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All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr, read by Zach Appelman. Simon & Schuster Audio, , unabridged, 13 CDs, 16 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-7542-0

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Broadway actor Appelman delivers a moving performance in the audio edition of Doerr’s beautiful WWII novel. The story shifts back and forth in time, and alternates between the perspectives of two protagonists, Marie-Laure—a blind French girl whose locksmith father builds models of the city to help her adapt to her surroundings—and Werner Pfennig, a German orphan who is separated from his sister, Jutta, when he’s called to work for the Nazis as an engineer. The stories are both involving in their own right, as we track how the peaceful lives of a father/daughter and brother/sister are slowly disrupted by the rise of the Nazis. Reader Appelman helps convey the emotional tension of each scene with dialogue that is devastatingly moving, and his portrayal of Marie-Laure’s uncle, Etienne, is particularly effective. All and all, Appelman turns in a dramatic and well-paced performance of Doerr’s richly conveyed and heartbreaking period piece. A Scribner hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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World of Trouble: The Last Policeman, Book III

Ben H. Winters, read by Peter Berkrot. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, seven CDs, 8 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-4692-2633-0

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At the start of Edgar Award–winner Winters’s third and final visit to a doomed America, the galaxy shelf-life of the world is down to only 14 days, thanks to the unavoidable arrival of a giant asteroid. The U.S. is a devastated and dysfunctional mess. The novel’s protagonist, novice police detective Hank Palace; his limping dog, Houdini; and a homicidal sidekick named Cortez are on a journey across the country from a deserted police station in Concord, N.H., to the dusty and dangerous rubble of a small town in Ohio. Hank is searching for his beloved sister, Nico, who was last seen keeping company with heavily armed true believers who are eager to kill anyone trying to stop them from what they perceive as an Earth-saving mission. Reader Berkrot’s raspy rendition of Hank’s voice indicates he’s young, not terribly self-confident, but ultra-dedicated and maybe a little bit unhinged—as who wouldn’t be. Cortez, on the other hand, is quite loony, and Berkrot gives his dialogue a gleeful enthusiasm that’s more chilling than comforting. When it comes to the wide array of secondary characters Hank encounters amid his travels—some crazed and fearful, some quietly at peace—Berkrot matches their personalities and attitudes. When the novel hurtles toward a conclusion as inevitable as the descending meteor, he quickens the narrative pace until, near the end, settling into a softer, melancholic resignation. A Quirk paperback. (July)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Small Blessings

Martha Woodroof, read by Lorelei King. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-4413-0

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Unusual, appealing characters, and a cluster of nonsensical situations mark Woodroof’s sentimental Dixie charmer. Tom, the languid, long-suffering and slack-voiced husband of a mentally ill wife, is a professor of Shakespearean literature at a Virginia university; he learns that he has a 10-year-old son, Henry, from a short affair years before, who is coming for a visit. At the same time, Tom is falling in love with Rose, the intensely private, nomadic, newly hired manager of the college bookstore. As Tom, Rose, and meek-sounding Henry bond, various colleagues become entangled in their lives, culminating in a precarious situation when one of Tom’s friends, a recovering alcoholic with an exaggerated, drawn-out drawl, becomes unstable. Reader King’s attempt at differing Southern dialects—Virginia, Texas, and Mississippi—is mostly weak and distracts from the story’s memorable moments, although her gravelly voice for Tom’s no-nonsense mother-in-law, Agnes, a tough-talking former lawyer with a penchant for unfiltered Camel cigarettes, is perfection. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Meet Me in Barcelona

Mary Carter, read by Meredith Mitchell. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0177-8

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Aspiring country singer Grace and her boyfriend, Jake, are thrilled to win an unexpected trip to Barcelona. Soon after arriving, however, Grace discovers that her long-estranged, semisociopathic foster sister, Carrie Ann, is in Barcelona too, and is up to her old games, accompanied by another unwelcome visitor from Grace’s past, creepy stalkerish Stan. What starts as a prank soon becomes dangerous and deadly. Reader Mitchell’s narration is hit-or-miss. She is excellent at voicing manipulative Carrie Ann, her voice by turns wheedling, affectionate, hurt, or coldly sarcastic, whereas Grace and Jake sound fairly generic. Mitchell’s accents are off-putting: a character from Barcelona has just a vaguely Spanish accent, with lots of “Joo want help with that?” and a character introduced as Belgian has a vaguely French accent. the entire book is narrated in one consistent tone, which undercuts the ever-increasing danger of the plot. A Kensington hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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City of Bones

Michael Connelly, read by Peter J. Fernandez. Hachette Audio, unabridged, nine CDs, 11 hrs., $25 ISBN 978-1-4789-0107-5

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First published in 2002, this novel featuring Connelly’s popular protagonist Harry Bosch remains one of the author’s better entries, a perfectly plotted, richly detailed account of the homicide detective’s nonstop search for the perpetrator of a 28-year-old murder. The case is opened when a dog calls attention to the skeletal remains of the victim partially buried in the Hollywood Hills, a young boy beaten to death. Reader Fernandez, whose voice is a little too youthful for the middle-aged Bosch, and too cultured for the hardboiled material, manages to overcome these obstacles with convincing performances. Among the latter are Bosch’s eager, overly sensitive partner, Jerry Edgar; his former partner, Kiz Rider; the arrogant and demanding Deputy Police Chief Irvin Irving; and a gallery of suspects including the victim’s seemingly insensitive mother and a despairing pederast unjustly hounded by the media. Though Fernandez never quite matches Bosch’s maturity and world-weariness, he does capture quite well the detective’s cold, unsentimental, and unyielding dedication to the job at hand. A Little, Brown paperback. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Big Little Lies

Liane Moriarty, read by Caroline Lee. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 13 CDs, 16 hrs., $39.95 ISBN 978-1-61176-286-0

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An idyllic Australian seaside town is the setting for this frank and revealing story of domestic abuse, bullying, and infidelity centering on the lives of three wonderful women, acquainted through their young children. Reader Lee aptly portrays Madeline as the voice of reason amid schoolyard gossipers and rumormongers. Voiced as straight-talking, feisty, and loud, Madeline is struggling with her other daughter, a defiant teenager, a derelict ex-husband, and his new bohemian wife. Beautiful, distracted Celeste and her hedge fund husband have material riches, adorable twin boys, and a vile, toxic marriage. Celeste’s quiet, hesitant voice conveys the weight of her “secret shame.” Single mother Jane’s youth and vulnerability are palpable: “All around her was rich, vibrant color; she was the only colorless thing.” Controlling, alpha moms—“blond bobs”—provide comic relief to this cautionary tale of parents behaving badly. Lee’s lovely Australian accent is delightfully expressive; she skillfully balances a range of voices, thoughts, temperaments, and colloquialisms (“G’day, mate”) as characters wrestle with secrets, lies, power, violence, trust, and truth. A Putnam hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Walk Among the Tombstones

Lawrence Block, read by Mark Hammer. Recorded Books, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-4906-3532-3

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Hammer proves a good choice as reader of this top-notch noir thriller, first published in 1992 and recently adapted into a major motion picture. When the wife of drug trafficker Kenan Khoury is kidnapped, held for ransom, and then brutally murdered, he asks Matt Scudder—the troubled ex-NYPD detective, recovering alcoholic, and unlicensed PI—to find out who did it. Scudder reluctantly takes on the case. With the help of his street-smart computer wiz protégé, T.J., some old NYPD contacts, and a lot of good old-fashioned gumshoeing, Scudder uncovers a slew of killings that may be connected to the murder of his client’s wife. The audio edition of Block’s hardboiled tale is plagued by poor editing with overly long pauses between paragraphs and dialogue. Still, if the listener is able to grow accustomed to the pacing, Hammer has a great feel for the material and takes full advantage of Block’s atmospheric prose to paint a rich portrait of early 1990s New York City. His gruff, gravelly voice fits perfectly with Scudder’s world-weary first-person narration, and he brings the book’s wide range of characters to life with distinctive, individual voices. A William Morrow paperback. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Virtue Falls

Christina Dodd, read by Rebecca Soler. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, 13 CDs, 16.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-4371-3

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The first novel in Dodd’s new series focuses on Elizabeth Banner, a stunningly beautiful but emotionally blocked geologist who has returned to Virtue Falls, Wash., the oceanside town where, a couple of decades ago, at the age of four, she supposedly witnessed her brilliant scientist father murder her mother with a pair of scissors. Though the body was never found, Charles Banner was convicted and tossed into state prison. When a major earthquake followed by a tsunami hits, Elizabeth is elated to be the first geologist on the scene, but her mom’s corpse is disinterred by the quake. Then her FBI agent ex-husband, Garik, whom she still loves, arrives hunting for a serial murderer who uses scissors to kill mothers and their children. Reader Soler does well delivering dramatic dialogue, of which there is an abundance, what with the townspeople frantically reacting to the murders and the continuing aftershocks and their village being cut off from the rest of the world by the quake. She’s particularly effective in finding a lovable Irish brogue for Elizabeth’s tough but kindhearted mother-in-law. But her presumably natural girlish, almost chirpy voice is sometimes at odds with the material, particularly noticeable during sequences in which Dodd describes with graphic eloquence Elizabeth and Garik rolling about, rekindling their romantic passion. The production also includes a conversation between Dodd and romance-suspense writer Jayne Ann Krentz. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Odyssey

Homer, trans. by Robert Fitzgerald, read by Dan Stevens. MacMillan Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-2942-7

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British actor Stevens of Downton Abbey fame brings Homer’s epic poem to life with this well-executed reading of the classic tale of the Greek hero Odysseus and his 10-year journey home. When Odysseus is presumed dead after the Trojan War, his wife, Penelope, is awash with suitors looking to court her and in turn take over the land. While Penelope stalls the persistent suitors, her husband is cursed to wander the seas encountering all manner of mythical beings and even the gods, who all play their part in helping, or mostly hindering, the hero in his quest to find home. Stevens, with a cool, unmannered delivery, brings a modern vocal interpretation to his performance, making this ancient poem engaging to the modern ear and easy to listen to. With his relaxed reading, Stevens proves that this classic poem is definitely not some dry, dusty work of ancient history, but a vibrant exciting story that, like the best tales of adventure, works best when read aloud, as scholars contend it was intended. A Farrar, Straus and Giroux paperback. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Long Way Home

Louise Penny, read by Ralph Cosham. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-4429-1

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Officially retired, former chief of homicide Armand Gamache is at his beloved Quebec village of Three Pines, healing in mind and body after his ordeal in 2013’s How the Light Gets In, when a neighbor, celebrated artist Clara Morrow, asks him to find her estranged husband. Peter Morrow, also an artist, had departed Three Pines the previous year, promising to return on a specific day to discuss the status of their marriage. He didn’t make it and Clara is concerned. So is Gamache, who, as Penny has it, sees the shadow of murder even on sunny days. Thus begins a long, long journey during which Gamache, his loyal former assistant and now son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Clara, and some of the other delightfully eccentric villagers have an assortment of adventures. Cosham, who has been this series’ narrator for a while, has a comforting, avuncular British accent. To this he smoothly blends in a French influence that becomes more apparent in his pronunciation of Canadian names, places, and Quebecois dialogue. Cosham voices Gamache with a wary, almost fearful caution as he approaches the new case, but as the search for the missing painter goes from Toronto to Paris to a desolate spot on the St. Lawrence River, his voice grows stronger as his energy level rises. Jean-Guy, too, sounds more assertive and alive. Cosham’s vocal interpretations are mainly subtle—Clara, for example, doesn’t sound very different from Gamache’s wife, Raine-Marie—but his version of the village’s eccentric old poet, Ruth, has a distinctive sharpness not unlike that of the latter day Katharine Hepburn. A Minotaur hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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