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The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

Svetlana Alexievich, trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, read by Julia Emelin and Yelena Shmulenson. Random House , Audio, unabridged, digital download, 14.5 hrs., $29.50 ISBN 978-1-5247-0848-1

Speaking with Slavic accents, narrators Emelin and Shmulenson divvy up the many stories of Soviet women serving in the military and resistance movements of World War II in the audio edition of this English translation of Nobel Prize–winner Alexievich’s oral history. There are chilling tales of girls witnessing—and perpetrating—atrocities and then wondering how they will be able to return home and have families of their own. And there are stories of sharpshooters, surgeons, and scouts performing heroically but worrying about their femininity and even their humanity. While the audio format is seemingly a natural fit for an oral history, it’s easy to lose track of individuals in the accounts of hundreds of women. Emelin and Shmulenson do their best to provide unique voices for different women and they state the name of each before reading her story, but listeners can’t refer back to those names as easily as readers could. While the book presents numerous women’s experiences in the war, the stories start to blend together with only two actors providing the voices of hundreds of women. A Random House hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dragon Teeth

Michael Crichton, read by Scott Brick. HarperAudio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 7.5 hrs, $34.99 ISBN 978-0-06-247340-0

Set in 1876 on the Western frontier, Crichton’s recently discovered novel tells the story of two competing paleontologists pillaging the Wild West for dinosaur fossils. To win a bet, Yale student William Johnson joins an expedition with the eccentric and world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh. Prone to paranoia, Marsh becomes convinced that Johnson is working for his rival, the paleontologist Edwin Drinker Cope, and leaves Johnson to fend for himself in a dangerous part of Wyoming. The tale has all the hallmarks of a Crichton adventure: scientific discovery, dueling scientists, and bravado. Veteran voice actor Brick delivers the story smoothly and heightens the intensity of the survival on the frontier with his pacing. There’s not much for Brick to work with in the way of characterizations—Johnson, Marsh, and Cope are not all that dynamic of characters—but Brick does his best to develop them when he can, such as adding hints of wickedness when portraying Marsh’s paranoia. Crichton’s widow Sherri reads her postscript at the end, providing the context for the creation of Crichton’s novel. Despite the shortcomings of the story, the audiobook will please die-hard fans of the author. A Harper hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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House of Names

Colm Tóibín, read by Juliet Stevenson, Charlie Anson, and Pippa Nixon. S&S Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 9 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-2790-8

Tóibín executes a masterful retelling of Aeschylus’s trilogy, the Oresteia, through the eyes of Clytemnestra, Orestes, and Electra. When Agamemnon sacrifices his and Clytemnestra’s daughter to the gods, he sets in motion a series of betrayals that not only end his life but also ruin his family for years to come. Capturing the conflict and betrayal proliferating within the family, the story provides a sympathetic yet suspect view of Clytemnestra as she navigates power in a society dominated by men. Stage and screen actor Stevenson’s regal delivery in her natural English accent is a perfect match for the courtly Clytemnestra as she assumes power, enacts revenge, and then quivers with surprise when her own accomplice, the mysterious Aegisthus, betrays her. Actor Anson narrates Orestes’s portion of the tale, curious but fearful early on, as the character is kidnapped and hunted down, and later evincing a solemn maturity to convey the character’s anger and loss. Actor Nixon captures the maturing Electra’s transformation from an emotional and lively girl to a calm and calculating young woman. Together the three talented actors render Tóibín’s retelling of Greek tragedy back into the oral tradition from which it originated. A Scribner hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Invisible Man

H.G. Wells, read by Gordon Griffin. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 5.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5200-7770-3

Actor Griffin adds to the mysterious atmosphere of this classic work of science fiction originally published in 1897. In his cultured British accent, he carries listeners through the trials and tribulations of Wells’s creation, a mad scientist (also named Griffin) who does research into optical refraction until he finds a formula that makes him invisible—a state he mistakenly believes will provide him with fame and fortune. Actor Griffin makes palpable the profound panic of the scientist, who is unable to find a formula to reverse his invisibility. He provides fine cockney accents for innkeepers Jenny and George Hall, which adds color and authenticity to the performance. Listeners will be immersed in the struggle of local scientists, doctors, and police to apprehend a man they cannot see. (May)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Best of Guy Noir: Collector’s Edition

Garrison Keillor. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8694-3

There’s something about the homey quality of Keillor’s voice that makes him a friendly presence to relax and laugh with. His wry humor is on display in this collection of 36 fan-favorite skits spoofing the hard-boiled noir genre from the long-running public radio show A Prairie Home Companion. Many parody the bottomless contrast between New York (with loud people and no public toilets) and Minnesota (with depressing weather and gloomy, guilty Lutherans). Some—perhaps too many—involve Guy and his friend Pete, played by Walter Bobbie, always finding reasons to shoot one another. Keillor’s sharp wit cuts into dating services, GPS devices, dog lovers, and other typical modern American obsessions. One caveat: bite into these delightful nuggets when you need a mood lift, but don’t try to swallow the whole audio at once. (May)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Defectors

Joseph Kanon, read by John Bedford Lloyd. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-3289-6

It’s a pleasure to listen to actor Lloyd read this spy novel set in Europe in 1949. He manages Russian, Polish, and British accents that are convincing but not exaggerated. His pace is slow enough to be clear but quick enough to carry us along with Kanon’s fast-paced, if improbable, plot. Without becoming melodramatic, Lloyd conveys the narrative’s tension as the KGB and CIA commit treachery and murder. Through careful alterations of tone he reveals the deep fondness that protagonist Simon Weeks, a former State Department official turned book publisher, feels for his apparently double-defector brother, Frank, and his panic at finding himself engaged in violence and espionage because of Frank’s subtle and self-serving manipulation. The listener may have trouble suspending disbelief, but the story is fun, and Lloyd has narration down to a balanced and fine art. An Atria hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Arundhati Roy, read by the author. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 13 CDs, 16.5 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-525-49458-4

Twenty years after the publication of The God of Small Things, Roy proves once again that she is a master writer; unfortunately, she is not a master audiobook narrator. The book tells the stories of two protagonists: Anjum, born intersex but raised as a male and now living as a woman in a house with other hijra in Delhi, and Tilo, a politically minded young woman romantically entangled with three men. The two stories are set against a wide-ranging portrait of the social and political fabric of modern India. Yet much of both characters’ complexity gets lost in Roy’s reading. Roy works too hard at carefully pronouncing every word. This slows the pace of the narrative and so focuses the listener’s attention on each word that the meaning of the sentence is lost. While she can be quite dramatic when quoting one of her characters, she drops her voice at the end of almost every sentence, creating a painfully monotonous rhythm. Roy’s poetic language and her quirky metaphors and similes remain hallmarks of her remarkable writing style, and she is rightfully known for those rather than for her abilities as a narrator. A Knopf hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Windfall

Diksha Basu, read by Soneela Nankani. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-5247-7409-7

When the Jha family, flush with a fortune from the recent sale of Mr. Jha’s website, decide to move from the middle-class neighborhood in East Delhi where they have lived for 30 years to the gated community of Gurgaon, they have to confront family, money, and the excitement of conspicuous consumption. (“Why leave a carbon fingerprint when you can leave a footprint?” Mr. Jha queries at one point.) Nankani handles the many characters with aplomb. For Mrs. Jha, a more traditional Indian woman who clings to old ways like having the car keys blessed at the temple and wearing starched cotton saris, Nankani adopts a lilting and more heavily accented cadence; for Rupak, the Jhas’ rudderless son at school in the United States, she takes on a flat American inflection; and she creates over-the-top voices for the Jhas’ new next-door-neighbors, whom the story presents as caricatures: the status-obsessed but small-minded patriarch, his idle and corpulent wife, and their useless adult son. Overall, Nankani’s sensitive narration enhances the novel’s portrayal of complex contemporary India. A Crown hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Since We Fell

Dennis Lehane, read by Julia Whelan. HarperAudio, unabridged, 12 CDs, 10 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-0-06-212947-5

Reader Whelan captures the complexity of the protagonist and suspense of Lehane’s psychological thriller set in contemporary Boston. The story revolves around Rachel Childs, the once rising star TV news reporter whose career ended in 2009, when she melted down on-air while covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. In the years since, Rachel has remained jobless and emotionally shattered, and become prone to panic attacks. She attributes her crippling anxiety to her absent father, who abandoned her when she was five. Rachel, now in her late 30s, rarely leaves the house except to investigate the identity of her father, which she sees as the antidote to her mental issues. That’s how she meets Brian Delacroix, a handsome and charismatic private eye, who becomes her new source of stability and eventually her husband. Yet one bump in the road of married life, and Rachel loses control leading her to conspiracy theories about her husband. Whelan pulls the listener along this ever-twisting plot with a cool, low-key delivery that allows Lehane’s clean, proficient prose to flow easily without any embellishments. She keeps characterizations of supporting characters, such as Brian and Rachel’s mom, to a minimum, but the dialogue is delivered naturally and easy to follow. Whelan excels at subtly voicing Rachel’s interior state as she grows from insecure, agoraphobic recluse to a take-charge woman of action. An Ecco hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Forgotten Girl

Rio Youers, read by Kevin T. Collins. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, 11 CDs, 13 hrs,, $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5436-1865-5

Collins provides an entertaining reading of Youers’s supernatural thriller. The book begins as Harvey Anderson, a 26-year-old street performer who lives and works in New Jersey, receives a vicious beating from a group of thugs who are looking for his girlfriend, Sally Starling. The problem is Harvey has no recollection of anyone with that name. He soon learns that Sally has the ability to erase people’s memories and has deleted herself from Harvey’s mind, despite their intense relationship and love for each other. As Harvey goes looking for the mysterious Sally, he is trailed by a powerful politician who is seeking revenge against Sally for a past betrayal that left his own memories expunged. Collins, with his animated reading, keeps the story moving at a brisk clip. However, while his spirited reading of Harvey’s first-person narration is clean, articulate, and fitting for the story’s action scenes, the more intimate and emotional moments between the characters, especially Harvey and Sally, are too often overrun. A St. Martin’s/Dunne hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 09/01/2017 | Details & Permalink

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