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Midnight in Europe

Alan Furst, read by Daniel Gerroll. Simon & Schuster Audio, , unabridged, eight CDs, nine hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-44236816-3

Furst’s latest historical espionage novel explores the ominous landscape of Europe in the late 1930s. Christián Ferrar, a young Spanish attorney working in Paris, undertakes a dangerous mission to purchase and smuggle arms for the desperate forces of the Spanish Republic, who are trying to hold off the advances of Gen. Francisco Franco. Furst’s material, steeped in the historical complexity of the period, may not be accessible for casual listeners as they seek to distinguish among Ferrar’s band of outlaw colleagues and his various romantic conquests. Yet it remains undeniable that Gerroll, the reader of previous productions of Furst’s titles, intimately knows the atmosphere and emotions surrounding the author’s view of a continent on the verge of collapse. His portrayal of Marquesa Maria Cristina, a mysterious love interest of Ferrar at the center of a complex web of betrayal, is especially engrossing. The tension and sensuality are palpable, even when the events surrounding the story line are hard to follow. Fans already steeped in the genre will appreciate the experience. A Random House hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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One Plus One

Jojo Moyes, read by multiple narrators. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hrs., $39.95 ISBN 978-1-61176-273-0

In a small English town, Jess struggles to support Tanzie, her young daughter, and Nicky, the teenage son of her estranged husband. Tanzie, a math genius, gets a partial scholarship to a prestigious private school. In order to afford the remaining tuition, the family sets its hopes on Tanzie winning a math tournament with a hefty first-prize award—but the competition is in Scotland, and the car breaks down before they even get out of town. Their unlikely savior is Ed, a geeky software millionaire. The road trip that follows is full of comic mishaps, poignant moments, and a slowly developing romance between Ed and Jess. The characters, each voiced by a different reader, take turns narrating the chapters. Together the ensemble is pitch-perfect. Elizabeth Bower’s marvelous performance makes Jess a deeply relatable, lovable, flawed character that listeners will root for. Ben Elliot is equally excellent as befuddled Ed, wondering how he got into this crazy situation and gradually realizing his feelings for Jess. Nicola Stanton perfectly captures the innocent young voice of Tanzie: her voice fills with pure joy and enthusiasm as Tanzie does math problems. With memorable characters brought to life by superb narrators, and a well-paced mix of comedy, tragedy, and romance, this is an audiobook that listeners will thoroughly enjoy. A Viking/Pam Dorman hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lucky Us

Amy Bloom, read by Alicyn Packard. Random House Audio, , unabridged, six CDs, 7.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-8041-9134-0

In Bloom’s imaginative romp set in 1939, 11-year-old Eva meets Iris, the older half-sister she never knew she had, after being abandoned by her mother and left on her father’s doorstep in Ohio. Colorful events ensue: Iris runs away to Hollywood with Eva to start a movie career, only to be blackballed over a scandalous lesbian affair; the sisters and their father become servants in the home of a Long Island family; Iris sets her romantic sights on the family’s cook, Reenie, first scheming to have Reenie’s husband arrested as a German spy and then kidnapping an orphan because Reenie wants a child. The book is written from Eva’s point of view in a simple, matter-of-fact style, describing the events without emotion. Packard’s narration is tailored to Bloom’s under- stated writing style: she reads in a cool, neutral voice that perfectly matches the author’s tone. But this type of performance turns out to be detrimental to story in the audio edition, creating distance rather than engagement between listeners and the vibrant plot. Instead of an intimate listening experience that draws listeners in, it holds them at arms’ length, making it difficult to empathize even when tragedy hits. A Random House hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 09/26/2014 | Details & Permalink

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