March 2020

Adult Reviews
*Andre Aciman. Find Me.
Read by Michael Stuhlbarg.
7 CDs. 8 hrs.
Macmillan. 2019.

Find Me is an intimate, emotionally interconnected set of stories about relationships – romantic, marital, filial and parental. It is also a sequel to Call Me By Your Name, though written 12 years later and after the popular movie version.

Familiarity with the earlier book or the movie may set up expectations with which you approach this new novel, in either book or audio form. You might, like me, be surprised that the narrative starts with a long section featuring Sami, father of the young man, Elio, who was the main character in Call Me By Your Name. You might wonder when the story of Elio will continue and might feel "sidetracked" by the story of Sami, now divorced and about to fall into a late-in-life love affair with a younger woman as they travel together on an Italian train. You will discover, however, as you are drawn into this smoothly-read beginning tale, that Find Me is a story of mature love, in all its facets and full emotional range, not a continuation of Call Me By Your Name's coming-of-age paean to first love. Consequently, Sami's story is actually a well-chosen place to start.

Find Me is read beautifully by Michael Stuhlbarg, who also happens to be the actor who played Sami, Elio's father, in the film Call Me By Your Name. Stuhlbarg's is a fully-voiced reading, even and sweetly subtle, as he clearly differentiates the three narrators of the piece – Sami, Elio and Oliver, Elio's older lover from Call Me By My Name, who is married to a woman and teaching college in the United States. Stuhlbarg also does a lovely job with the voices of the minor characters – Sami's love interest, Miranda; Miranda's father; Michel, Elio's lover in Paris; Oliver's wife and two of his graduate students.

This three-part character study gets better as it flows along. The second and third parts are stronger than the first and more emotionally vibrant, as Elio and Oliver are slowly drawn back together after ten, then fifteen and finally twenty years apart. The written material is enhanced by both the lyrical quality of Stuhlbarg's reading and the classical music interludes which mirror Elio's profession as a classical pianist. An interview with Michael Stuhlbarg at the end of the audiobook is a delightfully interesting and illuminating extra feature.

Reviewed by Martha J. Cohen
*Selma Almada. The Wind that Lays Waste.
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews.
Read by Almarie Guerra.
3 CDs. 3 hrs.
HighBridge. 2012/2019.

Gringo Brauer's repair shop barely registers in the dusty, drought-destroyed wasteland of rural Argentina where The Wind That Lays Waste takes place. It is rarely anyone's intended stopping place, since there's a better shop in town, but when Reverend Pearson's car breaks down on a desolate road, he considers the Gringo's shop to be a Godsend. For the Reverend, any accident or unplanned stop is another opportunity for proselytizing. For his surly teenage daughter, Leni, it's yet another detour on their routeless journey to save every soul, which she is accustomed to but no less bothered by. Gringo Brauer, a heavy-smoking, beer-drinking, former Don Juan, is past saving, but the same cannot be said for his young assistant, Jose, known by all as Tapioca. When Reverend Pearson sees something special in Tapioca, he makes it his mission to save the boy from his Godless life. Leni, whose cynicism about her father's religion and her frightening intelligence – demonstrated through her memorization of whole Bible passages that she recites in mockery of her father's heartfelt, earnest evangelism – is better matched with the Gringo's worldview. As these four are stuck together while the Gringo fixes Reverend Pearson's car, and then, during a powerful, almost supernatural storm, the draw of family and the power of religious devotion cuts and crosses through the two unlikely pairs.

The Wind That Lays Waste beautifully contrasts the views of the four characters, revealing their unusual histories, similar only for their abandonments, and the secrets and silences that are used to smother curiosity and mask pain. Reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Almada harnesses magic, both that which is present in Christianity and in the folk traditions of the country, to illuminate why characters hold on so strongly to their beliefs, and to heighten the story's tension and mystery.

Reader Almarie Guerra's interpretation of each of the characters is skillful, from the cigarette-roughened sound of the Gringo to the country naivete of Tapioca. While she has the flexibility to capture the sound of each of this multi-faceted story's characters, she shines as the sarcastic, doubting Leni, her voice sounding like the vocal equivalent of an eye roll.

Award-winning author Selva Almads was born in Entre Rios, Argentina in 1973. She is considered one of the most potent and promising literary voices in Argentina and Latin America.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
*Charlie Jane Anders. The City in The Middle of The Night.
Read by Laura Knight Keating and Jennifer O'Donnell.
12 CDs. 13.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2018/2019.

Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders' science fiction tale The City in the Middle of the Night is set on a distant planet which always has one side facing its sun so only one side of the planet gets warmed by the sun. At some point, a number of generations in the past, a human space ship colonized the world they called January, settling along the border between the hot/cold light/dark zones. The story follows a young human female student named Sophie who is wrongly accused of a crime and subsequently cast outside her border city into the frozen dark zone. Sophie is saved by a member of an ancient indigenous sentient species who have adapted to living in the frozen dark zone. This species does not communicate with words but shares thoughts through direct physical touching. Sophie secretly returns to her city for a while but realizes that she has more in common with the alien species than with her fellow humans. She tries unsuccessfully to bring other humans into contact with her new friends so that they can learn to live in peace with one another and learn from one another. Eventually she breaks her one strong attachment to a fellow human and ends up being welcomed into the alien city deep underground in the frozen dark zone. She decides to allow them to surgically give her the physical means that will allow her to communicate with them. However when they send her back to the human warm zone to continue her peace efforts, she becomes a hunted fugitive because of her new physical differences.

This intriguing tale is told partly by Sophie in the first person and partly by an external narrator. Laura Knight Keating and Jennifer O'Donnell split their readings in line with the narrator changes. They both provide skillfully use a wide range of voices and accents.

Reviewed by Hugh M. Flick, Jr.
*Kate Atkinson. Big Sky.
Read by Jason Isaacs.
10 CDs. 11.5 hrs.
Hachette. 2019.

Jackson Brodie, former cop, military veteran, and now private investigator, appears in this fifth volume in award-winning British author Kate Atkinson's Brodie series, though he is not the main character here. A cast of other individuals, each with his or her own story/problem, populates this, humorous at times, novel. Each chapter is different, with different characters so there are lots of threads to keep track of.

British actor and narrator Jason Isaacs characters' voices are very appropriate and colorful, especially the Scottish, and the author's excellent development of each personality enriches the book. Isaacs played Brodie in a BBC tv series developed from Atkinson's books. For those new to the series (like this reviewer) it takes while to catch on to the backstories; those familiar with the books will have no problem. Big Sky is an interesting story that will appeal to Brodie fans and likely send new readers to the earlier books in Atkinson's series.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
*Tania Bayard. In The Presence of Evil. A French Medieval Mystery.
Read by Steven Crossley.
8 CDs. 10 hrs.
HighBridge. 2018/2019

*Tania Bayard. In The Shadow of The Enemy. A French Medieval Mystery.
Read by Steven Crossley.
8 CDs. 9.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2018/2019

Tania Bayard is a freelance writer and lecturer specializing in medieval art and culture. She is the author of several books (including A Medieval Home Companion: Housekeeping in the Fourteenth Century) but these are her first works of fiction. She has chosen as her main character a real person of some distinction. Christine de Pizan (1364-c. 1430) was born in Venice to a man who became a secretary, scholar, physician and astrologer for Charles V of France. Her father moved the family to Paris when Christine was four. She grew up in the French court with the dauphin who became Charles VI in 1380. He was known as Charles the Mad after a murderous rampage in 1392. His uncles took over the realm and everyone looked for treatments for his illness. Christine married at 15 to the court secretary Etienne du Castel. They had three children, but Etienne died of the plague in 1389, leaving her as the sole support for her three children, a niece, and her mother. Fortunately her father had encouraged her education, although her mother discouraged it. Thus it was that Christine became an influential writer, beginning with romantic ballads and moving on to books of advice for princesses, princes, and knights, as well as ordinary wives. Her works remained in print until the 16th century. She was a pioneering feminist writer who maintained that women were the equals of men, a revolutionary idea at the time. Tania Bayard has chosen an excellent main character.

And now to Tania Bayard's first mystery novel In The Presence of Evil. Queen Isabeau wants a book to present to her favorite lady-in-waiting and hires Christine to copy it. On her way to the palace she picks up a small white dog but is nearly knocked down by a hooded man in black with bare feet, who grabs a prostitute named Agnes by the throat. Another prostitute, Marion, stops the man from vandalizing the brothel and makes him drop a large book with strange symbols on the cover. He threatens Agnes and retrieves the book, which he takes to the queen's residence. Later Christine happens upon his dead body, a dagger through his heart. Later one of the king's favorites, Hugues de Precy, is found poisoned and his young wife Alix de Clairy is accused, imprisoned and about to be executed. Christine believes Alix is innocent and sets out to investigate, putting her own life in danger. Bayard cleverly mixes domestic and cultural details in with the tense drama. The case is solved and the murderer is a surprising one.

In the sequel, In the Shadow of the Enemy, Christine again must help the royal family, specifically the queen, who is desperate to help her mentally ill husband. The drama begins during a ball thrown to celebrate the wedding of the queen's favorite lady-in-waiting. The ballroom is packed with nobility when men covered in pitch and straw burst in and scream wildly. The king's idea of humor. The scene soon turns to tragedy when someone sets the men on fire and four of them are burned alive before the horrified spectators. The king escapes, but now the queen is sure someone is trying to murder him. Who better to investigate than Christine? She has another mystery to solve when Martin du Bois disappears and his young wife Klara is taken in by Christine's mother, sympathetic to her plight. Klara's brother is also missing. More death and destruction before justice is meted out. The novel is filled again with domestic details.

Both novels are brilliantly narrated by Steven Crossley, whose talents with accents and drama are unsurpassed. He is and award winning narrator for good reason. Both the novels and the narration are excellent. I hope Bayard adds more books to this series. And I hope Crossley narrates them.

Reviewed by Janet Julian
Sandra Brown. Outfox.
Read by Victor Slezak.
12 CDs. 14 hrs.
Hachette. 2019.

FBI agent Drex Easton is determined to catch suspected serial killer Weston Graham. Known by several aliases, Graham ingratiates himself into the lives of unsuspecting wealthy women, including Drex's own mother, and kills them for their fortunes. After getting a tip about Graham's whereabouts Drex goes on nothing short of a quest to find all the evidence he needs to put this monster in jail before he adds to his long list of victims.

Graham's latest identity is the charming Jasper Ford. Drex rents a small apartment next door to Ford and his wife Talia Shafer. Extremely confident that Ford is his serial killer, Drex is able to insinuate himself into their lives. As he puts the mystery together with the evidence, Drex's interest turns to Talia. The attraction between them complicates matters as Drex has to determine whether she is innocent and about to become Ford's next victim or if she is an accomplice. Drex's mission to catch the killer is hampered by one particular FBI supervisor. This creates a side story that detracts a bit from the main quest but revenge is sweet in the end.

Narrator Victor Slezak is an American film, stage and television actor who has appeared in dozens of productions. He is the narrator of choice for Sandra Brown's books. His familiar drawl is typically pleasing and though he uses only one voice, there is no problem differentiating between the characters.

Like most Sandra Brown romantic thrillers, Outfox is a quick, very enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Robin Demas
Selene Charles. The Long Goodnight. (Grimm Files, Book 2)
Narrated by Chelsea Stevens and Shaun Grindell.
Digital Download. 9 hours, 31 minutes.
Tantor. 2020

Detective Elle is questioning her whole world after her partner, Maddox, told her that Hook, her dead lover, is alive. His visions are never wrong, but they have to be now. There is no way that Hook can be alive. He died in her arms. While trying to come to terms with her lover possibly rising from the dead, she is also working the biggest case that Grimm PD has ever had. The Slasher Gang has upped the anty and their body count is on the rise. The entire force is trying to bring them down. The pieces are not making sense to Elle but, she can sense that great evil is coming and is not sure if she is strong enough to fight it.

Chelsea Stevens continues her work from the first book in this new adventure. Chelsea continues to breathe life into the characters of Grimm. The different accents for different characters make you feel like you are right in the story. This time a new narrator joined in the telling. Shaun Grindell, an accomplished actor who trained at the Colland School of Speech and Drama and Lee Strasberg Actors Institute in London. Shaun lends his talents to the chapters that are from a male character's point of view. He does a great pirate accent and really puts you into the feel of the gang. This listener did not like the pace he used for the Maddox chapters. This listener's other feelings are that it was unnecessary to have a second narrator. Chelsea does a great Maddox accent and there are so few chapters that are not from Elle's perspective that a second voice seemed unneeded. Overall, the second book is amazing and will keep reader's wanting more. For fans of The Dresden Files and Fables.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost

Delilah S. Dawson. Black Spire. Star Wars, Galaxy's Edge.
Read by January LaVoy.
11 CDs. 13 hrs.
Penguin/RandomHouse 2019

Galaxy's Edge: Black Spire is a story that seems best experienced as an audiobook. Ambient sound effects accompany nearly every scene: the hum of spaceships, the blast of weapons, and the clamor of forests and streets create a multilayered experience for the listener. Narrator January Lavoy brings stage and television experience to the narration, as well as her experience narrating several other Star Wars audiobooks. Her work lends a solid, believable foundation to the world of Black Spire, and she skillfully performs dialogue from iconic Star Wars characters such as Leia Organa without mimicking their original actors. Lavoy's reading enhances and elevates Black Spire.

The story of Vi Moradi, a capable young spy on a mission assigned by the justice-seeking Resistance on a remote and wild planet, is simple enough that newcomers to the Star Wars universe will have an easy enough time enjoying the book. Though the book tells one overall story, the narrative breaks down into distinct episodes, making this a great listen for those who plan to often stop and start the audio. However, the descriptions linger on the details of Spire Outpost, undoubtedly to play up excitement for Disney's new Galaxy's Edge theme parks in Florida and California. The extent to which the park is a part of the story borders on distraction, and the actual plot of Black Spire is thin, albeit fast-paced, compared to the lush descriptions of Spire Outpost. It's challenging to feel as if the book is not, first and foremost, an advertisement. That being said, young fans of Star Wars may very well find this story thrilling, and it hits enough of the beats of a classic ragtag adventure story to be satisfying for the entire family.

Reviewed by Madison Bishop
Michelle Frances. The Temp.
Read by Susan Lyons.
10 CDs. 12 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019.

Best selling author, film and TV editor and producer, Michelle Frances' The Temp is a predictable mystery. The story involves 3 main characters: Adrian, a seemingly gifted, definitely full of himself TV writer; his wife, Carrie, a writer and producer and Adrian's partner at work, who desperately wants a baby and gets pregnant without Adrian's enthusiastic support; and Emma, a young gifted writer who hasn't found a place for herself in the entertainment world. Her parents try to be supportive, but they are both successful people who don't quite understand their daughter and treat her like the baby bird on the edge of the nest and are more than willing to give her a little push.

When Carrie feels overwhelmed by the baby, Rory, and also overwhelmed by not being at work, she asks to come back to the office part-time. She is told that the only way that would work would be if they could find someone who could be her assistant and co-producer. Emma had recently interviewed for a position and she is hired. Most listeners of this genre could predict the many ways all this will come together and also come apart. The ending is somewhat unbelievable, far too convenient, yet also strangely satisfying.

Having been as critical as I have been, you might think I didn't like the book. However, narrator Susan Lyon's English accent and dramatic well modulated reading, Adrian's snarky attitude, the nosy neighbors and the ambiance of the studio and Adrian's homes made for a delicious sort of cheese, holes in the plot notwithstanding.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Terry Goodkind. Wasteland. Children of D'Hara. 3.
Read by John Skelley.
4 CDs. 4.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019.

Wasteland, the third installment in best-selling author Terry Goodkind's Children of D'Hara five-part sequel to Goodkind's very popular The Sword of Truth series, continues the story of Richard and Kahlan's efforts to leave the People's Palace and make their way to the Wizard's Keep where they think they will be safe from the machinations of the mysterious Golden Goddess who wants to end magic in the world of D'Hara by killing Kahlan. Kahlan is pregnant with twins who will be able to continue to manifest magical abilities in D'Hara if Kahlan can survive long enough to birth them. Their journey is thwarted by a powerful wizard who has been hiding in the subterranean areas of the People's Palace. This wizard captures the Mord-Sith who are Richard's protectors and lures Richard, Kahlan, and the witch-woman Shale into a trap in the Wasteland subterranean labyrinth. At the end of this all-too-brief episode (only four discs), Richard, Kahlan, and Shale are helplessly hanging by their arms at the mercy of the powerful wizard.

Narrator John Skelley's well-paced reading is very good. His reading effectively captures the events and the emotions of Goodkind's characters. He has a wide range of voices and accents that he uses consistently and effectively.

Reviewed by Hugh M. Flick, Jr.
*Elin Hilderbrand. Summer of '69.
Read by Erin Bennett.
12 CDs. 13.5 hrs.
Hachette. 2019.

Fans of Elin Hilderbrand will immediately welcome narrator Erin Bennett back into their day just like an old friend. The Summer of '69 was one of discovery, awakening, anxiety, fear and enlightenment for the Levin family. While the family always looked forward to summers at their grandmother's house on Nantucket, this year differs when life and obligations pull them all in opposite directions. Each of them struggles through their own experiences and ultimately grows as individuals and together as a family.

Taking place during the turbulent '60s, Hilderbrand's listeners will be brought back to the days of Vietnam, Chappaquiddick and landing on the moon while the characters come to their own truths via first kiss, first experience with racism, alcoholism and loneliness. Triumph with them as they find their way back to each other and overcome challenges through learning, laughing and loving.

For listeners of Hilderbrand's Nantucket based stories, hearing Bennett is the equivalent of stepping foot on the island. This Los Angeles based, award winning voice and stage artist has recorded over 200 titles for several major publishers. Her representation of Hilderbrand's characters is fun overall, whiny when needed and appropriately serious. She makes a good story even more enjoyable.

Reviewed by Robin Demas
*Christian Kiefer. Phantoms. A Novel.
Read by Peter Berkrot.
6 CDs. 6.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2019.

In this engaging and haunting audiobook, Christian Kiefer explores the similarities and differences of two men and their post war journeys. Focusing on the Japanese-American internment camps, he captures one of the most devastating, heartless measures taken by our government to punish innocent American citizens, citizens who fought and died defending this country, because of the Japanese attacks during the war. The actual removal of Japanese families from their homes is described in detail. Narrator Peter Berkrot skillfully, with a calm, measured, relatively quiet voice, gives life to the characters, both American and Japanese-American.

Flashback - As the story opens, Ray Takahashi, a Japanese-American whose family had worked for years on Homer Wilson's fruit farm in the San Francisco area since arriving in this country, returns from his tour of duty in Europe during World War II. Although his father had written that his family, in spite of the protests of the Wilsons, had been sent to a Japanese internment camp near Oakland, Ray yearns to see his home and Helen, the girl he once loved, only to face the anger and racial prejudice of the new inhabitants, and especially of his former mistress, Evelyn Wilson.

Then, in a modern day parallel, John Frazier, nephew of Evelyn Wilson, returns from Vietnam, a psychologically-wounded vet. Without living parents, John begins to readjust to civilian life in the home of his grandmother, a friend of Evelyn's. When Evelyn asks John to drive her to Oakland to see an old acquaintance, Kimiko Takahashi, John has no idea what mystery lies ahead, but the succeeding incidents soon become his story, too. Ray Takahashi never returned to his parents' home after the war. There was no news of him, no evidence of his dying or becoming a prisoner of war. He simply disappeared. Evelyn has long suffered guilt about the missing young man, and although she maintains her distance from and hatred of Japanese-Americans, she tries to convince Kimiko that she cares even after all these years, and will help her in her efforts to find him. John is present in all of the discussions between the two women and is drawn into the story, eventually becoming an integral part of it. John, of course, dealing with his own guilt and "phantoms" from his war experiences, suffers from them, only eventually, developing a voice to write their story in this novel many years later.

What is the Takahashi family to think when their son never returns? Evelyn's renewed contact with the Takahashi family and the eventual unraveling of Ray's story is highly emotional and shocking. Kiefer presents an account which probably contains a high degree of truth, one experienced by many exiled Japanese families.

This audiobook will appeal to adults and some teens who select stories with an international flavor, war stories, family stories, mysteries, and novels with a message about life and choices. Its treatment of issues related to immigration and the reception of immigrants in this country has special relevance today.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
David Lagercrantz. The Girl Who Lived Twice. A Lisbeth Salander Novel.
Read by Simon Vance.
8 CDs. 10 hrs.
Random House. 2019.

Swedish author and journalist David Lagerkrantz's sixth in the series begun by Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy continues the adventures of Lisbeth Salander. In The Girl Who Lived Twice, Lisbeth has disappeared telling no one where she has gone. No one knows that she is tracking her evil twin sister who is determined to kill her. At the same time, Mikael Blomkvist is trying to reach Lisbeth for help with finding the identity of a homeless man who died with Mikael's phone number in his pocket. Lagercrantz does fill in some gaps in Lisbeth's early life and introduces Camilla, her twin sister. But listeners will find the many plot lines (none of them strong) hard to keep straight, and, disappointingly, the two story lines remain separate and never come together.

Award-winning actor Simon Vance has recorded more than 700 audiobooks. As always, he delivers an excellent performance but still he can't overcome the book's shortcomings. The many fans of the series will hungrily reach for this audio but some might be disappointed.

Reviewed by Sue Rosenzweig

*James Lasdun. Afternoon of A Faun. A Novel.
Read by Simon Vance.
4 CDs. 4 hrs.
HighBridge. 2019

A very timely thriller about a man accused of rape in a memoir written by the woman 40 years after the rape occurred. Given the "Me Too" movement, this novel couldn't be more contemporary as the events in the novel occur after the Republican convention picks Trump as the nominee. Marco Rosedale, a journalist and English expat, denies all to his good friend, an unnamed close acquaintance, also an English expat who tells the story, who not only listens to Marco's side of the story but also speaks to the victim to hear her side.

Award winning narrator and British actor Simon Vance, with his varied voices and wonderful ability to narrate descriptive passages, is excellent here. The book has superbly drawn character portraits and plays right into Vance's gifts as a reader. The book goes back and forth from Marcos' testimony to the woman's testimony, with the storyteller's own observations provided liberally. Vance's American accent is perfect. Vance's reading of Afternoon of A Faun should find a broad audience on a variety of levels, as thriller, as social commentary, and as great storytelling.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
*Juliet Marillier. The Harp of Kings.
Read by Frazer Douglas, Moira Quirk, Alex Wyndham.
13 CDs. 15.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019.

The Harp of Kings, the first installment of Marillier's Warrior Bards Series, is an interesting and enjoyable fantasy tale set in a world of Celtic mythology. The tale is narrated in the first person by Liobhan (a headstrong young woman), Brocc (Liobhan's adopted brother), and Dau (a young nobleman) in separate chapters. We meet this trio in their first year as trainees on Swan Island where they are training to be warriors in the Swan Island Mercenary Troop. As a result of their special talents (Liobhan and Brocc are talented musicians and Dau is a trained ferrier) they are chosen to go on a mission to a nearby kingdom where they must recover a missing harp that is required for the coronation of the new king. This particular kingdom borders on an Otherworld with which the kingdom has had a peaceful long-term relationship. They must recover the missing harp before the coronation day since the harp has magical qualities and must be played as part of the coronation ceremony. Liobhan and Brocc suspect that the harp has been taken by magic to the nearby Otherworld and so they find a way to enter the Otherworld. In the Otherworld, they meet and befriend the Faerie Queen. They also learn about the potential horrors that could ensue if the coronation goes through as planned. The three young warriors-in-training must learn to listen to one another and trust one another if they want to succeed in their mission.

Frazer Douglas, Moira Quirk, Alex Wyndham provide excellent semi-voiced readings as they bring the characters to life with appropriate voices and accents as well as by means of the pace of their readings.

Juliet Marillier was born in Dunedin, New Zealand and grew up surrounded by Celtic music and stories. Her own Celtic-Gaelic roots inspired her to write her first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. Her lifelong interest in history, folklore and mythology has had a major influence on her writing. She is the author of seventeen historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults and her novels and short stories have won many awards. She is a memberof the druid order OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids). She lives in Western Australia with a small pack of waifs and strays.

Reviewed by Hugh M. Flick, Jr.
*Adrian McKinty. The Chain.
Read by January LaVoy.
8 CDs. 10 hrs.
Hachette. 2019.

Award winning author Adrian McKinty's The Chain is a contemporary technological version of the old-fashioned chain letters, but here it is a creepy story filled with terror. There seems to be no way to break the chain that involves people who kidnap a random child in order to get back their own kidnapped child. If the parent of the kidnapped child doesn't comply, their child will be murdered. The perpetrators of the chain might have met their match though, in the latest victim, Rachel Klein whose 13-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. Despite the dangers Rachel and her brother-in-law set about finding the perpetrators of this horrific chain. The story gets quite mathematical and technological at times, and there are some inconsistencies but it is also a gripping and very timely example of how technology can be criminally misused. Definitely a thriller that will appeal to those who enjoy this genre. Award winning American stage and television actress January LaVoy delivers a good performance, with good character voicing and drama.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
*Leila Meacham. Dragonfly. A novel.
Read by Christine Lakin, Jefferson Mays, Karissa Vacker, Maxwell Hamilton, Will Collyer, Zach Villa, Nicholas Guy Smith, Neil Dickson, Matthew Waterson, Moira Quirk, and Jim Meskimen. 15 CDs. 18.5 hrs.
Hachette. 2019.

In 1942, the American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) handler Major Alistair Renault, "the man in brown," recruits five young Americans, all born in 1920 through 1922. Fluent in French and German, and possessing special skills, these five will serve their country as spies in Nazi-occupied France. They are Victoria Grayson, a fencing champion; Bridgette Loring, a talented fashion designer; Christoph Brandt, a teacher and athlete; Brad Hudson, a fly fisherman; and Samuel "Bucky" Barton, a civil engineer. Each is given a cover name to provide a French identity beginning with the first letter of their real first names – Veronique Courbet, Bernadette Dufour, Claus Bauer, Bernard Wagner, Stefan Beaulieu. For their own protection, they will only know each other by their respective code names – Liverwort, Labrador, Lapwing, Limpet, and Lodestar. Each wants to perform national service, but each also has a private reason for joining the group. Together, they become a close-knit group code-named "Dragonfly." This complex naming is a bit confusing at first, but gradually, the story takes over with gripping tension, terrifying twists and turns, and nail-biting suspense. The book version includes a list of characters and their aliases. Needless to say, this would be helpful for the audiobook, too. The members of Dragonfly are embedded in French society with the purpose of capturing bits of information to assist the Allies in planning and executing the D-Day landing and the rescue of the Europeans suffering at the hands of Hitler and the Nazis. The Dragonflies only gradually realize that many Germans, even German officers of the SS, have anti-Hitler sentiments and are covertly waging a dangerous, internal resistance against his regime. Whom can they trust? Is anyone what he or she seems to be? Now, twenty years later, the Dragonflies are meeting in Paris at a place prearranged twenty years earlier to celebrate their survival, but one of their number has never been located. Newspapers at the time reported her death by firing-squad, but doubts concerning her demise have been recorded in the work of John Peterson, a historian. Is she dead or alive? They converge upon the reunion site hopeful to learn her fate. Eleven narrators enact the story – five for the five Dragonflies; the rest representing the American and Nazi officers, Renault, and other characters related to the French identities of the Dragonflies. All are excellent speakers, together contributing to the impression that you are listening to a well-crafted play, especially when some of the Dragonflies come under Nazi scrutiny and persecution.

Leila Meacham combines her skills as a researcher, storyteller, and dramatist in this excellent audiobook, which will surely appeal to adults and some teens who appreciate war stories (WWII), adventures, thrillers, historical fiction, spy stories, and emotionally engaging tales of friendship behind enemy lines.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
*Jojo Moyes. The Giver of Stars. A Novel.
Read by Julia Whelan.
11 CDs. 14 hrs.
HighBridge. 2019.

In 1937, while most of the United States is deep in the Depression, Bennett Van Cleve and his father are prospering as the owners of a coal mine in eastern Kentucky. While traveling abroad, they meet Alice, a charming English girl, who may even be related to nobility. Her parents, stuffily conservative, are thrilled that a handsome, wealthy American is dazzled by their restless daughter, who is more than anxious to have a glamorous new life. All are delighted when Alice and Bennett impulsively decide to get married.

Once they are settled in a large house in a backward small town amidst Southern Appalachian hillbillies, Bennett turns out to be extremely cold toward Alice, and her father-in-law is a controlling, arbitrary bully. Alice soon becomes desperate to find some meaningful way to fill her days. When Marjorie, a local woman reputed to be rebellious and trashy, decides to organize a group to deliver books to poor families scattered throughout the mountains--a project financed by Eleanor Roosevelt and the WPA--and forms the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, Alice decides to help,.

After she joins the book-bearing librarians, she finds a new life far beyond her old dreams. She is awed by the beauty of the countryside, deeply moved by the rural peoples' needs, and befriended by the courageous women who are committed to library work despite long, often painful, hours in the saddle and the disapproval of many of the wealthy and very proper townspeople. In defiance of prejudice, a skilled black woman is secretly hired to be their library manager.

With a varied cast of characters, an abundance of trials and dangers for them to face, including love affairs, a flood,and a murder, the novel is a true page-turner with a satisfying denouement. Popular author Jojo Moyes is also the author of Still Me, After You, Me Before You, The Peacock Emporium, The Horse Dancer, Paris for One and Other Stories, One Plus One, The Girl You Left Behind, The Last Letter from Your Lover, Silver Bay, and The Ship of Brides.

Excellent narrator Julia Whelan handles the challenge of portraying multiple males, females, and children by modulating her voice appropriately and expressively, as well as assuming accents ranging from crisp British to Southern variations, while her bridging passages of text are clear and often appropriately dramatic.

Reviewed by Pat Dole
*Tamsyn Muir. Gideon the Ninth.
Read by Moira Quirk.
Download/15 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019

Gideon Nav is a foundling, an indentured soldier for the Ninth House. Harrowhark Nonagesimus is the Reverend Daughter, de facto head of the House and a powerful necromancer. They are the only two of their generation on the planet. They hate each other.

And then the Emperor summons Harrow to the First House, where she will compete alongside representatives from the other seven houses for the legendary position of Lyctor. Problem is, she needs a Cavalier. And the only person who's suitable for the role is Gideon.

Gideon the Ninth is a fantasy novel wrapped in science fiction, bedizened with trappings of gothic mysteries and crackling with the excitement of the best adventure movies. I don't think that it was specifically written to be read aloud, but having listened to it I can tell you that's the superior way to experience it. Each member of the cast is given enthusiastic and nuanced voice by Moira Quirk, and the narrative sweeps you along like a riptide until you wash up at the end of the book, a bit shaky and breathless and ready to do it all over again.

Gideon is a funny, sarcastic delight and her interactions with Harrow have a lifetime of spite behind them; a long-running game where eventually one side will score the winning point. I thoroughly enjoyed their constant quibbling, each insult so carefully crafted for maximum sting. The narrative is lushly (and sometimes horrifically) descriptive without being overdone, and Quirk makes full use of it, letting the listener hear how Gideon feels every step of the way. Her use of accents and vocal tones make it extremely easy to follow along with the story, clearly showing which of the twenty or so characters is speaking with each line.

I absolutely fell in love several times over while listening to this book. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Reviewed by Debbie Baker
*Tony Parsons. #taken. DC Max Wolfe, Book 6.
Read by Colin Mace.
7 CDs. 8.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019.

As I wrote five years ago in my starred review of Parsons' The Murder Bag, the first book in the London Metropolitan Police Detective Max Wolfe series, "narrator Colin Mace sounds exactly like Michael Caine which couldn't be more appropriate for this police procedural starring a smart, tough, brash, young British detective." British actor Mace still sounds like Michael Caine, his voice for Max is now more mature, but still very smart and tough.

Max is still the caring single parent of his now ten-year-old daughter Scout, whom he adores. When Wolfe is working, which is often, he is fortunate to have the caring Mrs. Murphy to take care of Scout and Stan their much loved dog. Max struggles to keep peace with Scout's mother. That he and Scout live, on a policeman's salary, in a "huge" loft apartment near St. Paul's cathedral in London still strains credulity.

In #taken, Max, and his superiors, get caught up in the brutal, professional kidnapping of a young single mother from her car as she was driving home with her infant son. The infant was not kidnapped. The title #taken is the desperate twitter posting by the father of the young mother to use the power of social media to gather information as soon as possible; he is dying, and as a former cop he knows the longer it takes the more likely she will not be found, but most likely will be killed. He wants his daughter back alive and before he dies. Max discovers she was kidnapped by mistake. Ruthless, very rich gangsters pop up offering to help; Max, and his daughter, are threatened; tension mounts. Max's superior is also having difficulties and drinking too much. Parsons' many characters are real in this character driven story. The plot twists and turns frequently and Mace handles all effortlessly. His perfect pace also keeps the story moving right along.

Back then I hoped The Murder Bag was the first of a series and recommended it to fans of Peter Robinson and Michael Connelly. #taken is equally excellent and Colin Mace's narration is perfection. I'll have to search out the titles I've missed in between.

Reviewed by Jean Palmer
*Ann Patchett. The Dutch House. A Novel.
Read by Tom Hanks.
8 CDs. 10 hrs.
Harper Audio. 2019.

Located in the city of Philadelphia, the "Dutch House" has figured prominently in the history of the Conroy family for nearly five decades. Purchased fully furnished in 1946 by Cyril Conroy, a real estate developer, for his young wife, Elna, this 1922 mansion with its ostentatious grandeur eventually becomes the reason for the failure of his marriage. When Elna, a kind-hearted, generous woman with a bent toward helping the poor and disadvantaged, finds the pretentiousness of the house stifling, she abandons her husband and her two children, Danny (3) and Maeve (10) to volunteer her services abroad in India. The siblings, whose father now devotes himself to the distractions of work and grief, must rely on each other, and on the household's two loyal servants, Jocelyn and Sandy, to create a family. Maeve pretty much devotes her life to raising Danny, a substitute mother of sorts. Before long, Cyril marries Andrea, a widow 18 years younger than himself, who has fallen in love with the Dutch House. After moving in with her two daughters, Andrea makes no secret of the fact that she dislikes Danny and Maeve, who equally dislike her. When Cyril dies from a heart attack several years later, leaving the Dutch House to Andrea, she tells them they must leave. Danny then moves in with Maeve who has a job and has rented her own apartment ever since Andrea gave her room in the Dutch House to one of her own daughters. Because their father provided some money in an inheritance to finance the education of his children, Maeve sends Danny to prep school, college, and medical school. The story is told from Danny's point of view, but more is revealed through Maeve's comments and assessments. The novel focuses on their reminiscences of the past, as they return many times to sit in Maeve's car in front of the Dutch House, to consider what they have lost. The novel explores the trickiness of retrospective personal histories. Danny says, "We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we're not seeing it as the people we were, we're seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered." This new perspective allows Maeve and Danny to recognize all of the considerable benefits resulting from their ouster from the Dutch House. The resolution of the story is really quite astounding. When Elna returns, her children finally learn the real reason for her abandonment of them years earlier, and circumstances unexpectedly transform Andrea into a totally different character.

Ann Patchett does an excellent job in this eighth work, probing the frailties and faults of human character and memory, as well as the resilience of purpose and justice. Award-winning actor, Tom Hanks does really "perform," rather than merely "read," this fully-voiced audiobook, entering into the persona of each character, and thereby creating an identifiable voice for each. Although sometimes difficult to follow because the scenes do not always follow chronologically, this audiobook will be enjoyed by adults and some teens who like unconventional family stories, focusing on psychological insights and providing a satisfying ending.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
Alexis Schaitkin. Saint X.
Read by Alex Hyde-White, Bailey Carr, Dana Dae, Dave Fennoy, Dean Gallagher, Denise Nelson, Ella Turenne, Josh Petersdorf, Kate Orsini, Melinda Wade, Prentice Onayemi, Ron Butler, Ryan Vincent Anderson, Tristan Wright.
12.5 hrs. download.
Macmillan. 2020.

In Alexis Schaitkin's debut novel, Saint X, there is trouble in paradise. The Thomas family is enjoying a tropical family holiday on the fictional island of Saint X, when their teenage daughter Alison goes missing on the last night of their vacation. After days of searching for her, she is found dead on a little island across the ocean from Indigo Bay called Faraway Cay. Her younger sister, Claire, is only seven during this vacation, and this tragic event changes the course of her life irrevocably.

Years later in New York City, Claire, who now goes by her middle name Emily, randomly runs into Clive Richardson, one of the young men accused of her sisters murder. She gets into his taxi one day and immediately recognizes his name on the license displayed on the window. Is it fate? As their lives become more intertwined and Emily's obsession with Clive comes to a tipping point, will she ever get the truth from that night so many years ago that derailed both of their lives? The psychological suspense of their relationship will leave the reader wondering what really happened that night and how far Emily will go to learn the truth.

Although the story is mainly told through the perspectives of Emily, Alison and Clive, the narrators include snippets of police interviews and secret confessions from other guests at Indigo Bay. Dana Dae and a full cast of narrators make the Caribbean backdrop of Saint X come to life with rich characters and backstories that span all genders, race, and social class, while touching on the delicacies of race, class and privilege on an island consumed by tourism. Schaitkin highlights the complex questions and emotions about losing a loved one, and in Emily's case about loving the sister she barely knew and grieving the life that she should have had.

Reviewed by Kristen Sheridan
*Jeff Biggers. Resistance. Reclaiming An American Tradition.
Read by Johnny Heller.
5 CDs. 6 hrs.
HighBridge Audio. 2018.

Resistance. Reclaiming An American Tradition is not a straight forward history lesson. It jumps around a bit from recent threats to our democracy and moving questions by children about how our country works and scholarly analysis of the constitution. His theme is "Hope Resists" and his diatribe for resistance is inspiring. The American Revolution is used as a learning tool to explain what is going on in America today. Resistance was a major tool used by the Founding Fathers to protect the new country from dictatorships and to prevent private over public good in the government. What we learned from them has been used during many historical challenges we as a country have experienced, through wars, and efforts to keep groups unequal, especially in the fights by our citizens and non-citizens alike – African Americans, Native Americans, women, gay people.

Jeff Biggers is an authority on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, but he is also very cognizant of the current threats to our liberty and a supporter of those who resist the tyranny of those who want to pick and choose who is protected under the law. He is especially concerned about climate change as the hope for our children's future and the impact of the current administration.

Narrator Johnny Heller's scratchy, deep voice brings emotion to his description of the dry documents and to the personal experiences of those resisting, both winners and losers.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Saidiya Hartman. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval.
Read by Allyson Johnson.
8 CDs. 10 hrs.
HighBridge. 2019.

Freedom of slaves occurred with the Emancipation Proclamation in the middle of the Civil War. Wayward Lives, Columbia University English and Comparative Literature Professor Saidiya Hartman, focuses on young black women in the early part of the 20th century, a transformational period for some of these women. They were not shackled by the actual experience of being a slave, but many were raised by women who were raised to be cautious and to avoid the danger of being black in a white dominated world.

Most of these stories are about young women living in the cities of the north. They were not as concerned about being respectable as were their families. They didn't want to be house servants, cleaning ladies or do menial tasks as their mothers and grandmothers did. They wanted to control their lives and interactions, whether with men or other women and engage only when they wanted to engage. Many of these women were arrested or imprisoned or received disapproval from their families, yet they wanted freedom more than anything else. Narrator Allyson Johnson has a young melodic voice. She sounds impressed by the adventurous spirit of the women and concerned about how much they suffered because of it. Her narration makes the ultimately dangerous way these women lived more understandable. They were brave and opened opportunities for black women in the future.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
Sarah Knight. F*ck No! How to Stop Saying Yes When You Can't, You Shouldn't, or You Just Don't Want To.
Read by the author.
5 CDs. 5.5 hrs. Hachette. 2019.

Self proclaimed anti-guru Sarah Knight narrates her latest self- help book, F*ck No, How to Stop Saying Yes When You Can't, You Shouldn't, or You Just Don't Want To, the fifth in the No F*cks Given Guide series. Saying no is a topic that we could all use a healthy dose of in my opinion. Sarah grants us permission to say no, and how many people say that in our lives? Throughout the chapters, Sarah uses catchy phrases like "scenari-nos" to show listeners how to politely and tactfully say no to all the people and events in your life with concrete and often humorous examples. This book empowers listeners to have a variety of tools and catch phrases without taking itself too seriously or feeling preachy. Her website compliments the audiobook with flow charts and worksheets. Fair warning, both the book and the website are rife with swear words, do not read or listen at work.

Her humor shines through her voice and sassy quips. While her approach is towards light hearted advice, many of her phrases are down to earth and truthful. The three that I remember are the no and switch, hard no, and power no, one of which I use on a weekly basis. Can you guess which one as I am an introvert? I had no idea I was even doing it. The no and switch is reserved for recognizing that you don't want to do (insert event) for any legitimate reason; i.e., you don't like parties, can't afford it, have too many commitments that day, etc.. but you suggest something in its place such as a low key hang out just the two of you which may work better for your personality, wallet, or sanity. It works...most of the time.

The main selling point for me was to ask yourself why do you say yes to something? It shouldn't be out of guilt or because you're afraid to miss out. Sarah empowers listeners to take back their time and energy and channel it into meaningful interactions with loved ones while prescribing a healthy dose of self-care. Saying no requires reflection and self-awareness that I did not realize prior to reading this book. If you are looking for a light humorous advice guide as a compliment to her other books, look no further but if you are hoping for a book full of footnotes based on advice from scientific research or deeper psychological practices, try something else.

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips
Marianne Power. Help Me! One Woman's Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Your life.
Read by Marianne Power and Mary Power.
9 CDs. 11.5 hrs. Brilliance. 2019.

Marianne Power is a successful, but insecure 30-ish journalist; she has friends and a loving family but still feels like a failure. She has been trying to find happiness, romance, a svelte body her whole life. She has the kind of mother who gives her advice, asked for or not, in a very calm and soothing way (and spoken by her real mother in this recording.) She begins Help Me! One Woman's Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Your life feeling like a failure. She still feels this way in spite of reading every self-help book she can buy and put on her shelf.

In her mid-30s Power decides that maybe she needs to actually put what she has read into practice. She acts on advice in a book every month for a year. This leads her to some ridiculous adventures and encounters. Some of her efforts turn out to be difficult. Being too honest and open causes her to lose some friends and to make new ones. Some of the things she does are easy, like smiling at a good looking man in a coffee shop and saying hello. When she finally lets her guard down, she gets mixed results. Many of the self-help books Power reads are old staples with good advice, others like those that recommend walking over hot coals, not so much. Overall, Power's year long experimental time period leaves her with some new friends, new confidence and satisfaction with her efforts and the will to take risks.

The author reads with a self-deprecating air which by the end turns into a self-accepting attitude. Her British accent somehow makes her adventures sound funnier than they might actually be, although I don't think many listeners will want to go out and try everything she does. It did make me think that breaking the shell most of us protect ourselves with may need a little chipping away at.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Mira Ptacin. The In-Betweens. The Spritualists, Mediums, and Legends of Camp Etna.
Read by Chloe Cannon.
8 CDs. 9 hrs. HighBridge. 2019.

Raise your hand if you've heard of Camp Etna? Me neither, to be honest- but high five for you if you have!

Mira Ptacin's The In-Betweens traces her journey into learning more about Spiritualism and Camp Etna in Maine, established in 1876, a haven for Spiritualists, mediums, and those curious minds for years. Spiritualism is a religious movement that believes that the spirit world is real and mediums (clairvoyants, psychics, etc.) have the ability to communicate with spirits in the afterlife. "They believed they would live forever."

Ptacin traces Camp Etna's history from its humble beginnings, to its involvement in the Spiritualist movement, to what the Camp has become today. Interspersed with Ptacin's interesting, and often humorous, interactions with current Camp members, she delves into the history of Spiritualism from the Fox sisters in the 1840's who claimed to communicate with the dead through the investigations into mediums by none other than Harry Houdini, with many other interesting anecdotes and stories thrown in.

The history alone is fascinating, but Ptacin's descriptions of the current Camp and it's residents are what really shine. She truly captures the personas of the residents of the Camp and describes its day to day workings. The Camp is open to anyone interested and has everything from readings with mediums, to guest speakers, to ghost hunting classes. While the Camp is not nearly as well attended as it was in its heyday, it is certainly no less beloved.

Chloe Cannon's reading captures Ptacin's humor and sincere interest in Spiritualism. The only thing you will miss by only listening to the audio version are the pictures that begin each chapter of past and current Camp Etna. Cannon's excellent reading captures the humor and nuances so well that listening is the best way to go.

Reviewed by Lynn Blair
*Andrew McConnell Stott. What Blest Genius? The Jubilee That Made Shakespeare.
Read by John Lee.
5 CDs. 6 hrs. HighBridge. 2019

University of Southern California Professor of English, Andrew McConnell Stott's superb and entertaining history of a notable event that sort of succeeded is narrated by award-winning and popular British actor John Lee. His masterful reading highlights both the humor and local drama of the Jubilee.

What Blest Genius? The Jubilee That Made Shakespeare recalls the Jubilee held in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1769 to honor the Bard who died in 1616. The event was planned by the greatest actor of his era, David Garrick, who planned (along with Stratford local politicians) a panoply of plays, pageants, art works, parades, dinners, balls, music, and fireworks, ending with a reading by Garrick of his ode to Shakespeare.

Not everyone was as enthusiastic as Garrick. Dr. Samuel Johnson boycotted the event and King George III was not mad about Shakespeare's work. Nonetheless, thousands of Londoners descended on the sleepy town for three days with few suitable beds or food. Garrick's younger brother George was supposed to organize things but he proved ineffective. The pavilion built for the festivities fell apart, it rained for three days, and the Avon overflowed its banks leaving the visitors in muck and mire. However, one of the visitors had a grand time. James Boswell, Dr. Johnson's biographer, longed for publicity and the admiration of the nobility who attended. He was there to make himself famous. And he was addicted to sex, contracting venereal diseases. He even dressed as a Corsican Freedom Fighter to attend the ball. There was inappropriate sex, drinking, gossip, palace intrigue, locals overcharging the visitors, a duel, traffic backed up for miles, and fizzled fireworks. At least Garrick got to read his ode and put on a play about the Jubilee at his Drury Lane Theater. If Shakespeare had written this story he would have called it "A Comedy of Errors." The book and its narration are highly recommended.

Reviewed by Janet Julian
Tim Townsend. Mission At Nuremberg. An American Army Chaplain and The Trial of the Nazis. Read by James Anderson Foster.
10 CDs. 11 hrs.
HighBridge. 2014/2019.

Serving as chaplain to those among the Nazi leaders who were charged with war crimes during the Nuremberg Trails would have been a challenging responsibility for most. For U.S. Army Chaplain Henry Gerecke it was a calling. Mission at Nuremberg by award winning journalist and editor Tim Townsend details Gerecke's faith, from childhood to death, and brings to light his thought process for the job so few would have accepted.

Experienced narrator James Anderson Foster's smooth vocals and steady pacing make this lengthy narrative seem less daunting. Listeners will appreciate his undramatic presentation detailing a deeply emotional period in world history. Nothing extra is needed to portray the atrocities and heaviness of the topic, and Foster didn't add anything extra. His inflections are on point; his pronunciations of German vernaculars accurate; his portrayal of characters seeking truth and those hiding from it neutral; his personal opinions unreadable.

Foster has narrated several series, including Firefly, The Fringe, and Maximum Security, as well as countless stand-alone fiction and nonfiction titles. He has more than 200 audiobook titles under his belt.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold