The latest round of Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature fantastic characters and a dash of magical realism!
A Million Junes by Emily Henry, narrated by Julia Whelan
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication date: May 16, 2017
Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell comes from a long line of Jacks. As a child, her father raised her on the tall tales of her Jack ancestors, beginning with Jack I and his quest to plant his cherry trees in the perfect spot–her current home of Five Fingers, Michigan, right in the middle of the magically mysterious “thin place” where her home is located. But the land, the legacy, and the cherries have always been tangled up with the neighboring Angert family, resulting in a hatred that goes beyond a typical petty feud. When fate tragically strikes one family, the other is soon to follow. Despite the bad blood and bad luck, June didn’t begin to take the feud seriously until her father’s death. And now the family’s’ complicated relationship is at the forefront when the youngest Angert, Saul, returns home from a prestigious college writing program to care for his ailing father. For the first time, June and Saul’s paths continue to cross, and not always by accident. As a reluctant friendship turns into something more, a strange occurrence causes June and Saul to begin reliving scenes from the past. These memories make it clear that something sinister is behind the feud, and June and Saul must uncover long buried family secrets before tragic fate strikes again.
A Millions Junes, Emily Henry’s sophomore work, is my favorite kind of book. It’s magical realism at its best, complete with family curses, love, ghosts, grief, and a blurred line between fantasy and reality. June is a fantastic character–snarky and charming and flawed–and she misses her father with an ache that’s palpable from the page. Her best friend, Hannah, is equally as memorable. She’s more loveable than prickly June, but it’s their friendship and love for each other that stands out the most: when Henry writes the dialogue “You’re my first great love,” it’s Hannah and June having the conversation. And then there’s Saul, the sweetly alluring college boy with his own tragic past. He’s an atypical YA hero, yet just as swoony, and readers fall for him right along with June. The strange and slightly creepy magical elements of A Million Junes are never really explained, and readers have to suspend their belief and go along for the ride, something Emily Henry’s vivid writing makes it easy to do.
Just like all great audiobook performances, Julia Whelan’s narration of A Million Junes brings the story to a whole new level. Her voice is perfectly suited to the character of June, which may be the reason I liked this main character so much. Whelan pays special attention to pacing and characterization, highlighting Henry’s witty dialogue, complicated characters, and emotional story arc. This is definitely an audiobook I will be listening to again, and I highly recommend it for fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series and Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap.
-Amy Oelkers, Youth Services Librarian, Oakdale, MN
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Eddie Redmayne
Audio published by: Pottermore
Publication date: March 17, 2017
You may have heard of a wizard named Harry Potter and probably know what Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is about, but the new audio version of the book, narrated by Newt Scamander as voiced by Eddie Redmayne, is still a must-listen. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is one of the textbooks used by wizard Harry Potter while a student at Hogwarts. The book begins with an introduction by Newt Scamander giving background information on what type of creature qualifies as a beast and muggle awareness of these animals. It profiles magical beasts in the wizarding world, from an augurey to a Peruvian vipertooth dragon to the snidget. Each entry has a Ministry of Magic (M. O. M.) classification from X (boring) to XXXXX (known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate).
Newt Scamander’s character, who we were introduced to in the Fantastic Beasts movie, shines through the audio version of this book. Newt’s care and concern for magical beasts is apparent in the way in which he describes the beasts. The audiobook bring these creatures to life as we hear the roar of the dragons and the skittering of smaller beasts.
While there isn’t a plot to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it’s not merely a list of magical creatures. Instead, it’s further background on Newt Scamander’s character and a helpful guide to one aspect of the wizarding world. J. K. Rowling’s world building continues to amaze after all these years. If you’re like me and read Fantastic Beasts when it was originally published in the early 2000s, a fresh listen to the book will have you making connections from the original series to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to the Fantastic Beasts movie.
I can’t get enough Harry Potter, and I know I’m not alone. I own the ebook series, multiple copies of each book, and have seen and loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the West End. I’m known to read some Draco and Hermione fanfiction and have taken Pottermore’s quizzes (Ravenclaw, mole patronus, elm wood with a Phoenix feather core 12 ¼” and hard flexibility wand). Whether you’re a hardcore Potterhead like I am or casually enjoy Harry Potter, the audiobook of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is well worth your time because of Redmayne’s excellent narration and its ability to immerse you in the world of fantastic beasts.
The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale, narrated by Candace Thaxton
Audio Published by: Simon and Schuster Audio
Publication date: 2/28/17
The Beast is an Animal is a haunting, atmospheric story that begins with a nursery rhyme and an ancient tale. Two twin sisters, perfect mirror copies of the other, are born to a poor farmer and his wife on the outskirts of a secluded village. A drought on the land spawns rumors of witchcraft, and the wife and her strange daughters are banished to the forest and abandoned. After many years, the mother dies and the sisters, after growing up in the wild and sinister forest, transform into soul eaters.
The tale then switches to Alys, a young child in the same small village. Alys is also considered a strange child because of her affinity for the night and her fascination with tales of the Beast. When she wanders in a field at night and meets two strange, beautiful women, Alys wakes to find every adult in her village dead, mere husks in their beds. She and the other children are taken in by a neighboring village of Defaid, and there Alys grows into a teenager, her curiosity about the Beast and the forest increasing while the memory of the soul eaters never leaves her mind. The Puritan-minded villagers are strict and superstitious, and as the threat of evil outside the village increases, so does the cruel treatment of the newcomers. Alys is forced on a journey to confront the danger in the forest and the threat of darkness in herself in order to right the wrongs of the past and save her future.
Candace Thaxton’s narration of this creepy, satisfying story is both melodic and bleak, weaving the story of Aly’s life like a tale around a campfire. Told in third person, Thaxton’s low slightly gravelly timbre works for both child and teen Alys and fluxuates well between the twangy, simple travelers and austere, authoritarian Defaiders. Listeners hoping for a nail-biting horror might be put off by the slower, steady creepiness, but others will be endeared to strange Alys and enthralled with the disturbing, mystifying world she inhabits. Poetic in tone and theme, the story is perfect for artistic teens looking for a non-romance, anyone fascinated with the Salem witch trials, and fans of the original Grimm’s fairy tales.
-Amy Oelkers, Youth Services Librarian, Oakdale Library, MN
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, narrated by Steve West
Audio published by: Little Brown
Publication Date: 3/28/17
Lazlo Strange was given his name when he was orphaned, but he earned the title Dreamer through his constant daydreams and talk of a land without a name. Well, the land used to have a name, but years ago its name and all knowledge of it blinked out of everyone’s heads. Now referred to only as Weep, it is mostly a land of legend and dreams. Lazlo, through cleverness and stubbornness, learns all he can about Weep, even teaching himself the ancient language. When a convoy from Weep shows up to bring scientists and warriors back to the city, Lazlo finds himself swept up into an ancient conflict between gods, mortals, and those who are neither.
Strange the Dreamer is a sweeping tale that uses the platform of fantasy as a lens to shine light on issues like slavery, power, and how history is written by the victors. The audiobook reflects the breadth of the book, coming in at a little over eighteen hours. Persistent listeners will be rewarded, though, with lush language, a huge cast of well-developed characters, and an ending that will leave them thirsting for the second book in this duology.
High fantasy is surprisingly rare in young adult literature, and Strange the Dreamer is a compelling entry into the genre. Fans of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy will find plenty to love here, as will fans of other doorstoppers such as The Game of Thrones.
— Ariel Cummins