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Murder at the Brightwell

Ashley Weaver, read by Billie Fulford-Brown. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-400-9

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Voice actress Fulford-Brown turns in a lackluster reading of Weaver’s Edgar Award–nominated debut mystery, set in 1932 England. The story revolves around Amory Ames, a wealthy young woman who becomes a plucky amateur sleuth when she learns that her former fiancé is a suspect in a murder investigation. Weaver’s tremendously strong plot, fresh style, and skillfully crafted writing fades in Fulford-Brown’s presentation of it, which is dirge-like and frequently belies the text. The excellent production value is lost on her fatigued read, with its frequently off-putting intonation, pronunciation, and cadence. A Minotaur hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Burning Room

Michael Connelly, read by Titus Welliver. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978161969-426-2

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In this latest entry in Connelly’s long-running Harry Bosch series, the driven detective, with only a year left before retirement, is assigned a new partner—a rookie named Lucia Soto—whose dedication to the job convinces Harry to become her mentor. Together they take on the cold case of a man who died of a lodged bullet from a gunshot 10 years earlier. But over the course of the investigation Harry discovers a hidden agenda of Lucia’s. Reader Welliver, who stars as Harry in the upcoming TV series, presents the third-person narration in a strong, no-nonsense manner, while catching every obsessive, blunt, impatient, hard-charging, department politics-hating, justice-demanding aspect of Harry’s dialogue and attitude. He distinguishes among side characters through their moods rather than creating unique voices or accents for each. There are disgruntled beat cops, angry captains, aggressive criminals—a cool female coroner here, a sly politician there. For the novel’s other main character, Lucia Soto, Welliver lightens his tone only slightly, adding an affected eagerness that, on occasion, can harden into an iron determination to get the job done. Just the type of partner Bosch can appreciate. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Boston Girl

Anita Diamant, read by Linda Lavin. Simon & Schuster Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8036-3

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Actress Lavin, best known for her star role in the 1970s sitcom Alice, is an ideal narrator for Diamant’s portrait of Addie Baum, a turn-of-the-century girl born to immigrant parents in Boston. Set in the 1980s, the story is framed as an oral history in which Addie describes to her granddaughter her coming of age in the 1910s and 1920s. We journey through the immigrant experience, the joys of adolescent friendships and first romantic “assignations” (as Addie puts it), the sadness wrought by the 1918 influenza epidemic, and the struggles of pioneering women in the workplace. Lavin nails the notoriously difficult Boston accent as she brings Addie to life with marvelous wit and wisdom, showcasing the heroine’s innate playfulness as well as her gutsy perseverance. Lavin’s performance sparkles throughout. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect pairing of novel and narrator. A Scribner hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Rosie Effect

Graeme Simsion, read by Dan O’Grady. Simon & Schuster Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 9 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-7600-7

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This sequel to 2013’s The Rosie Project finds brilliant but socially inept Australian geneticist Don Tillman married to medical grad student Rosie Jarman and living in N.Y.C. Don’s orderly life is upended when Rosie gets pregnant and Don’s friend Gene moves in with them. Much of the humor involves Don’s mishaps as he struggles to manage things in a logical way, while misinterpreting social situations and taking people’s words too literally (he doesn’t get sarcasm, rhetorical questions, or hyperbole). In the wrong hands, this type of character might come across as unemotional or cold, but Australian narrator O’Grady strikes the perfect chord, conveying Don’s earnest desire to do the right thing, his befuddlement when he messes up, and his genuine love for Rosie—all with Don’s rigid thought process and likable quirkiness. O’Grady also does a good job differentiating between different characters: he speaks in a higher register for women and uses a tough-guy voice for a cop, and even makes a somewhat successful attempt at a New York accent for several characters. This is an excellent narration of a highly entertaining story. A S&S hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I'll Give You the Sun

Jandy Nelson, read by Julia Whelan and Jesse Bernstein. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 13 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4558-4936-9

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This engrossing coming-of-age novel of artistic twins Noah and Jude unfolds in an unusual way: the twins tell the story in alternating first-person chapters, but Noah's chapters take place when they're 13, and Jude's take place three years later, at age 16. In the intervening years, a tragedy has occurred, tangled up in a messy web of betrayals, lies, and secrets, which gradually reveal themselves. Bernstein and Whelan are both excellent narrators. As 13-year-old Noah, Bernstein conveys all the yearning, hope, and insecurity of an adolescent boy: the swooning highs and crushing heartbreak of first love, the worry of hiding the fact that he's gay, the need for parental approval, the fear of bullies, and the hope of getting into a prestigious arts school. Whelan's chapters take place in the aftermath of the tragedy and estrangement of the twins, and in her voice we hear all of Jude's self-loathing, guilt, and bitterness, and the hard shell she has constructed to shut out the world. Whelan is also pitch-perfect at voicing an English ex-junkie trying to put his life together. She can't quite manage a Spanish accent for the reclusive middle-aged artist whom Jude wants to be her mentor (the accent she attempts almost sounds Russian), but she does bring out his colorful personality: a fierce, passionate, desperate, eccentric artistic genius. This emotionally nuanced rendition of a memorable novel is highly recommended. Ages 14–up. A Dial hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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