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The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, read by Erin Yuen. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 1 CD, 1 hr., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5200-6743-8

Yuen leads listeners convincingly through this beautifully wrought 1892 short story. She begins the first-person narrative with the voice of a sensible if somewhat distraught young woman confined by her doctor husband to an attic room with hideous yellow wallpaper and bars on the windows. She is thought to have a nervous condition and is permitted no activity, including writing, lest it tire her. Eschewing melodrama, Yuen gradually changes tone and inflection as the weeks pass and the wife starts tearing down the wallpaper, perceives another woman behind it trying to get out, and finally descends into madness. It’s a short, intoxicating listen that merits more than one replay. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Devil’s Feast

M.J. Carter, read by Alex Wyndham. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8399-7

In 1842, Carter’s Victorian duo, raffish private inquiry agent Jeremiah Blake and his more sedate companion and observer Captain William Avery, spend their entertaining third adventure attempting to identify the poisoner responsible for murders at London’s very powerful, very political Reform gentlemen’s club. British actor Wyndham, the reader of all three novels, developed splendidly appropriate voices for his leads in book one, The Strangler Vine. Now he adds subtle flourishes. For example, narrator Avery (generally anxious and mildly peeved at being behind the curve set by his streetwise multilingual associate), here trying to go it alone with Blake in Marshalsea prison, sounds even more agitated and overstressed than usual. As for Blake, when he finally joins the sleuthing, forced by circumstance to work disguised as Avery’s obedient manservant, his normal churlishness is intensified. Wyndham has a fine time creating arrogant and insipid voices for the Reform clubbers and goes all-out hilarious portraying the club’s brilliant French celebrity chef Alexis Soyer in all his heavily-accented, self-aggrandizing, manic and yet charming grandeur. A Putnam hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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True Grift

Jack Bunker, read by Harry Dyson. Brash Books, , unabridged, digital download, 7 hrs., $19.95 ASIN B06Y3C7D2Y

Bunker’s debut crime novel is the study of a surefire insurance scam that goes horribly and hilariously wrong. The story is mainly set in a bar and grill serving members of a Southern California golf club where a crooked lawyer with a cash-flow problem, J.T. Edwards, is intrigued by a scheme cooked up by disgruntled insurance adjuster Al Boyle, who wants to make his company pay for disrespecting him. Edwards quickly pulls together a team, recruiting Wanda, the grill’s waitress, who’s sexier and smarter than she seems in uniform, along with a greenskeeper named Mack, who, though dumber than a box of rocks, is the guy on whom the whole scam spins. Reader Dyson reports on the action with a rich, almost comforting voice flexible enough to underline Edwards’s sarcastic, mean-spirited criticisms of his team while simultaneously exposing him for the arrogant bully he is. Dyson keeps it light and smart for much of the book, but has no problem turning tough when the game is almost done and blood is spilled. A Brash Books paperback. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Where Dead Men Meet

Mark Mills, read by David Linski. Blackstone Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-5047-9774-0

Set in 1937, Mills’s novel sends Luke Hamilton, an air intelligence officer in Britain’s Paris embassy, on the run for his life. First, his beloved Sister Agnes, who took baby Luke into an English orphanage 25 years before, is brutally murdered. Then, shortly after a stranger warns him of danger, Luke is nearly assassinated. Chased by unknown forces, Luke races across Europe, surviving bullets, car crashes, duplicitous “helpers,” and even romance with a beautiful, intensely dedicated freedom fighter named Pippi Keller. The novel starts out riveting and loses some of its intensity along the way, but Australian-born reader Linski does his best to disguise this with a brisk narration that maintains its energy and compulsive pacing throughout. His Luke seems initially perplexed by his sudden propulsion into an unfamiliar and very dangerous world, but before long there’s strength and self-confidence in his voice that lets listeners glide through this story of international intrigue. A Blackstone hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Beartown

Fredrik Backman, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith, read by Marin Ireland. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 13 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-3097-7

Backman’s latest novel requires actor Ireland to portray small-town machismo with sensitivity, eschewing caricature and low-hanging fruit to reveal the vulnerable underside of the teenage players of Beartown’s youth hockey league (and their parents, who live vicariously through them). For the most part, she succeeds, and does so with memorable rigor. Her raspy alto switches believably among a wide range of characters—female and male, young and adult—as she gives voice to the emotions they face, from hidden loneliness to the anger of unforgivable betrayal. Ireland has had recurring roles on a number of noteworthy TV shows, including Homeland, Girls, and The Killing; while she hasn’t had a similar range of experience with audio narration, this doesn’t feel like a rookie outing. Her narration is at its best during particularly dramatic moments of the story, such as the crime that occurs amid a raucous victory party. Her passion during these scenes is such that the fictional residents of Beartown might say she “has the bear in her”—their highest compliment for a clutch player who gives everything to a performance, whether in hockey or in life. With luck we will see her as an audiobook narrator more often in the future. An Atria hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Gwendy’s Button Box

Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, read by Maggie Siff. S&S Audio, unabridged, 3 CDs, 2.5 hrs., $14.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-4204-8

Actor Siff adds dramatic flair to her reading of this supernatural coming-of-age novella set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. It’s summer of 1974 when 12-year-old Gwendy Peterson is approached by the mysterious man named Richard Farris. He presents her with a beautiful mahogany box that can magically dispense small but delectable chocolate candies as well as rare 1891 Morgan silver dollars, worth hundreds of dollars. Farris assures her that the box and all its treasures are hers to keep, but as the story progress she learns that stewardship of the box comes with a heavy, possibly cataclysmic, responsibility. Siff captures the innocence of the young girl met at the beginning of the story and the more mature and worldly young woman at the end. Secondary characters are diverse and well rendered, each given unique voices of their own. But Siff shines with her portrayal of the enigmatic Mr. Farris, whose croaky voice steals every scene he’s in. A Cemetery Dance hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Broken River

J. Robert Lennon, read by Hillary Huber. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8391-1

An omniscient, objective narrative viewpoint—the Observer—floats ethereally through Lennon’s psychological thriller, highlighting the actions, thoughts, and backstories of the numerous characters and offering hints about their futures. Voice actor Huber employs a semi-hushed, mellow voice for the ghostly figure, who focuses primarily on the protagonist, a novelist named Eleanor and her unsuccessful sculptor husband Karl, who, hoping to mend their marriage, have moved from Brooklyn to Broken River, N.Y., with their 12-year-old daughter, Irina. Soon after the precocious Irina discovers that her new house was the scene of a savage murder 10 years ago, she becomes obsessed with the unsolved crime. The Observer’s interest shifts from chapters involving these characters to those in which two of the original perpetrators, the unhappy, guilt-ridden Louis and Joe, a hulking brute who enjoys killing, respond to the new interest in their crime. Huber adds an angry edge to Eleanor’s speech and a slow, hipster stoner vibe to Karl’s conversation, while Irina is on a continuous youthful emotional roller coaster. The pathetic Louis spends his time either bemoaning his life’s mistakes or obeying Joe’s grunting monosyllabic demands. When they and their potential victims face off, Huber performs the scene as shocking and suspenseful, no small task from the Observer’s more detached perspective. A Graywolf paperback. (May)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dubliners

James Joyce, read by Connor Sheridan. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5200-6845-9

Actor Sheridan proves an excellent choice to interpret Joyce’s classic story collection, first published in 1914. He brings an authentic Irish accent and an air of gravitas to the 15 tightly observed scen­­es of ordinary people around Dublin. He infuses life into Joyce’s numerous and wide-ranging characters, from an adolescent boy’s stifling infatuation with the girl who lives across the street (“Araby”) to the husband and wife whose marriage is haunted by the death of the wife’s former lover (“The Dead”), easily handling the shifting points of view from story to story. Each character is given a distinct personality and individual voice. But it is with Joyce’s rich descriptive prose that Sheridan’s skills shine brightest. His thoughtful and heartfelt delivery captures the full emotional weight of the stories, and by the end the listener has been transported to Joyce’s Dublin. (May)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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