Tami Orendain

Louise Penny tackles social unrest in a post-pandemic world in The Madness of Crowds (15 hours), the 17th novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. Part whodunit, part cultural commentary, this latest installment finds Gamache at a crossroads between his personal ethics and the requirements of his position.

The audiobook is performed by Robert Bathurst, who has lent his voice to several of the most recent books in the series. Bathurst’s narration is calm and collected yet also earnest, reflecting the blend of emotion and professionalism that Gamache embodies as an investigator. While Bathurst’s voice is subdued, it is also engaging, bringing the story’s mystery, relationships and ethical introspections to life in a straightforward but heartfelt way. He also provides a variety of voices for the wider cast of characters, keeping the plot moving through the flowing cadence of conversations.

Positioned at the intersection of science and humanity, The Madness of Crowds draws in its readers with murder but keeps them listening through its challenging moral conundrums. It’s perfect for listeners seeking both captivating intrigue and insightful reflection.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of the print edition of The Madness of Crowds.

Robert Bathurst’s narration is calm yet earnest, reflecting the blend of emotion and professionalism that Armand Gamache embodies as an investigator.

King Harristan and his brother, Prince Corrick, have inherited a kingdom plagued by a deadly sickness, and the only cure, an elixir made from rare moonflower petals, is in dangerously low supply. As the citizens of Kandala revolt, demanding that the cure be made more widely available, Harristan and Corrick crush all dissent with cruelty and violence.

Meanwhile, healer Tessa Cade and her partner, Wes, a mysterious thief, steal and redistribute moonflower petals to those in need. But as the sickness spreads, tensions rise between those who can afford cures and those who can’t. Desperate, Tessa sneaks into the castle—only to discover that Kandala’s corruption is far more complicated than it appears.

In alternating chapters narrated by Corrick and Tessa, Defy the Night hits the ground running and never slows down, leaping from one charged moment to the next. From horrific public executions to tense council negotiations to shocking rebel counterattacks, author Brigid Kemmerer (A Curse So Dark and Lonely) takes readers on a breakneck journey about power, deceit and the price of progress.

The book achieves a nuanced view of politics by depicting how individual characters impact and are affected by wider systemic issues in Kandala. Tessa sees how the poor struggle to stay alive and how their dissent transforms into revolution, while Corrick witnesses how those with power are willing to violate personal and moral boundaries to keep it.

Tessa and Corrick offer opposing but equally convincing perspectives on complex ethical questions. How should a limited resource be distributed? Are some people more deserving of help than others? What makes someone worthy of living, and what justifies a death? As Kemmerer’s characters wrestle with these dilemmas, readers are sure to rethink many of their own opinions.

An eventual connection between Tessa and Corrick reveals what can happen when individual people are empowered to make real, lasting change. Thoughtful, multifaceted and truly character-driven, Defy the Night is ultimately a hopeful story that shows how those who dare to envision a better future also have the power to make it a reality.

King Harristan and his brother, Prince Corrick, have inherited a kingdom plagued by a deadly sickness, and the only cure, an elixir made from rare moonflower petals, is in dangerously low supply. Meanwhile, healer Tessa Cade and her partner, Wes, a mysterious thief, steal and redistribute moonflower petals to those in need.

In the small community of Amity Falls, 18-year-old Ellerie Downing spends her days tending to her family’s beehives and secretly dreaming of life beyond the woods that surround the village. But when townsfolk begin to go missing, tales of beasts that stalked the settlement in its early years resurface. Could there be a terrifying reality behind the stories?

Erin A. Craig follows her 2019 debut novel, House of Salt and Sorrows, with another absorbing, uncanny tale that walks the fine line between fantasy and horror. A winding mystery loosely based on the fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin,” Small Favors takes a haunting look at the limits of human civility.

Tensions rise among the people Ellerie once called her friends as strange phenomena start to occur. Animals give birth to grotesque creatures, and mysterious symbols appear in unexpected places. Winter sets in, trapping Amity Falls’ residents in the village, and reality itself twists unsettlingly. Ghosts are seen in places that later go up in flames, and neighbors blame one another for inexplicable sabotage. Claustrophobia and dread seep into the very fabric of the community, and a stifling sense of hostility causes the town to turn on itself. Ellerie must uncover what’s really troubling Amity Falls before she loses the home and people she loves.

Ellerie is a kind and dutiful older sister, and Craig crafts the considerable cast of characters who surround her into a complex web of personalities and relationships. Through Ellerie’s eyes, readers experience Amity Falls as a cozy and cordial place, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when the town begins to crumble. From gossip that permeates conversations at church to bickering between once amicable neighbors to shocking accusations directed at old friends, Ellerie witnesses the transformation of Amity Falls into a place she hardly recognizes as home. As she confronts sinister and possibly otherworldly forces, readers must decide what’s real and who can be trusted.

Small Favors is as much about humanity as it is about horror. Perfect for readers who love mysteries and the macabre, the novel poses provocative questions. What can we keep for ourselves, and what must we give up for others? How far are we willing to go for what we want? How will we know when we’ve sacrificed our souls in order to gain our heart’s desires?

Erin A. Craig follows her 2019 debut novel, House of Salt and Sorrows, with another absorbing, uncanny tale that walks the fine line between fantasy and horror.

In her collection of intensely personal essays, Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing (9 hours), Lauren Hough explores her identities—lesbian, Air Force airman, blue-collar worker and cult survivor—and uses them to critique systemic issues in contemporary American culture.

The audiobook’s narration is shared by Hough and actor-producer Cate Blanchett, who reads the two essays that bookend the collection. Blanchett’s clear, sharp tone allows the wit of Hough’s writing to shine, while Hough’s narration is deadpan, her steady voice capturing each essay’s unabashed honesty. Together, Hough and Blanchett create a heartbreaking and intimate experience for listeners, inviting them to reflect on the possibility and value of genuine human connection.

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is for audiences who are unafraid to face suffering, loss and vulnerability. Despite its challenging content, it offers a safe place for listeners to discover that they are not alone.

Read our review of the print version of Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing.

Author Lauren Hough and actor-producer Cate Blanchett create a heartbreaking and intimate experience for listeners.

Essayist Jo Ann Beard explores life, death and the craft of writing in Festival Days (7.5 hours). Actor Suehyla El-Attar, known for her roles in Ant-Man and the Wasp and Green Book, reads in a calm, steady voice that emphasizes the collection’s sweeping gravitas, but she also gives personality to each unique piece. In “Werner,” a story about a man escaping an apartment fire, she creates a flowing contrast between firm descriptions of pain and the wistfulness of memory. She narrates “Maybe It Happened” in a lilting, sing-song tone, giving it a nursery-rhyme quality. And in “Close,” a discussion of craft, she is animated and personal, making the listener feel like they are learning from the author herself.

El-Attar’s narration pulls listeners in, highlighting the way a well-constructed sentence can bring an emotion, a scene or an idea to life.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of the print version of Festival Days.

Actor Suehyla El-Attar reads in a calm, steady voice that emphasizes the sweeping gravitas of Jo Ann Beard’s collection.

Pendt Harland has only known cruelty and indifference. Unlike her siblings and cousins, Pendt has a rare genetic ability that causes everyone on her family’s spaceship to view her existence as a waste of precious resources. So when the ship docks at Brannick Station just before Pendt’s 18th birthday, she seizes the opportunity to escape and meets the Brannick twins, Ned and Fisher, who take her in as part of their family. As Pendt’s abilities grow to their full potential, the twins realize she could be the key to changing their own fates.

Well known for her YA science fiction and fantasy novels, author E.K. Johnston (That Inevitable Victorian Thing and Exit, Pursued by a Bear) explores a new interstellar world in Aetherbound, plunging readers into a magical galaxy shaped by a history of conflict between a ruling empire and a rebellion that never truly died out. Concrete details bring this futuristic world to life, illuminating how the conflict’s legacy impacts everything from the way food is prepared to how neighborhoods are structured and how the vast universe is navigated.

Aetherbound’s characters are equally engaging. From a young age, Pendt is subject to her family’s imposed calorie counting and neglect, and her journey to safety and self-love will have readers rooting for her success. The Brannick twins are charming and complex, anchored by their affectionate relationship with one another and genuine empathy for others. Ned is a bold leader who’s dedicated to managing Brannick Station despite his secret dream to leave it all behind and join the rebellion. Fisher is willing to do anything to protect his home and the people he loves but lacks the Y chromosome the departing empire made a requirement to sustain life on the station—a requirement both twins find “antiquated and stupid.”

To keep each other and the station safe, the trio bears the burdens of a growing rebellion, the loss of loved ones and the sting of betrayal. Johnston never loses sight of the humanity at the heart of her narrative, treating readers to Ned’s one-liners, Fisher’s love for video games and Pendt’s affinity for gardening. These moments of lightness and joy contrast against the pain they must face, making this futuristic tale feel grounded and real.

Johnston often includes LGBTQ+ characters in her books, and her portrayal of Fisher is subtle, woven deeply into the author’s vision of the way characters construct and perceive gender identity as something completely separate from genetics. As Fisher and Pendt become close, he guides her toward understanding that a person’s value is so much more than the circumstances of their birth, a theme that resonates throughout the book.

The beauty of Aetherbound lies in its characters’ abilities to face painful, terrible circumstances and still fight for a better life. It’s a thought-provoking and hopeful book that encourages a closer examination of what truly makes life valuable.

Well known for her YA science fiction and fantasy novels, author E.K. Johnston explores a new interstellar world in Aetherbound, plunging readers into a magical galaxy shaped by a history of conflict between a ruling empire and a rebellion that never truly died out.

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