Jessica Peng

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Grief Is for People (6 hours) is a dual story of loss from the perspective of author and audiobook narrator Sloane Crosley. In 2019, in quick succession, Crosley’s home in New York City was burglarized and her best friend, Russell, whom she had known and worked with for decades, died by suicide. In the months that follow, the two tragedies meld together in Crosley’s mind, and she pursues the recovery of her stolen items with the fervor of someone trying to bring back the dead. Crosley’s narration is frank and articulate, a perfect complement to the wit and candor of her prose. Grief Is for People is Crosley’s personal story of processing, broken into five sections mirroring the five stages of grief. However, this memoir is also an homage to Russell, to his brilliance and nuance, his talent and his legacy and the gaping hole left behind by his death.

Sloane Crosley’s narration is frank and articulate in this memoir of loss, a perfect compliment to the wit and candor of her prose.
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A hitman. A thief. A poisoner. A hunter. A spy. Five of the deadliest individuals in the kingdom of Yusan have all been assigned the same mission: Kill the king.

Under the name Meredith Ireland, author Mai Corland has written a number of beloved children’s and young adult novels including The Jasmine Project and Emma and the Love Spell. With Five Broken Blades, her adult fantasy debut, Corland takes readers to a much darker place. The kingdom of Yusan is wilting. People are starving, and murder and exploitation have become the standard for survival. Above the mayhem sits King Joon, cruel and apathetic, a god king made immortal by the Dragon Lord’s crown. King Joon should be unkillable. But several of his subjects, who range from wealthy nobles to poor orphans, are desperate enough to call on one of the blades to try.

Five Broken Blades alternates between the first-person perspectives of Corland’s full cast, introducing readers to a vivid array of motives and backstories both converging and diverging. Although the shifting point of view takes a little getting used to, every protagonist is entertaining, with a rich internal monologue. The greatest benefit of Corland’s approach is that readers get to see how the characters view each other: What does the flighty thief think of her new bodyguard? Will the exiled hunter ever acknowledge the love he’s harbored for the man who betrayed him? How does the poisoner feel about reuniting with her childhood nemesis now that they’ve both grown up?

Corland’s novel is certainly ambitious, balancing amorous entanglements with friendships, sibling relationships, mentorships and rivalries. Readers follow the five blades through mountain passes, marketplaces, villas, gardens, backstreets and waterfronts, all the way to the palace where King Joon resides. Corland deftly establishes setting and conflict, and readers are able to fully immerse themselves in the story. Korean folklore serves as a source of inspiration for the realm, and it is a true delight when flashes of mythology shine through. Additionally, the book incorporates historical elements like the traditional gender roles of ancient Korea in order to offer commentary and explore the consequences of discriminatory power structures.

Five Broken Blades is daring, expansive and memorable. Although the protagonists are hardened criminals and professional killers, their vulnerability—and their struggles to be vulnerable—will have readers rooting for them from the beginning. This is a book to be consumed in one sitting, and will leave readers eager to hear more from a bold new voice.

Mai Corland’s new fantasy novel will thrill fans of Six of Crows.
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Interesting Facts About Space (8.5 hours) is a character study of Enid, a 26-year-old woman whose life might be falling apart. We meet Enid when she begins to suspect she has a stalker. As she tries to differentiate between her paranoia and real signs of threat, Enid simultaneously juggles a constellation of self-esteem issues, convoluted family dynamics, a technological bug at work and a confusing dating life. Natalie Naudus lends an articulate, emphatic voice to the first-person narration, impressively capturing Enid’s varied shades of introspection, from reminiscence to anger to rueful comedy. At the center of this novel is the question of what it is to be normal. Is it an inner feeling or dependent on outside perception? Is it an ideal as distant as outer space, or is it actually achievable?

Read our review of the print edition of Interesting Facts About Space.

Natalie Naudus lends an articulate, emphatic voice to 26-year-old Enid, impressively capturing her varied shades of introspection, from reminiscence to anger to rueful comedy.
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If you’re reading this, you probably love books. You’ve probably stepped into a bookstore and felt an immediate rush of comfort, along with the thrill of getting to browse the bestsellers in your favorite genres, be it poetry or romance or biography. You might’ve grown up frequenting your local library, searching for obscure titles in the computer catalog or laughing at the absurd comments left in well-worn paperbacks. While most book fans are familiar with the experience of visiting bookstores, libraries and other delightful book places, few of us have had the privilege of discovering what goes on behind the scenes. 

That’s where The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians comes in. This project from internationally bestselling author James Patterson and frequent collaborator Matt Eversmann highlights dozens of dedicated, on-the-ground booksellers and librarians to give readers an inside look at the joys and challenges of working amid shelves of books. After taking the time to meet and interview industry experts from around the country, Patterson and Eversmann tell their stories in short, first-person vignettes. Readers will delight in the New York librarian championing literary programs in the prison complex on Rikers Island, the Barnes & Noble manager who started a young adult book club for teens and the independent bookstore owner who fell in love at the store she now runs. 

Of course, the stories in The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians are not all optimistic. Patterson and Eversmann’s heroes face a number of serious problems, from lack of funding to natural disasters to book bans. Although the featured booksellers and librarians handle conflict with competence and goodwill, it is clear that their efforts alone are not enough to save an industry that is threatened by political tension, monopolies and new technologies. The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians is an unique and enchanting work of nonfiction, but it’s also a call to action, a cry for communities to rally around their booksellers.

Patterson is well-known for the millions of dollars and years of work he has already poured into promoting access to literature. There is no better mouthpiece for this project. The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians is an homage to anyone who felt the tingle of magic that only comes with reading, and who made it their mission to share their love with everyone. The first thing you’ll do after reading this book is take a visit to your local bookstore or library!

The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians is a heartwarming celebration that will delight bibliophiles of all stripes.
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Since the advent of The Folk of the Air series in 2018, Holly Black has held legions of YA fantasy readers in thrall to the world of Faerie: its acorn cups and everapples, redcaps and ragwort steeds, mad revels and delicate, deadly riddles. Her latest novel, The Prisoner’s Throne, is another delicious descent into the intricacies of Faerie family and politics. 

The Prisoner’s Throne is the sequel to The Stolen Heir and the final installment in the Novels of Elfhame duology, which follow the faerie Prince Oak, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Elfhame, and the Queen of the Court of Teeth, Suren, now known as Wren. 

Whereas The Stolen Heir centered primarily on Wren, this time, we delve into the storm of calculations and insecurities that swirl beneath Oak’s curling hair and curving horns. Oak finds himself Wren’s prisoner after his last misstep shattered the tentative trust they had begun to build. His imprisonment beckons war between Elfhame, which is ruled by his sister Jude, and Wren’s Court of Teeth. Oak’s loyalties are torn: On one hand, he understands his family’s anger; on the other hand, his feelings for Wren and his knowledge of her character have him convinced she is not his enemy. 

Readers will identify with Oak’s desperation for peace as well as his struggles with being a people pleaser. He is undeniably a teenage boy, complete with an overprotective mother and a tad too much angst over whether he is truly known or loved. Wren is less present in this book, but her wintry demeanor is as endearing as it was in The Stolen Heir, and her relationship with Oak retains its innocent, wistful heartbeat. The greatest charm of The Prisoner’s Throne is in the secrets that Oak must unravel, from hidden motives to conspiracies to “straightforward” questions with complicated answers. If you’ve known Oak since his Folk of the Air days, he is no longer a little prince—this is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a saga of magic and mischief.

For fans of Oak and Suren, The Prisoner’s Throne is a fraught and fitting conclusion to their tangled, wild adventures. Fans of Jude and Cardan from the first series: You will not be disappointed.

Holly Black captivated legions—and we mean legions—of fans with the Folk of the Air series, then she whisked them away once more to Elfhame with the Stolen Heir duology. The Prisoner’s Throne picks up where The Stolen Heir left off, switching to Prince Oak’s perspective as he struggles through the explosive consequences of his journey north with Wren. Audience favorites Jude and Cardan might just make an appearance.
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Few YA series have garnered the level of devotion and praise achieved by Holly Black’s Folk of the Air series (FOTA), which followed Jude Duarte and her battle for power in Faerie. It’s no surprise that Black’s massive fan base rejoiced when the author released a spinoff duology, the Novels of Elfhame. Picking up right after the events of the first book, The Stolen Heir, The Prisoner’s Throne finds Suren, now queen of the Court of Teeth, and Oak Greenbriar, Jude’s brother and heir to the crown of Elfhame, on shifting soil, unsure of themselves and of each other.

While the first novel primarily followed Suren’s point of view, this time we get to be inside of Oak’s head. What was making this narrative switch like? Between the two characters, was one more challenging to write than the other?

It was definitely easier to write Oak’s point of view because I had made so many decisions in The Stolen Heir about his past and personality. It was hard to give both protagonists space, though. Even though we’re no longer in Suren’s point of view, we want to see how things play out for her. And there were some things about Oak’s past and point of view and certainly his powers that I needed to make more granular.

Did you have this spinoff in mind while you were writing any part of FOTA? If so, did planning for a spinoff impact the writing process of FOTA?

When I got to Queen of Nothing, I realized I wanted to write about Oak and Suren at some point in the future. I was intrigued by the way that Wren’s story both paralleled and contrasted with Jude’s. And I was interested in how much Jude sacrificed to make Oak’s life less traumatic than her own—and how despite all that, it still WAS traumatic. I wondered what it would be like to be Oak, doubly burdened by the trauma as well as the understanding that being “fine” was the only way to repay his family for what they’d done for him. I don’t think knowing that I wanted to revisit those characters changed the course of anything in the Folk of the Air books, but perhaps I did think of them a little more because of it.

What’s it been like to balance the telling of a brand new story alongside the incorporation of familiar, pre-existing elements from FOTA?

One of the reasons I wanted to start the duology with The Stolen Heir, and write from Wren’s point of view, was to give readers a chance to get to know Wren and Oak outside the characters they already have a connection with—Jude and Cardan in particular. I knew that we’d see people we knew from Elfhame both in the second book and in Oak’s memories. I hope that spending time getting to know Wren allows readers to care about everyone a lot in The Prisoner’s Throne.

One of the hardest things about having so many well-known characters in The Prisoner’s Throne is that they all needed to have room to be the clever and capable people we know them to be—which meant I needed to throw a lot of problems at them.

We meet Oak as a rambunctious but earnest child in the first series. Now, eight years later, he’s a teenager, scheming and wallowing and defying expectations in his own right. Was it difficult to transition to writing him as a teen? 

It was far more difficult than I expected to figure out who Oak was when he was older. I wanted him to have some of the chaos and whimsy of his younger self, but also to be a complicated, charming person who nonetheless reflected the violence into which he was born. I rewrote him in The Stolen Heir so many times that I am not sure anyone but me saw the final version, but now I can’t imagine him any other way.

A central theme of The Prisoner’s Throne is family: How much loyalty do we owe family? Who counts as family? And what is the role of violence in making or breaking a family? So—hypothetically, if one of your family members wronged another, could you still consider them a part of your family?

My grandmother used to say to me that the most important thing was that I never lie to her. Even if I did something terrible. Even if I murdered someone. That she would do whatever she needed to do to keep me safe, even if I was in the wrong—but I just couldn’t lie. I put that speech into a book at some point because it was so memorable to me. Honestly, it made me feel really loved. It’s definitely not how everyone looks at family and loyalty and values.

There are ways that members of my family—and everyone’s family—have wronged one another. We’re not perfect. I’ve wronged people. But there are also lines that if someone in my family crossed, I wouldn’t consider them family anymore. Despite my grandmother’s speech, I am sure that would have been true for her too. It’s so interesting in fiction to figure out just where that line is for each character.

One of the most enjoyable elements of your work is the riddles and tricks that the Fae tell each other. Do you have a favorite riddle that you’ve written?

Thank you! My favorite riddle—although not original to me—is one I used in Tithe: “What belongs to you, but others use it more than you do?” It’s a useful thing to write in a book, since the answer is, of course, your name.

In both the Folk of the Air and the Novels of Elfhame series, our protagonists begin as enemies and gradually warm up to each other. A famous quote from Cardan is “I have heard that for mortals, the feeling of falling in love is very like the feeling of fear.” What would you say is the secret to a compelling enemies-to-lovers romance?

I think there’s a narratively significant difference between enemies and people who don’t trust one another or who are even on opposite sides of a conflict. To me, the intensity of the personal hatred is what makes the enemies-to-lovers progression so compelling—along with, ideally, the surprise. We sort characters into particular roles in stories and that allows us to not necessarily consider a character to be a romantic possibility until, suddenly, they are. But to me, enemies to lovers is all about how an intensity of feeling blurs lines—and often obscures more complicated feelings, often about oneself as much as about the other person.

Although you’ve explored a multitude of fantastical concepts across your novels, Faerie is a lore you return to again and again, to the great delight of your readers. Will there be more novels or projects set in this realm in the future?

There will definitely be one more Elfhame novel—and what it’s about will be clear after getting to the end of The Prisoner’s Throne. After that, I’m less sure of the specifics, but I know there will be future books set in Faerie.

If you lived in Faerie, what kind of creature would you be, and why? Non-human answers only!

Possibly a phooka. I like the idea of transforming into different creatures and playing tricks on people. And the possibility of having horns.

Photo of Holly Black by Sharona Jacobs.

The beloved YA author discusses her hotly anticipated return to Elfhame.
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A fiddle and an apple tree. Tunnels under a prairie, filling with rain. A woman who blurs into a purple finch. Michelle Porter’s A Grandmother Begins the Story (9 hours) is most alluring in its details, as Porter pieces together the stories of five generations of Métis women. Porter creates unique individuals in Carter, Allie, Lucie, Genevieve and Mamé, while situating them in the bittersweet history of the Métis people and their homeland.

This full cast audiobook is an utter delight: lively, gritty and sensitive. Although the rapid switches between points of view can be a little confusing, especially given that there are distinct narrators for not only the women but also the grassland, the buffalo and the dogs, listeners who patiently familiarize themselves with each voice will be rewarded. A Grandmother Begins the Story is a rich study of the ties that bind a family, how they stretch, how they shrink and how they withstand the test of time.

Read our review of the print edition of A Grandmother Begins the Story.

Michelle Porter’s A Grandmother Begins the Story pieces together the stories of five generations of Métis women. This full cast audiobook is an utter delight: lively, gritty and sensitive.
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In the male-dominated landscape of wartorn 1963 Saigon, Vietnam, Tricia and Charlene are two American wives striving to be the best possible “helpmeets” to their military husbands: sociable, graceful, obedient, obliging. Through author Alice McDermott’s precise, lingering prose, these women otherwise relegated to the margins bloom with agency and empathy. Charlene’s immense business acumen flares along the line between altruism and absurdity. Tricia struggles to become a mother and to be a good Samaritan, but finds herself held back by the limits of her body and the expectations imposed on a woman of her upper-class status.

Rachel Kenney’s warm, heartfelt narration is a complement to Tricia’s fading naiveté and the strength of her moral compass. Jesse Vilinsky, who voices Charlene’s daughter, Rainey, when she reconnects with Tricia 60 years later, lends a bright, gentle tone to a woman seeking closure. Absolution (10 hours) is not a story about remarkable events, but a story that teases out the remarkableness in everyday people—in neighbors, servants, childhood friends, spouses. It is a breath of fresh air amongst war novels devoted to the machinations of war, speaking instead to war’s ripple effect off the battlefield and years down the line.

Absolution teases out the remarkableness in everyday people, speaking to war’s ripple effect off the battlefield and years down the line.
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Bellies (12 hours) unfolds slowly, savoring each quirk and comment that draws two young lovers, Tom and Ming, together. Nicola Dinan perfectly captures the hypersensitivity of new romance: the fervent touches, the tentative mornings after, and the paranoia about possibly ruining things. As Ming and Tom navigate the push and pull of their relationship, they simultaneously struggle to find their places as individuals in overstimulating 21st-century young adult life.

This audiobook provides a rich listening experience as it alternates between Tom and Ming’s perspectives. Nathaniel Curtis lends Tom a placid, droll voice that underscores Tom’s desperation to appear unfazed despite his whirlwind of insecurities. Octavia Nyombi is soft and steady as Ming, wrapping listeners up in the layers of emotion that pile together in Ming’s extensively reflective thought process.

Dinan bares young love before us: raw, vulnerable, belly-up. By recognizing imperfection and refusing to shy away from struggles big and small—from sleep discomfort to the stigmas surrounding queer love and identity—Bellies soothes the imperfect, struggling parts of ourselves.

By recognizing imperfection and refusing to shy away from struggles—including the stigmas surrounding queer love and identity—Bellies soothes the imperfect, struggling parts of ourselves.

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