September 2020
Children's/Teen Reviews
*Bowman, Akemi, Dawn. Harley in the Sky.
Read by Ali Ahn.
Digital download. 9 hrs.
Recorded Books. Ages 12+.

17-year-old Harley Milano ran away with the circus. A traveling circus. In this story that traverses much of the southern United States, Harley ponders the reality of the circus business, her own heritage as the daughter of two parents who are both biracial, friendships, and first loves. Harley, in her drive to fill her dreams as an aerialist, spends much of the novel entangled in the aftermath of her hasty decisions and facing the precarious state of her mental health.

Told from the first person, readers witness the often naïve way Harley encounters others and the way she perceives situations. Those around her seem, at times, too perfect to be true—her mother refrains from tracking her down and forcing her to come home; Vas, another member of the troupe, unselfishly volunteers to help in her quest. Yet, their relationships feel authentic and supportive as she learns about their histories with the circus, which unfold with delightful surprises. Harley's an endearing character whose vision of life is influenced by her youthful enthusiasm and confidence that the world will work out the way she hopes.

Author Akemi Dawn Bowman gives the listener a fascinating glimpse into the world of a traveling circus: the hard work and rewards that come with being part of a troupe. It is easy to see why Harley is willing to risk her relationship with her family, who also owns a circus, her friends, and the future they had hoped for her in order to pursue a career on the static trapeze.

Narrator Ali Ahn captures the frustration, energy, self-doubt, and passion in Harley's voice. In addition, she adopts convincing accents for several of the characters. Her voice brings alive the various characters in the novel and their different personalities—the violinist's Vas' voice is slower than Harley's, Maggie's voice is restrained menace. The chapter titles make it easy to follow the path the troupe tasks and how to keep track of how much time passes. At a run time of 9 hours and four minutes, listening to this novel made my laundry-filled weekend fly by.

For listeners who like contemporary realistic fiction, with relatable characters set on fulfilling their dreams, this is a must-listen. It gets a 10/10, five stars, and a thumbs up from me.

Reviewed by Jacqueline Bach

*Córdova, Zoraida, Incendiary: Hollow Crown, Book 1.
Read by Frankie Corzo.
Digital download. 14 hrs. 27 mins.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Incendiary is one of the reasons why I listen to audiobooks—when I get to a suspenseful part, I can't turn to the end to see what happens. And, there are a lot of those parts in this fourteen hour and twenty seven minute book.

Incendiary is a young adult fantasy novel filled with all the components that mark the genre: magic, tragedy, intrigue, family, romance, and betrayal. Renata Convida, the protagonist, lives in Puerto Leones, a world in which she and her people, the Moria, are hunted down because of their "magics." Renata's is one of the most rare and dangerous; she has the ability to steal memories and make hollows, humans who when having all of their memories stolen wither and die. As a child, Renata was stolen from her family and placed under the control of King Fernandez. Raised by the King's Justice, Renata was made to create hollows for the service of the king. After escaping, Renata joins the Whispers, a group of rebels intent on destroying the king's tyranny. In one tragic episode after another, often caused by her own powers, Renata finds herself back in Fernandez's palace to avenge and to save her world.

Author Córdova, who has authored several other fantasy books including those that are part of the Star Wars series, creates a world inspired by the Spanish Inquisition, in which readers wonder who can be trusted, who is the true enemy, and who is going to save the Moria. There's a potential love triangle that's compelling, tension among characters, who have complicated relationships, and the intrigue of life in a palace. Renata is a flawed protagonist who makes terrible mistakes and wonderful allies inside and outside of the palace. Puerto Leones' complicated history quickly unfolds and Córdova deftly unveils its secrets over the course of the novel.

Narrator Frankie Corzo, who has won several awards for her recordings (and co-stars in one of my favorite television shows, Better Things on FX), unfolds the story in a well-paced manner. At times, you have to listen closely as Renata slips into recalling a memory, which is indicated by italics in the text, but you must listen for cues in the audio version. Fluent in Spanish, Corzo gives Puerto Leones a distinct life of its own.

Incendiary is the first in a duology. I'm not sure what surprises Cordova has for us in the conclusion, but I can't wait to find out.

Reviewed by Jacqueline Bach

*Jacqueline Firkins. Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things.
Read by Laura Knight Keating.
9 CDs. 11 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019. Ages 14+

Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things is a remake of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. It tells the story of Edie Price, who relocates to Mansfield, Massachusetts to live with her Aunt Nora's family after a living in foster care when her mother died. The return to Mansfield is filled with memories of her mother and a general lack of familial acceptance. She determines to keep her head down, finish school, and raise money to attend UMass Boston in the fall. She quickly is blown off course by seeing the sweet, gawky, and longtime crush, Sebastian and later finds out he has a girlfriend. Determined to remain friends, she develops a friendship with the beautiful womanizer, Henry. What ensues is a very complicated love triangle.

The social expectations thrust upon Edie complicates her relationships with Sebastian and Henry. Her cousins, Maria and Julia, pressure to attend events and Julia is determined to turn Edie into a Cinderella story. As Edie tries to navigate her way through Mansfield's culture, her cousins prove to be Edie's center and the more time she spends in Mansfield the closer they become.

Award winning narrator Laura Knight Keating has narrated numerous books, such as Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before series, The Undoing of Thistle Tate, and Accidental. She narrates this book with such youth and energy it is difficult to believe she is not 18 herself. She beautifully constructs the world of Edie Price and brings you on Edie's journey. This is a story of self-discovery, friendship, and young love. Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things is fun listen for fans of contemporary romance.

Reviewed by Michelle Skaar
*Tom and Giovanna Fletcher. Eve of Man.
Read by Dylan and Charlotte Ritchie.
Digital download. 11.5 hours.
Random House Audio. 2019

Tom and Giovanna Fletcher transport you into the world of man. It has been 50 years since a woman has given birth to a girl and the world has turned to ruins due to climate change. Now comes Eve. For her protection and the protection of civilization, Eve is raised in solitude with only the Mothers and a hologram "Holly" to provide her comfort and company. Bram is a pilot for Holly and has been since they introduced Holly to Eve. Because of this, Bram and Eve have a very close connection with Eve often calling him "my Holly." However, Eve does not know Bram apart from Holly. Everything in her life progresses as it should until she turns 16 and it is time for her to meet her potentials. This is where everything gets interesting and starts to change. It is a sit on the edge of your seat novel and when it finishes you are begging for more. Thankfully, it is a trilogy.

Josh Dylan's and Charlotte Ritchie's narration is fantastic. Each speaks in their character's perspectives, rather than as the women or the men. This worked incredibly well for this story, giving each perspective authenticity. Both narrators used full voices and created distinctive voices for all characters. The pacing was fast, but changed characters perspectives and situation enough to avoid redundancy. This is an audiobook for people who like futuristic post-apocalyptic stories such as The Hunger Games and Divergent.

Reviewed by Michelle Skaar
*Anthony Horowitz. Nightshade. Alex Rider Series, #12.
Read by Simon Prebble.
9 CDs. 10 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 12+

Anthony Horowitz is the Adrenaline Master. Fifteen-year-old Alex Rider is Done with being a reluctant spy for MI6. He is finally returning to school and being allowed to actually be a normal teen – for a week. Mrs. Jones, MI6 commander, has informed him that her two children were stolen from her ten years ago, that she has never known what happened to them – until now when she sees a photo of her daughter who has become a member of the Nightshade community who plan on obliterating thousands of people in London. Can Alex refuse to help?

Once again Alex finds himself in unbelievable circumstances; he must pretend that he is a dangerous criminal in order to infiltrate Nightshade. Parachutes that don't open, karate matches against larger and more adept opponents, being drugged, and on and on – seriously, no letup. And is the end the end? Of course not.

Anthony Horowitz bears an amazing resemblance to Alex Rider. His talents are quite unbelievable. This is his 12th story starring Alex Rider. He also did the five stories in The Power of Five, six in the Diamond Brothers, standalones and two very early works that read like precursors to Harry Potter: The Devil's Doorbell (1983) and Night of the Scorpion.

He wrote Foyle's War and a number of other screenplays for films and television series, it goes on and on really – and yes, I am a fan. He was also awarded an OBE in 2014.

Simon Prebble began his career as a stage actor and has now recorded over 950 audiobooks! He has narrated all twelve of the Alex Rider stories so his expertise and familiarity with his character and his character's near- death experiences are as perfect as you might expect.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
*Sara Hosey. Iphigenia Murphy.
Read by Tavia Gilbert.
7 CDs. 8.5 hrs.
Blackstone Audio. 2020. Ages 12-17.

Iphigenia Murphy deals with a social problem that is far too common, but one which many readers/listeners may never have personally encountered and may probably never encounter in their own lives. As more people share their stories, however, the widespread nature of the problem emerges – the problem of abuse – the physical and emotional abuse of children, women, and men. Abuse is not restricted to specific social class, economic status, gender, or age.

Iphigenia ("Iffy") Murphy, 15 years old, runs away from the house shared with her father, stepmother and stepbrother, Marcos. After her own mother, consumed by alcohol and drug dependency, suffered a mental breakdown of sorts years ago, abandoned Iphigenia and her family. Unsupervised, Marcos now sexually abuses Iffy repeatedly, until she runs away in desperation, preferring to live a homeless existence in 1992 Queens Forest Park, NY. Savvy Iffy had earned and saved her money to buy necessary supplies – tent, sleeping bag, cooking utensils, and food. She manages to survive, defending herself from vagrants, thieves, and other homeless victims one would normally cross to the other side of the street to avoid. She adopts a stray dog, whom she names "Angel" and meets Corinne, a young trans woman, older than she, who is trying to cope with an abusive relationship. The two live together in the park, forming an unusual friendship which encourages them to share their thoughts, hopes, and fears. Things become more complicated and dangerous when Iphigenia tries to locate her crackhead mother, also reputed to be living in the park, and to get even with her stepbrother by reporting his drug business to the cops. When Anthony shows up – a foster kid whose parents have been in and out of prison for dealing drugs – he and Iffy discover a mutual attraction. Anthony becomes her source of normality and strength, a protector of sorts. All are searching for real family and acceptance. For Iffy, living in the park has opened her eyes to her own worth and value, making this a moving coming-of-age story. Narrator Tavia Gilbert deftly personalizes each character – Iphigenia's sometimes wavering voice often makes her sound like the child she is, but one who carries a knife and gun for protection. Corinne sounds battle-worn, but unable to leave the man she loves, but who has repeatedly abused her. Anthony's caring, concern provides a calm, compassionate, reassuring voice. The park people reflect their coarse, sneaky, and threatening behaviors.

Sara Hobey's excellent audiobook paints a grimly realistic picture of those forced to live on the streets with little hope of an alternate future. It may open the eyes of many teens who fantasize about experiencing freedom, without parental constraint.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
*Bren MacDibble. How to Bee.
Read by Katherine Littrell.
3 CDs. 4 hrs.
Blackstone Audio. 2020. Ages 9-12

Set in Australia in a future time and place where bees have become extinct, this story describes how rural fruit farms employ children in two roles to aid in the production of honey: "Pests," who remove insects and other harmful creatures from the flowering trees and "Bees," whose job is to pollinate the flowers by hand. Peony, aged 12, works as a "pest" on such a farm in the Goulburn Valley, living with gramps and her sister Magnolia. Peony's mother, Rosie, desirous of a better life, finds work in the city as a servant to the Pasquale family. When Rosie finds she is pregnant by "the Ape," (an abusive man), she wants Peony to come to work with her in the city, earning money, so they can improve the family's lot. Peony, however, loves the farm work, looks forward to becoming a Bee and eventually a manager of the farm. She much prefers her home and the love shared there, to the added money and the things it can buy. When "the Ape" kidnaps her and takes her to the city with Rosie, Peony is forced to work for the Pasquales and bide her time till she can escape.

Esmeralda Pasquale, whose father's company purchases much of the fruit on Peony's farm, is the polar opposite of Peony. She is fragile, overly protected, fearful of going outside her house, and even fearful of people. Their initial confrontation and the deepening of their friendship is heart warming. Peony challenges "Es" to be bold like the Bee her grandmother was, to go outside for a picnic, go into the school building by herself, and watch the night sky.

But, the question is, how will Peony return to Gramps and the farm? This delightful, genuine audiobook by Bren MacDibble contains many lessons about differences in social classes, ways of living life, life patterns of families, and experiencing love.

Narrator Katherine Littrell, does an excellent job depicting all of the characters but especially the voice of Peony, who tells the story, capturing her energy, determination, courage and compassion. She actually sounds like a young girl, reflecting the words and tone of Peony's rural/farmng life. When Peony, excited by anger or thrill, shouts her emphatic "Cha!" Littrell captures that unrbidled passion and bold directness of our heroine.

Written for the middle grades, How To Bee is sure to capture the attention of those who like family stories, strong heroines, and stories that stimulate imagination about life in a changing climate.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
*Mara Rutherford. Crown of Coral and Pearl.
Read by Amanda Dolan.
11 CDs. 12.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019. Ages 12+

Fantasy, medieval castles, and light romance fill the pages of Mara Rutherford's epic tale Crown of Coral and Pearl. The story details the trials of life in tiny Varenia, a kingdom that is built over the sea and that values outer beauty above all else. When twin sisters Nor and Zadie are forced to separate because one is being sent against her wishes to Ilaria to wed the prince, the sisters devise a dangerous plan to change their fates.

Seasoned audiobook narrator Amanda Dolan's vocals bring an innocence and determination to the protagonist in Rutherford's Young Adult novel. Dolan's pacing, passion, and persistence bring Nor to life and force the listener to root for this unlikely heroine. The pain Nor experiences when she is separated from her sister and forced to endure trials beyond comprehension resonate through Dolan's performance. But her narration skills don't stop there. Dolan's male character impersonations are equally authentic. The evil crown prince is even more despicable because of the narrator's efforts making his kind and gentle half brother seem all the sweeter.

Dolan has narrated countless titles, including Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Blood Trial by Kelly St. Clare, Wildflower Heart by Grace Greene, and Born by AE Watson.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold