Tami Orendain

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When her friend and classmate Chuck Warren dies in a “tragic accident,” Paz Espino knows the real culprit: a monster that’s been haunting the town of Bridlington. But the more she talks about the monster, the more the citizens of the town ignore her, calling her a liar and a troublemaker. So Paz and her friends set out to kill the monster themselves, determined that no more kids will die—but their hunt reveals that this strange, mysterious force is much stronger than they first thought.

Matteo L. Cerilli’s debut novel is an ambitious horror, and it succeeds in telling a story that’s both scary and profound. Lockjaw is absorbing and disorienting, with shifting perspectives and the slippery, charismatic voice of its third-person narration. Foreshadowing recurs and truths are turned on their heads, leaving readers constantly unsure of what’s coming next.

This twisted storytelling centers on the people of Bridlington. Everyone has a mask they show to others, from Paz, the “weird” kid who insists monsters are real; to Asher, the odd but charming newcomer to Bridlington; to Caleb, the all-star son of the town’s police chief. Cerilli doesn’t go easy on his characters—no one comes out of Lockjaw unscathed. The story demands they undergo not only deep personal reflection, but also actionable change. 

Which points to the message at the heart of the book: The burden of trauma, healing and forgiveness requires a great amount of personal responsibility and nuance. This is especially true in Bridlington, which has been built on decades of exclusion, its outcasts not only shunned, but also often forgotten. Cerilli navigates the balance between believing people can change and holding them accountable. Everyone must answer for their beliefs and their actions, and that makes for a very satisfying story that handles serious themes with care: For example, Cerilli refers to slurs only vaguely, such as, “thing that rhymes with—,” depicting harmful bigotry with honesty without making it painfully explicit for readers.

This candor, when coupled with the supernatural horror, makes the book thrilling from start to finish. Questions abound: What is the monster? Why won’t the adults acknowledge it? Why is Paz a town outcast? Lockjaw’s creative storytelling will keep you guessing, while its full-bodied characters will keep you reading. A horrifyingly honest tale with a hopeful ending, this engrossing novel is sure to get hearts racing and leave readers reflecting upon their own place in their communities.

A horrifyingly honest tale, Lockjaw will keep you guessing with its creative storytelling, while its full-bodied characters will keep you reading as they band together to kill the monster haunting their town.
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Between the grief of losing her mother to cancer and the strain from caring for her ill but frivolous father, Ruby Santos is just trying to stay afloat. So when she discovers that her father is in debt to a powerful family who secretly rules the San Francisco BART system, Ruby doesn’t hesitate to take on his contract—which means becoming a “jumper,” or a person who magically travels between train lines to make mysterious, under-the-table deliveries. Ruby is determined to do well, but as she learns more about what the deliveries are and how the train-jumping business works, she begins to wonder if this new, magical world is darker—and deadlier—than she expected.

The Vanishing Station is a sweeping journey told in beautiful, first-person prose full of Ruby’s dynamic personality. As Ruby jumps around the world, Ellickson brings each place to life with vibrant descriptions, including sensory elements and Ruby’s emotional responses. Ruby’s charming and personable voice comes through to the reader in asides, exclamations and clever quips.

Ruby lives in between many worlds. While she was raised in a house passed down through her mother’s Irish family, her father also passed along the food, music and beliefs of his Filipino upbringing. Ruby has a burning desire to pursue art but feels pressured to focus on jobs that pay more because of her father’s mental and physical health issues. Isolated by her family’s troubles and the loss of her mother, Ruby starts the story feeling completely lost: “I’m a ghost in my own city.” 

Becoming a jumper seems to promise a life of adventure, if not freedom. But Ruby finds herself entangled in lies and secrets, stuck trying to balance her heavy responsibilities and her beliefs. As Ruby learns more about the people around her, including her father and members of the Bartholomew family, she begins to recognize that power can manifest and be claimed in many different ways.

Ultimately, Ruby’s development hinges on knowing and accepting herself. As she is forced to look inward, she learns more about where she comes from and who she truly is—and who she wants to be. Even when life feels out of control, we have the power to make meaningful decisions.

The Vanishing Station is about complex relationships: with family, with our choices and especially with one’s self. Ruby is a reminder that even under the heaviest, most difficult circumstances, it’s worth it to love, try and believe in yourself.

As Ruby jumps around the world in The Vanishing Station, author Ana Ellickson concocts vibrant descriptions of settings, sensory elements and her teenage heroine’s emotions.
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Come and Get It (13 hours) follows the colliding stories of students, resident assistants and professors at the University of Arkansas—and it’s full of intrigue, betrayal and a lot of drama. The audiobook is read by Nicole Lewis, who also lent her voice to Kiley Reid’s hard-hitting debut novel Such a Fun Age.

Lewis’ narration drips with nuanced sarcasm. She gives a vibrant voice to Reid’s clever prose and cutting social commentary. Word choice and accents matter in Come and Get It, and Lewis takes full advantage of the audiobook format to give characters their own unique voices, expertly acting out their evasions, backhanded compliments and double-entendres. Listening in feels like hearing a friend share a piece of enthralling, complicated gossip from their undergraduate days.

Darkly funny and provocative, Come and Get It is absolutely absorbing. Listeners will get lost in the story: Reid writes unabashedly about the unique dramas of university life, and Lewis’ dynamic choices as narrator make it difficult to turn the audiobook off.

Read our review of the print edition of Come and Get It.

Darkly funny and provocative, Come and Get It is absolutely absorbing. Kiley Reid writes unabashedly about the unique dramas of university life, and Nicole Lewis’ dynamic choices as narrator make it difficult to turn the audiobook off.
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Every year, Muslim students from different Los Angeles high schools celebrate Independence Day together at Monarch Beach. But this year, while everyone’s waiting for the fireworks, an offshore explosion detonates, destroying the beach, injuring many and even causing death. Police detain six Muslim teenagers at the scene, calling it terrorism. Samia, Nasreen, Qays, Muzhda, Abdullahi and Zamzam are caught in a court case that seems stacked against them, and proving their innocence might mean giving up personal secrets from that night. Can they work together to find the truth? Who can they really trust?

Six Truths and a Lie is a powerful examination of modern justice. The story unfolds from six different points of view, in a dizzying experience that sets up heart-racing tension from the very beginning. As the large cast of characters reveal bits and pieces of the truth, the reader—like the teenagers—must figure out how everything fits together.

The suspects are determined to defend their innocence, at the risk of revealing their true whereabouts and intentions on the night in question. Their dreams and dignity are threatened by accusations of terrorism, and the authorities seem determined to take everything from them.

Ultimately, each teenager just wants to walk free. But Six Truths and a Lie forces them, and readers, to reconsider: What does freedom really mean? And what are you willing to sacrifice, for even just a piece of it? The book holds a mirror up to our modern world and asks us to acknowledge how racism and prejudice still plague our legal system and our everyday interactions—and how our preconceived notions of people can mislead us.

Harrowing and heartbreaking, Six Truths and Lie sheds light on the uncomfortable truth that justice is not blind, while demonstrating the inspiring bravery of those who fight for true justice, no matter what it costs.

Harrowing and heartbreaking, Six Truths and a Lie sheds light on the uncomfortable truth that justice is not blind, while demonstrating the inspiring bravery of those who fight for true justice.
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The Bullet Swallower (10 hours) is a sweeping western dripping with magical realism. The novel recounts the checkered history of the Sonoro family, focusing on two men: Antonio, a thief seeking revenge for his brother’s death in the late 1800s, and Jaime, a 1964 performer whose image is threatened by a book that claims to expose his family history.

The story of the Sonoros sits between reality and fantasy, and Lee Osorio’s narration helps create a world that feels surreal. His tone manages to sustain a wistful seriousness that both captures the fantastic and respects the very real conflicts of colonialism and trauma. The book jumps across times, places and moods, but Osorio’s tone remains steady, making it easy to fall into the rhythm of this otherworldly story.

The Bullet Swallower is a luxurious audiobook, brimming with memorable imagery that’s bound to stay with listeners for a long time.

Read our starred review of the print edition of The Bullet Swallower.

The Bullet Swallower is a luxurious audiobook, brimming with memorable imagery that’s bound to stay with listeners for a long time.
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The rain never stops and most of the world is underwater, but Jin Halder refuses to dive again after her father’s fatal accident. All she wants to do is keep her 14-year-old sister, Thara, alive and ensure their family’s inn stays afloat. But when a drifter named Bhili visits their inn and promises a share of treasure submerged in a now-sunken Las Vegas, Jin can’t help but be interested—especially when Thara is determined to go.

Into the Sunken City (HarperTeen, $19.99, 9780063310513) paints a harrowing but beautiful picture of a rain-soaked apocalyptic world.Cities named “Phoenix-Below” and “Vegas-Drowned” add to the eerie feeling that this world is an uncanny reflection of what our world could be in the aftermath of a mysterious natural disaster. Humans have adapted to this world, putting sailing and diving at the forefront of survival, yet nature constantly reminds them of its power: Dangerous creatures fill the deep; rough waters threaten to overturn boats; and torrential, nonstop rain impacts all human life on the surface. 

Jin is sarcastic and practical, yet intensely devoted to her family. Her sister, Thara, is a gentle gardener and culinary extraordinaire who’s interested in adventure. The mysterious drifter, Bhili, tells Jin about the sunken gold, but not much else about her past. And despite Jin’s mistrust of him after he secretly joined the Coast Guard, Jin’s recent ex, Taim, also joins their crew. Into the Sunken City creates compelling dynamics among these diverse and lively characters: Jin, for example, is torn between being Thara’s guardian and her sister, forced to balance the nuances of raising a teenager while being a teenager herself. 

Jin is wary of both Bhili and Taim, while Thara seems more open towards others. In a world where survival isn’t guaranteed, it’s no surprise that Jin struggles with trust. She wrestles with nightmares about her father’s death and has a blazing determination to keep Thara, her only remaining family member, safe. Ultimately, Into the Sunken City is about learning what it means to stay hopeful—and learning how to keep going when that hope is broken.

Charming characters and multilayered mysteries will keep readers hooked from beginning to end in this well-developed eco-thriller with a lot of heart.

Charming characters and multilayered mysteries will keep readers hooked from beginning to end in Into the Sunken City, a well-developed eco-thriller with a lot of heart.
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Robbie Stephens, Jr. is sent to Gracetown School for Boys after protecting Gloria, his older sister, from a wealthy white boy. At the reformatory, where boys are punished for their “crimes,” students are going missing—and with his ability to see haints, or ghosts, Robbie can uncover the truth behind these disappearances. Dark and terrifying, The Reformatory (21 hours) paints a haunting picture of the Jim Crow South, based partially on author Tananarive Due’s family history.

Joniece Abbott-Pratt gives a multifaceted voice to this audiobook, narrating alternatively with a hushed urgency that adds to the tension and terror of the most gruesome, frightening moments, and a steady, hopeful tone that conveys the Stephenses’ love and perseverance. The Reformatory contains both intensely difficult subject matter and resonant emotional scenes, and Abbott-Pratt’s deft navigation between different moods will keep you listening closely.

Read our starred review of the print edition of The Reformatory.

Dark and terrifying, The Reformatory paints a haunting picture of the Jim Crow South, based partially on author Tananarive Due’s family history.
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The Wonderful World of James Herriot (12 hours) collects James Herriot’s classic tales into a warm, welcoming audiobook. Based on his work as a veterinarian for farming communities, Herriot’s writing captures a humor and a gentleness that makes for a delightful listen.

While the audio version misses out on the print edition’s illustrations, it gains a comforting resemblance to the experience of hearing bedtime stories read aloud. The introduction is read by Herriot’s daughter, Rosie Page, and the stories by narrators Anna Madeley and Nicholas Ralph, who also star in “All Creatures Great and Small,” the TV show based on Herriot’s work. Madeley and Ralph deliver each character and scene in bright, vivid tones that match the charm of Herriot’s writing.

The Wonderful World of James Herriot gives listeners a peek into Herriot’s life, tracing parallels between his time on rural homesteads and his well-loved tales. This collection invites listeners to sit back, relax and reminisce about more peaceful times.

Read our literary gifts feature on the print edition of The Wonderful World of James Herriot.

This collection of James Herriot’s classic tales invites listeners to sit back, relax and reminisce about more peaceful times.
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A woman seeks refuge in the hot California desert, far away from the pressures of her sick husband and dying father. On a hike, she finds a large cactus with a hole big enough to walk through—which she does, taking her first steps on an adventure of reflection, grief and spirituality. Full of dark humor and self awareness, Death Valley (5 hours) traces one woman’s surreal desert experience as she faces the hard truths she’s been running from.

Author Melissa Broder narrates the audiobook herself, starting the story with a dry tone that matches the protagonist’s straightforward voice. But her inner world runs deep, and Broder captures the subtleties of the character and her changes, embodying both her surface-level distance and her turbulent emotions underneath. In a story that blurs the line between the real and the spiritual, Broder gives a voice to the rawness of being a living, transforming, growing human.

 

Death Valley is a grueling journey, but it’s also sharp and insightful. It does not present easy solutions. Instead, it explores how one woman learns to see herself as part of a larger whole that celebrates pain and pleasure, restraint and intimacy, death and life.

Full of dark humor and self awareness, Death Valley traces one woman’s surreal desert experience as she faces the hard truths she’s been running from.
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An exciting start to the Above the Black trilogy, Sky’s End transports readers into a dazzling setting reminiscent of Treasure Planet and “Attack on Titan,” where vast lore sets the scene for complicated ethical and cultural questions bound to make readers stop and think. Marc J Gregson’s debut novel features a stunning, harrowing world of floating islands and a society ordered by Meritocracy: a culture where those who rise are rewarded, and those who fall are left to fend for themselves. Every character in Sky’s End is caught in the rigid structure of Meritocracy, which forces them to reconcile their morals with their desire to surpass everyone else. 

After his treacherous uncle kills Conrad’s father and takes his title, Conrad and his mother are exiled to live among the Lows, leaving his sister, Ella, in his uncle’s clutches. When Conrad’s mother is killed by gorgantauns—giant sky serpents with steel scales—his uncle gives Conrad an offer he can’t refuse: He’ll reveal Ella’s location if Conrad agrees to be Selected by one of the Twelve Trades. Chosen by the Hunters, Conrad and his fellow recruits compete to kill the most gorgantauns before time runs out. With a manipulative crew and rumors of rebellion, Conrad must figure out who to trust and how to rise in his own way.

Conrad wrestles with opposing ideologies: Is his father’s harsh, self-preserving perspective the way to succeed, or does his mother’s plea for compassion have weight in a world like this? As Conrad learns to work with fellow crew members—like Bryce, whose optimistic outlook challenges Conrad’s pessimism, and Pound, whose long-held family rivalry with Conrad’s family makes him an automatic enemy—his worldview shifts.

Sky’s End will prompt readers to reflect on their own beliefs about success, society and trustworthiness. Can a person be truly selfless in a world where one needs to get ahead? What is loyalty worth, and what does it cost? Instead of answering these moral questions outright, Sky’s End lets its characters work through different perspectives. While goodness and evil are factors in the story, each character swims in moral grayness: Although many of them possess good intentions, almost all are culpable of some crime, lie or betrayal.

Action-packed, mysterious and satisfying, Sky’s End is a great read for anyone who loves fantasy and dystopian fiction.

Marc J Gregson’s debut novel features a stunning, harrowing world of floating islands whose citizens most value surpassing everyone else—at any cost.
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Poet and filmmaker Tahir Hamut Izgil reflects on the Chinese government’s persecution of the Uyghur people in Waiting to Be Arrested at Night (7.5 hours). This personal and harrowing audiobook brings together history, memoir and poetry.

Greg Watanabe’s straightforward narration puts the emotion of Izgil’s story into sharp relief, confronting readers with a reality that Izgil powerfully exposes. Both in the prose chapters as well as in Izgil’s poems that are scattered throughout the book, Watanabe’s simple approach underscores Izgil’s dread over mounting persecution and his hope for a better future.

Waiting to Be Arrested at Night uncovers a difficult and necessary story. Izgil and Watanabe give a voice to a silenced community and, together, call for listeners to bear witness to the experience of the Uyghur people.

Author Tahir Hamut Izgil and narrator Greg Watanabe give a voice to a silenced community and, together, call for listeners to bear witness to the persecution of the Uyghur people.
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Sensory Time Warp Syndrome (STWS) has plagued Aimee Roh since she was a young girl. This enigmatic condition makes her physically travel back in time to moments from her past that are connected to certain smells. Her episodes are typically short and sporadic, until one lasts nine hours and raises new questions concerning her estranged mom, who left when Aimee was six. When her dad won’t give her answers, Aimee makes her way from Vancouver to Korea—where her parents emigrated from—to investigate.

Aimee’s first-person narration is augmented with journal entries, forum threads and text messages scattered throughout The Space Between Here & Now. These honest, firsthand glimpses of Aimee’s life allow the novel’s portrayal of interpersonal disconnection and heartbreak to shine. Instead of centering the magic of the syndrome, author Sarah Suk (Made in Korea) anchors the uncanny concept of STWS in the harsh reality of living with an incurable chronic condition.

Aimee feels isolated and abnormal because of her STWS, and her curiosity and impulsiveness drive her desire to find a cure. On the other hand, her father insists STWS is just a “phase,” clinging to the fact that a doctor once told him that many people “grow out of” it. He withdraws from Aimee’s cries for help and rarely reveals his own emotions or experiences as a single father. Despite grappling with realistic issues and personal flaws, both characters eventually grow in ways that feel true to life. Readers will cheer for them all the way.

The Space Between Here & Now is an intriguing mix of fantasy and realism that lures readers in with the promise of magic and keeps them engaged with emotionally resonant themes. If you’re looking for a fun, mature coming-of-age story rooted in nuanced emotions and relationships, this book is for you.

The Space Between Here & Now is an intriguing mix of fantasy and realism that lures readers in with the promise of magic and keeps them engaged with emotionally resonant themes.
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Gem has always had strange dreams of a sexy, violent demon, but they never could’ve guessed they were seeing memories of their past life as a magical god. And they definitely never would’ve expected to learn about that past life from a beautiful girl claiming to be their soulmate. But when Willa Mae reveals that she and Gem are reincarnated deities, Gem must figure out how to deal with their newfound divinity while making a desperate escape from other gods who want revenge for past misdeeds. 

H.E. Edgmon’s action-packed and thoughtful novel plunges readers into the epic and emotionally charged world of reincarnated gods who must deal with not only eons of enmity but also life in teenage bodies. Godly Heathens opens with a bloody vision of Gem participating in the torture of another god. But while the scenes of violence are striking, so are the depictions of the intimacy and love between characters. Although the animosity between them is rooted in millenia of hatred and revenge, none of the characters are purely protagonists or antagonists. Instead, Edgmon creates a complicated, multifaceted approach as Gem and the others wade through the moral grayness of dealing with their individual pasts while considering what it would take to break a cycle of hatred. 

Edgmon develops diverse characters who bear centuries of varying identities and histories that impact—and clash with—who they currently are. Gem is nonbinary, trans and Native, and they also carry memories of their reincarnations’ identities. Other characters are sapphic, polysexual, Black and Indigenous, and they come from regions all across America and different religious backgrounds. 

With a compelling plotline and cast of characters, Godly Heathens establishes an intriguing setup for the planned second book in the Ouroburos duology. Its depth in content and theme creates a profound story that will empower and inspire. 

H.E. Edgmon’s action-packed and thoughtful novel plunges readers into the epic and emotionally charged world of reincarnated gods who must deal with not only eons of enmity but also life in teenage bodies.

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