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When Marnie Was There

Joan G. Robinson, read by Susan Duerden. Listening Library, unabridged, download, 6.5 hrs., $23 ISBN 978-0-553-55260-7

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When Anna, an orphan, is sent to live with the Pegs in some town far from home, she is ostracized by her peers. Then she meets Marnie, a peculiar girl who seems to appear in even more peculiar circumstances. When Marnie disappears, Anna is determined to find out where—and whom—she is. Duerden has a perfect voice for this production. Her British accent and soft voice capture and invite listeners to enjoy the narrative passes. Her emotional inflection helps flesh out the characters, particularly when narrating Anna’s inner thoughts. Her vocal characterizations are fantastic. She provides a consistent and emotionally dynamic voice for Anna, while also capturing a variety of other male and female characters with different accents and vocal styles. Each character comes across as unique. Ages 8–12. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All the Bright Places

Jennifer Niven, read by Kirby Heyborne and Ariadne Meyers. Listening Library, unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-553-55219-5

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Voice actors Heyborne and Meyers team up for the audio edition of Niven’s teen love story. Last spring, Violet survived the car accident that killed her sister. She has been barely getting by, and now, on the first day of the new term, she has climbed the bell tower at school and is thinking of throwing herself off. It is here that Violet encounters Theodore Finch, better known as “Freak” around school, who manages to talk her down. Saving Violet seems to have given Finch a new lease on life. He woos her, gets assigned to be her partner for a class project, and slowly brings Violet back to life. Both Violet and Finch take turns telling their story. Heyborne makes Finch sound warm, relatable, and sympathetic. When Finch turns manic, Heyborne picks up the pace, and his voice becomes frantic, harried, and ragged. For Violet, Meyers’s voice is sharp and tight, almost pinched at times. She only sounds loose and comfortable when she’s with Finch. When bad things happen and Violet’s voice is cracking and near tears, listeners will become misty-eyed as well. Still, the story is not without humor, and the narrators nail the comedic notes, lightening the mood. This is an emotional book, and Meyers and Heyborne do an outstanding job infusing their performances with sentiment and warmth. Ages 14–up. A Knopf hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock

Lucy Worsley, read by Annie Flosnik. Tantor Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 7 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-49450419-9

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Narrator Flosnik delivers a competent but rather bland reading of Worsley’s chronicle of the fascination with murder in British popular culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The desire for reality drama is not something that was introduced by today’s TV; the book takes listeners back to the 19th century, when the English populace was held in thrall by tales of real-life killings, thievery, and general criminal mischief, as well as the consequences for the perpetrators. Public hangings pulled in huge crowds of people looking to see end-of-the-rope justice. This curiosity eventually gave rise to crime in literature and plays, from penny dreadfuls and pulp to modern day mystery novels. Worsley deftly expounds upon all aspects of crime and punishment with an enthusiastic scholar-of-the-people delivery. However, Flosnik’s presentation is more perfunctory. She keeps her reading straightforward with little emotional inflection. She certainly has an excellent professional reading voice. Her intonation is perfect, but she lacks personality, and consequently the text is never really brought to life. A Pegasus Crime hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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No Land’s Man: A Perilous Journey through Romance, Islam, and Brunch

Aasif Mandvi, read by the author. Audible Studios, unabridged, downloadable, 4.5 hrs., $19.95 ASIN B00OZ3QUB6

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Actor/comedian Mandvi shares his experiences as a British-born Indian transplanted in the United States during his teenage years, through a series of personal vignettes about his childhood and career. He explores trying to pay homage to his different identities while aspiring to succeed in an industry that has largely stereotyped his heritage. With decades of experience on stage and behind the camera, Mandvi can confidently narrate his memoir. His voice enlivens the tales and the emotion generated feels more authentic. His cadence keeps the stories going, even if they can sometimes feel a bit directionless. His voice’s emotional range spans ridiculous, to outrageous, to reflective, and though there are some laughs to be had, listeners won’t find many jokes—despite his work on Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show. Instead, Mandvi acts as the vocal guide through each chapter. A Chronicle hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lives in Ruins: Archeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble

Marilyn Johnson, read by Hillary Huber. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0807-4

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Johnson takes a compelling jaunt into the world of archaeology to distinguish the prized artifacts from the debris, highlighting the hard and often thankless work of archaeologists. Reader Huber does a fantastic job of capturing Johnson’s witty, conversational prose, which both informs and entertains listeners. She adequately narrates the technical details and information with a balanced mixture of emphasis and pacing, and she embraces the author’s quirky asides narrating with the perfect amount of confident sass and exuberance. She comes across as the authentic voice of the text. A Harper hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Ben Montgomery, read by Patrick Lawlor. Tantor Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $37.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0793-0

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Montgomery introduces listeners to Emma Gatewood, a woman who walked the length of the Appalachian Trail at age 67 in 1955 and twice more in the decade that followed. By her amazing feats, she secured attention and interest in a decaying national treasure and helped preserve it. Through research, interviews, and journals accounts, Montgomery pieces together Gatewood’s physical journey, interspersing it with her life story and the challenges that lead her down the Appalachian trail. Reader Lawlor has a warm and inviting voice that is soft but deep. It invites the listener to follow along in Gatewood’s journey. He provides a good cadence, combined with a strong emphasis and warm delivery. He fleshes out Montgomery’s prose with a bit more personality and enthusiasm than the text has on its own, which makes the production more enticing. His character voices are not impressive, but that hardly detracts from the listening experience since the story is focused entirely on Gatewood. A Chicago Review hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder and the Battle for Modern New Orleans

Gary Krist, read by Robertson Dean. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $49.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-323-1

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This well-researched book captures an exciting chapter in the history of Louisiana’s most vibrant city. During the late Victorian era, New Orleans reformers hoped to confine the city’s notorious vices to one officially sanctioned district, Storyville, in order to protect the wealthier neighborhoods from seediness. Brothers, saloons, and jazz halls filled the lively, violent neighborhood, from which larger-than-life figures emerged, such as Tom Anderson, the “major of Storyville,” jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton, and the “Axeman of New Orleans,” a serial killer with a penchant for grocers. Narrator Dean excels in delivering this rich look at the birth of New Orleans and the struggle over its morality. His voice, a deep clear baritone, delivers the countless stories of shootings, seductions, and crime lords with enough solemnity to underscore the historical evolution of the city, but inflects the perfect touch of wryness while relaying the scandalous events and outrageous characters. An entertaining, educational listen. A Crown hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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It Happened in Boston?

Russell H. Greenan, read by Robert Fass. Robert Fass (Blackstone Audio, dist.), unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-4815-1524-5

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Veteran narrator Fass brings his best to his reading of this appealingly quirky first novel, which 40 years after its first publication has gained cult classic status. The story unfolds through the voice of an unnamed narrator, a painter of exceptional talent who teeters on the edge of insanity. He is determined to find God and, holding the deity accountable for all the evil in the world, kill him. The artist’s journey toward his goal is a surreal collective of travels through time, angel apparitions, art forgery, existential musings, and murder. Fass manages to navigate his way through this convoluted but captivating tale with ease. He gives the anonymous artist a soft, respectable voice that pulls the listener gently into his increasingly irrational world. His rendering of the eccentric collection of secondary characters borders on caricature, but works well in the shifting reality the author has created. A Modern Library paperback. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Gadzooks! A Comically Quirky Audio Book

Adele Park, read by a full cast. Straight to Audio Productions, , unabridged, MP3, 7.5 hrs., $14.99 ISBN 978-0-9837074-2-4

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This offbeat audio production aims to capture the unusual polygamous culture of fictional Navel, Utah, while also playfully exploring the question of assisted suicide. The actors’ performances generally rise to the quixotic tone of the story, the most entertaining being the portrayal of a polygamist wife who has helped several former husbands meet their maker a bit sooner than they expected (especially on their wedding night—when better to poison a patriarch than when the whole town is already assembled together?). Other characters include a rectal surgeon who moonlights as a rock star and a young woman whose popular skin products feature marijuana as a key ingredient. Between chapters, listeners get historic musings from the town’s 19th-century founder, who is now looking down on his community from the afterlife. Several of these same actors have appeared in Adele Park’s previous productions, such as Yikes!, but have little audio book experience beyond that. Regardless, the only real misstep here is the braying nasal tones used for Nancy Neptune. These are so grating that it’s hard to believe the character makes a living as a radio host—and that she’s only in her 30s, when the performance sounds like it’s coming from a much older woman. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Killer Next Door

Alex Marwood, read by Imogen Church. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0154-9

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In Marwood’s engrossing standalone thriller, Det. Insp. Merri Cheyne from Scotland Yard is investigating a case involving a grisly find of severed in a rundown boarding house in a London suburb. After Cheyne learns that the fingers belonged to a resident who recently witnessed a murder, body parts from other victims surface in and around the house, which turns out to be a destination for people with dark and embarrassing pasts that they wish to conceal. Church’s level narration during the most nightmarish chapters casually segues listeners into the macabre, making Marwood’s story all the more terrifying. Church is clearly practiced in voice variation, and delivers several disturbed, and disturbing, male and female characters. The subtle vocal nuances she assigns to each character throughout the reading will keep listeners attentive. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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