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The Children’s Crusade

Ann Packer, read by multiple narrators. S&S Audio, unabridged, 12 CDs, 13 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8387-6

In 1954, pediatrician Bill Blair buys three acres of land in California and marries his girlfriend, Penny. They have four children. Dissatisfied as a housewife and mother, Penny moves into the shed, becomes an artist, and eventually abandons the family. The children grow up but still bear the emotional scars and resentments of childhood, which come to the fore when the youngest wants to sell their childhood home. This novel presents a challenge for audio: its chapters jump around among different time periods nonchronologically, and different chapters are told from different points of view—some are written in the omniscient third person, and others are told in first person from the grown children’s perspectives. Even with different actors for each first-person character, the story is hard to follow. The narrators all read with expression, but none makes any effort to differentiate the characters’ voices at all, save for a slightly higher pitch for female characters. So in scenes of all the adult children arguing, it’s difficult to keep track of who is saying what, especially since three of the four main characters have names beginning with R. This is one book that’s better fit for print. A Scribner hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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God Help the Child

Toni Morrison, read by the author. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-0-307-74908-6

Morrison’s latest novel finds adults struggling to overcome the emotional scars of childhood. The story begins with the birth of Lula Ann Bridewell, a deep blue-black-skinned baby whose light-skinned mother cannot stand to touch her. Grown-up Lula Ann transforms herself into Bride, a glamorous fashion executive who still yearns for love and acceptance in her personal life. Amid preparations for the launch of her signature cosmetics line, Bride offers a gift bag of cash and cosmetics to parolee Sofia Huxley, the kindergarten teacher Bride accused of sexual abuse 15 years before. Sofia’s angry rejection of Bride’s present, coinciding with the departure of Bride’s lover, inspires such self-doubt that Bride fears regressing into Lula Ann. Morrison reads with tremendous insight and empathy for the characters, vividly bringing them to life. Every emotional nuance—yearning, bewilderment, anger, love, self-empowerment—resonates in her voice, making this a powerful audio experience that elevates Morrison’s already remarkable and memorable prose. A Knopf hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Dead Lands

Benjamin Percy, read by Holter Graham. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 12 CDs, 13.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-1-4789-5310-4

For this new adventure yarn, Percy reimagines the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition as a postapocalyptic journey from a futuristic and despotic city called the Sanctuary to a freer, moister Oregon. The novel’s dangerous journey is led by friends-from-childhood Meriwether Lewis and the much tougher Wilhelmina “Mina” Clark. Their Sacajawea-like guide is Gawea, a clairvoyant from outside the Sanctuary who is captured by those who rule the city. Along the way, they encounter albino bats, white bears, and militant women. These travails alternate with chapters about a young thief named Simon and his friend Ella, a museum attendant, who have been left behind to deal with the vicious mayor, Thomas, and Sheriff Slade, his sadistic minion. The youthful softness of reader Graham’s voice is surprisingly effective as counterpoint to the often violent nature of the material. It’s also particularly fitting when it comes to the bumbling Lewis, the bookish Ella, and, with just a small adjustment from Graham, the streetwise Simon. When needed, Graham is capable of adding strength and determination for Mina, sneering indifference and waspish anger for Thomas, and a betrayer’s guilt for Gawea, who has a secret reason for aiding Lewis and Clark. The voice Graham saves for Slade almost makes the hair rise up on the back of your neck. It’s a croak that’s guttural, raspy, and ripe with evil. A Grand Central hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Night Night, Sleep Tight

Hallie Ephron, read by Ann Marie Lee. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-743-7

This well-crafted whodunit, set in 1986 Los Angeles, gets underway when Deirdre Unger drives from San Diego to the Beverly Hills home of her screenwriter father, Arthur, and discovers his body at the bottom of the swimming pool. Later, while sifting through pages of his proposed memoir, she remembers another major tragedy—an automobile accident 28 years before that cost her the use of her right leg. The accident occurred the same night that Deirdre’s best friend, Joelen Nichols, stabbed the abusive boyfriend of her actress mother. But what happened the night of the stabbing isn’t completely clear. Reader Lee possesses the kind of soft, breathy voice perfect for a glossy, semi-gossipy woman-in-jeopardy thriller, which this is in spades. Her interpretation of Deirdre—a heroine whose initial confusion and sadness is gradually hardened by determination to find her father’s killer—is on point. Though it is undercut somewhat by Lee’s breezy reading, and the novel’s cynical ending may turn off some listeners, others will be amused by this look at Hollywood. A Morrow hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Every Fifteen Minutes

Lisa Scottoline, read by George Newbern. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 11 CDs, 13.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-5241-8

At the start of bestseller Scottoline’s standalone thriller, Dr. Eric Parish, the head of the psychiatric unit at Havemeyer General Hospital in suburban Philadelphia, is experiencing a professional high and a personal low. His team’s psychiatry service has just been ranked #2 in the nation by U.S. Medical Report, while his wife Caitlin has filed for divorce, sold the family home, and is trying to limit his visitation time with their daughter, Hannah. Things take a downward turn at work too, when Kristine Malin, a med student, sues him for sexual harassment, and almost simultaneously, the uber-antagonistic wife of a violent patient is threatening another suit against him and the hospital. Topping things off, Eric becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a young woman. The chronicle of his decline is infrequently interrupted by the first-person narration of a homicidal sociopath who claims responsibility for Eric’s dire state. Since this mysterious killer is already a character in the story line, reader Newbern is posed with the problem of giving it away vocally. The actor (TV’s Scandal) solves that difficulty by having several characters sound somewhat like the murderer. In addition to keeping the killer’s identity a secret (and the reveal is a genuine jaw-dropper), Newbern maintains just the proper pace to take us through the book without being stopped by some of its hero’s less honorable moves. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Fall

John Lescroart, read by David Colacci. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, 9 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $36.99 ISBN 978-1-4805-0386-1

Each of the protagonists in Lescrorat’s four series—lawyer Dismas Hardy, San Francisco DA Wes Farrell, his special investigator Abe Glitsky, and private eye Wyatt Hunt—are all present for the author’s 25th novel, but it’s Hardy’s daughter, Rebecca, who takes first chair in this murder trial, defending the likable Greg Treadway. A middle-school teacher and volunteer advocate for foster children, Treadway is being accused of murdering one of those foster children, a 17-year-old named Anlya Paulson with whom he was supposedly having an affair. It’s Rebecca’s first time in a lead role in a murder trial, and her aggressive opponent has never lost a prosecution. Colacci has been narrating the author’s legal thrillers for so long that his interpretations of the main characters are established. As always, his Farrell is a little higher pitched and nasal than the slower-speaking, more thoughtful Hardy. In this instance, his Rebecca sounds acceptably feminine, smart, with a touch of apprehension and nervousness that disappears once she’s stumbled through her debut day in court and stands ready to do battle. Colacci’s interpretive skill is just as effective in capturing others in the cast—best of all is his portrayal of the suspect Greg, whose winning charm and charisma begin to wilt once the going gets rough. An Atria hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Spies: A Spycatcher Novel

Matthew Dunn, read by Rich Orlow. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-875-5

Number four in Dunn’s Spycatcher series (after 2013’s Slingshot) features MI6/CIA task force operative Will Cochrane, who lacks James Bond’s gadgets but relies on encyclopedic knowledge, physical prowess, and an off-the-charts degree of self-sufficiency that even Jack Reacher would envy. His new adventure begins in Norway, where he defies orders to stand down while Russian assassins attempt to execute CIA agent Ellie Hallows. By trying to save Ellie’s life, he threatens a secret operation known as Project Ferryman, and his only choice is to flee or to face his handlers. The author’s prose is lean and compelling, and the pace is frantic, but reader Orlow has no trouble maintaining the style and speed, even when switching quickly from British accents (a deep-voiced Cochrane and his sardonic MI6 superior) to American (Agent Hallows; an assortment of U.S. spies and cops; a blustering, ruthless U.S. senator; and two snarling top dogs at the CIA, one of whom is a secret Russian wolfhound). A Morrow paperback. (May)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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And Sometimes I Wonder About You: A Leonid McGill Mystery

Walter Mosley, read by Prentice Onayemi. Random House Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 9 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-553-55107-5

Like the four Leonid McGill novels that have preceded it, this one has Mosley’s empathic and overworked New York private eye solving problems both professional and personal. His work includes the search for an heiress and assisting a woman who’s being stalked by her former lover. Meanwhile, his long-estranged father, Tolstoy McGill, suddenly reappears, while Leonid’s wife, Katrina, is in a sanatorium suffering from suicidal depression, and his mentor, Gordo, a boxing trainer, has talked him into “testing” a much-younger protégé who doesn’t like to lose. Both the novel’s narrator, Leonid, and reader, Onayemi (whose stage credits include War Horse), stay cool and mellow in the midst of chaos. The actor effortlessly and effectively portrays the ladies in Leonid’s life, from his sexy client to his soft-spoken wife to his young and infatuated office assistant. As for the elderly members of the cast, Onayemi supplies Leonid’s surrogate father, Gordo, with a guttural, gruff voice, while birth father Tolstoy speaks in a hoarse whisper that carries a hint of amusement and philosophical contentment. A Doubleday hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Jack of Spades

Joyce Carol Oates, read by Joe Barrett. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 4 CDs , 4.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-933-6

Joe Barrett has a great time bringing to life this twisted tale of a man’s fall into madness and murder. Andrew J. Rush is a celebrated literary novelist, with enough critical accolades and money to satisfy any author. It would appear that Rush reigns happily atop the elusive mountain of publishing success, but he has a secret. Under the pseudonym Jack of Spades, he writes a series of ultraviolent pulp novels that are unrivaled in their depictions of visceral depravity. But family drama, professional jealousy, and accusations of plagiarism lead Rush to hear the strident, demanding voice of Jack, and that voice is pushing him down a dark, deadly path in his own life. Reader Barrett sets just the right tone with this first-person page-turner. He gives Rush a perfectly calm sense of reasonableness, but at the same time his reading nicely conveys the fragility of the character’s sanity as it begins to slowly crack and break. It is a well-textured performance that pulls the listener in and never lets go. A Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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