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The Devil You Know

Elisabeth de Mariaffi, read by Andi Arndt. Blackstone Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-4815-1145-2

De Mariaffi’s debut thriller, set in and around 1993 Toronto, begins as Evie Jones, a newbie reporter at the Free Press, decides to investigate the event that’s traumatized her for the past decade: the unsolved murder of her best friend Lianne Gagnon, who was 11 years old at the time. Robert Nelson Cameron was identified as a suspect but wasn’t caught. Reader Arndt’s soft, youthful voice, a perfect match for Evie, catches each of the character’s shifting moods—from her determination to uncover the facts of the murder, to self-doubt, to an almost unbelievable fearlessness in courting danger. Arndt makes no particular effort to alter her voice to fit the other characters, but she does manage to give them the proper emotions—such as Evie’s sensible friend David, who isn’t entirely happy with their platonic relationship, her comforting and understanding parents, and her hard-boiled editor. Arndt is also extremely effective in pacing the suspenseful sequences, particularly the final confrontation between Evie and the man she believes to be Lianne’s killer. An S&S/Touchstone hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cold Cold Heart

Tami Hoag, read by Julia Whelan. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4805-9884-3

Dana Nolan, Hoag’s newest protagonist (after 2013’s The 9th Girl), may qualify as the ultimate woman in jeopardy. In just the prologue, the former television reporter manages to subdue a sadistic serial rapist and murderer who has put her through a horrific period of torture. The book begins with her leaving the hospital, still scarred mentally and physically, to seek further therapy in the presumably more comfortable Indiana home of her mother and stepfather. Instead of quiet recovery, her well-publicized arrival activates a local cold case—the disappearance of her high school BFF, Casey Grant. Reader Whelan’s narration is soft and whispery, establishing an atmosphere of both intimacy and impending danger as Dana, suffering from a brain injury, struggles to remember any details surrounding Casey’s sudden vanishing that might help. In giving voice to the protagonist, Whelan begins with a credible halting stutter combined with yelps of frustration. Then, as Dana’s therapy kicks in, her speech settles into an infrequently halting, more normal pattern marked by moments of self-doubt and fear. The other characters are equally well served: Dana’s overprotective mother sounds effusively caring and nervously high-strung, her step- father cold and aloof. Whelan lowers her voice effectively for the novel’s other male characters, including Dana’s high school boyfriend, Tim Carver, now the town’s deputy sheriff, who seems understanding but patronizing, and Casey’s ex-boyfriend, John Villante, a gruff, stoic loner, who is quick to anger and was once suspected of murder. A Dutton hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy SEAL

Mark Owen, with Kevin Maurer, read by Paul Michael. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 6.5 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-61176284-6

Reader Michael brings polish and passion to the audio edition of Owen’s latest military memoir, a follow-up to 2012’s No Easy Day. Owen’s new title provides an autobiographical account of his military career and a collection of general principles for success that he gleaned from his time inside the elite warfare unit, which is known for its perseverance and commitment. Michael’s diction is precise and annunciated, but he still manages to come across as conversational. He also smoothly handles the transitions between the more expository content and the dialogue and anecdotes. Though Owen states in the book that he set out to avoid the kind of overloaded introspection often found in the military memoir genre, his book still gives Michael ample opportunity to showcase a flair for evocative narration. One especially memorable passage has Owen observing a cat drinking the blood of an insurgent that he had just shot dead in battle, realizing that a young boy no older than five had witnessed the entire scene. A Dutton hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Eric Foner, read by J.D. Jackson. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-62231590-1

Acclaimed narrator Jackson delivers a competent, though not always inspired, performance of Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Foner’s sweeping narrative on the inner workings of the Underground Railroad. Jackson is most passionate for the individual accounts of those involved in the secret network, which was created to help slaves find their freedom. Yet for the most part, the material centers on the political, social, and racial divides within the abolition movement itself, as radicals and moderates struggled with one another to stake a claim for leadership in the struggle to free black Americans from bondage. Jackson’s tone subtly illuminates the dynamic of the various players, particularly when conveying the stance of white leaders in the mainstream political process, contrasted with the voices of the more revolutionary participants. Listeners with an academic bent and already steeped in the history of the era will feel engaged, but a more general audience seeking to make initial connections with American abolitionism may need to look elsewhere. A Norton hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film

Patton Oswalt, read by the author. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 4 CDs, 4 hrs., $24.99 ISBN 978-1-44237513-0

Veteran stand-up comedian and television actor Oswalt brings his quirky persona to the audio edition of his latest book. Oswalt recounts a four-year period as a young adult in the 1990s when he became obsessed with vintage movies and spent at least three nights a week at the famed New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. Oswalt provides a conversational and confessional style of delivery familiar to fans of his stand-up act; he moves at a fast pace, never slowing down to allow time for listeners to digest all of his unapologetically esoteric references to cinema and the comedy scene. Yet that mixture of eccentricity and bravado is the essence of Oswalt’s appeal. A tribute to The Beverly Theater’s colorful owner and operator, the late Sherman Torgan, is especially memorable, as Oswalt vividly recites a list of never-made films that he wishes Torgan could view as a reward in the afterlife. The audiobook also includes a bonus PDF with photos and a helpful index detailing all of Oswalt’s movie-going during his addiction period. A Scribner hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History

Richard Wightman Fox, read by Pete Larkin. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 13 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-640-3

Larkin delivers this unusual, finely crafted study of the 16th president of the United States with a clear, well-modulated voice that will engage listeners. The book argues that the great liberator’s awkwardly lanky body, homely countenance, and affable demeanor played a prominent role in making him a man of the people. With keen insight and a smooth, uncomplicated writing style, Fox explores Lincoln’s legacy and how his visage and ideas have been remembered, morphed, interpreted, and reinterpreted over the generations since his assassination. Larkin’s even, never-rushed narration easily translates this fascinating historical study into the audio format. Though the material is complex and packed with information, Larkin’s narration and the author’s writing make for a rewarding, pleasurable listening experience. Lincoln buffs or not, readers will find this audiobook is a compelling and illuminating look at one of the most influential figures in American history. A Norton hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Vanessa and Her Sister

Priya Parmar, read by multiple narrators. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-553-39844-1

Before becoming the celebrated writer Virginia Woolf, young Virginia Stephens lived with her sister, Vanessa, and her brothers in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, where they surrounded themselves with other artists and intellectuals. Told in diary entries and letters, this novel captures that period, characterized by emotional upheavals and family crises as well as intellectual and artistic conversations. Emilia Fox is perfect in the role of Vanessa, whose point of view dominates the story. Fox captures Vanessa’s feelings of responsibility and exasperation toward her sister, her mixed feelings about her suitor Clive Bell, and her earnest desire to be a serious artist. Julian Rhind-Tutt is likewise excellent as family friend Lytton Strachey: flamboyantly gay, full of lively gossip, prone to self-deprecating humor, and passionately longing for a man he cannot have. Daniel Pirre and Anthony Calf both offer serviceable, straightforward narrations in their respective roles as Leonard Woolf and Roger Fry. The one misstep is Clare Corbett, who is cast as Virginia, the baby of the family and described as brilliant and witty, but also childish, immature, wild, reckless, selfish, prone to fits of hysteria, and actual madness. In narrating Virginia’s chapters, Corbett’s voice is deeper than the voice of other female characters, with a crackly quality and an overly posh accent, all of which make her sound like a middle-aged woman, not the childish 20-something girl she is supposed to be. The effect is jarring. However, only a handful of chapters are told from Virginia’s point of view, so it does not detract too much from the rest of the narration, which is excellent. A Ballantine hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles

Anne Rice, read by Simon Vance. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 15 CDs, 19 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-385-36178-1

Narrator Vance lends his voice to the exciting audio edition of the 11th book in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. The Voice, a mysterious power, is compelling older vampires worldwide to annihilate their younger peers. Not since the massacre committed by Akasha, the original Queen of the Damned, have so many vampires been killed in one of Rice’s novels. Through the perspective of Lestat we are reintroduced to favorite characters such as the witch twins, David, Jessie, Marius, Armand, and Louis, along with new characters—the ancient voice and Akasha’s son, Seth,. Vance does a terrific job of creating unique voices for the characters. His rendition of Lestat is spot-on, portraying him with a droll French accent that perfectly captures imperial, hypnotic arrogance of the character. The general pace of the narration is slow and steady. But the story line is nonlinear, and the time frame is not clear at points in the audio edition. A Knopf hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Voices

F.R. Tallis, read by Gildart Jackson. Blackstone Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-4830-3891-9

Set in the English summer of 1976, Tallis’s haunted-house thriller combines a demonic presence, sexual politics, and the dissolution of a marriage. Shortly after Christopher Norton, a composer of exploitation movie soundtracks, and his wife, Laura, a retired top model, move into a long-vacant Victorian home in North London, odd voices begin appearing on their daughter Faye’s baby monitor. Laura is frightened, but Christopher is so fascinated by the otherworldly chatter that he decides to incorporate the sounds into a masterwork composition. Eventually, the dominant male voice proclaims, “The child is mine,” and, shortly thereafter, baby Faye disappears. What follows is grim and ultimately horrific. Jackson narrates the novel in a melodramatic British accent. Following Tallis’s story line, he presents Christopher and Laura as a reasonably happy couple with a few rough edges—he’s concerned his creative and financial success is behind him, while she’s troubled by unsavory memories from her modeling career. As Tallis applies the suspense screws, both husband and wife feel the tension and Jackson delivers their terse conversations in a properly strident manner. He’s also on target with the chilling voices, as well as the secondary characters—Christopher’s childhood frenemy, Simon Ogilvy, a smug, self-satisfied composer of classical music, and his wife, Amanda, with whom Christopher has an affair. Baker also brings the other characters to life, including Christopher’s bumptious agent (who’s convinced the film Star Wars will be a disaster), an annoyingly patronizing pediatrician, and an odd landscape designer, but his major accomplishment is his performance of Laura’s leap into anger and madness when discovering her daughter’s disappearance. It’s guaranteed to rise the hair on the back of your neck. A Pegasus Crime hardcover. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Martini Shot: A Novella and Stories

George Pelecanos, read by Dion Graham. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-1-4789-8316-3

For this collection of seven short stories and one novella, reader Graham exhibits a chameleon-like dexterity in performing Pelecanos’s full-bodied characters, men approaching a turning point in their lives. “String Music” has Graham portraying a slang-slinging teenage narrator, a basketballer who experiences the dark side of sports. In two of the stories, Graham employs various degrees of a Greek accent: “Chosen” introduces us to the adoptive parents of Pelecanos’s series hero, Spero Lucas, and “The Dead Their Eyes Implore Us,” set in 1933 and narrated by a Greek immigrant, is a bloody tale of vengeance. Pelecanos leaves the D.C. setting used in much for his work for “When You’re Hungry,” a grim tale about an insurance investigator whose search for a scam artist takes him to Brazil, giving Graham a chance to show off his Portuguese accent. No accent is needed for “The Martini Shot,” but there’s a touch of forced jauntiness as Victor, a television writer on location near New Orleans, narrates a moody tale of passionate romance and his investigation of a crew-member’s murder. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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