Tami Orendain

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Time is often viewed as structured, chronological and profit-driven—but it doesn’t have to be this way. In Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock (11.5 hours), Jenny Odell dissects the cultural underpinnings of our perceptions of time, wealth and value, and offers a fresh perspective that cultivates hope, not anxiety.

Saving Time is a smooth listen that’s simultaneously thought-provoking and gentle. Kristen Sieh’s narration is emphatic but peaceful, lending further authority to Odell’s writing. It feels like an experienced mentor is sharing her wisdom, and listeners will likely find themselves nodding along, surprised by the simple yet paradigm-shifting ideas presented within.

Odell’s book reminds us that we are allowed to slow down, to find joy in the moment, and listening to this audiobook can be a practice in the very principles it explores.

Read our interview with Jenny Odell on Saving Time: “If it’s true that we don’t have enough time, how did we get here? And why?”

Listeners of the Saving Time audiobook will likely find themselves nodding along, surprised by the simple yet paradigm-shifting ideas presented within.
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Maude hasn’t spoken to Odette, her childhood best friend, in four years—ever since Maude’s magic “dried up.” But when Odette disappears and everyone assumes that she’s dead, Maude feels a mysterious pull toward Sicklehurst, an abandoned power plant that no one seems to be able to remember. As Maude enters Sicklehurst in search of Odette, she draws strength from the stories they used to share, tales of princes and monsters with happy endings. But the further Maude ventures into Sicklehurst, the more she discovers that her mysterious past may finally be catching up to her.

In A Hunger of Thorns, Australian author Lili Wilkinson creates a lush coming-of-age story that upends narrative expectations about witches and fairy tales. The world of the novel feels fantastical yet familiar: Magic exists, but it’s regulated by the government and controlled by corporations. Witches go to school, but the spells they learn are superficial and commoditized—enchanted laundry detergent, charms to find lost keys. Maude has grown up in this world, but as she uncovers truths about her family, their home and magic itself, she brings readers along through the twists and turns of a forgotten past.

Wilkinson’s prose is full of sensuality, shifting between the gorgeous and the grotesque. Maude’s fluctuating feelings have a visceral quality; her obsession with Odette is all-consuming, and the loss of her magical powers is tangibly painful. The physical body itself is also a central concern. In one scene, Maude observes that the presence of magic feels like “a heavy pull in my abdomen, like I’m getting my period,” and the performance of magic can require all kinds of bodily fluids.

A Hunger of Thorns isn’t a book for readers with weak stomachs or faint hearts, but it’s not devoid of hopefulness, either. Maude struggles with loss and loneliness but also finds a way to move beyond her past and appreciate her present. As she realizes how she’s allowed her search for Odette to drive her—and cause her to harm others—she also takes responsibility for her actions and holds others responsible for theirs. The narrative itself challenges Maude’s view of herself, demonstrating the power in genuine, honest self-reflection.

Gritty, bold and unflinching, A Hunger of Thorns turns a mirror on the darkest parts of growing up and asks readers to look closely at what’s reflected. Only by facing the truth, Wilkinson assures us, can we learn, heal and grow. It’s an ideal read for anyone in search of a surprising and original witchy fantasy.

Gritty, visceral and unflinching, A Hunger of Thorns is a lush coming-of-age story that upends narrative expectations about witches and fairy tales.
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Raul loves the guitar and volunteers as a music therapist with his uncle, a pastor, although he holds secret doubts about his family’s faith. It’s while volunteering that Raul meets Danna, who loves lists, poetry and food. In fact, Danna loves food so much that she believes that it can help restore her beloved grandfather, whose memories are beginning to fade from dementia. Together, Raul and Danna go on a journey to find the perfect dishes to heal her grandfather. Along the way, they help each other heal too.

Pura Belpré Honor author Laekan Zea Kemp’s third YA novel, An Appetite for Miracles, is her first written entirely in verse. As she writes from Raul’s and Danna’s perspectives, Kemp develops distinct, realistic voices for each teen. Danna’s pages are expressive and lilting, while Raul’s are cutting and raw. Kemp also incorporates lists, text messages and other ephemera into the novel, and this blend of forms makes it feel like you’re really witnessing two people as they fall in love for the first time. 

An Appetite for Miracles explores weighty subjects without dwelling in darkness; instead, it turns toward the light of hope at every opportunity. Danna struggles with loss and self-image, and Raul wrestles with faith and his relationship with a close family member who is incarcerated, but when the two teens meet, their connection sparkles with vulnerability and affection. Kemp perfectly captures the feelings of excitement and relief that come from realizing you’ve finally found someone who truly understands you.

The novel is interested in more than romance, however. Kemp surrounds Raul and Danna with complex, compelling family and friends who bring multiple perspectives on food, faith, healing and love—perspectives that conflict and evolve over the course of the book. As Raul and Danna’s relationship grows, it gives them the strength and insight to make vulnerable, daring and transformative choices that ultimately lead to a well-earned and satisfying ending.

Honesty and hopefulness can often seem like fundamentally opposed concepts. With An Appetite for Miracles, Kemp has created a novel replete with both. 

In her first novel written entirely in verse, Laekan Zea Kemp perfectly captures the excitement and relief of finding someone who truly understands you.
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Rose Josten feels like something’s missing from her life, even though she’s got her family, a consultant career on the fast track and a successful ASMR video channel. (ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response” and refers to a calming, tingly reaction to auditory stimulation.) Ash Stewart is a struggling filmmaker wrestling with heartbreak when she gets the chance to pitch a film concept to a major investor. Brought together by chance, Rose and Ash might be able to make the movie a reality—and find love along the way.

Memories and conversations drive Karelia Stetz-Waters’ romance novel, Behind the Scenes (10 hours), making sound an incredibly important part of the book. Narrator Lori Prince rises to this challenge with creativity and flexibility, giving the large cast of characters distinct voices with unique timbres and tones. She also performs Rose’s ASMR videos, pulling the reader into the story. 

Prince brings this story to life and makes it easy to follow the fun. If you’re looking for an immersive, mature romance, go Behind the Scenes.

Read our starred review of the print edition of Behind the Scenes.

Lori Prince brings Karelia Stetz-Waters’ novel to life and makes it easy to follow the fun. If you’re looking for an immersive, mature romance, go Behind the Scenes.
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Clara dreams of becoming a Council-certified witch, but her magic is strange and unpredictable—so much so that a simple touch accidentally curses her father, making poisonous flowers grow inside his body. Desperate to save him, Clara turns to Xavier Morwyn, a talented Councilmember who was once her best friend. The two rekindle their connection as they work toward a cure, but as Clara learns about her old friend and her own magic, she also uncovers a dark secret plaguing the land. There could be more to Clara’s past—and to Xavier—than even Clara herself realizes. 

Flowerheart, the first YA fantasy novel from author Catherine Bakewell (We Are the Song), is a romantic mystery, its plot propelled by the questions Clara must answer: What is the unknown potion wreaking havoc across the country, and how is it connected to Clara’s estranged mother? Why, after avoiding her for years, is Xavier agreeing to help her now, and should she trust him?

Bakewell’s vision of magic is unique and effective. Instead of existing as a static source of energy, magic in Flowerheart is almost a sentient force, a character with its own will, motivations and personality. As the book opens, it plays a villainous role, actively working against Clara’s wishes and goals. Eventually, it becomes both an ally and a clear reflection of Clara’s psyche. The ability to perform magic stems from emotion and intention, enabling Bakewell to draw parallels between Clara’s struggles with anxiety and self-image and the difficulties she experiences with her magic.

Although it’s filled with danger and darkness, Flowerheart maintains an incredibly cozy atmosphere. Clara’s magic often manifests in flowers whose symbolic meanings reflect her true feelings, she and Xavier create potions using natural ingredients and imbued with good intentions, and many characters connect through the sharing of food. Peppered with moving moments of comfort, self-reflection and joy, Flowerheart is an intimate, charming read. 

This romantic fantasy about a girl who must master her unruly magic to save her father’s life is peppered with moments of comfort, self-reflection and joy.
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Thanks to her mom’s successful career at a global consulting firm, 17-year-old Eliza Lin is used to starting over, but she’s tired of becoming “attached to people only to grow apart” when she inevitably moves again. So when she has to post a personal essay to a student-run blog at her new school in Beijing, she tries to fly under the radar with a piece about how she met her lovely but totally fictional boyfriend. 

To Eliza’s dismay, her essay goes viral overnight, landing her an internship offer from Craneswift, her favorite online publication—if she’ll keep writing about her relationship for them. Desperate to keep up the charade, Eliza forms a pact with her new neighbor and classmate Caz Song, who also happens to be a handsome up-and-coming actor. Together, they put on the performance of a lifetime. That is, until it starts to feel a little too real for Eliza.

In her second novel, author Ann Liang immerses readers in Eliza’s life, capturing facets of modern adolescence in a funny, clever and moving voice. Eliza wants to be a writer, and her narration is filled with thoughtful reflections on everyday teenage experiences. Though she tries to maintain emotional distance from her peers, she’s wonderfully open with the reader about her feelings of angst, confusion and even fear, making her a relatable character whose story resonates deeply. 

Eliza’s viral essay sets off big changes in her relationships and her worldview. Her fabricated romance with Caz is a highlight, but Liang also explores Eliza’s connections with her family, her long-distance best friend and her new boss at Craneswift. Many characters experience nuanced arcs of their own, such as Zoe, Eliza’s BFF, who seems to be pulling away from their friendship, and Emily, Eliza’s little sister, who might be less mature than she initially appears. Liang never neglects the important roles these relationships play in Eliza’s life in favor of romance.

Ultimately, This Time It’s Real satisfies because all of the parts of Eliza’s life—romance, vocation, friendship and more—are inextricable from her changing understandings of home, love and identity. Though romance is a key element in Eliza’s story, the novel’s true focus is on Eliza as she learns to embrace honesty and vulnerability and rises to the challenge of becoming a fuller, braver version of herself. 

Readers in search of a sweet romance with a meaningful coming-of-age story at its heart should look no further than This Time It’s Real.

Though romance is a key element in This Time It’s Real, the novel’s true focus is Eliza’s process of learning to embrace honesty and vulnerability and becoming a fuller, braver version of herself.
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The people of Raddith are used to living with magic. The country bustles with business, bureaucracy and other hallmarks of humanity, but around its edges are whispers of curses—dangerous magic spawned from intense negative emotion. Kellen, an unraveller with the rare ability to undo these curses, and Nettle, his stoic companion with a hidden past, make a meager living catching cursers and helping those they’ve cursed. After an old enemy threatens revenge against Kellen for unraveling her curse and leading to her imprisonment, Kellen and Nettle stumble into a mystery that challenges everything they know about Raddith, magic and their friendship.

In Unraveller, acclaimed author Frances Hardinge creates two settings that both feel fantastical and familiar: Raddith, the land of humans, and the Wilds, the marshy woods where magic thrives. The novel features otherworldly creatures such as spell-weaving Little Brothers, which are “not spiders, however much they look like them,” terrifying bog spirits and more, but Hardinge also depicts how humans coexist with such creatures. The humans in Raddith see them as a source of power, while people in the Wilds treat them with respect, even reverence. The novel’s unique magic system reflects this intertwining of the mundane and the marvelous as well: Strange, unpredictable curses that transform people into animals or steal their shadows stem from pent-up human emotions like resentment, anger and hatred.

This emotion-fueled magic system places character development at the forefront of Unraveller. Nettle seems calm and collected, but she actually struggles to express how she feels, while Kellen understands the importance of communication but flees as soon as a curse is lifted, not realizing that true healing takes time. Their personalities clash and complement each other throughout the book, demonstrating how growth and friendship aren’t linear—but are rewarding. 

Hardinge isn’t afraid to challenge her readers to rethink their perceptions of hatred and healing, and she does so by venturing into some of the darkest aspects of human guilt, shame and anger. Almost every member of the novel’s large cast must learn to deal with complicated emotions, whether they’re cursers or cursed, from minor villagers to Kellen and Nettle’s most trusted allies. Some characters fall prey to their feelings, while others open up, forgive and change their ways. 

Unraveller is a multilayered, challenging and unflinching read, with occasional depictions of gore and body horror that may unsettle some readers. It poses a difficult but deeply necessary question: What does it mean to truly heal and be healed?

This fantasy novel ventures into the darkest aspects of human emotions to pose a difficult but necessary question: What does it mean to truly heal and be healed?
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In Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts (10 hours), 12-year-old Bird Gardner lives in a dystopian near-future in which the United States exists under the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act (PACT), a mandate that claims to uphold patriotism by banning books, relocating children and condemning anything “un-American,” especially regarding Asian culture. But when Bird receives a letter from his missing mother, a Chinese American poet who protested PACT, he is thrown into an adventure to discover his heritage, his past and his family. 

Actor Lucy Liu’s narration achieves a balance between the novel’s larger political story and the intimate inner worlds of Ng’s characters. Liu’s voice is calm and steady but also follows the book’s highs and lows, matching Ng’s lyrical prose to bring out the story’s emotion, mystery and heartbreak.

In this novel of family bonds tested by sociopolitical horrors, Ng’s writing and Liu’s narration collaborate to demonstrate how resistance need not always be loud; it can also be powerful in small, quiet, personal ways.

Read our starred review of the print edition of Our Missing Hearts.

Celeste Ng’s writing and Lucy Liu’s narration collaborate to demonstrate how resistance need not be loud to be powerful.
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The four Singh sisters help their twice-widowed father run the Songbird Inn, a quaint but charming vacation spot on Orcas Island, Washington. In the year after the Songbird wins an award for most romantic inn in the country, each member of the family finds themselves on the edge of romance. As they navigate relationships old and new, the Singh sisters discover that love is bigger, bolder and more omnipresent than any of them could have dreamed.

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things is divided into four sections, each of which focuses on one of the Singh sisters and her story. The sisters couldn’t be more different: Nidhi, the eldest, is disciplined and organized, with big plans for her future. Avani is her opposite, restlessly hopping from one hobby to the next. Shy Sirsha, the youngest, prefers expressing herself through photography rather than conversation. And Rani, Avani’s twin, is a true idealist and self-proclaimed love guru. With each passing season, a different sister finds herself in the middle of a romantic intrigue, creating a fun, cohesive set of interconnected stories with recurring characters and settings. 

Maya Prasad reveals how she created her season-by-season ode to romance, sisterhood and the Pacific Northwest.

But romance is just one part of this novel. Debut author Maya Prasad dives deep into the Singh sisters’ inner worlds to show how broadly love can be defined and experienced. When their extended family in India reaches out to reconnect after years of distant silence, the girls wrestle with what it means to be Indian American. They grieve the loss of their mother and stepfather years after their deaths. And as they consider their plans for life after high school, they contemplate a future in which they may no longer live together under one roof.

Self-love becomes a central theme as each sister faces her own challenges. Nidhi wrestles with an unexpected new connection. Avani confronts unaddressed grief and resentment. Sirsha struggles to speak up for herself. And deep down, Rani is unsure what love really is. As the sisters work through their biggest insecurities and flaws, Prasad illustrates how difficult relationships can be, but she never loses sight of how love can be as simple as a meal enjoyed together, a promise to be present, a shared silence or a second chance. 

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things doesn’t sacrifice authenticity for romance. Instead, it features well-rounded characters experiencing different types of love and portrays serious subjects with a light, refreshing and relatable touch. Realistic and entertaining, this novel is perfect for readers who crave love in all its many forms.

Read our Q&A with ‘Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things’ author Maya Prasad.

In her debut novel, Maya Prasad never sacrifices authenticity for romance as she captures how broadly love can be defined and experienced.
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Georgia Avis dreams of working at Aspera, the world-class resort that looms over the town of Ketchum. But when Georgia finds the body of 13-year-old Ashley James in a ditch by the road that leads to Aspera, she’s thrown into investigating the secrets in Ketchum’s past—and in her own personal history. With help from Nora, Ashley’s grieving older sister, Georgia must decide how she fits into the complicated web of power that seems to run their world. 

I’m the Girl is a slow convergence of overlapping mysteries: Who killed Ashley? What happened to Georgia’s mother when she worked at Aspera? And what was Georgia doing on the road when she discovered Ashley’s body, anyway? 

As Georgia tries to track down Ashley’s killer, the adults around her offer a range of perspectives on a young woman’s place in the world. Matthew Hayes, Aspera’s owner, sees Georgia as a potential subordinate. His wife, Cleo, tries to teach Georgia how to use the objectification of women to her own advantage. Georgia’s mother, who died from cancer over a year earlier, always insisted that Georgia should ignore Aspera’s grandeur. And the lingering threat of Ashley’s murderer positions Georgia as nothing but another potential victim.

Although the novel’s plot hinges on solving its many mysteries, author Courtney Summers (Sadie) is just as interested in excavating the roles intimacy and power play in Georgia’s life. Georgia is determined to defy her mother’s expectations, but she soon finds herself at the mercy of people and organizations much more powerful than she. As Georgia uncovers more about Ashley’s life and comes to terms with her own identity as a young queer woman, she confronts physical and sexual abuse, corrupt law enforcement and stark disparities of wealth. Ultimately, Georgia must determine how to participate in these systems—or whether she wants to participate at all.

I’m the Girl is raw, vulnerable and, at times, difficult to read, although Summers demonstrates that hope and joy are possible even amid the struggle against seemingly insurmountable power. Readers are left to reckon with provocative questions: Can you accept the ways of the world you live in? If not, what will you do about it?

When Georgia discovers the body of a 13-year-old girl, she's thrown into excavating the secrets that loom over her resort town and in her own past.
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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.

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