August 2021
Adult Reviews
*Mateo Askaripour. Black Buck.
Read by Zeno Robinson.
9 CDs. 11 hrs.
Blackstone Audio. 2021.

Mateo Askaripour's first novel Black Buck is an often funny book on a serious subject: racism. It is queasy satire, not funny ha-ha, but funny like Dave Chapelle is funny. You question your laughter; you think about the seriousness of the joke; it elicits the kind of laughter that makes one feel guilty about laughing. It is a novel that critics would call darkly comic. It is both dark and comic. The audiobook is wonderfully performed by Zeno Robinson whose reading highlights the comedy. Robinson brings a wonderful Hip--Hop flare to the performance, inhabiting the characters with a prescient reality that makes them live, like someone you know or have heard or seen on the subway. The eponymous Black Buck is particularly well-realized, endowed by Robinson with charm, swagger, and speech and cadence of urban New York, a true black urbanite. Robinson's dexterity is brought to bear on other characters as well. He switches with deft seamlessness from one character to the next, whether rich or poor, black, or white with nary a wrong note. He is equally authentic in rendering white corporate guys and girls, as he does old black men and women. The character is rendered believable and real in his reading. The satire and comic moments sing.

Black Buck is black satire, but also more. It is satire of a kind that makes you laugh, and cry. Darren, a bright unambiguous graduate of Bronx High School, where he graduated as valedictorian, spends his days practicing being the best manager at a Starbucks in Manhattan. He lives with his single mother in a brownstone in gentrified Bedford Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn. Life is simple. He hangs out with his girlfriend, Soraya, eats home-cooked meals with his mother, and chitchats with neighborhood hustlers. He gets his wisdom from an old man that rents a room in the brownstone and from a local celebrity hustler and millionaire.

Things change when Darren is recruited by Rhett Daniels, a white Master of the universe type, to work as a salesman in a startup, which, for the most part, sells good mental health to corporate clients. What follows is boot camp training so hilarious and horrible, you feel guilty about laughing. Darren turns out to be good at selling things. He becomes successful at his new calling. His success alienates him from his family and friends. Tragedy ensues and Darren, now renamed Buck, must make his way back home again.

The novel is propulsive, the pacing is steady, racing along to its surprising denouement. Zeno Robinson narrates with apt speed, moving the narrative along at a good clip with nary a mistake. His performance is almost flawless. This funny, often sad novel is wonderfully performed, enjoyable on every level.

Reviewed by Berkley W. Semple
Ann Cleeves. Wild Fire. A Shetland Island Mystery, #8.
Read by Kenny Blyth.
9 CDs. 10.75 hrs.
Macmillan Audio. 2018.

Wild Fire is the final book (probably) in UK author Ann Cleeves' popular mystery series (set in the Shetland Islands) that spawned the very popular eponymous television series "Shetland," starring Scottish actor Douglas Henshall (born in Glasgow) as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez. In Wild Fire A young woman found hanging in a barn proves to be a murder hence Jimmy and his boss Willow are called in. Clues show up slowly. The title Wild Fire refers to the rumors that spread like... about the relationships between the characters. In my opinion, island atmosphere, history, diverse culture, beautiful scenery, even characters are skimpily described in Wild Fire. The plot here is dark and the characters generally unlikable. Perez, a native islander, usually very sensitive and caring, is unusually self-indulgent and conflicted here as he faces a possibly huge change in his life. While waiting for the next in the television series based on Cleeves books, I started to listen to the books upon which the series is based. I recommend listeners start with the first in the series.

UK actor Kenny Blyth's gently Scottish accented narration is well paced, clear and excellent. He distinguishes characters and captures the doom and gloom very well. Not sure I would have finished actually reading this but I did finish listening with Blyth's reading.

Reviewed by Jean Palmer

*Ann Cleeves. Silent Voices. A Vera Stanhope Mystery, #4.
Read by Charlie Hardwick.
8 CDs. 10.25 hrs.
Macmillan Audio. 2015.

*Ann Cleeves. The Glass Room. A Vera Stanhope Mystery, #5.
Read by Charlie Hardwick.
9 CDs. 11 hrs.
Macmillan Audio. 2012.

Ann Cleeves' series character Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, of the Northumberland and City Police, lives and works in this rugged, northeast corner of England, just south of Scotland. She is near retirement. She is eccentric, blunt,fearless and frequently cranky, but brilliant at solving murders. She works 24/7 and expects her staff to do the same, solving murders in very complex plots. In her own absent-minded way she cares about her subordinates, some of the time, but mainly she is all work and tries to get the most out of them. Silent Voices begins with a death in a sauna at a health club that turns out to be murder. There are of course other deaths involved, one of them a child. Vera lives in a rundown fairly isolated house that she grew up in with her father, not fond memories for Vera. In The Glass Room one of Vera's neighbors has gone off and her partner has asked Vera to find her. Turns out she was at a writers' retreat in a lovely old home and one of the instructors has been murdered and Vera's neighbor is a possible suspect. Vera and her staff are called in. At times I found it difficult to actually like Vera (especially in reading the books), but Cleeves' gradual reveal of her difficult upbringing explains much about why and how Vera is so brilliant at analyzing very broken characters who murder. Versatile, award winning British actress Brenda Blethyn plays Vera in the television series. Her interpretation of Vera softens her a bit as does UK actress Charlie Hardwick's brilliant reading in both these novels. She adopts a gentle Northumberland "Geordie" accent unique in the area, and it sets the tone and atmosphere very well in the listening experience, which is on an entirely different level from simply reading the novels. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Jean Palmer
*Tana French. The Searcher. A Novel.
Read by Roger Clark.
12 CDs 14.5 hrs.
Penguin Random House. 2020

After 25 years as a Chicago cop, Cal Hooper retires to a what he hopes is a quiet village in Ireland. Twelve-year-old Trey Reddy approaches him to help find his 19-year-old brother Brendan. This is a quiet mystery read in a nice deep voice and in a soft, slow tempo by Roger Clark. There's not a lot of action, but there is much focus on each character, especially Hooper and Trey.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
Kristen Hannah. The Four Winds. A Novel.
Read by Julia Whelan.
12 CDs. 14 hrs.
Macmillan. 2021.

Author Kristin Hannah has created another masterpiece with The Four Winds, this time using the Great Depression as the backdrop. Her tale highlights the resilience and determination of a neglected woman as she strives to find her place in the world. Fierce obstacles, including dust storms, starvation, and abandonment challenge her focus and stamina as she strives to raise her children and give them hope.

Narrator Julia Whelan's gentle and hesitant vocals meld well with The Four Winds main character, Elsa. Elsa's transformation is painful, and most of those she is surrounded by thrive on adding to her pain. Her parents' prideful demeanor and dislike for their daughter is evident in both words and tones. Listeners can taste their scorn as they cut Elsa off from the family. Her husband's discouragement and lust for the bottle are heartbreaking as he explains through teary vocals his need to escape drought-torn Texas. Even Elsa's eldest child's disgust for her mother and their plight, though no fault of Elsa's, radiates with Whelan's efforts.

This is a story worth listening to. Whelan adds another level of emotion to Hannah's already heavy scenarios. Listening makes the ending that much more impactful.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
*Maria Hummel. Motherland.
Read by Christa Lewis.
Digital download. 10 hrs, 37 min
Highbridge. 2021.

Set in Germany toward the end of WWII in 1944, Maria Hummel's Motherland is a novel that focuses on another segment of the German population: German citizens who were not actively participating in the war against the Jews and other populations, but who were passively trying to survive the hardships Germans experienced (massive food shortages, allied bombings, influx of many refugees).

As I've read more and more books about this time period and realize how horrific the Holocaust was, I've also realized how most everyone who was not an obvious direct part of the horror was also not an innocent bystander either. The characters in Motherland are somewhere in between. The characters in Motherland are based on the relatives of the author and may challenge listeners think about how he or she would have behaved in order to survive the horror of war.

Frank is a recent widower and surgeon who is called up by the German army to work at a hospital where he is expected to put soldiers back together. His wife has died in childbirth and he has married a new young new wife, Liesl, so his boys have someone to take care of them. The story switches between Frank's difficult daily decisions about the care of his patients and defending his decisions and Liesl's decisions about the care for the boys. One of the boys begins to show symptoms which make him weak and subject to being "deported." There is not enough food or medicine. Frank's large 3-floor house is divided among 3 families who are all suffering with food shortages, lack of privacy, and resulting sickness.

Narrator Christa Lewis does not sensationalize the story or the characters. Instead she reads with a slight accent and with feeling as if she is talking to herself, as there are few people she can talk to, other than the boys and neighbors she doesn't fully trust.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
Lisa Jackson. Paranoid.
Read by Christa Lewis.
11 CDs. 14 hrs.
Brilliance Audio. 2019.

Lisa Jackson has created a very successful murder mystery with an ending that is both shocking and unexpected.

Life hasn't been the same for Rachel since the night twenty years ago when she shot and killed her half brother, Luke. On that fateful night she and her Edgewater, Oregon high school classmates met up at the old abandoned fish processing plant by the river, armed with soft pellet air guns, shooting each other in the murky darkness. She hadn't known her gun was real when she aimed and fatally shot Luke. Her father, a cop on the scene, and her friends rallied, convincing the court that it had been an accident, but even after two decades Rachel's guilt dominated her life. She later married Cade Ryder and had two children, Harper and Dustin. Now, as teens, they are resisting her compulsive tendency to restrict and control their activities. She had always been fearful, given to sudden panic over even small crises, both for herself and later for her children. In time, she and Cade were divorced, although they kept in touch because of the kids.

As Rachel's high school friend, Lila, who had married Cade's father, marshals her classmates to plan the class's twentieth reunion, a series of bizarre and scary events transpire. Three of Rachel's defenders from the trial are murdered under grisly circumstances. After a series of creepy text messages, Rachel is gripped by paranoia, sensing that she is being stalked. Suspense builds gradually. Detective Cade Ryder and his female partner lead the investigation into the murders, but clues are few, twists and turns baffle the pair. The pressure of a nosy newspaper reporter digging for the backstory, the release from prison of Luke's abusive father, clips of mysterious psychotherapy sessions, Harper's secret meetings with an older boy, Dustin's selling various forms of technology to his friends for nefarious purposes, as well as the revelation of future development plans for the old cannery further complicate the tensions in Edgewater.

Narrator Christa Lewis presents realistically the voices of those teens twenty years later. Her delivery does enhance the mystery, highlighting the characters' differing views of the actions past and present. Her depiction of Lila's voice and text messages, however, admittedly punctuated with vivid emojis and verbal dramatics, often seem a bit too shrill. This audiobook is sure to appeal to those who love murder mysteries, family stories, small town relationships, and powerful suspense.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
Erica James. Letters From The Past.
Read by Emma Redgrave.
11 CDs. 13.5 hrs.
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books. 2020.

In this fascinating audiobook set in the Suffolk village of Melstead St. Mary in 1962, with flashbacks to the 1940's, Erica James introduces a complex, varied cast of characters, all related in some way to the Devereux family headed by Romily Devereux-Temple. Each character has a secret past, secrets which are gradually revealed throughout the story. Romily, widow of James Devereux, has three children – a stepson, Kit, a wounded aviator from World War II; Hope, a writer of children's books and married to Edmund, a physician; and the scoundrel, Arthur, a businessman who uses his power to manipulate and control others, including his wife, Julia.

Various women in the village begin receiving anonymous "poison pen letters," clearly intended to cultivate anxiety about their marriages, but no one knows who is sending them. When Hope is hit by a car one wintry night and is hospitalized for weeks in a coma, no one knows the identity of her hit-and-run driver. Evelyn Devereux, Kit's wife, dreads that her husband will discover that he may not be the father of their twins. Annelise, Hope's daughter, is at her wit's end when she finds herself pregnant by a fellow professor. Isabella, an actress, became Romily's ward after she was rescued when her Jewish parents were captured by the Nazis but now, she wants to marry Max, an older man and former lover of her mother.

When Romily, a crime writer whose recent novel is to be made into a movie, flies to Palm Springs to meet the handsome yet enigmatic script writer, Red St. Clair, sparks fly amidst attraction and humor. Matriarch Romily also holds a secret, a liaison with an Italian POW she met during her time flying for the Air Transport Auxiliary during the war. These stories all come together as the characters meet up at Romily's Island House during the Christmas holidays.

A sequel to James's previous "Coming Home to Island House," this audiobook may initially be a bit challenging to those who aren't familiar with the first book. Because of the large cast, it is sometimes difficult to keep the characters and their stories straight. However, the skillful voice of actress and narrator Emma Redgrave steers the listener through this maze of relationships, helping to keep the focus by making the voice of each character unique in her calm, measured British accent. Some listeners may be turned off by the extent of detail, history, and innuendo in the novel, but for others, this type of family story set in a beautiful locale and marked by several threads of mystery, offers a challenge and resulting enjoyment.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
*Laurie R. King. Riviera Gold. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series #16.
Read by Jenny Sterlin.
11 CDs. 12.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Award-winning British actor and professional narrator Jenny Sterlin's talent shines in her reading of prolific author Laurie R. King's Riviera Gold (16th in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series), vividly bringing out the mysterious Sherlock Holmes and all the other colorful (and some very familiar) characters in this riveting mystery.

Mary Russell and her husband, the enigmatic Sherlock Holmes, find themselves summering on the French Riviera in 1925. Jazz has come to the Riviera, bringing wealthy Europeans, American ex-pats, writers, and artists enticed by the cool music and warm weather. The wealthy and appealing bohemian are not the only ones gathering in the Riviera that summer, as Mary finds out. She becomes tangled in a web of intrigue involving her long-time friend and housekeeper, Clarissa Hudson, who has been hiding since she was falsely accused of murder in England. Instead of enjoying themselves on the beaches of Monaco, murder, theft, and criminals are soon the main focus for Mary and Sherlock when Mrs. Hudson is again accused of murder. To save their housekeeper's life, Russell and Holmes are soon risking their own lives in tangling with the European underworld. Recommended to new fans and old.

Reviewed by Mercedes Smith
Kat Martin. The Perfect Murder. Maximum Security Series #4.
Read by James Anderson Foster.
Digital download. 9.75 hrs.
Harlequin Audio. 2021.

Prolific best-selling writer Kat Martin's The Perfect Murder is a great novel, with good dialogue and interesting characters that make for great family dynamics. Martin introduces the different family members, adding more pieces and twists and turns galore, until it all comes together. First we meet Reese in Galveston, Texas inspecting via helicopter a drilling platform for the family business that he runs with his two brothers. His helicopter crashes. He is the only survivor. Kenzie, his personal assistant, shows up at the hospital to take care of everything until his discharge. Business as usual, or is it?

Kenzie, who lives with her Grandmom and her son Griff, is now back in the office in Dallas. She gets a call from the police saying Griff is in the hospital, so her boss drives her there and runs into her nasty ex-husband, Leigh, who is all about causing trouble. Griff's father's side of the family has money but his Grandpop is a gambler and his uncle is in politics, and lives in Louisiana, where all the casinos are located -- which leads us down a path of trouble.

Reese finds out the crash was a case of sabotage; Kenzie is under suspicion for her ex's murder. Added to this mix is the heat building up between Reese and Kenzie, which puts some steamy parts into the story. We have more murders and a kidnapping coming at us fast along with more clues, gambling problems, explosions, fact finding for all misdeeds brought to light - to get us to a final showdown and return our heart to beating a normal rhythm!

James Anderson Foster provides a great narration. I was surprised by the sexy parts as I never thought Harlequin stories included that. All-in-all well written, entertaining, and performed perfectly. This definitely seems like a series I would continue to enjoy.

Reviewed by Terry Cervantes
*Anne Perry. Traitors Gate. A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel. #15.
Read by Jenny Sterlin.
13 CDs. 16.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 1995/2020.

Book 15 (1995) in this popular series which now numbers 32 finds Police Superintendent Thomas Pitt investigating both murder and espionage. The espionage regards Britain's involvement in Africa. So we'll start with Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Cecil Rhodes, for whom Rhodesia is named, became a controversial figure in the exploitation of South Africa when he founded the De Beers Mining company in 1880. He made about 6 million pounds before his death in 1902. Many in Britain were against the rape of the Dark Continent and some of these supporters of the native population are in the novel. One of those who was concerned is our first murder victim, Sir Arthur Desmond. Pitt grew up on Sir Arthur's estate where his parents worked and Sir Arthur had been a mentor to him. As a youngster Pitt horsed around with Sir Arthur's son Matt, who comes to Pitt for help in finding who murdered his father in the Morton Club, a gentlemen's club in London, filled with rich and influential members. They insisted that the death was either a tragic accident or suicide because Sir Arthur died of an overdose of laudanum, a form of opium. The members insisted that sir Arthur was demented, obsessed with Britain's role in Africa, In addition, Sir Arthur belonged to a secret charitable society called the Inner Circle. Members had to take an oath of loyalty to the group on pain of death. Pitt's other problem in regard to Africa involves espionage. Someone in the Colonial Office is a traitor, giving secrets to Germany. Someone tries to kill Matt and Pitt and succeeds in killing a beautiful woman by placing her body in the water at Traitors Gate. Like Sir Arthur, it is suggested that this is also a suicide or a tragic accident.

As usual Pitt is assisted by his brilliant and observant and resourceful wife Charlotte as well as her Aunt Vespasia and her uncle who is a member of the Morton Club, sent in undercover to investigate the scene of the first crime. There is, of course, a satisfactory conclusion.

The novel is narrated by Earphones Award-winning Jenny Sterlin. This British-born narrator has more than 70 books to her credit. She is multi-talented, being an actress of both stage and screen and an author. Her talents are remarkable. Her vocal range covers the young Gracie, the Pitt family maid all the way to the imperious upper class Lady Vespasia. Village accents at Sir Arthur's burial on his estate and a Scottish doctor testifying. Some other reviewers have complained about the emphasis on colonialism in Africa. Take the history lesson as a bonus. The book in highly recommended to the author's many fans. The narration is remarkable.

Reviewed by Janet Julian
*Kelly Rimmer. Warsaw Orphan: A World War II Novel.
Read by Nancy Peterson and Charlie Thurston.
Digital download. 13.25 hrs.
Harlequin Audio. 2021.

Kelly Rimmer's World War II novel is set primarily in Warsaw in 1944. The two main characters, Elzbieta Rabinek and Roman Gorka, are both young people, living only a short distance apart, and they have very different stories to tell.

Elzbieta was taken to Warsaw by family friends after her parents were killed in a small town in Poland. Although Jewish, Elzbieta lived outside the Warsaw Ghetto with her foster parents who were always worried that she might not understand the dangers she lived with and would not keep her Jewish background to herself. She did become involved in the underground where she helped a neighbor, a young woman named Sara to rescue Jewish children in the Ghetto. Roman lives in the Ghetto at the same time. When Elzbieta and Roman meet there is a strong attraction. He works in a factory and helps support his mother, little brother, and baby sister. His mother reluctantly believes the stories that children are being sent to the country where they will be cared for; his baby sister disappears. Roman is much more adamant and vocal about the need to fight while Elzbieta more quietly takes risks and suffers for her efforts. Elzbieta is raped and impregnated by Nazi soldiers while she works with Sara. After the war, Roman comes back to find Elzbieta. Roman and Elzbieta try to adjust to the changes in their lives after the war, but it is difficult.

Narrators Nancy Peterson and Charlie Thurston do an excellent job portraying the two very different main characters who turn out to have the same goals and who both suffer doing what they feel they must do.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
David Rosenfelt. Dog Eat Dog: An Andy Carpenter Mystery.
Read by Grover Gardner.
Digital Download. 6 hours, 30 minutes.
Macmillan Audio. 2021.

Andy Carpenter unexpectedly winds up in Maine defending a client who is apprehended on the streets of New Jersey after saving a dog from its abusive owner. Matthew Jantzen is wanted for murder in Maine, and police have linked him to the murder scene by tracing his DNA through an online ancestry program. He proclaims his innocence, despite definite links to one of the victims. This is another seemingly impossible case to win for Andy Carpenter, but he always fights hard for his clients while entertaining jurors – and annoying prosecutors and judges in the process. Favorite characters like Laurie, Marcus, and Sam make appearances, and Rosenfelt even slips in an Easter egg for his fans.

Grover Gardner continues his regular stint as narrator, bringing sardonic Andy Carpenter to life. Returning listeners will appreciate the consistent quality he brings to his fully-voiced performance. The plots and the narration improve with each book in the series. Recommend this to both mystery and dog lovers.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant

*Crissy Van Meter. Creatures. A Novel.
Read by Piper Goodeve.
5 CDs. 6 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

In Crissy van Meter's crisp, literary novel Creatures, Evie is raised by three unpredictable forces: her drug-dealing father, her mercurial mother, and Winter Island.

The island is as much a character as the people in her life, and just as unpredictable. Monstrous winds, flooding rains, and the savagery of the land itself make Winter Island as hard to rely on as Evie's parents. Her mother who was both adored and felt stymied by family life, often left without a note but with a knack for coming home as soon as Evie or her father grew accustomed to her absence. Evie's father was well-intentioned, but his lifestyle, which included "borrowing" boats from the rich islanders and growing and selling, his own crop of popular marijuana, was not suited to parenting. But Winter Island's charms are what keep pulling Evie and her parents back, even when life on the mainland is no doubt easier.

Evie grows up loving the ocean, eventually becoming a research scientist who studies marine animals, and she loves the strangeness of the island, too: the isolated women and salty sailors who call the place home, as well as the abandoned amusement park on the island's edge, a perfect place to sneak away with boys.

As we learn more about the adult Evie, we understand how early abandonment, neglectful parenting, and teenage rebellion shaped the woman, who, as the story opens, is about to marry her sea-faring boyfriend, if he has survived a rough storm at sea. Complicating the wedding preparation is a surprise visit from Evie's mother whom she has not seen for years, and an enormous dead whale stuck in shallow waters, the body of which is stinking up the island. An apt metaphor for Winter Island's outsize role in Evie's experience, and a hint to the force of this compelling novel.

The novel is also full of intercuts of scientific facts about marine biology and sea life, and excerpts from Evie's application to the Sea Institute, where she works. These dry, objective recitations give us a brief reprieve from van Meter's stunning, if heady, language, and her wild characters. They also emphasize Evie's symbiotic relationship to the island, which, like her, has been shaped by forces both natural and human.

The narrator of Creatures, Piper Goodeve, has a low-pitched voice and subtle delivery. Her reading has a battered-by-the-waves quality that is in good company amongst van Meter's creatures.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss

Christine Wells. Sisters of the Resistance.
Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld.
Digital download. 11 hours, 4 mins.
HarperAudio. 2021.

Sisters of the Resistance is based on Catherine Dior's spy network in Paris during World War II. The addition of Dior fashion is a fascinating twist for WWII fiction. Reading about such brave and courageous women who were willing to take so many risks during such a treacherous time is always compelling for fans of historical fiction, and the excellent narration of this book adds another layer of authenticity to the story. Set in Paris during 1944 as well as in Paris in 1947, the story centers around two sisters, Gabby and Yvette Foucher, who live at 10 rue Royale. Gabby works as the building superintendent, taking care of the daily needs of the residents and the building, including Christian Dior and his sister Catherine. Yvette is a delivery girl for the fashion House of Lelong, and becomes a favorite of a French actress who is having an affair with a Nazi officer but is hiding secrets of her own. Each sister becomes embroiled in complicated aspects of the French resistance efforts, at their own peril. The novel follows them through the war, along with their reunion in 1947 after Yvette has fled to America.

As many novels about WWII do, Sisters of the Resistance crisscrosses between these two distinct characters and two distinct time periods which can be tricky to follow in an audiobook. In this case, the author has chapter headings with both the character and the year, which is helpful. Saskia's narration transports the reader to Paris and adds a very authentic touch. An additional helpful detail would be if the narration differentiated between the sister's voices who are the two main characters of the novel; however, the chapter headings do help keep things clear for the reader.

Christine Wells is an Australian author who has written fifteen historical fiction novels centered around strong female characters. Saskia Maarleveld is an award–winning narrator who has recorded over 160 audiobooks in various accents. She claims that growing up in a large family, audiobooks were the only way she could get through long car rides without fighting!

Reviewed by Stacey Charbonneau

*Emma Goldberg. Life on the Line: Young Doctors Come of Age in a Pandemic.
Read by Sandy Rustin.
Digital download. 9 hrs.
Harper Audio. 2021.

The six young recent graduates of medical school journalist Emma Goldberg describes in her as-it-happened narrative Life on the Line: Young Doctors Come of Age In A Pandemic, could have been bystanders as so many Americans were (and still are), but when given the opportunity, they chose instead to graduate early and jump right in to hospitals in New York City which were the hardest hit in the early days of the pandemic. These inexperienced doctors were expected to immediately care for patients and to protect themselves from the disease and the concerns of their families.

These doctors highlighted reflect a wide range of students. One was a young woman whose Chinese parents practiced traditional cures. Another was finishing her schooling doing a short stint in France and who flew home when people did not yet know how serious the epidemic was nor the risks of flying. Another was the child of American Jewish parents who had been looking forward to living his first year in NYC, enjoying his relationship with his young lover. Instead he had to figure out how to share the same apartment and how not to infect him. A young Hispanic woman raised by a single mother and a grandmother who was a nurse. Some really had struggled to become a doctor, others had a more privileged route. All had to find ways to deal with the professional challenges and their personal challenges as well, all very well described by Goldberg from contemporaneous documentation. This book also covers dealing with underlying issues, for example how class, culture and poverty affect patient treatment and fears. Goldberg also offers some suggested solutions.

Narrator Sandy Rustin sounds like a young, educated, enthusiastic person, eager to learn, insecure sometimes but also able to do their jobs when called upon with youthful confidence that probably helped them through the challenges.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Dean Jobb. The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer.
Narrated by Steven Crossley.
Digital Download. 9 hours, 43 minutes.
Workman Publishing. 2021.

Dean Jobb, a Canadian author, has written true crime before. The Case of the Murderous Doctor Cream is a worthy addition to his bibliography. In an era when poisons were just becoming detectable by coroners, Thomas Neill Cream finished medical school and set up practice. By all accounts, he was a mediocre student but a charismatic and brilliant killer who persuaded a number of people to take the poisons he gave them under the guise of medicine. Constantly pursuing money through nefarious means to live a luxurious lifestyle, his greed was part of his eventual undoing.

Jobb didn't write a book that simply detailed Cream's calculating murders; he included lots of fascinating information about how people lived in the Victorian era. Forensic tests and detective methods we take for granted today had in many cases not yet been discovered while Cream was poisoning his trusting victims. It is both astonishing and disturbing at how many times law enforcement failed to apprehend him and the courts failed to convict him. Several lives could have been saved.

Narrator Steven Crossley graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and has recorded hundreds of audiobooks in various genres. His semi-voiced narration is dramatic and engrossing. Listeners won't want to shut the book off while he articulates Cream's dastardly deeds. Recommend this to true crime lovers and history buffs who don't mind their history a bit gruesome.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant
Alan Mikhail. God's Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World.
Read by James Cameron Stewart.
13 CDs. 16 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

From the chair of the history department at Yale University Alan Mikhail, comes this very detailed history of the Ottoman Empire with information that will change the listener's thinking about Muslim origins, Christopher Columbus' story, the history of slavery and much more. The focus is on the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries but Mikhail dips into how these origins impacted the modern world. Some of the chapters are quite accessible for the general reader. Filled with unfamiliar names and places, the dedicated listener will get a general idea of the scope of the empire and the intent to spread Islam and the ferociousness with which they pursued the goal, while at the same time, Western Europe was equally determined to spread Christianity.

Trained at Hull University and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England, James Cameron Stewart is a veteran actor whose performances include roles in theater, film, and television. His credits include Outlander, Jericho, Flying Blind, Golden Years, Emmerdale, London's Burning, Eastenders, Coronation Street, and Holby City. Despite Stewart's excellent and engaging narration the appeal will be for a narrow audience.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
*Monique Faison Ross, with Gary M. Ross. Playing Dead: A Memoir of Terror And Survival.
Read by Janina Edwards.
5 CDs. 6.5 hrs.
Highbridge. 2019.

Monique Faison Ross was born in San Francisco and grew up in San Diego. Her father is Earl Faison, the San Diego Chargers football player, and her mother, Barbara, is an industrial engineer.

Monique and Chris, who dated in high school and college, have a baby and then marry. At a family meeting Monique's father Earl said the best thing for Chris was to join the military so he could have money and medical coverage for his family. The relationship was shaky from the very beginning, but they still spent many years together and added 2 more children. Chris put in for a transfer of the family and was stationed in Japan for 3 years. Monique always suffered Chris's verbal and then physical abuse to her, their children, and even the family pet. Finally having had enough, Monique decides it's better for them to get a divorce, so she and the children move into an apartment -- which starts Chris's reign of stalking and terrorizing his family leading first to a cease and desist order, then to arrests for stalking, among other charges. Finally he takes Monique in front of their children and drives to a construction site, where he rapes Monique and tries to beat her to death. Even after she survives this near death experience, Monique still hasn't see the last of Chris. This is a powerful, inspiring story of survival, extraordinary in the scope of what has happened to her and how she manages to face it all and come out stronger.

Janina Edwards' narration is excellent. I sometimes forgot that she wasn't Monique speaking.

Reviewed by Terry Cervantes

*A Good Day at Auschwitz. Includes an interview with playwright Stephen Tobolowsky and LATW. Producing Director Susan Loewenberg.
Stars: Alan Mandell as Abe and Stephen Tobolowsky as Himself

Digital download. 1hr 36 mins.
LA Theater Works. 2021.

It's difficult to say that this personal history of a man who survived unbearable conditions for three years in one of the most horrific places in the world is an enjoyable experience -- but it is. A Good Day At Auschwitz by Stephen Tobolowsky is also very much about kindness and understanding.

The characters of Abe and Stephen are based on real people, and their friendship is a bond based on their mutual upbringings in Judaism and how it helps them in times of need. When Stephen's mother dies, he asks his rabbi how he could honor her and the rabbi suggests saying the kaddish prayers with 9 other Jews for 30 days. Stephen joins a group of congregrants, some of whom are in mourning themselves and some attend to ensure there will be 10. This is where Stephen meets Abe.

Stephen is an unemployed young actor. Abe is a retired, old, three-year survivor of Auschwitz. By the time Abe meets Stephen, he is an old man who has come to terms with the good and the bad of his life. Soon, they decide to meet everyday for a corned beef sandwich breakfast and a little schnapps and other times when Abe shares with Stephen his life before the Holocaust, during it, and afterwards.

Abe's story is fascinating, and his attitude and approach to life is amazing. Abe has suffered the loss of family members and the way of life he was born to, but he used his uncanny judgment and ability to make the best of what he is and has, which is the intelligence and agility to read situations and survive them. He even managed to fall in love three times while in Auschwitz.

Abe has his camp tattoo removed by a friendly Arab tattooist, just after he meets Stephen because he's ready to never be haunted by his past again; but he is more than ready to tell Stephen his story and Stephen is willing and happy to adjust to Abe's habits, like drinking schnapps for breakfast, in order to gain the wisdom that his friendship and understanding with Abe can give him.

This is a love story. A story of how Abe's love of life makes it possible for him to survive the worst and make the best he can of what he has been given. Listening to this story, you've got to love Abe and enjoy that Stephen was able to benefit from their friendship.

Stephen's writing and his reading are so genuine and sincere and funny, that it is hard to imagine that any other actor could capture this relationship with as much empathy and honesty as he does. However, if Alan Mandell could bring Abe back to life so well and so believably, I guess anything is possible.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss.