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Offcomer

Jo Baker, read by Nicola Barber. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-332-3

Baker’s reissued debut novel follows the life of a young Oxford graduate who suffers from depression and low self-esteem. Claire, who lives in Belfast with her overly critical and unloving boyfriend, Alan, begins cutting herself to deal with her pain. Despite Barber’s admirable narration, this novel is not well suited to the audio format. There is very little dialogue, and most of the scenes are long, minutely detailed descriptions of Claire’s activities: she enters the house, she takes off her coat, she crosses to the bed, etc. Narrator Barber does an excellent job conveying Claire’s state of mind, especially considering most of Claire’s interactions with other characters consists of short replies such as “Oh” and “Sorry.” Barber says these words in a soft, vulnerable voice, as though apologizing for simply existing, and wishing she could disappear. But the long descriptions that fill the book become tedious to listen to, and Claire’s self-effacing depression makes her flat and lacking personality—she is a character to be pitied, but it’s hard to actually like her or find her interesting. A Vintage paperback. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Bishop’s Wife

Mette Ivie Harrison, read by Kirsten Potter. Blackstone Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-4830-3955-8

YA author Harrison’s debut novel for adults focuses primarily on Linda Wallheim, the wife of Bishop Kurt Wallheim. She and her husband reside in Draper, Utah, where he is the spiritual father to a Mormon congregation (called a ward), and now that their five sons are grown, she occupies her time assisting in church activities and offering guidance both religious and common sense. Though the plot, which is told from Linda’s perspective, has her unofficially investigating two possible murders and the rumored incestuous behavior of a church elder, solving the mysteries is secondary to her attempt to understand herself and her place in a male-dominated religion, in a marriage dominated by her husband, and in a world where a woman’s death is deemed less important than a man’s. As portrayed by actress Potter, Linda is an intriguingly complex character, and the reader does a fine job of catching the moods of her inner thoughts, her displays of outspoken anger and frustration, and her embarrassment over mistakes in judgment. Potter follows this particularly rich characterization with an efficient amplification of the author’s depiction of the bishop’s calm but authoritative manner, of several elderly male ward members who growl angrily and dismissively about women, and of Mormon wives who, much to Linda’s dismay, passively accept their secondary status. A Soho Crime hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Pride of the Village & The Spectre Bridegroom

Washington Irving, read by Adam Sims. Naxos AudioBooks, , unabridged, 2 CDs, 2.5 hrs., $17.98 ISBN 978-184-379-800-2

The story of the lazy villager who takes a 20-year-long nap, the spindly school tech who runs for his life from the headless horseman, and the maiden who falls in love with a young soldier—many have heard these tales, but the richness of details makes them worth revisiting. Sims provides a simple but strong reading of three classic tales (“The Spectre Bridegroom” is available as a free digital download), letting Irving’s handiwork do most of the entertaining. Managing to keep a steady pace without slipping into a sleep-inducing monotone, Sims allows the writing to lead the listener easily and naturally into the worlds created by the author. Whether the listener is revisiting or newly discovering, Sims narration offers a fine interpretation of these timeless tales. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Screams, Vol. 1

Edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar, read by Luke Daniels. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 3 CDs, 3.5 hrs., $24.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0863-0

This short anthology includes five captivating tales of horror from great contemporary writers, including Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, and Ramsey Campbell. The tales are bound together by a theme of captivity in either a literal or metaphorical way. All of the stories—including King’s, about bodily invasion by aliens, and Clark’s, about being chained to a giant madman—seize upon the concept of freedom in haunting and eerie ways. Though previously published, these tales will keep listeners locked to their earphones, especially with reader Daniels’s skillful narration. His deep voice grips listeners and demands their attention throughout the collection. He combines emphasis and timing for the maximum anxiety-inducing effects, while also managing to capture personalities of the different characters in each story. A Hydra e-book . (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Death of Captain America

Larry Hama, read by a full cast. GraphicAudio, , adapted, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-62851-111-6

In the aftermath of Marvel’s civil war, Steve Rogers, the man who is known to the world as Captain America, faces treason charges, but as soon as he is in court, someone assassinates him. Now Sharon Carter, SHIELD, and others are determined to find who killed him. However, the answers lead to more questions, including who will replace Rogers as the next Captain America. Like many other releases by GraphicAudio, the production quality is wonderful, with a musical score, sound effects, and a full cast. Richard Rohan leads as the main narrator, with a strong and commanding voice that pulls listeners in and primes them for the action. Tara Giordano narrates the first-person passages of Sharon Carter, Rogers’s lover, providing an emotional and personal balance to the narration. The many cameos by Marvel characters up the entertainment value in this highly enjoyable audiobook. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede

Bradley Denton, read by Kirby Heyborne. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-677-5

Kansas computer salesman Oliver Vale, who was conceived at the very moment that Buddy Holly’s plane crashed in Iowa, is surprised when Holly appears suddenly on televisions all over the world, apparently resurrected on the bleak surface of Ganymede, with a sign bearing Oliver’s name and address. Fleeing angry neighbors and the FCC, Oliver sets off on a spur-of-the-moment road trip. Reader Heyborne hits all the right notes in his rendition of this quirky, SF adventure story first published in 1991. The demands of this cockamamie and action-packed plot are plentiful, but Heyborne embraces the looniness with glee, leading to many laugh-out-loud moments. An Avon mass market. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Whites

Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt, read by Ari Fliakos. Macmillan Audio, , 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-1314-3

Still carrying the baggage of a fatal mistake made two decades ago, NYPD Sgt. Billy Graves finds the night shift’s tension suddenly amplified by two revelations. One involves the murders of several “whites” (criminals who remain as elusive as Melville’s infamous white whale). The other concerns a mystery man who is stalking members of Billy’s family. Price, an expert at creating humane characters in situations that challenge their humanity, shifts the focus to a mystery man, the depressed Milton Ramos, also a city cop, who seems to be courting suicide from the moment he’s introduced. With effortlessness, reader Fliakos creates an assortment of New Yahk and New Yawk accents and attitudes for the book’s cops and robbers. But his skill shines brightest at mirroring the increasing desperation in Billy’s voice and the flat, affectless sound of Ramos’s speech. A Henry Holt hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Doctor Death: A Madeleine Karno Mystery

Lene Kaaberbøl, trans. from the Danish by Elisabeth Dyssegaard, read by Nicola Barber. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 9 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-660-1

Danish novelist Kaaberbøl’s historical mystery, set in the French village of Varbourg in 1894, is the first of a proposed series featuring 19-year-old Madeleine Karno, who lives with and assists her father, the coroner. Madeleine yearns to become a pathologist just like her father and ends up assisting the town commissioner in an intriguing investigation. It begins with two unconnected deaths—a young girl who may have died from natural cause and a priest who has been fatally bludgeoned. Though Madeleine narrates the story, actress Barber has wisely chosen to avoid a theatrical French intonation, except for the proper pronunciation of names and places. Her natural, youthful, precise British accent works quite well, especially when reflecting the efficient, self-controlled character’s subtly varying emotions. Madeleine’s father sounds properly stern and paternal, and the commissioner speaks with kindness. The abbess character is cold and aloof; the novices in her charge vary from silly to sinister; and there are a couple of vicious killers who, thanks to Barber, use their words like weapons. An Atria hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The House of Wolfe: A Border Noir

James Carlos Blake, read by David DeSantos. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $34 ISBN 978-1-62231-596-3

An ambitious criminal named Galan has organized the meticulous kidnapping of a wedding party from a Mexico City mansion, seeking a $5 million ransom within 24 hours, in the latest addition to Blake’s Wolfe Family saga. Jessie Wolfe is one of the bridesmaids, and her family members don’t trust Galan to free his captives unharmed. Rarely does a thriller maintain such a relentlessly suspenseful atmosphere, and it’s a mark of reader DeSantos’s talent that he sets a pace that keeps up the tension without exhausting either the listener or himself. As the novel shifts from an impersonal observation of the crime and its aftermath to the very personal narration of Rudy Wolfe, the family’s main fixer, DeSantos dutifully switches from hard-edged rendition to a hard-boiled focus on finding the kidnappers and rescuing Jessie. Retribution will come, Rudy tells us. But maybe not. In any case, DeSantos gives voice to an assortment of characters—male and female, Mexican and American—whom he effectively and effortlessly switches between as they become engaged in a chillingly exciting, violent confrontation between Wolfes and Galan’s warriors. A Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Nightingale

Kristin Hannah, read by Polly Stone. Macmillan Audio, , 14 CDs, 17.5 hrs., $44.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-1267-2

Two very different sisters navigate life in WWII France in this sweeping story: Isabelle, an impetuous 18-year-old who is eager to defy the Nazis, and her much older and more traditional sister Vianne, who tries valiantly to keep home and hearth together. Reader Stone’s strength lies in the emotional range she brings to her characters—not just the two sisters, but also their jaded, detached father, and even Vianne’s small daughter, who grows up markedly during the war. Stone approaches the performance with an intuitive understanding of the characters’ private fears, knowing that their inner lives are often quite different than their public faces, and that a good deal goes unsaid between them. She also performs an excellent French accent. But rather than trying to carry it through all of the conversations between the French characters, which would be tedious over the course of the novel, she wisely reserves it for names and places. However, the voice she employs for Captain Beck, a German officer billeted at Vianne’s house, is stereotyped, and other international inflections—British, Eastern European—fall flat. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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