June 2021
Adult Reviews
Jane Harper. The Survivors. A Novel.
Read by Stephen Shanahan.
10 CDs. 12 hrs.
Macmillan. 2021.

Australian journalist and suspense novelist Jane Harper has recently emerged into the mystery/thriller literature canon. Her fourth book, The Survivors, does not pack the same punch as her preceding novels including The Dry and The Lost Man, but it does hold its own. Harper has a talent for visually creating vivid spaces and atmosphere so listeners get a feel for the Australian isolated setting and its special characters and The Survivors is an excellent example.

The Survivors focuses on the story of Kieran Elliott who returns to his hometown, a small coastal town in the Australian state of Tasmania, with his newborn baby and girlfriend, Mia. When Kieran was younger, he made a mistake that cost people their lives, including his brother. His parents still live in the town- his mother struggling to care for his father despite her husband's deteriorating mental health. Kieran is not the favorite person of many townsfolk who blame him for his mistake that cost lives. When a body is discovered on the beach, buried secrets begin to wash ashore.

Harper has been highly praised for her ability to write suspense and a gripping mystery, and this accolade is not undeserved. Narrator Stephen Shanahan adeptly handles the storyline and multitude of characters. His gentle Australian accent does not try to differentiate the voices of those speaking, and yet the listener can still easily follow along. He has narrated all of Harper's previous novels.

Although this is not Harper's strongest novel (I recommend you start with The Dry or The Lost Man if you want to explore her work) it is excellent and holds its own among excellent mysteries and thrillers. Shanahan's narration handles the storyline well and propels it along, allowing the listener to follow the story as action ramps up.

Reviewed by Lynn Blair
*Peter Heller. The River. Read by Mark Deakins.
8 CDs. 7.5 hrs.
Books on Tape. 2019.

This is a wonderful, sad and beautiful story of two young men who meet as freshmen in college. In spite of many similarities and differences in their personalities, they are drawn together. They are both lovers of the wilderness and have learned many skills: fishing, canoeing which they put to good use in a trip on the Mawkwa River in Canada.

What starts as a pleasure trip for which they are well prepared, things change quickly. Instead of leisurely fishing and enjoying the wilderness, they encounter trouble. They hear a couple fighting in their boat and they find out about an approaching fire. Next, they meet a man who tells a story of how his wife has gone missing in the wilderness. He doesn't know about the wildfire which is approaching them. The young men go to the couple's campsite to see if they can find his wife and find her injured and left for dead by her husband. They take care of her as best they can and then realize that her husband had tried to kill her. Later they are robbed by another fisherman who is holding a young woman hostage.

There is no shortage of other problems: bears, fires, lack of food, caring for a woman with serious injuries and 2 different sets of enemies who aim to kill them.

This is a rough and ready wilderness story; but it is mostly about the two young men who have become life-long friends and who appreciate each other's skills and personalities. Mark Deakins' skillful narration captures the author's vivid descriptions. Listeners will experience the characters' emotions and fear in light of the fires and threats surrounding them.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Nathaniel Lande. While The Music Played.
Read by Bronson Pinchot.
12 CDs. 15.5 hrs.
Blackstone. 2020.

Journalist, filmmaker and prolific writer, Nathaniel Lande's excellent and deeply moving novel tells the story of Hitler's war from the perspective of German teen Max Mueller forced to become an adult too quickly. The story recounts how the lives of Max, his friends and family, change as Hitler and the Nazis gradually infiltrate Europe, slowly at first, then more rapidly as the Nazi "Final Solution" takes shape and is implemented. Film/television actor and Award-winning audiobook narrator, Bronson Pinchot, assigns each character an identifiable, emotional voice, excellently mastering accents of the different nationalities and classes, in addition to keeping the pace, the mysteries and the grim perspective in view.

Life was good in Prague in 1939. Max Mueller, an adolescent with a gift for music, piano tuning, and a budding journalist, found many doors and relationships open to him as the son of the noted German orchestral conductor, Viktor ("Poppy") Mueller. In addition to Hans Krasa, Czech composer of the famous children's opera, Brundibar and Anna Kingsley, British journalist for the Observer (London), Max's compatriots were David ("Topper") Gruenerwalt and Sophie, a teenage Jewish girl from Vienna, whom he grew to love. Max at 12 years of age is a young German student with great talent who believes in the goodness of all and loves for his famous Poppy. However, when the Nazis begin rounding up Jews, including his friends Max doesn't know whom to believe, what to think. Especially when his father becomes an officer in the German army and a close associate of the ruthless Nazi SS General Reinhard Heydrich (responsible for the murder millions during the war and nicknamed "The butcher of Prague"). Immediately, Viktor sends Max to Terezín/ Theresienstadt concentration camp (promoted as a "spa" for cultured and privileged Jews) where Hans, David, and Sophie had already been sent, to stay for the duration of the war.

Throughout this coming-of-age novel, Max finds his grounding in music, as do many of the other characters, even the German officers. Max, a protected German, tries all he can to help his friends, taking advantage of his father's connections to obtain medicine, musical equipment, and food for Terezin. Once the transports begin moving Jews from other concentration camps to Auschwitz, Max realizes with a shock where the war is headed and the looming fate of the Jews, even those at Terezin. Ultimately, Max learns the secrets which have protected his existence, as well as the secrets that hold danger for him. While the music played, there was hope, and Max and his friends knew how to wield its power for good as in their production of Brundibar.

Nathaniel Lande has written a well-researched story about the period, as well as a personal glimpse into the horror and grief of the outcome. An excellent, if heart-breaking, novel for adults and some teens, which reveals the horrors of war and its aftermath.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
Jenny Milchman. The Second Mother. A Novel.
Read by Samara Naeyemi.
11 CDs. 13.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Julie Weathers arrives on Mercy Island off the coast of Maine ready to make a new start in life. Having recently lost her young daughter to sudden infant death syndrome and fallen victim to alcohol abuse through her enabler husband, David. she had left teaching for the past year. After their divorce, Julie's desire to relocate and resume her career leads her to the one-room schoolhouse on remote Mercy Island. When she arrives with her beloved, loyal dog, Depot, however, she discovers that the island is controlled, its inhabitants "owned," by the ruling family of Hempsteads, under the iron fist of the matriarch MaryAnn. She collects and records secrets on everyone, so that she can blackmail their support for her every endeavor – or else. Julie becomes especially fond of the Hempstead grandson, eleven-year-old Peter Meyers, one of her middle-school students. She pities the control and pressure he feels his every move controlled by his family. His mother, Martha Meyers, shows little compassion or love for the boy, which leads Julie to try all the more to help him. When her often intoxicated friend, Ellie, meets a tragic fate, and Julie learns that Mike Cowrie has been spying on her for Mrs. Hempstead since before she left New York, she becomes determined to protect Peter, and keep safe herself. Her blooming romance with lobsterman, Callum McCarthy, gives her a measure of local support, when she can't find it anywhere else on Mercy. What is driving Mrs. Hempstead's efforts to control the islanders? Can Julie uncover Peter's real story? Can Julie learn the truth before she is fired and forced to leave the island? Narrator, Samara Naeyemi, provides unique voices for all the characters from Peter and the other children, to the women and men of the island, to the elderly Hempsteads, as well as to the Captain and MaryAnn herself. Julie demonstrates courage, dedication, persistence, and strength as she confronts the historical and social traditions of Mercy Island.

Jenny Milchman's The Second Mother audiobook is suspenseful, gripping, especially as it nears its unexpectedly shocking and emotional climax. The author captures the flavor of the Maine coast and its lobstering communities, but all is infused with gothic mystery and tension. This audiobook will appeal to teens and adults alike who love fiction about the Maine coast, family and dog stories, and novels of mystery and suspense.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
Kristen O'Neal. *Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses
Narrated by Soneela Nankani.
Digital download. 12 hrs, 30 min.
Recorded Books. 2021.

Priya thought her life was over after being diagnosed with Lyme disease a few months ago. Her only solace to moving back home and having to take medical leave from Stanford is her online friend Brigid. Then when they join an online group for young people with chronic illnesses, they get another light in the darkness. When Brigid disappears online for 3 days, Priya just knows something is wrong and does something she has never done before. She steals her family car and drives the hour to Brigid's home to check on her. What she finds there changes her life. She never could have imagined that she would find Brigid turned and discover that she was a werewolf. With the help of a local animal control guy, Spencer, they try to conceal when Brigid turns and help her figure out the how and why of her lycanthropy. What they really discover is true friendship and a new outlook on life.

Award winning narrator Soneela Nankani is a classically trained actress who began her career as a performer in theatre, film, and television. She lends an authentic voice to Priya and all the characters and brings to life the many chats and text conversations that take place in the book. Soneela makes you feel when the characters are suffering and when they are desperate. Listening provided an enhanced experience. I loved that every character in the chat had their own voice and personality. No one felt flat.

This reader felt this was a great slice of life novel into someone with chronic illness. But at its heart, it is about community, friendship, and family. For fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost
Connie Palmen. Your Story, My Story. A Novel.
Read by Guy Mott.
7 CDs. 9 hrs.
Brilliance Audio. 2015/2020.

Connie Palmen's novel, Your Story, My Story is primarily for fans of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. And Palmen captures the passionate and turbulent relationship between these two literary icons. Those not familiar with their relationship and marriage (or Sylvia Plath's history and suicide in 1963) should probably start with a non-fiction account to get a feel for their story. In Your Story, My Story Hughes tells his side, in beautiful and complex prose but listening can be a challenge due to the twisting and turning nature of the storyline.

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes are polarizing characters due to their complicated, passionate, and, in some cases, toxic relationship. Most aware of their stories are on one side or the other. And most, it would seem, are on Plath's side. Connie Palmen took a risk in writing this fictional account from Hughes' perspective. The prose is complex, well written, but at times can feel heavy and unnecessarily dense. However, as it is poet and writer Hughes' narration perhaps the flowery language suits. The way the characters are written, it is hard to find a positive or likeable aspect of either, instead we see a portrait of two individuals struggling with their own vices and their art, their writing and poetry.

Guy Mott's narration is effective and interesting to listen to. Hughes narration and story flow well in Mott's hands. His characterization of Plath's voice does not feel as genuine with the way he narrates her parts. No matter which side the listener is on-Plath, Hughes or undecided- it is undoubtedly interesting to hear Hughes' perspective. A worthy but not outstanding addition to the Plath and Hughes canon.

Reviewed by Lynn Blair
*Andrea Penrose. Murder at Half Moon Gate. A Wrexford and Sloan Historical Mystery, Book 2. Read by James Cameron Stewart.
10 CDs. 12.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2018.

James Cameron Stewart's wonderful narration will transport you to 19th century London, England, Lords and Ladies and maybe Sherlock Holmes hiding somewhere in the fog.

Murder at Half Moon Gate is the story of the theft of the plans for a steam engine innovation that takes place immediately at the beginning of the book when an inventor is found dead in the fog one night and his plans gone. Lord Wrexford is assisted in the resolving the mystery by Charlotte Sloane, writer, political cartoonist, who has three street urchin helpers who prove themselves very useful in finding clues in places like chimneys. Sloane and her boy sleuths are clever and indispensable as are the many interesting suspects - all part of the foggy entertaining mesh of the dark story, with a touch of romance, masterfully related by Cameron.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
Nora Roberts. Under Currents.
Read by January LaVoy.
12 CDs. 14.5 hrs.
Macmillan. 2019.

Young Zane and Britt are living a nightmare. Their parents are abusing them and threatening their lives if word gets out.

Darby is living her own horror story. The man she married isn't who she thought he was. The punches and kicks prove her error.

Under Currents, by Nora Roberts, is about triumph over abuse from the eyes of two children and a newlywed, long after their abusers are put behind bars. When the three meet as adults, and after receiving counseling and support, they form an unbreakable bond. But will it be strong enough to survive the darkness that is just around the corner?

Narrator January LaVoy's soothing vocals easily draw listeners into Roberts' story. There is nothing harsh or raspy or uncomfortable about LaVoy's presentation. While not quite distinct, each character's personality is evident because of the author's word choices and the narrator's pacing.

Zane resonates gentleness. Darby oozes confidence. The abusers (Zane's father and Darby's ex) scream demented and angry and violent. And the supporting cast of, well, supporters shower the protagonists with love, encouragement, and direction. LaVoy manages each emotion well by varying her speed, volume, tears, and laughter.

LaVoy has narrated hundreds of audiobooks for as many authors, including James Patterson, Lisa Scottoline, Jeffrey Deaver, and Nicholas Sparks. She is also an experienced actress on Broadway and television, and on the big screen.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
Joel C. Rosenberg. The Beirut Protocol.
Read by George Guidall.
9 CDs, 11.5 hrs.
Brilliance Audio. 2020.

The Beirut Protocol by Joel C. Rosenberg takes listeners on a suspenseful ride behind enemy lines along the border of Israel and Lebanon. Star recruit Marcus Ryker and his team of U.S. operatives are on a routine advance trip along the border when they are ambushed and taken captive by Hezbollah forces. Torture ensues as the captives are led deeper into hostile territory. Will they escape before they are killed? It seems unlikely.

Narrator George Guidall has been tasked with bringing Rosenberg's latest Markus Ryker novel (#4) to life. Guidall has a deep, raspy, grandpa-like voice that emanates wisdom and gentleness. While Ryker, the lead, is still young, Guidall's experienced tones add to the main character's persona.

Guidall's vocals offer little variation between characters unless they have Middle Eastern accents. The male characters are strong and commanding, while the handful of female cast members host a slightly gentler tone. Guidall's pacing is often staccato, but this doesn't detract from the story.

Guidall has narrated well over 1,500 titles for authors such as Steven King, Daniel Silva, Elie Wiesel, Wally Lamb, and Vince Flynn. He has also appeared On and Off Broadway, and on the small screen.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold

*Katherine Rothschild. Wider Than the Sky.
Read by Sandy Rustin.
Digital download. 8 hrs 32 mins.
Recorded Books. 2021

Sabine Braxton and her twin Blythe, have just suddenly lost their dad, and to top it all off a week later their mother has moved them to a rundown mansion in a new town with a mysterious man they have never meet. Charlie seems to know all about them and to have been their dad's best friend even though they have never heard of him before. Sabine wants to get to the bottom of who Charlie is and find a way for their family to leave the mansion. But when she finds out about her dad's secrets and who Charlie really is she feels betrayed and unwanted. She is more determined than ever to leave this town. With the help of her new friends, Emma and Kai, she sets out to destroy Charlie's plans. When she realizes that she is destroying more than just Charlie's plans she has to rethink her core beliefs.

Sandy Rustin is an actor/ comedian/ narrator/ writer. Her passion for the portrayal of a character shines through. She makes Sabine come alive and you feel like you are right in her head the whole story. When Sabine "poets" you feel how she just can not hold it in anymore and the stress of holding it in. The listener feels Sabine's emotions and doesn't question her motivation, even if they do not agree with her actions. Sandy did an amazing job and I would listen to anything she narrates.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost

Victoria Shorr. The Plum Trees.
Read by Xe Sands.
Digital download. 7 hrs., 33 min.
Highbridge Audio. 2021

I have read many stories of the Holocaust and found this one to be one of the best in describing the courage and humanity of the victims. Narrator Xe Sands excellent interpretation of the characters that ranges from a contemporary middle-class American researching her family's story of the young Czechoslovakian girls and their family who couldn't believe what was happening to them when the Nazis first arrived in their city, to their horrific war-time experiences, and to quiet courage they developed to survive.

When a favorite uncle dies in California, his niece, Consie, flies across the country to attend his funeral. She had always felt close to this uncle, one of the last of his generation. She felt drawn to attend and meet other relatives as she didn't have much information about what had happened to her grandfather and other relatives, although she knew that he and her grandmother and three young girls who were to be her aunts had all been in Auschwitz during the war and that some had survived. Through information Consie gathers from relatives who heard stories from her aunt Magda, she learns about the comfortable life the family had lived in what is now modern Czechoslovakia until 1938-39 when the Nazis took over the country and the family was taken to death camps. The three young girls were separated from their parents almost immediately and their parents were killed. Family lore said that her uncle had escaped, but she had never talked to him about it.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of the young girls who risked death every day in the camps but learned what they needed to know to survive. Their recounting of the circumstances are described as only intelligent, kind and innocent young girls who were committed to keeping themselves alive could relate. With the war ending, they were marched out of the camp as were thousands of others who were able to escape and survive.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss

Tracey Enerson Wood The Engineer's Wife.
Read by Libby McKnight.
Digital download. 14 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

The wife in the title is Emily Warren Roebling, who was instrumental in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The historical Emily (1843-1903) was from an upper middle class family, the second youngest of 12 children. She was an engineer with a degree from N.Y.U. She also studied math and science and at the age of 56 got a law certificate from N.Y.U. Her brother Gouverneur was the commander of the Fifth Army Corps during the Civil War. Washington Roebling served under him and he and Emily were married in 1865. After the war they traveled to Europe to research technical problems related to a project his father John Roebling was planning for a bridge over the East River. The bridge was to be 1,596 feet long, the longest suspension bridge in the world for many years connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan. However, some worried that steel wire rope would never be strong enough. But on May 24, 1883 Emily rode across the bridge during its dedication in the company of President Chester Alan Arthur and New York Governor Grover Cleveland. This novel tells the story of Emily, her troubled marriage, her aspirations, and her place in the bridge construction.

The marriage begins well enough but Emily is for the women's vote and higher education. Wash is not in favor of suffrage. John Roebling dies in 1869 and Wash takes over the construction. However, he develops caisson disease and so Emily is tasked with taking his orders to the workers. Wash was confined to his bed so Emily took notes, studied and went to the site daily. She also kept records, answered mail and was eventually praised for her work. She and Wash's troubled marriage is a key element in this novel. Because of his lack of attention, she dallies with P.T. Barnum, who has a circus and museum in Manhattan. In the novel they share one passionate kiss, but they go no further, though the temptation is there. Eventually Barnum proves the bridge's safety by marching 17 camels, and 21 elephants, including the world famous Jumbo, across the span.

The novel is carefully researched, historically accurate, with added touches of drama. Emily's story is narrated by Libby McKnight, a recent graduate of Julliard, with a Master of Fine Arts degree. She creates convincing diverse characters such as Barnum, old cranky gentlemen, suffrage supporters, an Irish accent, and a little boy's voice, Dramatic scenes include deaths and accidents as well as a riot in 1883 when 12 people were trampled to death in a stampede sparked by a rumor that the bridge was in danger of collapsing. The novel is highly recommended for its personal dramas and its details of bridge construction.

Reviewed by Janet Julian

*Matthew Algeo. All This Marvelous Potential. Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia. Read by David Colacci.
7 CDs. 8 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

As politicians and activists debate the best way to alleviate persistent poverty in the US, journalist and author Matthew Algeo reminds us that the argument is age-old. In All This Marvelous Potential, Algeo rewinds to the 1960s, when the focus was on poverty in Appalachia. Decades of strip mining, unsafe working conditions, and poor education had destroyed the region's environment and leeched the people of opportunities and options. But in a strategy that feels familiar from today's politics, Robert Kennedy was not only interested in touring Appalachia because of the low literacy levels, malnutrition, and rampant unemployment there, but because the region was crucial to luring white voters away from Lyndon Johnson, whom Kennedy was considering challenging for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.

Algeo's study of Kennedy's tour is meticulous. He considers each moment of Kennedy's itinerary and quotes verbatim from his speeches. Algeo discusses the origins of the so-called "War on Poverty," the humanitarian and environmental abuses of the coal industry, and the debates around welfare and food stamps. Because the book is anchored by the tour, this social and historical information provide necessary context, but it is the contemporary interviews that makes Algeo's project so compelling.

Algeo brings humanity back to the voting block by interviewing people who met or listened to Kennedy speak during his 1968 tour of Appalachia. Algeo interviews the adults who were students in the small schoolhouses which Kennedy visited, and alumni of Alice Lloyd College, where Kennedy gave a speech and took questions from the audience. Algeo asks them about their impressions of Kennedy back then, their current feelings on politics, and the state of the region in the years since Kennedy's tour. He also meets with residents who are dedicated to improving living conditions in the region, like one man who is building wildlife refuges on formerly strip-mined land. All of Algeo's thoughtful interviews drive home the fact that, while there has been some progress, the marvelous potential of Appalachia, and other impoverished places, remains largely uncultivated.

Reader David Colacci is a credit to Algeo's affecting portrayal of a controversial topic and a bruised part of the country. Although another, less thoughtful reader may have lapsed into hackneyed accents for the quotations (of both working class residents of the region and of Kennedy), David Colacci's unadorned, calm narration never distracts from Algeo's powerful examination of Appalachia.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
*Noe Alvarez. Spirit Run. A 6,000-Mile Marathon ThroughNorth America's Stolen Land.
Read by Ramon De Ocampo.
5 CDs. 5.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

Author of this moving memoir Noé Álvarez is a son of Mexican-American immigrants who do the debilitating work of picking apples in Yakima, Washington. His anger over their hopelessly harsh lives impelled him to search for his own place in the world by joining the runners in the brutal 'Peace and Dignity Marathon' set up to protest the cruel treatment given by whites to Native North Americans - a 6000 mile six month race from British Columbia to Guatemala through Indigenous communities in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, and Mexico. It has been called "the longest prayer in the world" that expresses sorrow that their indigenous traditions, spiritual practices, cultures, and even their languages have been denigrated by the settlers who stole their homelands. Both men and women, his companions in the race are very varied, but they all have "wounds to carry and heal." Each morning they take a staff decorated with eagle feathers, which recognizes their Indigenous identity as they pass through the small towns and villages on their route, and end each day with a closing ceremony. The author's vivid portraits of the racers and his descriptions of the natural beauty of the countryside mix with his personal accounts of constant hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and pain immersing the listener deeply in his experiences.

Accomplished actor Ramon De Ocampo speaks so crisply and forcefully that he could be Alvarez himself telling of the sorrows and indignities of Indigenous people. Along with an authoritative pronunciation of Spanish names and his changes in tone to differentiate among the male and female runners, DeOcampo intensifies the listener's interest in their personalities and stories.

Reviewed by Pat Dole
*Claudio Saunt. UnWorthyRepublic. The Dispossession of Native Americans And The Road To Indian Territory.
Read by Stephen Bowlby.
9 CDs. 11.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

White supremacists and invaders in the first half of the nineteenth century triumph in their determination to oust Native Americans in the East from their age old homes, farms, and traditions and banish them to areas west of the Mississippi River.

Their rationalization, supported enthusiastically by the slaveowning American president, Andrew Jackson, was that the exile will be for the natives' own protection from the constant pressure by white settlers to gain more living space by taking over the property of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole and other eastern aboriginal nations.

Actually, plantation owners, particularly in Georgia, having exhausted the fertility of their properties growing cotton, wanted fresh fields, to be maintained by the continuation of slavery. In addition, Northern bankers and tycoons were rampant and successfully made large profits, as did the businesses hired by the government to provide supplies and transportation of the cheapest quality for the exodus.

Furthermore, greedy and ruthless whites had already begun building houses and raising crops on natives' land before they had even emigrated, and afterward seized all the possessions they were forced to leave behind.

There were aboriginal leaders who tried to stand up legally for their rights, and some native groups refused to leave, beginning hostilities against federal troops trying to force them out. Some even said they liked living with whites. A few small groups hid and survived, but thousands went west, traveling by jam-packed steamboats part way and then walking many more miles often in terrible weather and beset by illness and death to their desolate destination in Oklahoma (known as Red Land).

Author Saunt, a distinguished professor of American History at the University of Georgia, has researched his work carefully and strengthens the evidence of the disgraceful treatment of people of color in the United States.

Narrator Stephen Bowlby has a clear, robust, expressive voice, both appropriate and useful for a long account of white persons' attitude and behavior.

Reviewed by Pat Dole

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