful words are spoken. Her emotions are raw and genuine and passionate—just like the characters' she portrayed.

Overall, listeners will enjoy hearing about everyday heroes and may even become one themselves.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
*Shelley Pearsall. Trouble Don't Last.
Narrated by Ron Butler
Download. 6 hrs. 23 mins.
Recorded Books. 2020.
Middle School

Eleven-year-old Samuel was born a slave in Kentucky and lives under the strict rules of his household. He is often in trouble for making mistakes. Several of the older folks have looked after him since his own mother was taken from the farm when he was just a baby. When he is woken in the middle of the night by grumpy old Harrison he doesn't know what to think but he knows he is going to be in trouble. When he realizes that Harrison is planning for them to run away ("Harrison is stealing me!"), it is too late. Along the arduous trip toward Canada on the Underground Railroad, Samuel starts to learn things he didn't know about his own family and about Harrison's hard life. He also meets many people along the way that show him why seeking freedom is worth the risk.

Told from the perspective of a young boy who is fleeing from the only home he's ever known, Trouble Don't Last shows us what confusion and bravery those seeking "the promised land" experienced. Samuel is not sure if anything at the farm is as scary as his time on the road but we, the readers, know what is likely at stake if he's caught before he finds refuge.

Ron Butler expertly narrates this audiobook. I forgot it wasn't a child telling me this story! He was able to give each character their own sound and personality. Butler's narration is especially helpful in spots where reading the dialect might make it a little more difficult to follow than hearing Butler read it.

Trouble Don't Last has won several distinctions in literature for youth that brings history to life for young people. It's a great choice for those, regardless of age, who are lovers of historical fiction. Those with special interest in adventurous escapes, in the American South during slavery, or in stories about the enslaved seeking freedom through journeys to the North will be especially pleased with this one. Because it's middle grade, there are references to the hardships on plantations worked by enslaved folks without much gruesomeness. There's some light adventure scariness (e.g., being chased, possible bad guys in dark spaces, etc.).

Reviewed by Kenya Malcolm
*Rainbow Rowell. Wayward Son.
Read by Euan Morton.
8 hours, 58 minutes.
Macmillan Audio. 2019.
Ages 14-18

What happens to the heroes once they've saved the world? Most stories don't address the "after." Rowell's sequel to Carry On tackles what happens next. Simon Snow no longer has any discernible magic, but he still sports wings and a tail. He lives with Baz and Penelope and is supposed to be attending university, but is instead in a deep depression. Penelope decides that a road trip across America to visit Agatha will be just the cure Simon needs to get him out of his shell, and corrals Baz into joining them. There will be dragons, lots of vampires, too much sun, and a nosy American who wants to learn as much about the world of mages as possible. There will also be romance, humor, and plenty of illegal activity. It doesn't work well as a standalone, but is even better than the first novel.

Euan Morton resumes his role as narrator. The versatile Scottish actor has appeared on Broadway, released albums, and performed dozens of audiobooks. He easily switches character voices between Baz, Simon, Penelope, Agatha, and their new American friend, Shepard. His accents are flawless. This reviewer's favorite character voice belongs to Baz, which is practically a low growl. Fans of the series will clamor for the sequel, especially if Morton narrates it.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant
Tim Wynne-Jones. The Starlight Claim.
Read by the author.
5 CDs. 6.5 hrs.
CandleWick/Brilliance. 2019.
Ages 12-16.

The Starlight Claim is a survival adventure novel from Timm Wynne-Jones, following the experience of a lone teenage boy in remote Northern Ontario when his solo camping trip becomes unexpectedly dangerous. Nate is a capable and independent protagonist who decides to go to his family's campsite to find out what happened to his friend Dodge, who was never found after his boat capsized in a nearby lake. When Nate arrives at the cabin, however, he discovers that it has been taken over by recently escaped convicts from a maximum-security prison. Luckily, Nate's father taught him how to survive in the wilderness, and what follows is part psychological thriller, part survival story as Nate contends with the internal struggle that comes along with personal tragedy as well as the dangers of the woods.

This book is a sequel to Canadian Award-winning Wynne-Jones' 2004 novel The Maestro, but readers do not have to be familiar with the first title to enjoy this one. Wynne-Jones is a capable narrator, weaving together Nate and Dodge's perspectives across time to create a fast-paced, twisting story that will particularly appeal to fans of Gary Paulson's adventure stories and Barry Lyga's YA thrillers. This book will appeal to middle and high school readers alike--the themes of grief and resilience are heavy, but Wynne-Jones easily weaves them into the fast-paced excitement of the plot. This is a quick and thrilling read that will engross a wide variety of listeners.

Reviewed by Madison Bishop