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To the Bright Edge of the World

Eowyn Ivey, read by John Glouchevich, Kiff Vandenheuvel, and Christine Lakin. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 13.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-1-4789-6475-9

This tale of Alaskan adventure is really three interwoven stories in one: first, the 1885 diary of Col. Allen Forrester, who leads an expedition up the Wolverine River to explore the then-uncharted wilderness of Alaska; second, the simultaneous diary of his pregnant wife, Sophie, left in the Vancouver Barracks to await his return; and lastly, the modern-day framing story, told in letters between Walt, the grand-nephew of the colonel, and Josh, caretaker of an Alaska history museum, who Walt hopes will take the journals and other artifacts and create a museum exhibit around them. Reader Lakin’s rendition of Sophie is the standout performance in this multiple-actor effort: her bright, lively, expressive voice perfectly conveys Sophie’s intelligence, curiosity, and spunky spirit. Glouchevich has a gravelly voice that is well suited for Walt, and he varies his tone enough to differentiate him from Josh. As Forrester, Vandenheuvel sounds earnest and observant but he maintains the same calm, even, slightly whispery tone at all times, even when recounting moments of high danger and intensity on the expedition. This audiobook will appeal to those who enjoy stories of exploration or the tales of Jack London. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Here I Am

Jonathan Safran Foer, read by Ari Fliakos. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 13 CDs, 17 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-7589-9

Foer’s novel requires a very talented narrator—and it got one. The prose is fast, forceful, funny, and friendly, and actor Fliakos handles it all superbly. He distinguishes children of different ages as well as fathers, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. He catches the nuances and emotional intricacies of each character’s thoughts and conversations, while his diction is perfect but not intrusive. He’s especially good at highlighting the gentle humor and major absurdities of the novel. The only difficulty for the listener is that Foer constantly raises thought-provoking questions about the meaning of friendship, marriage, family, country, religion, happiness, and angst, forcing the listener to stop the audio from time to time to mull over these issues. Listeners will find themselves hitting the pause button to think things through, but will remain eager to resume Fliakos’s wonderful performance. A Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Field of Graves

J.T. Ellison, read by Joyce Bean. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5318-8755-1

This eighth edition of Ellison’s chronicles of Nashville homicide lieutenant Taylor Jackson is a series prequel, in which Taylor and FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin meet and begin their now long-established relationship. The duo is searching for a lunatic who impregnates and then kills Vanderbilt University students, ritually preparing their corpses. Reader Bean begins the tale using a tense voice to describe Taylor’s fatal shooting of a crooked cop bent on homicide. John is haunted too, by a profile mistake that resulted in the deaths of three of his associates. He has lost interest in his job but agrees to help identify the madman, mainly motivated by an immediate attraction to Taylor. She’s attracted as well. Her speech is tough but feminine, southern accented, defensive, and troubled, but, once she’s been introduced to Baldwin, Bean softens Taylor with the character’s newfound curiosity and interest. Ellison interrupts the pair’s investigation and romance with snapshots of the addled murderer’s grim progress. The bad guy’s motivation is bizarre, but he sounds both erudite and arrogant, two traits that might tip the audio audience to his connection to the victims, were the audience not puzzled and distracted by his insane activities. A Mira hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Mischling

Affinity Konar, read by Vanessa Johansson. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-1-4789-1282-8

Actress Johansson’s audio narration of Konar’s achingly beautiful novel is notable for its light touch in vocalizing, so vividly, the 12-year-old identical twins Pearl and Stasha, who were tortured by the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele, at Auschwitz. The Jewish twins, from Poland, are separated from their family upon arrival at the death camp and taken to Mengele’s “zoo,” along with other twins and children with albinism, for barbaric experimentation. Pearl and Stasha take turns describing their encounters with Mengele and with other characters; their telepathic-like bond binds them close, even as they become physically separated and one twin is subjected to horrific suffering. Reader Johansson captures the novel’s focus on the twins, not Mengele, and conveys their childlike innocence, even as they endure agonizing physical pain and sadistic mind games. Johansson doesn’t make the sisters’ voices highly distinguishable from each other, which would be a flaw in a less adept voice actor, but it’s a wise calculation here that keeps the focus on Konar’s gorgeous, elegant prose. An LB/Boudreaux hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Commonwealth

Ann Patchett, read by Hope Davis. HarperAudio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-0-06-256172-5

In Patchett’s domestic tale, a stolen kiss at a christening party in the 1960s leads to a new blended family of six stepsiblings whom the novel follows over 50 years. Reader Davis, a well-known actress and frequent contributor to the radio program Selected Shorts, boasts a robust resume, but her vocal performance for this title is uneven. On the plus side, Davis’s gentle and unpretentious voice is pleasant, and fits well with the muted emotional climate of the family. But in Davis’s reading, it’s hard to distinguish between the six siblings, and as a result the story as a whole falls flat. Only Caroline, the oldest and most combative of the children, comes across as uniquely individual. In a novel that depends so heavily on dialogue and characterization, Davis’s monochromatic performance fails to realize the richness of Patchett’s careful observations. A Harper hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Trespasser

Tana French, read by Hilda Fay. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 18 CDs, 21 hrs., $55 ISBN 978-0-7352-8868-3

In the sixth entry of French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, Detectives Steve Moran and Antoinette Conway investigate the death of a young woman fatally battered in her apartment. Whereas 2014’s The Secret Place was told from Steve’s perspective, the events this time around are described by Antoinette. Both the procedural progress and the narrative attitude seem edgier, faster paced, and fueled by more tension. But the warts-and-all portrait of Antoinette is at the heart of the novel, and reader Fay’s ability to mix the natural lyric quality of her Irish brogue with Antoinette’s working class, chip-on-shoulder hostility makes for a fully sustained, award-worthy performance. A Viking hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Fall Guy

James Lasdun, read by Charles Constant. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8244-0

In his new novel of psychological suspense, set in 2012, poet-author Lasdun places Matthew, a young, out-of-work chef, under a literary microscope, catching every disturbing twitch of his increasing discomfort as he spends a long summer at the Catskill Mountain vacation home of his wealthy stockbroker cousin Charlie and Charlie’s beautiful wife, Chloe. In return, Matthew agrees to be the couple’s live-in chef. He’s a former Londoner, feeling adrift, and, in addition to providing him with a consistent British accent, reader Constant catches the character’s soft-spoken sense of aimlessness and, even more crucial, his exaggerated sensitivity. Lasdun spins his tale slowly and carefully, increasing Matthew’s growing tension by degrees until, eventually, it jumps into the red zone after he discovers Chloe’s affair with filmmaker Wade Grollier, a burly extrovert. Constant’s presentation of Wade, with his effectively rendered Deep South accent, complements the character’s easygoing and amusing nature, while Constant’s hard-edged, fast-paced description of events preceding the murder is quite the opposite. Lasdun and Constant make it clear who kills whom, but we’re left to decide who’s guilty, who’s innocent, and who fills the role of the fall guy. A Norton hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Escape Clause

John Sandford, read by Eric Conger. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-7352-8832-4

The ninth book in Sandford’s Virgil Flowers series has Virgil, an agent for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and his crew hunting a pair of rare Amur tigers catnapped from the Minnesota Zoo. The ’napper is an opiate-snarfing sociopath named Winston Peck VI, whose partners in crime—a pair of brutish, guttural-voiced brothers—quickly become disposable to him. Reader Conger’s semiamused, easygoing delivery sets the perfect mood for this offbeat, at times darkly humorous investigation. As blasé as his Virgil may seem in general, he’s serious about earning his pay. And even more serious when, in a separate subplot, canning-factory thugs brutalize his girlfriend, Frankie, mistaking her for her sister who’s been interviewing migrant workers for a dissertation. Conger’s Peck sounds ever more manic as his scheme to kill the big cats and process their parts for high-end Chinese medical use unspools and his pill use increases. Both author and reader arrive at their suspenseful peak at the novel’s slam-bang moment of truth—involving a weaponless Virgil, an armed, drugged-to-the-max Winston, and a ferociously hungry tiger. A Putnam hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hag-Seed

Margaret Atwood, read by R.H. Thomson. Random House Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-7352-8657-3

The fourth book in the Hogarth series of contemporary novels based on Shakespeare’s plays is a delightfully complex and inventive modern recreation of The Tempest, in which the character of Prospero is a prominent theater festival director named Felix. Voice actor Thomson adds life to the character of Felix and the plots and fantasies of his fertile imagination. Felix is pushed out of his job by a scheming underling and goes off the grid, teaching literacy and theater to prisoners and grieving a lost daughter. Over time, Felix transforms into the clever and manipulative teacher who organizes a class of convicts to analyze and perform Shakespeare’s Tempest as a means of executing his vengeance. Thomson handles the wild but benevolent humor of Shakespeare’s Tempest and Atwood’s equally well. A Hogarth hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Behold the Dreamers

Imbolo Mbue, read by Prentice Onayemi. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 13 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-14-752309-9

Mbue’s debut novel weaves together the lives of two families living in N.Y.C. during the height of the Wall Street mortgage crisis in late 2008 and early 2009. Reader Onayemi powerfully renders the hopes and dreams of the Jongas—immigrants from Cameroon—and the private pain of the Edwardses—wealthy New Yorkers caught up in the scandal at crumbling financial giant Lehman Brothers. He brings effective nuance to the wide cast of characters of both genders across a broad spectrum of ages, ethnicities, and life circumstances. His reading of Cindy Edwards, who turns to drugs and alcohol as her workaholic husband develops a habit of meeting high-end prostitutes at a Manhattan hotel, is especially haunting. Onayemi’s talent for bringing the complexities of the dialogue to life in audio is on full display. A Random House hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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