#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 6

Today’s Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature charming and engaging coming of age narratives.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, narrated by Robbie Daymond
Audio published by Clarion Books
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
ISBN: 978-0544586505

Sal is beginning his senior year of high school. He feels he’s always lived a slow, predictable life with his adoptive gay dad, his dad’s family, and his best friend, Sam. The beginning of this school year, however, brings an identity crisis the likes of which Sal has never experienced. His emotions feel out of control, his family life is rapidly changing, and he’s spiraling. His grandmother, the only woman who’s played the motherly role in his life, is dying while his friend Fito’s mother is at risk of murdering Fito because of the drugs that she’s using. The only outlet for all of this stress that satisfies Sal is physical violence, and this makes him afraid of himself.

Continue reading #AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 6

#QP2018 Nominees: Sports Stories

Grit, Motivation, Passion, Focus, Teamwork, Resilience, Tenacity. These are the tenets that Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander outlines in The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life. The characters in the three sports novels recommended here exhibit all that and more.

In Patina, Jason Reynolds continues the story that began with Ghost, of tenacious Patty and the motley group of runners who win on the the track but struggle in their lives. Top Prospect, by veteran sports writer Paul Volponi, tells the story of a resilient boy pressured way too early to be the quarterback his older brother is, partly based on the true stories of young athletes who are promised college scholarships before they even hit high school. Passionate Tessa, in Thatcher Heldring’s The Football Girl, is an exceptional athlete who loves the game too much to let it go, even at the risk of disappointing her friends and family.

These stories, along with Alexander’s sage advice, will be winners with reluctant readers of all shapes, sizes and athletic skills.

The PlaybookThe Playbook  52 Ways to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander
Photographs by Thai Neave
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
February 14, 2017
978-0544570979

While traditional playbooks guide athletes in strategies for winning on the scoreboard, Alexander’s release, The Playbook, has 52 rules for enriching the game of life.  This uplifting rendition contains anecdotes from some of the world’s most influential athletes, leaders, and poets.  LeBron James, Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, and many more are included. A diverse selection of thought-provoking, practical narratives includes quotes and photographs that embrace a variety of sports, gender, race, and compelling individuals. Alexander himself shares encouraging stories about overcoming obstacles while struggling in football and basketball as a teen, before his persistence culminated in finding his niche and success in tennis.  Continue reading #QP2018 Nominees: Sports Stories

#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 5

This installment of Amazing Audiobook nominees feature stories of real life and the “not so afterlife” and are perfect for fans of hard-hitting realistic YA fiction, and more humorous stories.

The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin
Audio published by: Harper Audio
Publication date: 2/28/17
ISBN: 9780062677082

The Hate U Give, titled after a Tupac Shakur song, reaches deep into an ongoing issue in American culture today; that of police violence against the African American community. Starr Carter is torn between two worlds. In one world, she’s the token black girl, smoothing out her personality and demeanor to fit in with the other students at her suburban prep school. In her other world, Starr faces a glaring reality that only comes from living in a drug- and gang-ridden community. But even with its problems, Garden Heights looks after itself, neighbors helping each other; and Starr’s father’s store provides a staple business in the community. One evening Kenya (Starr’s half-brother’s sister), convinces Starr to join her at a local party. During the party, Starr reunites with an old childhood friend, Khalil. Seeing Khalil brings forward some of the reasons the two grew apart; Starr’s attending a prep school in a different town and the death of their childhood friend, who was killed in a drive by shooting while swimming at the public pool. After witnessing the death of their friend, Starr has never been quite the same. Continue reading #AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 5

#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 4

This round of Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature historical fiction and true tales of teens making history.

The Pearl Thief

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Maggie Service
Audio published by Brilliance Audiobook
Publication Date: 7/15/17

ISBN: 978-1484717165

Elizabeth Wein’s latest novel is another humdinger of a historical yarn. This little ditty is just drenched in dulcet dialogue and populated by an irresistible array of memorable characters. Featuring a feisty and charmingly spunky female protagonist with a certain derring-do that takes her to the heart of an engrossing murder mystery. Teenage Julie Beaufort-Stuart returns to her ancestral Scottish home for the summer and is quickly steeped in a conundrum involving pilfered pearls, country travelers, and one boggy corpse.

The Pearl Thief is a well-crafted coming-of-age tale that rings authentic and well-researched. It should appeal to young audiences for its vim, variety of characters, and velocity of narrative. It’s equal parts Harriet the Spy, Sherlock Holmes, and Scooby-Doo. Julie carries the plot effortlessly with her verve and sense of adventure but the accompanying characters also bring much to the story. Julie befriends two traveler siblings and together they tackle the case of the missing heirloom pearls that resulted in a dead body on the family estate. It’s very almost nearly a Nancy Drew Mystery Story. Continue reading #AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominees, Volume 4

#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks, Volume 3

The latest round of Amazing Audiobooks nominees feature fantastic characters and a dash of magical realism!

A Million JunesA Million Junes by Emily Henry, narrated by Julia Whelan
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication date: May 16, 2017
ISBN: 9781524756123

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. Continue reading #AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks, Volume 3

#QP2018 Nominees: Immigrants and Refugees

Immigrants and refugees are such a timely topic, that many new books are being written to inform the public of the realities those seeking sanctuary endure. The following selections put a face to the issues…faces that cannot be denied. Whether historical fiction or non-fiction memoirs, these Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominees help raise awareness for teens.

RefugeeRefugee by Alan Gratz
Scholastic Press
July 25, 2017
978-0545880831

Three countries in strife…three different periods in time…three families seeking one universal goal: FREEDOM. Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud offer realistic, fictionalized accounts of attempts to find refuge from 1939 Nazi Germany, Castro’s 1994 Cuba, and war-torn Syria in 2015. Methods of escape include a ship, raft, trains, taxi, and tedious, wearisome treks by foot. With obstacles like Nazis, sharks, police, the coast guard, fences, and thieves along the way, realization of both freedom and safety are not guaranteed.

The cover portrays a black and white, very lifelike image of a boy in a boat facing a storm, with the title and boat in bold red, clearly foreshadowing the story and igniting curiosity. The action is fast-paced and intensifies during the heartwrenching journeys of the three families. Although three separate tales, Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud face similar struggles across different lands and eras. Told from three alternating points of view, each protagonist has authentically courageous, yet vulnerable qualities that will have readers sympathizing with their plight and supporting their quest for deliverance for their families. Each compelling chapter seems to end  with a mini-cliffhanger, just as the narrator changes. This suspenseful technique naturally makes the reader keep going to find out what happens next with each of the three refugees. The intricately plotted storyline eventually comes full circle, as connections are made amongst the three families. Continue reading #QP2018 Nominees: Immigrants and Refugees

#QP2018 Nominees: Science Fiction

Science fiction is the perfect place to find imaginative and inventive hooks. In this post, we feature four science fiction stories with fabulous hooks.

Exo by Fonda Lee is a story of life on an alien occupied earth, and ponders the question of whether it is better to cooperate or rebel.

Nemesis by Brendan Reichs features a terrifying premise where two protagonists are killed every two years, only to be resurrected the next day with no memory of their demise.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman imagines a future where technology has advanced to the point that nobody dies anymore. The creation of Scythes, humans whose role is to kill other humans, is the only way to ensure the world isn’t overpopulated.

What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy balances a science fiction premise, protecting the Earth from a possible alien invasion, with a healthy injection of humor.

Landscape With Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson delivers a science fiction tale chock-full of fascinating ideas in a short, digestible package that will appeal to reluctant readers.

These five books feature captivating hooks, engaging writing, and well drawn characters that will tempt many reluctant readers.

Exo by Fonda Lee
Scholastic Press
January 31, 2017
9780545933438

What if the earth were a colony, a useful military outpost? What if humans were the “indigenous” species–their intelligence the only quality that kept them from being completely overrun by a superior alien race that benevolently talked down to them?

Welcome to the new earth. Under the new political order, the alien race of zhree have created a feudal-like system in which they incorporate humans into their protective clans. Donovan Reyes,  son of the new Prime Liaison between the humans and the zhree, is a valuable political pawn. His father selected him to undergo the “hardening” process, a process that provides him with an exoskeleton similar to that of the zhree race.  The exoskeleton is critical in his role as a peace keeper between humans and zhree, but it can’t protect him when he is kidnapped by the terrorist organization, Sapience. The hits just keep on coming when he realizes that the terrorist are being led by someone who causes him to question everything his father and the zhree have created. Continue reading #QP2018 Nominees: Science Fiction

#QP2018 Nominees: Novels in Verse

Too. Many. Words.

For a reluctant reader who may not be able to create that internal video that brings a narrative to life, a book in verse is a lot less intimidating. We loved these four titles with four very different approaches that still manage to capture contemporary concerns.

 In Bull, author David Elliott gives a famous Greek myth a facelift that transforms it into a tale that can be paired with George O’Connor’s graphic novel Poseidon: Earth Shaker to bring a whole new perspective to an old story.

Sonya Sones grabs readers by the heart as she tackles youth homelessness and mental illness in Saving Red.

Then Nikki Grimes pairs brilliant art with classic verse and provides current context with One Last Word.  

We round out our four with Solo by Kwame Alexander who mastered this style of writing with predecessors like The Crossover and Booked.  

These four titles contain just the right number of words to build a powerful emotional response in our reluctant young adult readers.

Bull by David ElliotBull by David Elliott
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
March 23, 2017
978-0544610606

Bull is a retelling of the ancient Greek Minotaur myth told in verse. Fans of Greek mythology know the basic story. Poseidon curses the King of Crete, his wife gives birth to a monster child with the body of a human and the head of a bull, he’s put in a labyrinth where the hero Theseus eventually vanquishes him. But in the modern trend of reimagining old tales from unique perspectives, David Elliott, gives us insight into the mind of the fabled Minotaur, named Asterion, as well as his family, the god Poseidon, and his eventual conqueror Theseus. David Elliott reimagines these ancient characters with fresh modern voices. The writing is in verse, and is at times lyrical, humorous, and heartbreaking. Potential readers should take note that there is a LOT of cursing in this book. The third page opens with Poseidon saying “whaddup bitches?.” And emphasis is placed on adult elements found in the original myth, such as the episode of bestiality between the bewitched queen and a bull that produced the minotaur.

Points of interest: the cover is eye-catching, the text is sparse with plenty of white space, and the book itself is short. The characters feel modern and engaging. Elliott doesn’t pull any punches with regards to cursing and references to adult themes.

Suggested for mature teens who can handle some adult humor and references. Recommended for fans of mythology retellings, Kwame Alexander’s novels in verse, and readers looking for a short engaging read. Continue reading #QP2018 Nominees: Novels in Verse

#QP2018 Nominees: Social Media in YA Fiction

Social media is a huge part of the lives of most teens. Naturally, this is being reflected in young adult books. While platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, to name just a few, are hugely popular, the magnetism they develop can have serious consequences when intentions are unethical or downright sinister. The following selections serve as fascinating yet cautionary tales of sorts due to cyberstalking, catfishing, cyberbullying, and the exposing of deep secrets. The following nominees for Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers 2018 all explore how social media can effect the lives of teens. 

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
Delacorte Press
May 30, 2017
978-1524714680

One of Us is LyingFive teens show up for detention after school, but only four make it out alive. Simon Kelleher, the creator of a malicious gossip app targeting his classmates, dies of an allergic reaction during detention. Somehow, his epi pen has gone missing, in addition to the unaccounted for stash of them kept in the school nurse’s office. When police discover peanut oil was in Simon’s water, the facts start adding up that this was no accident.

Cover image is intriguing with the four suspects depicted as faceless inside a yearbook type layout with contrasting red title. The fast-paced first chapter snags the reader’s attention right away, and the plot intensifies throughout the book as more secrets are exposed. Each chapter consists of brief points of view from the detention survivors, unfolding the menacing tone Simon has created via social media in a disturbing and twisted way. Diversity in ability, culture, and LGBTQIA are present amongst the characters. Some results in bullying and threats of exposure as the gritty app reveals secrets the survivors, now suspects, want kept under wraps.  The social media aspect, diverse character representation, and suspenseful plot will appeal to a broad range of teens.

Characters considered the Brain, the Beauty, the Criminal, and the Athlete are reminiscent of The Breakfast Club, with a modern day mystery twist. Fans of Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars series or books featuring social media/internet bullying such as Nerve by Jeanne Ryan or Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli are ideal readers.

-Lisa Krok

bombshellBombshell by Rowan Maness
Simon Pulse
July 4, 2017
978-1481441643

Online, Joss can be anyone she wants, so she is a lot of different people. Rosie restores art in NYC, Emma is a lonely Southern beauty queen, and Anna’s a jet-setting international model, just to name a few of the people Joss pretends to be, and each has their own distinct identity fabricated entirely by Joss on the Internet – identities she uses to meet people and to escape the drudgery and boredom of her regular life. Unfortunately, someone has figured out what she’s up to and is threatening to reveal her secret on a website called josslies.com to the people she’s met by pretending to be Emma, Anna, Rosie, and all the others. When “Believer” really starts to close in on her, Joss has to decide whether to give up her catfishing and be herself or run away and try to make a life as someone else. Continue reading #QP2018 Nominees: Social Media in YA Fiction

#AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominations, Volume 2

The Amazing Audiobooks Blogging Team is back with another round of amazing audiobook nominations, featuring historical LGBTQ romance, nonfiction, a murder mystery, a quiet contemporary, and a fantasy romance.

The Gentleman's Guide to VIce and Virtue

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, narrated by Christian Coulson
Audio Published by: HarperAudio
Publication date: June 1, 2017
ISBN: 9780062743114

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue follows the story of Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour of Europe. Accompanied by his dashing best friend, Percy, and his head-strong sister Felicity, the trio manages to find danger and adventure along their journey. Monty’s sexuality and general debauchery incites disapproval from his father, who threatens to cut Monty off if he does not change his ways. The Tour is Monty’s last chance, with the expectations of obeying his chaperone and becoming the respectable member of the British aristocracy he was born to be. Rather than succumbing to his father’s whims, Monty steals an artifact from the French court after a disastrous party, then proceeds to wreak havoc across the continent. Throughout their exploits, Monty’s relationships with both his friend and sister change, leading to personal revelations and growth.

One of the aspects of the audiobook that stuck most to me was the yearning Monty felt for Percy. The narration captured the love that Monty had for his friend, despite believing his feelings to be unrequited. I love romances of all flavors and the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling I got from listening to Monty’s thoughts about Percy made this one of the best love stories I’ve read recently.

This novel is perfect for fans of young adult gay romances like Becky Albertalli’s  Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, as well as books by David Levithan, Adam Silvera, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. If could listen to British accents all day (Prince Harry, I’m available if you want to chat), and love your fiction with a dash of humor, this is the perfect audiobook for you.  Continue reading #AA2018: Amazing Audiobooks Nominations, Volume 2