I’ve got four audiobook reviews for you today: a YA contemp, a YA science fiction duology and a non-fiction(!). I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Listen to Your Heart by Kasie West
Published by Scholastic Audio on May 29, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Narrator: Nora Hunter
Length: 8 hours and 13 minutes
Source: Edelweiss, Library
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing)
Talking to other people isn't Kate Bailey's favorite activity. She'd much rather be out on the lake, soaking up the solitude and sunshine. So when her best friend, Alana, convinces Kate to join their high school's podcast, Kate is not expecting to be chosen as the host. Now she'll have to answer calls and give advice on the air? Impossible.
But to Kate's surprise, she turns out to be pretty good at the hosting gig. Then the podcast gets in a call from an anonymous guy, asking for advice about his unnamed crush. Kate is pretty sure that the caller is gorgeous Diego Martinez, and even surer that the girl in question is Alana. Kate is excited for her friend ... until Kate herself starts to develop feelings for Diego. Suddenly, Kate finds that while doling out wisdom to others may be easy, asking for help is tougher than it looks, and following your own advice is even harder.
Kasie West's adorable story of secrets, love, and friendship is sure to win over hearts everywhere.
This book is quintessential Kasie West. A sweet YA romance that sweeps you up and carries you away. The book prominently features a strong family unit (a whole extended family of people who actually care about each other—hard to believe, right?), a well-earned and slow-burning romance, and a friendship that is strong enough to outlast any boy troubles. When everything (inevitably) blows up in Kate’s face at the climax of the book, people in her life are understandably hurt, but none of her relationships are destroyed by it—but it doesn’t feel like the consequences get glossed over; instead, we see how the strength of those relationships has been built up over time and how they can weather a few mistakes on Kate’s part. It’s all very believable. And it gives us a little much-needed faith in humanity (and the power of friendship). The book deals with a few issues, like bullying, but never with a heavy hand. In the end, it’s the type of book that leaves you smiling.
NARRATION: Nora Hunter did a fantastic job narrating this, and I would definitely listen to her books in the future.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review (though I ended up listening to the audiobook version from my library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Warcross by Marie Lu
Published by Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group on September 12, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Narrator: Nancy Wu
Length: 11 hrs and 46 mins
Source: ALA, Library
My content rating: YA
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.
Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.
I decided that, with Wildcard coming, it was time for me to jump on board with this series. Even though I own multiple Marie Lu books, this was my first time reading (listening to) her! I now know what I’ve been missing, and I know I NEED to go back and listen to her older books. I’ll review the two books in the duology separately below.
I was a little leery of the video-game-taking-over-real-life concept, I’ll admit. I felt like I’d seen this a few too many times recently. But I have to say that Lu made her version feel fresh and new. I loved the idea that the VR world overlayed the “real” world and the two interacted with each other. Considering we now have apps that will give us points for checking things off our to-do list, it doesn’t seem that unbelievable that at some point everyday parts of our lives will be rewarded and integrated with a virtual world. (My older daughter is convinced that the world will eventually be VR-based, and she might not be wrong.) Some of the plot twists in this one seemed a little obvious (I knew who Zero was from the beginning), but others surprised me. And I loved the complex relationship between Hideo and Emika. Overall, this book was a definite win for me, and I was excited I didn’t have to wait long to jump into Wildcard!Wildcard by Marie Lu
Published by Listening Library on September 18, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Narrator: Nancy Wu
Length: 10 hours and 51 minutes
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex, but it isn't shown)
Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo's new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she's always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.
Determined to put a stop to Hideo's grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone's put a bounty on Emika's head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn't all that he seems--and his protection comes at a price.
Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?
Well, if Warcross supplied me with a few surprises, Wildcard kept me constantly guessing what was going to happen next. It’s one of those books where you’re constantly trying to figure out whose side the MC should really be on—and there might not be easy answers. For me, the intrigue outweighed the video game action sequences, but there are plenty of those for readers who are more action-oriented. I feel like I don’t want to say too much here, but I’ll just point out that we get more of the characters we grew to love (or hate) in book one—Emika’s Warcross teammates, Hideo, Zero—and we meet some new important players as well. I ended up enjoying this one even more than the first book!
NARRATION: Nancy Wu was the perfect narrator for this series. She captured the action and the emotion brilliantly.
***Disclosure: I received Warcross from the publisher via ALA 2017 in exchange for an honest review (though I ended up listening to the audiobook version from my library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself by Rachel Lloyd
Published by Tantor Audio on January 9, 2018
Genres: Adult, Young Adult, Non-Fiction
Narrator: Rachel Lloyd
Length: 9 hours and 30 minutes
My content rating: Adult or YA (Discussion of sexual and physical abuse, drug use, etc.)
At thirteen, Rachel Lloyd found herself caught up in a world of pain and abuse, struggling to survive as a child with no responsible adults to support her. Vulnerable yet tough, she eventually ended up a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. It took time and incredible resilience, but finally, with the help of a local church community, she broke free of her pimp and her past.
Three years later, Lloyd arrived in the United States to work with adult women in the sex industry and soon founded her own nonprofit GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Servicesto meet the needs of other girls with her history. She also earned her GED and won full scholarships to college and a graduate program. Today Lloyd is executive director of GEMS in New York City and has turned it into one of the nation's most groundbreaking nonprofit organizations.
In Girls Like Us, Lloyd reveals the dark, secretive world of her past in stunning cinematic detail. And, with great humanity, she lovingly shares the stories of the girls whose lives she has helped; small victories that have healed her wounds and made her whole. Revelatory, authentic, and brave, Girls Like Us is an unforgettable memoir.
This is an important non-fiction—the type of book that everyone should read. There’s so much partisan talk on topics like the commercial sex industry nowadays that it’s refreshing to hear the views of someone who actually knows what she’s talking about and doesn’t have a political angle (besides trying to make legislators understand what these young girls go through). The author lived this book—she chronicles her own experiences and the experiences of the young girls who are helped by her non-profit organization. The result is a painful, harrowing account of a life of pain and abuse. This isn’t an easy read, but it’s a powerful one.
One point that this book hammered home is that almost no one chooses the commercial sex industry; sure, we’ll occasionally see a story about an empowered woman who believes there’s nothing wrong with it and jumps in with her eyes open, but for 99% of the women and girls working in the industry, that’s not the case. Even if the girl herself would say she chose the life, if you look at the factors that got her there—poverty, abuse, fractured family lives—you can easily see that it was less of a choice and more of a survival tactic. This idea that girls, even very young girls, are worth less because they chose the life they’re in permeates our society and it’s so incredibly harmful. When we think of sex trafficking, we think of foreign girls being forcibly removed from their lives and sold into slavery, we don’t think of a young girl who is brainwashed into believing that the man who abuses and sells her is actually the only person who will show her the love she is desperate for. Society shows pity toward that trafficked girl and decidedly less so toward the girl who is convinced to throw her life away—even if they are treated equally brutally in the end.
This book was incredibly eye-opening to me, and it reminds me how our perceptions and biases slant the way we think of and treat others. If everyone read this book, the world couldn’t help but be a better place.
NARRATION: The book is narrated by the author, which makes it that much more real and powerful. (And it doesn’t hurt that she has an engaging conglomeration of a British and a New York accent.)