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When Women Win: EMILY’s List and the Rise of Women in American Politics

Ellen R. Malcolm, with Craig Unger, read by Cassandra Campbell. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5113-7530-6

By raising funds and training women to run successful campaigns, EMILY’s List is a political action committee aimed to help elect pro-choice Democratic women to office in the United States. Founder Malcolm sheds light on the organization’s mission and early days by sharing her story and various successes from the organization’s tenure. Campbell, a seasoned and skilled audiobook narrator, sounds a lot younger than Malcolm is now, but the book begins in 1985 and covers 30 years of Malcolm’s accomplishments and occasional failures. Campbell uses slightly different voices when quoting so the listener can distinguish narration from quotation, but she knows that Malcolm’s story is inherently dramatic and doesn’t try to overwhelm it with theatrics. A Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations

Roy Blount Jr., read by the author. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 8.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-6223-1998-5

Humorist Blount’s latest collection of essays, poems, and songs about all things edible will leave listeners reflecting about their own relationships with food. Blount’s mature, twangy, and raspy voice remains charming throughout and matches well with the tone of the prose, illustrating that Blount is not just a skillful writer but a dab performer as well. This production reveals a range of style and delivery, from the languid and reflective to the musical and jolly. Blount finds just the right pace, emphasis, and mood for each segment. More than on the page, Blount’s spoken wisdom and wit becomes transparent as one hears the wordplay and even the beauty of the prose he has constructed. Readers may enjoy his book, but listeners will revel in his performance. A FSG/Crichton hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Spellsinger

Alan Dean Foster, read by a
full cast. GraphicAudio, , adapted, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-62851-203-8

In the first of Foster’s eight-book Spellsinger series, protagonist Jon-Tom, an average college student and aspiring musician, is unexpectedly brought to a fantastical world by a wizardly anthropomorphic turtle. He’s enlisted to help fight against even stranger beings, even though he’s only beginning to develop his skills as a wizard who cast spells through song. Foster’s novel makes perfect fodder for audiobook fans and illustrates how an audiobook can be better than the book. This full-cast production enhances the plot with numerous audio perks, including great audio talent, sound effects, and music. Director Terence Aselford drives the story, providing the omniscient narrator with a strong, deep voice. Gregory Linington captures the tone, attitude, and mood of Jon-Tom in every scene and is only slightly rivaled by James Konieck’s voice rendering of Falameezar, a Marxist dragon. Aselford also draws out strong performances from all of the actors involved as they take on a very colorful and eclectic characters. An Open Road paperback. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There

Lewis Carroll, read by Tim Gerard Reynolds. Dreamscape, , unabridged, 3 CDs, 3.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-68262-080-9

Reynolds has a friendly, frolicksome tone that helps children engage with Carroll’s verbal antics, delightful silliness, and the very amusing concept of moving through and maneuvering in the reverse world of a mirror. Reynolds actually manages to recite the book’s famous verse “Jabberwocky” backward, as though reading it in mirror writing. “It seems very pretty,” Alice says, “but it’s rather hard to understand!” Children familiar with the game of chess will take giggly pleasure in Alice’s maneuvers on the squares and her encounters with the red and white kings and queens and other characters familiar from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Reynolds’ vocal antics help children interpret words and actions and enhance the many pleasures of Alice’s post-Wonderland journey while managing to keep adult listeners entertained. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Dogs of Littlefield

Suzanne Berne, read by Carol Monda. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 8.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5113-3568-3

Berne’s novel combines elements of a mystery and a family saga with scathing dark humor about contemporary American suburbia. The idyllic college town of Littlefield, Mass., prides itself on it education, tolerance, and enlightenment, but it unravels when someone starts poisoning the community’s beloved canines. Acclaimed narrator Monda is particularly adept at portraying the complex inner monologues of the story’s protagonist, frustrated homemaker Margaret Downing. Monda doesn’t miss a beat in switching between Margaret’s very different public and private demeanors as she navigates the terrains of a troubled marriage, a withdrawn preteen daughter, and the contentious local political scene. Monda also shines in her rendering of the nuances of group dynamics in the small town, most notably in a botched meeting of Littlefield’s women’s book club, as guest local author George Wechsler—who happens to be Margaret’s secret lover—is met with personal attacks thinly disguised as literary questions from his angry ex-mother-in-law. Monda’s depictions of male characters possess a husky affectation that doesn’t sound all that natural, but her overall gift for tackling dialogue remains intact. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Widow

Fiona Barton, read by multiple narrators. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-14-752517-8

With the disappearance of two-year-old Bella Eliot at its core, Barton’s novel combines elements of British police procedure with a psychological study of its three main characters: Jean Taylor, the widow of the title, whose overbearing husband, Glen, once the prime suspect in Bella’s kidnapping, has died in an automobile accident; Det. Insp. Bob Sparks, whose quest to find Bella becomes obsessive; and Kate Waters, a reporter whose journalistic ideals are threatened by her exploitation of Jean. A quintet of performers reads the novel. Hannah Curtis, responsible for Jean’s first-person accounts, slowly adds a bit of steel as she shifts from polite, subservient wife to something quite different. Nicholas Guy Smith handles Bob’s chapters, catching the detective’s fluctuating moods as well as his unhealthily increasing zeal in pursuing the investigation. He also portrays the other coppers and an assortment of witnesses and suspects, chief among them an angry Cockney with something to hide. Mandy Williams initially endows journo Kate with at least a shred of decency that’s whittled away when she gives in to the demands of her unsympathetic editor. In somewhat smaller roles, Jayne Entwistle’s turn as Bella’s mother is properly weepy and resentful, while Steve West’s Glen, stretching out the suspense, dies angrily maintaining his innocence. A NAL hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pig Island

Mo Hayder, read by Steve Crossley. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 13 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-5200-0005-3

Hayder’s dark, inventive 2006 thriller begins as journalist Joe Oakes arrives on a secluded island off the western coast of Scotland to visit a reclusive cult on remote Pig Island. Joe is there to investigate a supposed half-animal, half-human creature distantly glimpsed in a tourist’s film, but his real interest is in the cult’s founder, Malachi Dove, who’s now living behind an impenetrable barricade topped by pig skulls. On the island, Joe, whose wife, Lexi, is unhappy and delusional, becomes infatuated with Malachi’s strange young daughter, Angeline. When cultists are murdered and Malachi goes missing, Joe and Lexi take Angeline to their London home, where trouble inevitably follows. Portions of the book are narrated by each of the three. For the well-born Lexi’s chapters, reader Crossley uses an upper-class British speech that shifts from sharp reality to almost lyrical fantasy. Angeline, a natural adapter, moves swiftly and easily from wild-child halting speech to the loquacious nattering of a normal raised teenager. But Crossley is at his performing best portraying rough-edged Joe as he stumbles through an assortment of intense emotions including fear, shock, helpless infatuation, self-disgust, jealousy, and, finally, despair. A Grove paperback. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Murder in an Irish Village

Carlene O’Connor, read by Caroline Lennon. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-5200-0059-6

Film and theater actress Lennon has a thick, musical brogue that she uses to great advantage reading this whodunit set in the village of Kilbane in County Cork. The Irish cozy’s heroine, Siobhan O’Sullivan, and her five siblings were orphaned a year ago when their parents died in a car crash blamed on drunken driver Billy Murphy. Billy was sent to prison, and Siobhan was forced to forgo college to run the family bistro. Shortly after Billy’s brother, Niall, returns to town claiming to have proof of Billy’s innocence, he is found dead in a booth at the bistro. When James, Siobhan’s hot-tempered brother, is arrested for the crime, she decides to find the real murderer, much to the dismay of her potential love interest, handsome local copper Macdara Flannery. Lennon crafts vocal personalities for each character—gruff Niall; bellicose food market manager Mike Grainger; Siobhan’s angry brothers, James and Kieran; fast-talking, genial bicycle shop owner Seamus Sheedy; his chirpy wife, Bridie; and Sheila Mahoney, a local beautician with a chip on her shoulder. Lennon is so perfectly tuned to the protagonist that you can almost hear Siobhan’s flame-red hair being wind-tossed as she races from neighbor to neighbor, interrogating them with vigor and determination. A Kensington hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Cellar

Minette Walters, read by Justine Eyre. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 4 CDs, 4.5 hrs., $24.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-929-9

Walters’s nightmarish Cinderella story focuses on 14-year-old Muna, who was “rescued” from an orphanage by wealthy Ebuka and Yetunde Songoli when she was eight and has been enslaved by the couple ever since, including being beaten by the wife and raped by the husband. For the last six years, since the horrific Songolis moved from Nigeria to England, Muna has been kept in the cellar of their London townhouse, a situation that improves when the couple’s 10-year-old son goes missing. The arrival of a very observant policewoman forces them to present Muna as their mentally challenged daughter and move her to a real room. Most of the book’s dialogue is spoken by the members of the Songoli household, and reader Eyre’s Nigerian English seems authentic. She’s equally effective at finding a cool, no- nonsense English voice for the policewoman. But the upper-class British accent with which she tells the novel’s story is so clipped it almost qualifies as parody. This distances the listener from Muna’s torturous situation and undercuts the book’s suspense. It also slightly buffers the graphic descriptions of violence and sexual abuse, which some may find a relief. A Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Midnight Sun

Jo Nesbø, trans. from the Norwegian by Neil Smith, read by Kim Gordon. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-0-553-54599-9

This short Norwegian thriller focuses on an antihero (in this case a sympathetic one) involved with a brutal Oslo crime lord known as the Fisherman. The story unfolds from the perspective of Jon, who uses his reputation as a killer to gain a high-paying job as assassin for the Fisherman in order to pay for medication for his leukemia-stricken daughter. When Jon is morally unable to fulfill an assigned contract, he’s forced to flee the Fisherman’s wrath—and Oslo—for a map speck above the Arctic Circle populated by a strict religious sect. There he begins a new life, making friends and enemies, and falling in love with a young widow, while never forgetting that, eventually, he’ll have to deal with the Fisherman. Singer-songwriter Gordon, cofounder of the alt rock band Sonic Youth, reads for the audio edition of this male-narrated novel. Gordon’s voice, though smoky and properly dramatic when necessary, is clearly feminine. While this may serve the author’s prose well enough in general, the gender contrast has a tendency to undermine some of the novel’s more violent and more intimate passages. A Knopf hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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