Tami Orendain

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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.
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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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Novelist Jami Attenberg invites readers to join her in reflecting on relationships, creativity and the nature of home in her first essay collection, I Came All This Way to Meet You (6.5 hours). Her vignettes intertwine stories of her growth as an author with funny and honest ruminations on a life filled with travel and art.

Attenberg’s vulnerability in these essays, paired with narrator Xe Sands’ quiet, confident voice, makes listening to I Came All This Way to Meet You an intensely personal experience. Sands adds a shade of wistfulness to Attenberg’s wisdom with cool vocal tones, and elevates the author’s witty quips with a cheeky sensibility. Listeners will lean in to enjoy the full range of sentimentality and playfulness. It’s like sitting down with a clever friend to hear stories over cups of tea—nostalgic, conspiratorial and comfortable.

I Came All This Way to Meet You is a relaxing audiobook that will incline the listener toward restful reflection, encouraging them to discover inspiration in even the smallest moments of everyday life.

Read our starred review of the print edition of ‘I Came All This Way to Meet You.’

Nostalgic and conspiratorial, I Came All This Way to Meet You is a relaxing audiobook that will incline the listener toward restful reflection.
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Because its military ranks have been decimated by a devastating famine, the Bayt-Sajji empire has expanded its squire training program to enlist young people from conquered territories. Aiza is a member of the Ornu people, who are treated like second-class citizens. She is deeply familiar with the oppression and discrimination that plague the empire but still dreams of becoming a knight.

Once Aiza joins up, her visions of grandeur and heroism are quickly replaced by the harsh reality of grueling training, complicated new relationships and pressure to keep her Ornu identity a secret. As Aiza learns more about the empire, she realizes that its knights may not be as noble as she once thought. Eventually, she is forced to decide where her loyalties truly lie.

Sara Alfageeh and Nadia Shammas’ Squire takes readers on a heart-pounding adventure set in a fantasy world inspired by the history and cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. Aiza is charming and spunky, and although she can seem naive as she chases her lofty dreams, she also admirably clings to her desire to do good.

As Aiza makes her way through training, she meets a diverse and appealing cast of characters. Her fellow trainees include serious but encouraging Sahar, who comes from poverty and wants to support her family; Husni, a lighthearted jokester who longs to prove himself to his father; and Basem, the son of a senator, who is determined to beat his father’s record and become a squire faster than anyone ever has.

Squire explores complex, ambitious questions as Aiza is confronted by the lengths the empire is willing to go to achieve the greater good: What do we do when our dreams don’t turn out to be like we imagined? Who has the ability to create history, and whose stories are left out or lost? What should we do when we are ordered to compromise what we believe is right?

Alfageeh’s illustrations brim with lush backgrounds and charming details. She excels at drawing expressive characters and conveying a range of emotion and movement, from silly banter between friends to fast-paced battle scenes bright with action and feeling. This is a graphic novel with detailed, poignant illustrations worth lingering over.

Shammas and Alfageeh have created a story that successfully balances both exciting fantasy and resonant realism. Squire demonstrates how anyone, from earnest heroes to sneaky villains, can become tangled up in webs of social and political systems bigger and more powerful than a single person. But it also shows how, sometimes, it just takes one person to make a meaningful difference in the world.

A heart-pounding graphic novel, Squire is a fantasy adventure filled with poignant illustrations, silly banter between friends and fast-paced battle scenes.
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Four years ago, after attracting the unwanted attention of Poseidon and being cursed by Athena, Medusa and her sisters fled to a distant island. Her winged sisters take to the skies every day, leaving Medusa alone with only the snakes on her head for company. One day, Medusa discovers Perseus, a handsome boy stranded on the island. Slowly, they open up to each other, unaware that their blossoming relationship will become the spark of a tragedy.

Jessie Burton’s Medusa is a feminist retelling of the classical Greek myth of Medusa and Perseus, brought to life with full-color illustrations by Olivia Lomenech Gill. The book adds complexity to a character many readers may know only as a monstrous Gorgon, famously capable of turning anyone who looks at her into stone. Here, readers meet Medusa not as a monster but as a hopeful girl who bears both psychological and physical scars. 

Burton’s narrative powerfully explores the effects of abuse. Medusa tells her story, giving readers a firsthand glimpse into the trauma she’s experienced, its long-term ramifications and the twisting rationalizations that others use to defend her abusers. As she transitions to adulthood and navigates healing, identity and romance, she often looks to the women in her life for guidance and insight. Medusa’s sisters, Stheno and Euryale, and even Athena herself offer varying perspectives on maturity and femininity, and Medusa is able to consider their conflicting views while also developing her own way forward. 

Gill’s illustrations provide visual representations of Medusa’s thoughts and feelings. Sketches of birds and ocean life ground the story in the seaside isolation of Medusa’s island. Some of the images, such as one of Medusa and her sisters flying into the night sky, have a collage-like quality that endows the story’s mythical subjects with genuine human emotion. Gill’s colors mirror Medusa’s emotional journey: Medusa’s joy shines through in vivid blues and greens, her curiosity about Perseus is a soft yellow, and her horrific past is a dark and bloody red. 

Throughout the book, Burton’s prose and Gill’s art work in harmony to offer two intertwined ways of learning who Medusa really is. By placing her at the center of the tale, they give an epic voice to victims whose stories often go ignored and untold. Readers who love nuanced retellings of myths will not want to miss it.

Medusa adds complexity to a character typically known only as a monstrous Gorgon, and readers who enjoy nuanced retellings of myths will not want to miss it.
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On the rocky cliffs near their cottage in the Scottish Highlands, Rowenna witnesses her mother Mairead’s death at the hands of a gruesome sea creature. Afterward, she mourns not only the loss of her mother but also her only chance to learn how to master and control the magical craft they share. But the morning after Rowenna rescues a stranger named Gawen from a storm, Mairead miraculously returns, rosy-cheeked and claiming to have rejected her craft entirely.

Although her grasp of the craft is merely rudimentary, Rowenna can tell that whatever has come back from the sea is not her mother; it’s not even human. The monster steals Rowenna’s voice and curses her brothers and Gawen, transforming them into swans. To break the curse, Rowenna sets off for the city of Inverness, where she’s heard of a wise woman who might be able to help her before the monster’s curse becomes permanent and her whole village succumbs to its malevolence.

Laura E. Weymouth’s A Rush of Wings is an immersive retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Wild Swans.” Weymouth’s writing is rich with sensory details, lush descriptions and prose that often feels like poetry. She creates a beautiful world that straddles the line between the real and the unreal. Here, the sea teems with otherworldly creatures, the wind speaks to women, and magic seems truly possible. Although Weymouth’s story has plenty of high stakes and horrifying villains, she tells it in an unhurried, intimate way, balancing heart-pumping battles with hushed, hopeful conversations.

Rowenna is an unusual fairy-tale hero who is curious about the limits of her abilities yet hesitates to use their full potential when doing so would harm others. She recognizes that her lack of control makes her weak but also fears what could happen should she become more powerful. Some characters believe her to be naive, while others accuse her of deceit, but Rowenna recognizes the complicated, contradictory aspects of her own identity and longs to bring them into balance.

It’s easy to lose track of time while reading A Rush of Wings. It’s a mesmerizing story with wonderful ambiance that asks readers to question their preconceived notions of heroes and villains. Readers looking for something both fresh and familiar are sure to enjoy this powerful retelling.

In the world of this lush, poetic retelling of “The Wild Swans,” the sea teems with otherworldly creatures, the wind speaks to women and magic seems truly possible.
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Cloud Cuckoo Land (15 hours) by Anthony Doerr chronicles the intersecting lives of an orphaned teenage girl and a village boy living in 15th-century Constantinople, an elderly librarian and a troubled teenager in present-day Idaho, and a young passenger aboard an interstellar ship generations into the future. It’s a dreamy, dynamic interweaving of stories about conflict, grief and hope.

Narrators Marin Ireland and Simon Jones make each character’s story feel personal, valid and alive—a challenging task with a cast this extensive and settings that span hundreds of years and miles. Ireland’s performances anchor every chapter in a myriad of voices and accents, surrounding the listener with an immersive experience. Between chapters, Jones playfully narrates excerpts from a fictional ancient Greek text whose relevance to each storyline is revealed gradually.

Listening to Cloud Cuckoo Land will transport you. It is magical and comforting, and likely to leave you with a new perspective on the power of resilience and the meaning of human connection.

Read our starred review of the print edition of ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land.’

As an audiobook, Cloud Cuckoo Land is a transportive experience, likely to leave listeners with a new perspective on the power of human connections.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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