January 2021
Children's/Teen Reviews
*Ally Carter. Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor. (Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Virtue Series, #1).
Read by Laura Knight Keating.
6 CDs. 6.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 10+

Lump together a coterie of creative orphans, a missing billionaire, a $5,000,000 reward, and a knife-wielding-greed-filled uncle, and you have the makings of a very entertaining and often hilarious mystery created by talented author Ally Carter. Winterborne Home for Vengeance will take listeners on an unlikely journey that will keep them guessing as to its ending.

Laura Knight Keating could be this reviewer's favorite audiobook narrator. Her youthful vocals and wide range of accents cause listeners to pause and ponder if more than one actor is bringing the written word to life. In this instance, Keating masterfully portrays independent and determined 12-year-old April, evil and spiteful Everett Winterborne, his gruff and dejected brother Gabriel Winterborne, and caring and loyal Miss Nelson. Keating's efforts differentiate seamlessly between each of the orphans, regardless of their personality quirks. Her American and British accents are spot on, as is her pacing and use of inflections. Keating adds much to the already enjoyable story. Listeners will be glad they took the journey to Winterborne mansion.

Keating has narrated titles by several authors, including Gordon Korman, Jenny Han, and Zara Lisbon who write for audiences of all ages.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold

Alexander C. Eberhart. Ghosting You.
Narrated by Joel Leslie
Digital download. 10 hours, 13 minutes.
Tantor Audio. 2020.

Tommy has been haunted by his best friend, Chase, since he died the year before. He still texts him, always receiving the "phone not in service" message. One day, he gets a text back, but it is not Chase on the other end. It is Nick, a summer vacationer from the city who happened to get a job at the same coffee house as Tommy and has been aggravating him daily. They don't know they are talking to each other, choosing to remain strangers through text. They slowly reveal more and more bits of themselves to each other, unknowingly, until Nick figures out that it is Tommy on the other end and uses his anonymous status to help them become friends. Except it doesn't end at the friendship -- and now Nick is in too deep. Will their love be strong enough or will outside forces keep them apart?

Joel Leslie is a classically trained actor with an MFA in theatre from USC. He has narrated over 200 LGBTQ titles. In Ghosting You; he does a great southern accent for all characters, but keeps them all separate. Occasionally it is hard to tell if it is Tommy or Nick's voice as they alternate telling the story, but it isn't enough to take you out of the story. Joel does a great job of letting you feel all the emotions the characters are feeling: sad, panicked, angry. He makes you fall in love with Tommy and Nick, rooting for them along the way.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost

Sophie Jordan. Kissing Lessons.
Read by Suzy Jackson.
Digital download. 8 hrs, 8 minutes
Recorded Books. 2020.

Hayden Vargas is trying to make it through to h.s. graduation so that she can leave her crappy life behind. She sticks to her own company and never attaches herself to a guy like her mother does as often as possible, but that doesn't mean that she is celibate. This gives her a reputation at school, one that is less than ideal. Then, one night at a party she trips over Emmaline Martin, younger sister to Nolan Martin. Her life is turned upside down when Emmaline wants to hire her to teach her to seduce a guy. Nolan does not like the idea of his little sister's reputation being tainted by Hayden, but Emmaline prevails and Hayden finds herself not liking the feelings that are starting to develop toward Nolan and Emmaline. She finds herself breaking all her rules.

Suzy Jackson is a skillful narrator and Kissing Lessons, a light romance, flows easily. She differentiated each character's voice and personality very well. I felt Hayden starting to take her armor off and felt her resist as it happened. I felt Nolan realize his life wasn't as together as he thought it was and that was okay. And I felt Emmaline come into her own and not be afraid of her feelings. Suzy Jackson portrayed their emotions clearly and concisely.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost

Lauren McLaughlin. Send Pics.
Narrated by Kevin R. Free, Christopher Gebauer, and Sophie Amoss.
Digital download. 8 hours, 29 minutes.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Send Pics touches on the double standard, rape culture, racism, improper justice system, and inept school administration. This book will make listeners look at high school very differently and hopefully pay a little more attention to the teens around them.

Shields up! is the motto of Nikki, Lydia, Ani, and new girl Suze. They thought they could protect each other from anything as long as they were together. Marcus is always on the lookout for a big story to jumpstart his journalistic career. DeShawn just wants to build things and go to MIT. Tarkin Shaw, captain of the varsity wrestling team, thinks he is invincible and deserves everything he wants, even if they do not want him. Then something happens at a party and Suze is blackmailed. After, they are all thrown into each other's orbit to try and figure out what is happening. Will the truth be enough or will power and money prevail? Send Pics is a story for the times, a peek into what teenagers have to deal with, and the emotions behind their actions.

Send Pics is told through multiple perspectives and having different narrators for each perspective really helps keep the story straight with ease. I thought the narrators were amazing at portraying the emotion of each character: DeShawn's naivety, Marcus's shock, Tarkin's machismo, Ani's quietness, Lydia's hate, Nikki's dejection, and Suze's fear. Each narrator also copied very well any accents needed. The characters sound very similar no matter who is narrating, but each character has a distinct voice. These narrators know what they are doing. For fans of Speak and The Hate U Give.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost
*Gabby Noone. Layoverland.
Read by Sophie Amoss.
6 CDs. 7.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 14+

Beatrice Fox is conditioned to be stone cold. The only person she watches out for is herself and her sister, Emmy, who is her best and only friend. Then something happens. Now Emmy hates Beatrice (Bea) and Bea cannot bring herself to face Emmy. Instead, she drives all night seeking solace in music, but as to be expected the worst song comes on at the worst time. In this situation, its Train's "Hey, Soul Sister," and as she desperately attempts to change the song, she doesn't see the car that is driving on the wrong side of the road. She wakes up on a plane and this plane lands in purgatory, an airport, the one stop between life, heaven, and hell. Bea soon find out she is there to amend for her sins by helping people to transition to heaven by finding out what is holding them back.

Caleb, a boy who Bea is assigned to help move on to heaven, complicates everything when Bea finds out he was the driver of the vehicle that crashed into hers and killed them both. Now, Bea seeks any means to either prevent Caleb from going on to heaven or to extend his stay in purgatory for as long as possible. In this pursuit, her feelings for Caleb change as she learns more about him. As she falls in love with him, she must combat her anger with him for killing her. Is he worth forgiving?

This was such a fun listen. The world of the airport created by Noone was wonderfully dreadful and made it impossible to not become engrossed with the characters she created. They all felt like real people. Sophie Amoss was the perfect narrator for Bea. She perfectly encapsulated Bea's hard exterior and vulnerable interior. She also did a wonderful job creating a voice for each of the other characters and bringing this book to life. This is a light and funny book with a lot of heart. For fans of The Good Place and Ten Things I Hate about You.

Reviewed by Michelle Skaar
Ben Oliver. The Loop. Book 1 of 2.
Narrated by Julian Elfer.
Digital download. 8 hrs, 16 mins.
Recorded Books. 2020.

There is only guilty and innocent and the penalty is always death. The Loop is where you wait until you no longer wish to subject yourself to the delays. Every 6 months there is a new test and you don't know if you will survive. At least it is a break from the routine. Luka Kane has just turned 16 and has been in the Loop for over 2 years now and has very little to look forward to. He has his visits with the prison warden, his runs at outside time, and the nightly rain. The other inmates are talking of war, which is impossible; that hasn't happened for centuries. Then one day the rain stops coming and Luka knows that something is wrong. When the power goes out and they are left alone all day, Luka knows that they will die if they stay in the Loop. He and some of the other prisoners decide to escape and check on their families. Outside, the world is in chaos and everyone has gone mad. They must figure out what is happening and stay alive in the process.

Narrator Julian Elfer gives voice to Luka and the gang in the Loop. He has narrated more than 50 titles. The British-born actor's experience shines in this book. He makes you feel the emotional roller coaster that Luka goes through. You feel like you are an inmate right along with Luka: worried, sad, scared, or excited. Fans will eagerly await the next in the series. Recommend this to lovers of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner series.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost
Robert Repino. Spark And The League of Ursus.
Read by Samara Naeymi.
5 CDs. 5.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020. Ages 8+.

Author Robert Repino's middle school fable is part fantasy, part superhero, and part horror. Timid listeners might find the half man/half scorpion creature that steals children from their beds to be a bit too sinister, but if they hold on, they will discover that a secret league of stuffed teddy bears, along with a monkey and an Amazon princess doll, will save the day. It is an unlikely story filled with imagination, bravery, and loyalty.

Narrator Samara Naeymi has a challenging task: How does one personify a cast of characters that are not among the living? Naeymi rises to the occasion. The star, Spark, and her mentor, Sir Reginald, banter well—one representing the younger generation of bears in the League of Ursus and the other exhibiting the wisdom and experience that comes with age. Spark's vocals are a bit mature for something so young, but Sir Reginal's British accent fits well with his personality. Naeymi adds comedic relief as she represents fear-filled Zed, a sock monkey who usually just sits on a shelf, and her portrayal of the snobby Amazon princess is spot on.

The human characters in the story are also depicted well. The vocals for siblings Loretta and Matthew, along with their parents and friends, are authentic and clear. Naeymi's pacing and articulation move the story along at a comfortable pace.

Naeymi has recorded several audiobooks, performed on the big screen, and is the voice actress for several Pokémon characters.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
*Amanda Sellet. By The Book.
Narrated by Laura Knight Keating.
Digital download. 9 hrs 57 mins.
Recorded Books. Ages. 12+

Mary Porter-Malcolm is the second to last child of 5, with literary professors for parents. It is no wonder that she devours classic literature, and she also takes life lessons from them. She is starting her sophomore year as a newcomer at the local public high school. After her only friend from her old school shuns her on the first day, Mary is determined to put herself out there more. A chance encounter results in her making three new friends. To impress them, she helps them navigate their romantic lives using the lessons she has learned from her classic books. This includes telling them to stay away from Alex Ritter, even if Mary herself can't seem to stop interacting with him. But, could real life prove to not be so black and white? This is for fans who love getting lost in a fun book with sharp wit.

Laura Knight Keating is an Audie award winning narrator and an actress. You may recognize her voice from narrating Jenny Han's To All The Boys I've Loved Before series. Her extensive experience shows in her narration. You know exactly how the characters are feeling and it seems like you are right in their conversations. This listener loved the story and its narrator. Laura Knight Keating makes the story flow and reveals every character so beautifully. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Meghan Yost
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