January 2021
Adult Reviews
*April Davila. 142 Ostriches. A Novel.
Read by Sarah Mollo-Christensen.
7 CDs. 9 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

Set on an ostrich farm in California, April Davila's first novel, 142 Ostriches, is a story of a family of independent people whose life choices are not always reasonable. It is filled with colliding personalities. Like the 142 ostriches that Tallulah inherits from her Grandmother Helen, each of the family members, alive and dead, are somewhat ornery.

Tallulah is the daughter of the eldest child who clashed with her mother as a teenager and ended up raising her only child by herself. That child was "rescued" by her grandmother at the age of 13 from Oakland and brought her back to the Mojave Desert to help her raise her ostriches. Tallulah decides at the age of 23 that she needs to leave her grandmother, her boyfriend and her aunt and uncle and cousins for a contract job with the fire service in Montana. Her grandmother is soon in a crash on the highway and dies, leaving everything to Tallulah, apparently tying her down to the farm. Her grandmother's funeral brings the family together, long enough for each to get mad at each other, especially after Tallulah makes it known that she is selling the farm to her grandmother's lifetime farming competitor. Even the ostriches are upset and stop laying eggs. The ending is dramatic and chilling, but also hopeful.

Narrator Sarah Mollo-Christensen reads with a rough at the edges melodic style that really drew me in. None of the family members are perfect and some have fallen prey to drug problems in the desert and the story which starts with an old woman possibly deliberately crashing her truck on the highway to a fire and the death of another family member at the end, making the story and her narration a show of the tenacity of human (and ostrich) beings.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
Jude Deveraux. A Forgotten Murder. A Medlar Mystery.
Read by Susan Bennett.
10 CDs. 11.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

This is a light mystery with a dose of romance that will be popular with an audience that enjoys the genre. Sara Medlar plans a trip to visit an old friend in England who runs Oxley Manor, a special hotel, the expensive repairs of which have been financed by Sara. Accompanying her are her niece Kate and their friend Jack. Unbeknownst to Kate and Jack, Sara has an ulterior motive – to solve an unsolved crime that occurred years ago at the hotel. Also invited are all the people who were staying at Oxley Manor when the crime occurred. Narrator Susan Bennett uses an American accent, with dialog in American and British accents that are very good, along with a Southern accent (American) that is authentic.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
Charlie Donlea. The Suicide House.
Read by Vivienne Leheny.
9 CDs. 10.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

In this complicated thriller, it takes a while to figure out what's going on, but everything gets sorted by the end.

Forensic reconstructionist Rory Moore and her psychologist partner, Lane Phillips, become involved in solving the murders of two students at a prestigious prep school, the suicide of the teacher accused of the murders, and the subsequent suicides of other students. The plot is sinister and suspenseful, with lots of twists and turns.

Vivienne Leheny's multi-voiced narration is a good fit for the story and carries the chill in the story. She captures especially well, the well-developed character Rory, who suffers from OCD and is on the autism spectrum. Some of the female voices are a bit high and come across as a bit childish. Overall this is a gripping listen and will attract and hold listeners who enjoy the genre.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig

*LJ Ross. Bedlam.
Read by Richard Armitage.
5 CDs. 5.75 hrs.
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books. 2020.

Forensic psychologist and criminal profiler Dr. Alexander Gregory along with his mentor, Professor Bill Douglas agree to help the FBI on a case in the Catskills, a world away from his usual workplace in London. Gregory goes undercover to Buchanan Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital to which the wife of a notorious criminal has been admitted. She is the key witness in his upcoming case. In the process of solving the case, Gregory's background (hitherto secret) is revealed. More psychology than profiling a needed here, but both Gregory and Douglas are up to the job. Popular British actor Richard Armitage's American accents are very good, as is his Scottish burr, and he reads with a compelling voice. He will draw listeners in and won't let them go until the final pages of this more than just a mystery/thriller.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
*Pamela Binnings Ewen. The Queen of Paris. A Novel of Coco Chanel.
Read by Gabrielle De Cuir.
12 CDs. 15 hrs.
Blackstone. 2020.

If you are fascinated by Coco Chanel The Queen of Paris is the listen for you. Award-winning author Pamela Binnings Ewen's novel recounts the early days of Coco, the trials and challenges she endured early in her career. Her early life was filled with heartache and betrayal -- from the father who abandoned her, the lover who betrayed her, and the business partner who stole from her. She endured these heartaches with passion and cunning. The biggest test of Coco's life was in WWII when she spied for the Nazis to save the life of her son, held captive in a concentration camp. During the war Coco lived comfortably in the Hotel Ritz in Nazi occupied Paris. Many of the women occupants of the Hotel cozied up to the Germans for favors. This made her a "Collaborator" in the eyes of her countrymen. As the Germans finally fled Paris as the allies advanced on Paris, Coco's life was threatened by the Free French resistance, who pursued collaborators. She survived and thrived. An attorney who retired to write fiction, author Pamela Binnings Ewen's meticulous research is apparent in The Queen of Paris and her detailed nuances make Coco Chanel's story mesmerizing, engaging, even heartbreaking.

Grammy nominated and Audie Award winning audiobook narrator Gabrielle De Cuir has narrated more than 400 titles. In addition to fantasy and humor, she specializes in titles requiring foreign languages and accents and her talent truly shines in her reading of The Queen of Paris. As Coco Chanel, she makes listening entrancing; highly recommended.

Reviewed by Mercedes Smith
*M.R.C. Kasasian. The Room of The Dead. A Betty Church Mystery.
Read by Emma Gregory.
10 CDs. 11.75 hrs.
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books. 2019

Detective Inspector Betty Church and her group of off-beat constables at the Sackwater police station in East Suffolk, England are quite busy. It's December 1939 and England is preparing for war with Germany. Betty is dealing with her own battles, trying to gain acceptance as a female police detective, even with people in her own station. The war finally hits Sackwater when the Germans bomb a residential section and poor little Sylvia Satin is left without a family. Betty is suddenly overwhelmed by the results of the bombing, plus a sudden rash of missing persons and the discovery of a dead body on the beach.

Emma Gregory's narration adds depth and brings the characters to life making the listen truly enjoyable. Gregory is a graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Besides being a voice actress, she has appeared in film and the stage.

British author MRC Kasasian has had multiple careers -- a factory worker, wine waiter, veterinarian assistant, and a dentist. Now he is known for his Gower Street Detective series and more recently his Betty Church Mysteries.

Reviewed by Mercedes Smith
Elizabeth LaBan. Beside Herself. A Novel.
Read by Erin Bennett.
7 CDs. 8.5 hrs.
Brilliance. 2019.

The beginning of this novel leads the listener to believe that husband and wife Joel and Elizabeth, who have been married happily for a number of years and who have 2 young children, are going to get divorced because Elizabeth accidentally discovers that her husband has had an affair with an out-of-town colleague, which didn't last long and Joel swears it is over. How does a marriage survive a betrayal like that? And why should it?

After much angst and Joel's attempt to find a good marriage counselor without much luck, Elizabeth decides that she should have an affair, and, after discussing it with her husband, she further decides she needs to have one for the sake of their two adorable children.

The details of her attempts to arrange an affair are very funny and how her husband deals with them shows way more tolerance than one might expect. None of her dates seems to work out until she asks the caretaker/administrator at her husband's father's nursing home to have a "pretend affair."

The children are adorable and the father-in-law, who was a famous broadcaster, and their mutual love of Philadelphia football all play important roles.

Narrator Erin Bennett provides distinct voices for the main characters without overly exaggerating accents or getting hysterical or too mad. She provides delightful voices for the two children. Enjoyable to listen to, unusual, somewhat unrealistic, but in a good way.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Juliet Marillier. A Dance with Fate. Warrior Bards Book 2.
Read by Raphael Corkhill, Moira Quirk, Alex Wyndham.
14 CDs. 16.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

A Dance With Fate
, the second installment of Marillier's Warrior Bards Trilogy (with The Harp of Kings), is an enjoyable fantasy tale set in a world of Celtic mythology. The tales in this series are narrated in the first person by Liobhan (a headstrong young warrior), by Brocc (Liobhan's adopted brother), and by Dau (a young nobleman) in separate chapters. In this installment, Dau is accidentally blinded while in a training match with the highly competitive Liobhan. When Dau's estranged family demands that he be returned to live with them along with proper compensation for his injury that includes having Liobhan serve as a bond servant for one year, Dau and Liobhan leave Swan Island. Dau had left home while still an adolescent because of his ill treatment by his treacherous older brother Seanan. Seanan has not changed and after they arrive at the family estate, he torments Dau and Liobhan. After Dau discloses his brother's true nature to the family of a prospective bride for Seanan, Seanan abducts and tortures Liobhan. Dau discovers where she is being tortured and rescues her but they must fight against Seanan and his men in order to survive. Meanwhile Liobhan's half-brother Brocc arrives with a stone giant from the Otherworld and is able to subdue Seaman and his men. The stone giant who has recently been healed himself restores Dau's eyesight with a magic potion. Dau confronts his father and Seanan but Seanan claims all that has happened is not true. When Seanan's other brother admits that Dau is telling the truth about his mistreatment as a child, Seaman is banished. This installment in the trilogy ends with Dau and Liobhan who now recognize their deep love for one another returning to Swan Island. Raphael Corkhill, Moira Quirk, Alex Wyndham provide excellent semi-voiced readings as they bring the characters to life by using appropriate voices and accents as well as by the timing in their readings. Their joint narration deserves three Stars—one for each reader!

Reviewed by Hugh M. Flick, Jr.
*Alyssa Maxwell. Murder At Crossways. A Gilded Newport Mystery, #7.
Read by Lauren Ezzo.
7 CDs. 8.5 hrs.
HighBridge Audio. 2019.

There are eight novels so far in the Gilded Newport series; this is book seven. As usual Emma Cross, niece of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, is on hand to solve two murders. Only three weeks earlier she had helped discover the culprit at Ochre Court, assisted by friend, Newport police detective Jesse Whyte.

It is the end of the season for the 400 in elegant Newport, Rhode Island and the last gala, the Harvest Festival, is being hosted by Mamie Fish, wife of millionaire railroad tycoon Stuyvesant Fish. Eligible bachelors and young debutantes are seeking mates. And Emma Cross, acting editor-in-chief of the Newport Messenger is reporting on the event. The grand finale is to be the arrival of Prince Otto of Austria, nephew of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Joseph. Otto, born on the wrong side of the blanket, was legitimized by the emperor who gave him the courtesy title of prince. Still, he is a famous guest but is a bit late. In the meantime, Mrs. Clews is down by Spouting Rock drowning.

Men race to her rescue and save her. However, the screaming is not over, as some youngsters discover a bloated body. "A man, his face bloated and fish-belly white, eyes glazed and blank." At first Emma sees a resemblance to her half-brother Brady, whose father supposedly drowned in a yachting accident about thirty years earlier. The corpse is not Brady. Could it be instead Stuart Gale III? Emma has a photo of Gale with her mother on their wedding day. She investigates.

And then more horror. Prince Otto's body is found in the garden hung up like a scarecrow. His wound is identical to that on the other corpse. Someone has stabbed both men through the rib cage and into the heart with surgical precision. Only someone with medical knowledge could have done it. Emma investigates. And Mamie Fish, using her social clout, also investigates. The killer threatens their enterprise. And someone is sabotaging the newspaper.

Finally, a third victim with a similar wound. The only clue is a length of blue thread.

Other complications include cocaine, alcoholism, embezzlement, blackmail, and a kidnapping which ends in a cemetery.

Award winning narrator Lauren Ezzo reads. She has over 150 titles to her credit. Noted for her work with accents, she brings the novel to life with excellent character creation. Both men and women are equally well rendered. Both the series and the narrator are highly recommended.

Reviewed by Janet Julian

*Felicity McLean. The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone.
Read by Cat Gould. 7 CDs. 8 hrs.
HighBridge. 2019.

Felicity McLean's atmospheric descriptions, her realistic dialogue, and excellent narrator Cat Gould's Australian accent are the stars of this first novel that examines the mysterious disappearance of three young sisters and the resulting coming of age of two other sisters, all friends during the summer of 1992, in an Australian small town.

Sisters Tikka and Laura, swim, explore and hang out with the three other young sisters, beautiful Cordelia, Ruth and Hannah Van Apfel in 1992. Tikka is especially good at coming up with adventures and plans for plays and outdoor adventures. Laura, the older sister, is a little more subdued.

The Van Apfel parents are extremely religious and demanding, and their daughters often have unexplained injuries. One afternoon, the girls are all subjected to Mr. van Apfel giving a bible lesson to the girls, casting a very creepy feeling over the girls. Then the three young sisters "are gone." Tikka and Laura suspect Cordelia, the oldest and most beautiful of the three sisters, might have planned to run away. Although the town searches, Cordelia, Ruth and Hannah are never found.

Thirty years later Tikka and Laura feel they might have stopped the disappearance of the girls if they had told their parents what they knew. But they were young and much was confusing, and adults in general were not as attentive in 1992 as they are today to the dangers young girls might encounter. Tikka and Laura are still feeling confusion, and guilt, about the mysterious disappearance; and they search for answers to what happened. The resulting tale is full of surprises.

Narrator Cat Gould's Australian accented reading ages as the voice of the young girl transforms into that of a grown woman's and adds terrifically to the suspense of the story.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss

*John Sayles. Yellow Earth.
Read by Gary Tiedemann.
19 CDs. 16.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

Award-winning writer, actor, screenwriter, film director John Sayles' fifth novel Yellow Earth narrated by Gary Tiedeman is set in North Dakota where the land is "shared" between the native people who have long owned the land and the newish settlers and/or current residents. When oil is found underground in a small town, all bets are off about whose land it is and who will profit from it and who won't take over the plot, saving room for the impact on locals, outsiders and original owners. Then it's fracking, fracking, fracking and the town and the people are all shaken up. Unfortunately, they all get shafted.

The many characters in Yellow Earth are all well developed as only Sayles can do. I especially loved the story of the long haul truck driver and the local shyster being taken advantage by the big city shyster. The story was so realistic, it was almost too hard to listen to as you realize this kind of thing is happening every day and is unlikely to stop any time soon. Fortunately, Tiedeman's outstanding narration is so good, listeners will be riveted and want to listen to the end, as I did.

Reviewed by
Nola Theiss

Danielle Steel. Royal.
Read by Nick Afka Thomas.
7 CDs. 7.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019.

When a royal princess is sent away to avoid the London bombings during World War II, little did the King and Queen know that she would fall in love, marry, have a child, and die, all in less than a year. Royal is the story of the deceased Princess's daughter who was raised as a commoner and was unaware of her royal lineage until another death unearthed the well-kept secret.

It is always perplexing when a publisher chooses a male to narrate a female-heavy story, and vice versa. Actor Nick Afka Thomas is tasked with the challenge in Danielle Steel's Royal. Thomas's deep tones will frequently remind listeners that a man is telling the story. Fortunately, the tale is interesting enough to distract from that fact. Every so often, however, listeners will likely notice Thomas's baritone vocals and wonder why a female isn't bringing Princess Chalotte, the Queen, and the other royals to life. The male characters in the novel, including Charlotte's step-father and love interest, are well presented.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
*Emmanuel Acho. Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man.
Read by the author.
4 CDs. 4.5 hrs.
Macmillan Audio. 2020.

Emmanuel Acho grew up in Dallas, Texas, a child of Nigerian immigrants. He had an upper middle class upbringing, attending a prestigious majority-white prep school, a far cry from his subsequent stint in the NFL where the majority of his teammates were Black. He became a sports announcer first on ESPN, and is now a sports analyst for FoxSports. He is the creator of the ongoing online video series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man out of which this book was written. He begins each section with a question he has received from his audience and then proceeds to answer it. The results are dramatic, dynamic, eye-opening and important.

Acho's narration is conversational and absorbing. However, his tempo is a bit too fast. Listeners really need to pay close attention to absorb the content and might have to listen twice to get it all. Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man contains so much needed information and reflections on racism in the United States, that some might want to take notes; easier done by reading the book. However, this is a must listen/read for everyone.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
Amy Fish. I Wanted Fries With That: How To Ask For What You Want and Get What You Need
Narrated by Andrea Gallo.
Digital Download. 7 hours, 12 minutes.
Recorded Books. 2019

It's always helpful to be able to speak up in this world. Knowing how to do it gracefully and with confidence is the key to getting what you want, or at least to try and get what you want. Amy Fish's book is full of real-life scenarios to help you see situations in your own life that you could improve upon, such as getting crisp lettuce for your sandwich, returning an expensive purchase with no receipt, or dealing with a relative always late for Sunday family dinner. Sometimes the anecdotes fall flat; the author adds a lot of side notes into her stories, which Andrea Gallo has to interpret as she's reading them. Sometimes these don't work. Perhaps it's the narrator's grandmotherly tone of voice or perhaps it's the quirkiness of the anecdotes or the author's commentary that doesn't always translate well to audio. This book walks a fine line between humor and self-help. Some of the ideas to solve problems are unrealistic and probably even more so for people already struggling with speaking up. Some of the real-life examples are meant to be humorous, while others are more serious. The narrator's tone doesn't change from example to example. Ms. Gallo is a three-time AudiofileEarphones award winner, and has narrated over 100 fiction and non-fiction audiobooks. She has many regional theater credits to her name, and has also performed on both film and t.v.

Reviewed by Stacey Charbonneau
Alice L. George. The Last American Hero: the Remarkable Life of John Glenn.
Read by John Pruden
Digital Download. 9 hours, 55 minutes.
Tantor Audio. 2020.

John Glenn was much more than a legendary astronaut, as George's book proves. Once his military and spaceflight career ended, he entered politics and continued a life of service, culminating in a space shuttle flight in his 70s. He was devoted to his wife, Annie, and they raised two children together. Through it all, his unwavering moral compass guided him and greatly influenced those around him. One particularly fascinating section in the book details his close friendship with Robert Kennedy and his family. Although almost universally regarded as a hero, Glenn was not perfect. His political career peaked at the Senate level, and a failed run for the presidency ended in financial ruin due to mismanagement. It is these mistakes and foibles that make him an excellent subject to profile.

John Pruden has narrated dozens of audiobooks. In addition, he does voiceovers for training videos, radio and television commercials. His compelling voice holds the listener's attention, and the narration is engaging. Recommend this book to lovers of history, biographies, or the United States Space Program.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant

*Anneka Harry. Gender Rebels. 50 Influential cross-dressers, Impersonators, Name-changers, & Game-Changers.
Read by Suzanne Jones, Anneka Harry, Gemma Cairney, Maya Jama.
7 CDs. 8 hrs.
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books. 2020.

It takes a lot of energy to be angry all the time, yet there is so much to be angry about. Consider the gender discrimination and homophobia that forces women to disguise themselves as men in order to make a living, pursue their dreams, or love whom they choose. In many parts of the world, this is still a reality. 2019 marked the first year since the Iranian Revolution that women were permitted to attend a soccer match. There are many countries in which being gay is still a crime. Think about it too long, and you will scream until you lose your voice. Gender Rebels is read by four narrators: author Anneka Harry, Maya James, Suranne Jones, and Gemma Cairney. Each reader speaks in a boisterous, decidedly unposh – at least to this American ear – English accent, and these readings ramp up the fun of Gender Rebels. I especially enjoyed Anneka Harry's narration in her West Midlands accent, which emphasizes the cheek of this informative, irreverent, and empowering book.

Gender Rebels profiles fifty extraordinary women who faced discrimination so suffocating that they chose to hide, either temporarily or habitually, under male identities. From Queen Hatshepsut, who proclaimed herself male to rule Egypt, to Ellen Craft, an escaped slave who masqueraded as a man to reach freedom in the northern United States, their stories will disgust you afresh about how the world treats women.

Anneka Harry, presenter, comedic actor, and author of Gender Rebels, acknowledges the unfairness, but she also understands how exhausting rage can be. And so Gender Rebels is history told by your funniest friend, which softens the blow of ceaseless misogyny quite well. Her comedic style of storytelling also emphasizes how heroic and brave these women were, which can get lost when we focus only on how tough they had (or still have) it. To take one example, in Harry's chapter about Catalina de Erauso, a nun turned Spanish lieutenant born in the late sixteenth century, she describes de Erauso's escape from a restrictive convent. According to Harry, "She opted for the only safe escape she had: to become a man. Catalina would utilize more disguises during her lifetime than we all do trying to create multiple, one-month free trial subscriptions."

While Harry clearly has done her research for Gender Rebels, the more recent stories show her skills as an investigative journalist. Harry interviewed Iranian women to better understand the story of Sahar Kodeyari, who set herself on fire after being imprisoned for disguising herself as a man in order to watch live soccer. Her chapter about the Pakistani squash pro Maria Toorpakai, who dressed like a boy in order to learn squash, then had to hide from the Taliban to not to be killed for her "crime," is particularly powerful, and will have you pulling out your wallet to donate to Toorpakai's foundation.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
Bettye Kearse. The Other Madisons. The Lost History of A President's Black Family.
Read by Karen Chilton.
7 CDs. 7.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Bettye Kearse's excellent story of her journey is an enlightening and fascinating detailed historical record, as well as a moving personal perspective on African-American experience, past and present. She remembers her mother telling her "Always remember—you're a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president."

In fact, Bettye Kearse is a direct descendant of James Madison's only child, James, born of an enslaved cook on his plantation, because he had no children with his wife, Dolley. When her mother knows she doesn't have long to live, she brings Bettye the cherished box of family memorabilia. She tells Bettye that she must now become the "griotte" for the family, the person who holds in memory and communicates the stories of the family. The griotte was important because without a written language, the griotte's job was to preserve oral history through storytelling. Her mother hopes and believes that Bettye, a well-educated professional woman, will eventually write a book about the mixed-race descendants of the Madison family. Overwhelmed at first, Kearse reads widely about slavery in Virginia, visiting the museums and libraries which have preserved relics of the slave period, including Monticello itself. Speaking with archaeologists, historians, and descendants of slaves, she realizes that much history of those times is either recorded inaccurately or silenced altogether. She experiences considerable racial prejudice as she conducts her research, traveling not only in the South but also as far away as Ghana, the homeland of her family, and the coast of Portugal, location of the port for the slave ships. An excellent resource for adults and some high school students, this audiobook carries a vital message for today's Black Lives Matter movement.

Narrator Karen Chilton reads Kearse's story, capturing the emotion of her disturbing visits to preserved slave quarters and slave ships, her reactions to those in the South who misjudge her mission, her intelligence and her level of education. Chilton's delivery is measured and professional, a tribute to her subject.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
*Damien Lewis. Churchill's Hellraisers. The Thrilling Secret Mission to Storm a Forbidden Nazi Fortress.
Read by Matt Bates.
10 CDs. 12.25 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

Churchill's Hellraisers. The Secret Mission to Storm a Forbidden Nazi Fortress is an exciting account of one of the most daring raids of WWII, hitherto unknown even to WWII aficionados. Two paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines and along with a group made up of British and Canadians, Italian resistance fighters, US airmen, a Scottish bagpiper, and escaped POWs, they plan to destroy Nazi headquarters, a fortress located in the rugged mountain terrain of Italy. With colorful, swashbuckling characters who are not averse to ignoring orders, this is an exciting account of a little known operation. There are lots of names and pseudonyms to keep track of, but narrator Matt Bates does an excellent job with all the accents and a variety in the narration that is always a necessity for reading nonfiction. He enhances these assets by using a good tempo throughout. Listeners who are into WWII (of whom there are many) will enjoy this addition to the history.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
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