Tami Orendain

A soldier. A runaway. A barmaid. Mererid has played many roles, but beneath them all, she has always been a water diviner, blessed with the magical ability to control water in all its forms. Prince Garanhir secretly abused her power for years, until Mer discovered his treachery and fled. Now she longs for a peaceful home of her own, but when her mentor, Renfrew, asks her to join him for one final mission, Mer can't refuse. 

The mission is simple: Break into the prince's castle to steal his gold and the source of his magic. Mer joins a crew that also includes a fighter, a scholar, a thief and a corgi. Along the way, she encounters old flames, uncovers kingdom-shattering secrets and realizes that carrying out the heist won't be nearly as straightforward as she thought.

Emily Lloyd-JonesThe Drowned Woods is based on the Welsh myth of Cantre'r Gwaelod, a sunken kingdom purported to lie beneath Cardigan Bay and sometimes called the Welsh Atlantis. Set in the same fantastical world as Lloyd-Jones' 2019 novel, The Bone Houses, The Drowned Woods introduces a large cast of new characters and stands easily on its own.

The novel has all the elements of a classic heist, including a band of experts who each have a specialized skill, a villain in a fortified stronghold and a seemingly impossible goal. Within this framework, however, Lloyd-Jones delves deeply into the psyches of each member of the crew to thoughtfully explore themes of morality and grief.

Outwardly, Mer seems fiercely independent, always prepared for every possible outcome, but she struggles with guilt over her time spent in the prince's service. She longs for freedom and meaningful connections with others, but her own self-loathing holds her back. The rest of the crew is just as well developed, and each member brings compelling personal histories, emotional demons and ulterior motives to the collective mission.

Thrilling and perceptive, The Drowned Woods blends the most-loved aspects of a heist narrative with meaningful, profound portraits of characters who satisfyingly defy archetypes and expectations alike. 

Based on a myth sometimes known as the Welsh Atlantis, The Drowned Woods blends aspects of heist narratives with thoughtful explorations of morality and grief.

Alice Walker’s wit and wisdom are on full display in Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, 1965–2000 (23.5 hours). This compilation takes a deep dive into Walker’s private writings, including selected journal entries, poetry and recollections of historical events. Notes from the book’s editor, Valerie Boyd, anchor listeners to Walker’s historical and personal context. These journals bridge the gap between public and private, allowing listeners a close perspective on Walker’s most intimate thoughts on activism, religion, women’s rights, sexuality, writing and myriad other topics.

Walker is candid in her reflections and criticisms, a storyteller through and through, and the audiobook paints a vivid image of her life within the broader turns of history. Read by Aunjanue Ellis, with Janina Edwards voicing the introduction and footnotes, it’s a uniquely mesmerizing listen. Walker concludes the audiobook with her own narration of the postscript, which she wrote in 2021, emphasizing the personal nature of publicizing her journals.

Woven together with her creative expertise, Walker’s stories make for an insightful and intriguing listening experience.

Read our starred review of the print edition of Gathering Blossoms Under Fire.

Narrated by Aunjanue Ellis and Janina Edwards, Gathering Blossoms Under Fire makes for an insightful and intriguing audiobook. The best part: Alice Walker reads the postscript, emphasizing the personal nature of publicizing her journals.

Leo's older sister, Nina, died 365 days ago. National Book Award winner Robin Benway's A Year to the Day opens on the one-year anniversary of Nina's death, and each chapter takes the reader one step further back in time.

From the moment Leo regains consciousness after the car crash, she struggles with grief—not only for the loss of her sister also but for the memories of the night that she can't quite grasp. Leo's first year without Nina is marked by changes, as the accident impacts her friendships, her family and her relationship with Nina's boyfriend, East. Leo must find a way to live without her sister, and she slowly learns to navigate her sorrow—and to love again, despite it.

The unconventional narrative structure in A Year to the Day reflects the connection between memory and mourning: The story that unfolds for the reader is comprised of confusing, intertwining moments, just like the memories Leo longs to recover. The novel's structure also conveys the tension and mystery of grief. While the fact of Nina's death is established in the book's very first sentence, the novel unveils the details of its circumstances and the year that follows slowly, and every chapter contains a new revelation. 

Benway's unflinching, close third-person narration fluctuates between wistfully poetic and painfully direct as Leo comes to terms with her true thoughts and feelings. Benway expertly captures how Leo is shaped by the people in her life during big moments, like funerals and anniversaries, but she also poignantly portrays smaller moments. Songs transport Leo back in time, the scent of Nina's shampoo makes Leo's heart shatter anew, and looking through the photos on Nina's old phone with their mom leaves Leo breathless.

A Year to the Day is simultaneously gut-wrenching and heartening, as grief and love so often are. Its unusual structure effectively relates a timeless story in a new and engaging way as Benway offers beautiful, profound reflections on loss, healing and forgiveness. Ultimately, Leo's story is a lesson in self-compassion and hope, reminding readers that moving forward doesn't mean forgetting the past, and although love can be painful, it's worth holding on to.

In a beautiful, profound novel told backward, National Book Award winner Robin Benway explores the process of navigating sorrow and learning to love again.

Brené Brown invites listeners to get vulnerable in Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience (8.5 hours). Drawing from her research and personal experiences, Brown offers a new framework for building healthy relationships by analyzing common emotions such as compassion, fear and anger.

Brown narrates this audiobook with gentleness and expertise, and when she speaks about serious topics, she is sincere without being somber. Because Atlas of the Heart is a highly visual book, she’s taken steps to ensure that the audiobook is just as engaging as the print edition, with extra examples and stories that are exclusive to the recorded version. This small touch is a microcosm of Brown’s earnest intentions as a writer and narrator.

Listening to Atlas of the Heart is like sitting down with a trusted mentor. With both humility and authority, Brown helps readers stay engaged and encouraged, even as her book dives into difficult, tender ideas. Tune in for a challenging and inspiring listen.

Because Atlas of the Heart is a highly visual book, Brené Brown assures listeners that she's taken steps to ensure that the audiobook is just as engaging, with additional stories exclusive to the recording.

Minah Okar is content with the home that she and her father have built in Brooklyn, New York. With her hilarious best friend, Nikki, and loving boyfriend, Mike, by her side, Minah feels that she has left her old life in Obsidian, Michigan, behind for good. But when Minah learns that her estranged mother has died, Minah is forced to reconcile memories she’d much rather forget. She returns to Obsidian for the first time in five years to confront the truth about her family’s deepest secrets.

Break This House, the second novel from National Book Award finalist Candice Iloh (Every Body Looking), explores Minah’s joys and heartaches through her immersive first-person narration. Minah is insightful as well as observant, offering vivid descriptions of everything from the smells on New York City subway cars to the cacophony of songs that play simultaneously from different speakers at a family party. Neither the humor nor the horrors of her family’s past escape the broad scope of her pensive reflections.

Iloh’s visceral depictions of Minah’s inner and outer worlds make Break This House’s themes of loss and grief all the more impactful. As Minah sifts through her muddled memories and her family’s fragmented recollections, she begins to determine what she really thinks about herself, her parents and her faith. Suspended between her past and her future, she must craft an identity that honors her family but gives her the agency to make her own choices.

Break This House is a tender, poetic story about what it’s like to experience loss and learn to continue living anyway. It’s heart-wrenching to follow Minah as she tries to answer impossible questions that everyone eventually faces: What must we leave in the past, and how can we move forward without it?

When Minah learns that her estranged mother has died, she travels back to her hometown to confront her family's secrets in this poetic, heart-wrenching novel.

Dorothy “Doe” Saltpeter and her friends are ready to make their senior year at the Weston School for girls their best yet, which means pulling the most outrageous pranks on Winfield Academy, the rival boys’ school across the road. But when the two schools announce a shocking merger, Doe is forced to interact with Winfield students, including smug, wealthy Three, her sworn enemy.

To aggravate Three, Doe proposes a fake relationship with his cousin, Wells, who has his own reasons for agreeing to the ruse. As Doe’s and Wells’ lies begin to unravel, Doe uncovers a dark secret plaguing the Weston School, which forces her to rethink her commitment to pranks and rivalries and decide where her priorities truly lie.

This May End Badly is a fun, insightful novel that introduces an instantly appealing heroine. Doe and her group of prankster girlfriends are easy to root for, their pranks ingenious and clever, and her witty relationship with Wells is buoyant and charming.

Yet for all the levity offered by dueling schools and prank wars, This May End Badly thoughtfully explores serious issues as well. During the course of Doe’s school year, debut author Samantha Markum examines harmful family dynamics, childhood trauma and sexual harrassment. Doe must learn to take responsibility for her actions and use her voice, even when that means partnering with people she once considered enemies.

This May End Badly captures the excitement and transitions experienced by many teens during their final year of high school. Doe finds it difficult to say goodbye to her childhood and step into adulthood, which is compounded by the huge changes her friends and beloved school are undergoing. At first, she stubbornly clings to her adolescence and is willing to go to great lengths to keep every aspect of her life, including her relationships, school and responsibilities, exactly how it’s always been.

But as her friends choose colleges, the Weston School enters a new era and Doe’s love life blooms, Doe begins to acknowledge that it’s time to grow up. Along the way, she discovers that becoming an adult isn’t so bad—especially when it means growing with the people you love.

Debut author Samantha Markum’s This May End Badly is a fun, insightful novel about the challenges and rewards of saying goodbye to adolescence and growing with the people you love.

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