Amazing Audiobooks (#AA2021) Nominees Round Up, December 30 Edition

Click here to see all of the current Amazing Audiobooks nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.

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Raybearer by  Jordan Ifueko; Narrated by  Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Blackstone Publishing
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
ISBN: 978-1094149189

Tarisai has grown up living a privileged life surrounded by tutors, luxury, and protection in her realm, but she has never received love and closeness from anyone around her. She especially longs for attention from her mother, called The Lady. At 11 years old, Tarisai is sent to Oluwan City to compete for inclusion on Crown Prince Ekundayo’s governing Council of Eleven. If chosen, she will bond eternally with Prince Dayo and her Council siblings via a mystical Ray, and gain the human closeness she so craves. But Tarisai learns that before she was born, The Lady commanded a djinn to impregnate her with a child who must someday grant her third wish. Tarisai is that child. And The Lady’s third wish is to kill the prince Tarisai is now sworn to protect. 

Spellbinding plot lines keep listeners riveted, and vivid and lucious world-building keeps them rooted in this Afrofuturistic tale that turns the chosen one archetype on its head. Abbott-Pratt is perfectly matched as narrator and brings a sweetness to Tarisai, who is compassionate and sympathetic, as well as to the other richly drawn characters in this book. 

Fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, and Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer duology will appreciate this new series addition to the court and fantasy genre. For more Afrofantasy try Song of Wraith and Ruins by Roseanne A. Brown, A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy, or Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron.

–Danielle Jones

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Fable by Adrienne Young; Narrated by Emma Lysy
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
ISBN:  9781250772152

Four years ago, Fable watched her mother drown at sea and was abandoned by her father on an island with no friends and few supplies, ending the life on the high seas that is all she has ever known. Now, to escape the island, Fable joins the crew of The Marigold with the help of a trader named West. Fable is on the hunt for her father, to prove she deserves a place on his ship, but along the way discovers shocking secrets about those close to her and finds herself in more danger than she could have imagined. 

This gripping, fast-paced pirate adventure will keep teens engaged with elements of high-stakes adventure, romance, and magic and with vivid world building and description. Narrator Emma Lysy infuses the characters with personality and charm. 

Fable is a solid choice for readers of Daughter of the Pirate King and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. 

–Jaimie Crawford

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Faith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy; Narrated by Joy Nash
Balzer + Bray
Publication date: July 7, 2020
ISBN: 9781094132266

Faith Herbert is a regular teen- aside from the fact that she learned how to fly over the summer. She loves animals, her bffs and anything to do with a TV series called The Grove. When The Grove relocates to Faith’s town to film, she is floored. But strange things are happening around town: animals and people are missing. Faith may not be a real superhero, but someone has to save the day. 

Dietland actress and fat activist Joy Nash is an ideal narrator for this fat positive superhero story. She nails Murphy’s witty writing, landing all the jokes, and captures superhero Faith’s nerves when she meets a hero of her own, and starts to have a crush.

For more feminist bent superhero stories, this pairs well with the graphic novels by G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and Mariko Tamaki’s Harley Quinn and Supergirl. For more fat positive novels with a queer storyline this is an excellent companion to The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding, I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee, and  If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann.

–Danielle Jones

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Legendborn by Tracy Deonn; Narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
ISBN: 9781797113463

After her mother’s unexpected death, 16-year-old Bree Matthews flees painful memories at home by entering a prestigious program for high schoolers at University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill. Unfortunately, she ends up witnessing the attack of a strange, demon-like creature on her first night on campus. When a mysterious teenage mage tries and fails to erase her memories of the attack, Bree launches herself into an investigation of the Legendborn, a demon-hunting secret society of the descendants of King Arthur and his knights. With new knowledge that this society may have been involved in her mother’s death and a magic war brewing, Bree infiltrates the Legendborn as she hunts for the truth and uncovers more and more secrets about her mother and her own true identity. 

This modern-day twist on a classic legend features a lot of Black Girl Magic and a tenacious heroine. Plot twists and the mash of Arthurian lore, African American folk magic, and a host of nasty demon creatures will keep listeners rapt. Joniece Abbott-Pratt deftly narrates the voices of different characters and is equally skilled at conveying the tension and mood shifts as listeners learn about the world of the Legendborn alongside Bree. 

Fans of fantasy titles that feature strong black heroines challenging the status quo, like Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone and Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water, will find a lot to like in Legendborn. Readers who have enjoyed other remixes of Arthurian legends such as Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception and Amy Rose Capetta’s The Once and Future may also want to give this a listen. 

–Allison Riendeau

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The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune; Narrated by Michael Lesley
Macmillan Audio
Publication date: July 14, 2020
ISBN: 9781250755742

Nick Bell is a fanboy extreme.  He follows the news of the extraordinary hero Shadow Star and his arch nemesis religiously.  He writes extremely popular fan-fiction about the hero, and even has a small (maybe huge) crush.  After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, things ratchet up and Nick decides he wants some extraordinary powers of his own.  With or without the help of his friend Seth Gray (who he may or may not be in love with), Nick heads out to do just that. 

This is an over the top comic book/superhero story with many laugh out loud moments, but also meaningful friendships, LGBTQ+ romance, and a poignant father/son relationship. The story includes some good twists all starring the most adorkable main character who is clueless and fast talking, and his great group of friends.  Lesley’s narration is a perfect match for Nick’s queer, ADHD voice.  Narration of all the characters is really well done, and there are even a few sound effects thrown in to round out this audiobook performance.

Readers who like superhero stories or gay romance will find that here. Readers may also like The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopulos, The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, or Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall.

Cathy Outten

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Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson; Narrated by Guy Lockard
Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: September 1, 2020
ISBN: 9780593341216

ZJ’s father, a beloved professional football star, is showing the effects of multiple brain injuries from his playing career.  His father’s terrible mood swings and memory loss are becoming more and more of a problem in ZJ’s life. As doctors struggle to help him, he deteriorates to the point where he sometimes doesn’t even remember ZJ’s name.

In a beautiful, heart-felt novel in verse, National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson examines how chronic traumatic encephalopathy changes a family.  This moving story touches on universal themes about families, father/son relationships and friendship with a heartbreaking background of the slowly deteriorating health of the father. Lockard’s narration is an excellent match for ZJ’s voice and portrays his pain vividly.

Readers who enjoyed Woodson’s other novels in verse such as Brown Girl Dreaming will find an excellent example here.  Those looking for another story of the effects on mental illness on a family might consider The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson or Unbecoming by Jenny Downham.

-Cathy Outten

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Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo; Narrated by David Shih, Emily Woo Zeller
Tantor Audio
Publication Date: December 31, 2019
ISBN: 978-0374310578

Roman Holiday meets K-pop in this rom-com romp around Hong Kong. After getting a bit woozy on anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills, Lucky, a K-pop superstar, sneaks away from her hotel room, handlers, and guards in search of a hamburger. Losing her way, she meets Jack, an aspiring photographer who doesn’t recognize her at first, and assists her in an adventurous night around the city. Lucky tries to pull off that she is an ordinary girl, and Jack soon realizes who she is, and with his reluctant side work as a tabloid photographer, this could be the break he needs to get out of the game and pursue his own art. Slowly, as the night progresses, both start to question their lives’ paths, and start to fall for each other. 

Told in two voices Shih and Zeller are a perfect match for this fast-paced, fun-filled adventure where you are rooting for both characters to make the right choices,  and hopefully end up both happy and together. 

Great for fans of rom-coms like When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandya Menon and Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali. For more K-pop try I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee and Shine by Jessica Jung. This will also be a good companion to Netflix’s Dash and Lily and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

–Danielle Jones

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When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk; Narrated by Imani Parks
Listening Library 
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
ISBN: 978-0593162460

Breakups are hard, but friend breakups are the hardest. When Cleo and Layla met in middle school, it felt like fate. Cleo’s beloved grandmother had just passed away, and the immediate bond of friendship with Layla meant everything to Cleo. Now it’s the start of sophomore year, and Layla, who has a stutter except for when she sings, has joined chorus and is starting to spend more time with the chorus crowd. As Cleo’s parents’ marriage fractures, Cleo wants everything to be binary; either people are all good or all bad and things have to be one way or the other. And as Layla drifts away, Cleo must confront her expectations of others. 

Centering female friendship, Woodfolk encapsulates the importance of relationships during the teen years, and Parks’ narration captures the first-person narrative as Cleo struggles with what it means to be a friend and the grayer areas of life. 

For more friendship fallouts try We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding, The Spaces Between Us by Stacia Tolman, and Netflix’s Never Have I Ever. For more books with friendship at its center, try We Are the Perfect Girl by Ariel Kaplan, Girls Like Us by Randi Pink, and Run by Kody Keplinger.

–Danielle Jones

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Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen; Narrated by Morag Sims
Publication Date: Deecmber 3, 2019
ISBN:  978-1094025506

Lady Victoria Ashton is a devoted reader of Jane Austen’s, so when her idyllic life in Regency England is disrupted- requiring her to marry or find her family penniless- she draws from Miss Austen’s novels for help as she enters “the Season” in search of a wealthy husband. If that isn’t enough to deal with, mysterious accidents begin to occur around London, and put Lady Victoria in peril. She must distinguish between rogues with ill-intent and dashing young suitors all while wondering if she’ll survive long enough to be wed. 

This regency era story of romance and thrills is action-packed with a solid mystery and full of complexly-developed characters. Cohen uses classic Austen social tropes and misunderstandings to up the tension while focusing on a heroine with modern sensibility teens will relate to and root for.

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance is perfect for fans of  historical fiction from authors like Kerri Maniscalco and Eva Ibbotson or for fans of mystery-solving heroines like those in Truly Devious and A Study in Charlotte

–Jaimie Crawford

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Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore; Narrated by Vikas Adam, Mia Barron & Almarie Guerra
Recorded Books, Inc.
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
ISBN: 978-1980060314

Every October the town of Briar Meadow experiences a glimmer, where strange and magical events occur. This year, the glimmer seems to be tied to the red shoes that Rosella Olivera’s family makes. Rosella’s shoes compel her to dance and keep driving her toward Emil, whose Romani ancestors were accused of causing a similar dancing sickness in 16th century France. 

McLemore’s magical realism retelling of The Red Shoes expertly weaves together the past and present timelines and features historical trans representation. The three narrators convey the emotions and struggles of Rosella, Emil, and Lavinia as they grapple with fitting in without losing their cultural identities.

Readers looking for atmospheric, magical retellings may also enjoy Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Barshardoust, About a Girl by Sarah McCarry, and Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold.

–Emily Blaeser

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Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon; Narrated by Shiromi Arserio, Jason Carpenter
Simon & Schuster Audio
Release date: February 18, 2020
ISBN: 9781797101934

In this modern day remix of “Beauty and the Beast,” Princess Jaya Rao finds herself at an international boarding school with the broody Gray Emerson. For Jaya, family is everything, and the Raos and the Emersons have been feuding for centuries – most recently leading to the Emersons targeting Jaya’s younger sister in the tabloids. Accordingly, Jaya seeks revenge, plotting to get Gray to fall in love with her so she can break his heart. Meanwhile, Gray has been isolating himself since he was told of the ancient Rao curse that will bring his doom on his eighteenth birthday. As Jaya and Gray get to know one another, both realize not everything is as it seems and must navigate questions of love, loyalty, and what it means to fight for your own happy ending.  

This contemporary fairy tale is more than a love story, bringing in elements of familial bonds, the navigation of parental expectations, and the consequences of secrets, gossip, and prejudices. Shiromi Arserio’s narration of highly motivated, strong-willed Jaya is particularly excellent as the listener experiences Gray and Jaya’s alternating points of view.   

Details such as Jaya’s ruby rose pendant, a library, and a fancy dance all nod to the original fairy tale as well as the Disney version, which many listeners will find familiar. Fans of Sandhya Menon’s light-hearted romances that feature Indian heroines as well as those who enjoy fairy tale retellings will find this title a dramatic, fanciful treat. Hand to teens who obsess over the TV series Once Upon a Time and books like Ashley Poston’s Bookish and the Beast and A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer. 

–Allison Riendeau