March 2021
Adult Reviews
*Jeff W. Bens. The Mighty Oak.
Read by Adam Barr.
Digital download. 7 hours, 8 minutes.
Blackstone. 2020.

When we meet Tim O'Connor, he is at the bitter end of a blighted career as a professional hockey player. Nicknamed Oak for his size and strength, he is now in his thirties, with chronic back and hip pain, still trying to prove that he can be a team's trusted enforcer despite his broken body. In recent years, he's been bouncing from team to team, getting through his pain with alcohol and doses of painkillers, some prescribed but mostly not. While Oak is playing hockey in Texas, he learns that his mother has died, and Oak heads back to Boston for her funeral, where he must face his many demons: an ex-wife, a shady best friend who married his ex-wife, and his teenage daughter, who is battling demons of her own.

Oak seems to attract the wounded to him, like Kip, a boy who gets beat up outside the local hockey rink, and Joan, the attorney assigned to Oak's case after he gets in a drug-addled fist fight with some cops. As Oak tries to salvage what's left of his hockey career, parse out his drugs in order to make it through the day, and act as savior for the wounded around him, Oak struggles to differentiate reality from his highs, his nightmares, and his trauma, and to move forward in a life that seems hopelessly painful, both physically and psychologically.

Heightening the story is the success of the narration, by reader Adam Barr. Barr's deep baritone captures Oak's pathos and his blue-collar Boston accent. Brought deeply into the narrative through Barr's reading and the intensely close point of view, there are moments when The Mighty Oak becomes almost breathlessly depressing, which means that the occasional humor and levity are that much more poignant. Oak has a quick, sarcastic sense of humor, deployed with skill around authority figures and loser relatives. He has a sweet side, too, most genuinely rendered in his moments with Kip and the owner of the gym where Oak learned to box. While not quite a redemption story, The Mighty Oak reminds listeners that even the worst breaks can heal.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
M. Dressler. The Last to See Me. A Novel.
Read by Lauren Ezzo.
8 CDs. 9.5 hrs.
Brilliance Audio. 2017.

If you ever wondered what a ghost sounds like when telling her story many years later, you need to listen to this story. Sometimes narrator Lauren Ezzo is the original manifestation of the ghost who speaks with a bit of an Irish lilt and other times she sounds like a modern young woman who is a descendent of the Lambry family, although no modern person in the book knows that. The story revolves around a rich family which decades ago built a small kingdom on the backs of the villagers who often worked as servants. All the characters minor or otherwise, reflect their ages and personalities and the roles they play in the mystery, through Ezzo's excellent narration of the book.

When the last remaining known Lambry dies, her death stirs things up in the town. Their beautiful, but aging, house is now up for sale, but wealthy potential buyers need assurance that there are no spirits left in the house. A young newcomer real estate agent and a "hunter" of spirits must work together to "clean" the house of spirits. When they do, they expose the secrets of the old house and cause unrest among the modern citizens.

Although the story is told in somewhat disjointed way, as generations of Lambrys and others all expose what really has happened over the generations in their own voices and accents, through the excellent narration. Listeners will be rewarded if they have patience enough to hear the entire picture as all the pieces are exposed. The plot jumps around a lot and generations come and go, so it is a bit hard to follow, but the narration is great.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Lindsey Duga. Roaring
Narrated by Rachel L. Jacob and Charlie Thurston
Digital download.12 hrs, 17 minutes.
Tantor Audio. 2020.

How do you know a monster is a monster? Is it the claws, tail, scales, or is it something more? According to Colt Clemmons, Bureau of Investigation (BOI), anything with monster parts is a monster and thereby subject to government oversight. The prohibition act of 1920 not only increased criminal activity it also increased monster activity. Colt's life was very black and white and he was content with his lot in life. Then he got his next mission, catch the lost siren.

Eris is just a lounge singer/waitress who doesn't ever talk. She dreams of the day she can escape to a small town and live a simple life. Unfortunately one day she has to speak to save her only friend and her life is nothing but chaos after.

Colt is sent to find the lost siren, but when he finds her, she is not what he was expecting. Colt can resist a siren's call and Eris finds herself able to actually talk to someone for the first time in years, but will he listen. Colt just wants to bring the siren in alive as instructed, but the BOI is not the only person after the lost siren.

Will Colt take her into the BOI, will the mysterious other person get his hands on her, or will Eris escape and disappear into the night to live her quiet life?

The story is told in alternating perspectives between Eris and Colt. Eris is narrated by Rachel L. Jacob, who has experience doing many different kinds of vocal work and it shows. She portrays Eris with great emotion, you feel the struggle Eris has with her powers and responsibility to humanity. Colt is portrayed by Charlie Thurston who has narrated many popular books. He adds a great feel for the time and the character. You hear the gravel and emotion in his portrayal of Colt. You also get the sense that being open is not an everyday experience for his character.

Both readers do a great job bringing the listener along for the ride. You can not wait to see what will happen and who will come out on top.

Reviewed by Meghan Yost
Edward A. Farmer. Pale. A Novel.
Read by Stephanie Weeks.
7 CDs. 8 hrs.
Blackstone. 2020.

Speaking for Bernice, as well as the other characters, narrator Stephanie Weeks, always maintains a calm, quiet, and measured tone, perfectly balancing the story's undercurrents of conflict and tension. In this first novel, Edward Farmer presents a story which will engage adults and teens on several levels – as an historical novel, as an examination of 1960's racism, and as an exploration of family interaction, manipulation, and father-son issues.

In 1966 Bernice, whose husband Henry has recently absconded with the couple's savings, arrives at the Kern family's Mississippi cotton plantation. Her brother Floyd, worried she is a black woman living alone, asks her to come to work at the place where he has worked for years. Others employed on the plantation include an older black woman, Silva, who has two sons, Fletcher and Jesse, and works as the cook and housekeeper for Mr. Kern and Kern's fragile, epileptic though head-strong and vindictive wife, Miss Lula, "Missus." Floyd works the plantation fields, planting and picking the cotton. Although taking place in the post-Jim Crow South, Pale deals with persisting issues of slavery and racism that die hard as blacks and whites exist side-by-side, but separately. Long-buried secrets underlie the current relationships among white and black folk. Bi-racial children are common in plantation life, and whether acknowledged or not by their biological parents, their much lighter skin raises eyebrows and draws questioning glances. Fletcher's skin is indeed pale compared to his brother's, and his facial features are remarkably similar to those of Mr. Kern. Miss Lula, whose only child, Elizabeth, died as a baby while Fletcher lived, despises the boy. Mr. Kern sends Fletcher away to school to become educated, but Miss Lula vehemently calls the boy home to work in the fields. It is her punishment for Silva, Fletcher's mother, and an intentionally vindictive provocation of her husband. Her dangerous flirtation with Jesse, Fletcher's younger half brother, makes Floyd and Bernice fear for the boy's life. In calculated vengeance, Miss Lula then reveals the well-kept secret of his parentage to Fletcher, who hadn't previously known that Mr. Kern was his father, exacting further retribution on Silva because she had warned Jesse to avoid her. By the end of this audiobook, we know these characters thoroughly – their thoughts, motives, feelings, as well as their actions. The development of the characters is finely nuanced and carefully analyzed by Bernice, observer and recorder, however, an overarching oppressiveness and emotional unease overhangs the entire story.

This excellent audiobook is sure to engage interest and encourage discussion.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
Tess Gerritsen. The Shape of Night.
Read by Hillary Huber.
8 CDs. 9.5 hrs.
Brilliance Audio. 2019.

This haunted house novel, involving ghosts and an old seaside mansion, mixes the past and the present very well in telling the story of Ava Collette, a well known contemporary cook book author who rents a seaside house in a small Maine town so she can finish her next cook book. She has been unable to write in Boston ever since a large party at her home led to the death of her brother-in-law in a drunken accident for which she feels responsible. She has not shared her guilt with her sister.

The house she has rented is called Brodie's Watch which was built by handsome sea captain Jeremiah Brodie over a century ago. Since his death at sea, numerous women have moved in and they all have died there. The most recent tenant left mysteriously and, later, her body was found washed up on the shore.

Ava loves the house and doesn't believe in ghosts, but soon, she is visited by the handsome ghost of Captain Brodie in her bed and sex follows. She has very mixed feelings for the Captain and is drawn into exploring the history of the house and the backgrounds of other people in the town. The more she learns about the past and the present in the town and the house, the more imperative it is that she leave.

The story is filled with Maine and New York characters. Huber reads in subtle tones, just enough to differentiate between the natives and the visitors, the living and dead characters. Her reading is both scary and sexy, and friendly and calm.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Brian Herbert. Kevin J. Anderson. Dune: The Duke of Caladan. (The Caladan Trilogy, book 1)
Read by Scott Brick.
12 CDs/ 15.5 hrs.
Macmillan. 2020.

Dune: The Duke of Caladan is a prequel to Frank Herbert's epic Dune series that forms the first book of a projected trilogy. It provides interesting background details about Duke Leto Atreides, the father of Paul Atreides. This series is a coming of age tale of fourteen-year-old Paul who is beginning to assert his need to become his own person. Paul has dreams and visions of a mysterious woman with whom he is destined to have a relationship once he joins the Fremen on Arrakis. We also see how the relationship of Paul's parents, Leto and the Lady Jessica, was split by the intrigues of the Bene Gesserit Order. We see how Leto discovered and ended an illegal drug trade on Caladan, how Leto became a temporary favorite of the evil Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, and how Leto sets out from Caladan to seek greater power in the Empire. Presumably in the next books in this series, Leto will be given control of the spice trade on Arrakis which will eventually lead to the events in the original Dune series.

Accomplished actor, writer, award-winning audiobook narrator Scott Brick's semi-voiced reading is excellent. His timing, pace and character differentiation capture the nuances of the various characters in this fine fantasy tale very well. He has narrated close to nine hundred audiobooks including titles such as: Jurassic Park, the Jack Reacher series, Alexander Hamilton, the Hunt For Red October, The Passage trilogy, In Cold Blood, the Bourne trilogy, Helter Skelter, Fahrenheit 451 and the Dune series.

Reviewed by Hugh M. Flick, Jr.
*Garrison Keillor. The Lake Wobegon Virus.
Read by Garrison Keillor.
7 CDs 9 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

For years, Garrison Keiller's Prairie Home Companion, Saturday nights (1974-2016) on public radio, were "must" listening for his many followers. A superb and funny storyteller, Keiller wove tales about his mythical hometown in Minnesota, Lake Woebegon, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve; where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children were above average" The town's inhabitants became old friends of the listeners. The show ended years ago, but Keiller returns to the town many years later (Trump is now president and Covid has arrived) to check up on how the inhabitants have fared with an eye toward writing a book about them. He finds that the people are doing weird things, totally out of character and some begin to suspect that unpasteurized reindeer cheese is the cause of a virus. Keiller remains the supreme storyteller and tells some hilariously funny anecdotes which admittedly will be enjoyed a bit more by fans of his radio show than those new to the town. That said, it will be a really enjoyable book to listen to for a wide audience. There are several books by Keillor and recordings for those who want to "catch up" on the lives of the inhabitant.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
Julia London. You Lucky Dog.
Read by Courtney Patterson.
10 CDs, 11.5 hrs.
Tantor. 2020.

Julia London's romantic comedy You Lucky Dog finds harried PR expert Carly Kennedy falling for her polar opposite: easy going university professor Max Sheffington. The two meet after their mutual dog walker returns Carly's depressed pup Baxter to Max's flat and Max's glee-filled canine Hazel to Carley's cottage. The two basset hounds are "madly in love," and soon their owners follow suit, despite all that life throws their way.

Narrator Courtney Patterson doesn't need to speak "dog" in London's farfetched tale, but she does need to juggle an energetic and eccentric cast of humans. Patterson's pacing is spot on throughout the story, regardless of the character. Her efforts enhance Carly's stressed and anxious persona, and add to Max's gentle and contemplative mannerisms. Max and Carly's parents, who are married, then divorced, then marrying each other, then divorcing just as quickly, sound much like their lives—high pitched, loud, hormonal, and lovelorn. Carly's sole client, a teenage fashion designer, battles doubt and depression, which come across clearly in Patterson's whiney tones. Max's autistic brother, Jamie, who Max and his dad care for, is believable with his emotional triggers and repetitive chants. And then there's Carly's sister, who is continuously at the end of her rope raising three little ones without any rules. Somehow, Patterson juggles each character's personality using appropriate vocal tones and pacing.

Patterson has narrated several audiobooks for a variety of authors, including James Patterson, Karen Harper, and Dorothea Benton Frank. She also enjoys acting in films and on television.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
James McBride. Deacon King Kong. A Novel.
Read by Dominic Hoffman.
12 CDs. 14 hrs.
Penguin Random House Audio. 2020.

In this audiobook, James McBride paints for us a very clear picture of life in South Brooklyn near the abandoned docks in the fall of 1969. This neighborhood, the Causeway Housing Projects, stands out in such vivid, perceptive, and emotional detail that it becomes one of the most important characters in the novel. The Causeway, a predominantly African-American and Latinx, impoverished district, has recently witnessed the growing presence of the illegal drug trade, controlled by Italian mobsters. A central unifying factor in the community, Five Ends Baptist Church, is home to many families and a source of food for both the body and soul. The shared sense of community is evident in the relationships between the members of the church, their friends, shopkeepers, and even a few cops.

The main character, the old church deacon, Cuffy Jasper Lampkin, better known as "Sportcoat," one-time baseball coach and Sunday-school teacher, is now a drunk. He is a local fixture, regularly seen toting his bottle of home-brewed King Kong and loudly arguing with his recently departed wife, Hetty, who apparently committed suicide. Sportcoat was "a walking genius, a human disaster, a sod, a medical miracle, and the greatest baseball umpire that the Cause Houses had ever seen, in addition to serving as coach and founder of the All-Cause Boys Baseball Team." Therefore, it is astonishing that one day, fully intoxicated, he, Deacon King Kong, leveled his revolver at teen drug dealer, Deems Clemens, a young man he once proclaimed worthy of pitching in the MLB, and shot his ear off.

In some of the most hilarious moments of the story, Sportcoat, with a target on his back, repeatedly evades the bungled attempts of hitman Earl to finish him off. The mob's hunt for him becomes entangled in many other plots – what happened to the church's Christmas Club money that Hetty had hidden in the church? Where did the cheese deliveries come from? What had the Elephant's father hidden in the church after he built it? Would Officer Potts ever get together with Sister Gee? The story evokes a wondrous sense of community, of folks bound together by friendship, locale, and care for each other.

Deacon King Kong isn't easy to follow as an audiobook. Each chapter is related by a different person, with a different perspective. It isn't always evident how each chapter relates to the tangled central story. Gradually, however, as pieces of the puzzle and their assessments multiply, and relationships between the multiplicity of characters reveal themselves, the whole picture emerges. McBride, author of the acclaimed The Color of Water and The Good Lord Bird, develops the colorful characters of the Causeway neighborhood, like BumBum and Hot Sausage, in great detail and touching compassion. His portrayal of that district, at that time, and from within gives readers a true picture of a life they might never have otherwise encountered, a portrayal enhanced by Dominic Hoffman, whose voice captures well the differences in dialect, racial background and status of McBride's characters. His calm, measured tone reflects the persistence of compassion and humanity against the everyday undercurrent of injustice and violence. Adult listeners who like multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-generational novels, written in a realistic yet sympathetic and humorous manner, will enjoy their visit to the community of Deacon King Kong.

Reviewed by Susan Allison

*Bradford Morrow. The Forger's Daughter.
Read by Christina Delaine and Phil Thron.
7 CDs. 8.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

This intriguing novel combines a mystery and a tale of forgery, the dark side of the book trade.

Will, a literary forger par excellence, has been living on the straight and narrow for 20 years, until the screams of his younger daughter Maisie shatter the lives of Will, Meghan, his wife and older daughter Nicole, an extremely talented artist. An unwelcome intruder, fellow forger and Will's nemesis, Henry Slader re-enters their lives and threatens to blackmail Will unless he creates an impeccable forgery of a stolen copy of Edgar Allen Poe's Tamerlane, the most sought after of American letters. The two narrators are nicely matched and in an unusual twist both narrators voice the same character, Will. When Meghan speaks, Christina Delaine skillfully and dramatically does the dialog for both Will and Meghan. When Will speaks in the first person, Phil Thron reads his character with a deeper voice. The listener might wonder at first who is narrating whom but after a while it becomes natural.

The Forger's Daughter is a dramatic story with a totally unexpected ending. It highlights the addiction some forgers have, one that, despite attempts to overcome it, always lurks deeply as a temptation.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig

*Anne Perry. One Fatal Flaw. A Daniel Pitt Novel.
Read by Samuel Roukin.
8 CDs. 9.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019/2020.

Junior barrister Daniel Pitt, 25, is a member of the law firm of fford Croft and Gibson. This is the third novel in the series. He has taken several other cases and won, working with Miriam fford Croft, daughter of Marcus, head of chambers. It is 1904 in London and Miriam, now 40, is frustrated because as a female she cannot pursue a career in medicine.

Daniel takes another iffy case when Jessie Beale asks him to defend her boyfriend, Rob Adwell, in a murder case. He and Paddy Jackson were in the midst of a warehouse robbery down at the docks when a fire starts and Jackson dies. The autopsy shows no smoke in his lungs but a cracked skull. If Adwell started the fire, is it murder? Daniel needs a forensic expert and the best one is Sir Barnabas Saltram, who has based his considerable reputation on his work with the effects of fire on human anatomy. But how to get the preeminent man to testify? Fortunately Miriam was his student some 20 years ago and she asks him. He agrees to work for free. But there is something Daniel doesn't know about their previous relationship.

Saltram gets Adwell off but then about two months later, ironically, Adwell dies in a fire and has a cracked skull. Jessie is accused and Daniel, who isn't sure of her innocence, asks for Saltram's help again. He must testify to preserve his reputation. However, there is a complication regarding an earlier case involving the death in a fire when Lady Daventry died, also with a cracked skull. Saltram gets Daventry off but another man is hanged for the crime of arson. His family wants justice.

There follows more investigation and a dramatic trial with testimony from a female doctor.

This novel is highly recommended for drama and Edwardian feminism, which will sound surprisingly contemporary. Samuel Roukin narrates. Roukin is an English actor who trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He is a veteran of stage, TV. and films. His full-voiced presentation is exemplary. He is rightly known for his use of accents. Both the novel and its narration are highly recommended.

Reviewed by
Janet Julian

*Amanda Quick. Close Up.
Read by Morgan Hallett.
7 CDs, 8.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Art photography hopeful Vivian Brazier's side job as a freelance newspaper photographer puts her in a sticky situation when she discovers clues to the latest murder by the famed "Dagger Killer." Her life is threatened on more than one occasion, but that isn't what takes her breath away—it's PI Nick Sundridge, who manages to use his psychic abilities to help Vivian in a multitude of ways, including wooing her heart.

Amanda Quick's novel is filled with Hollywood starlets and wannabes during the 1930s. There's a youthful energy to the story, highlighted by the lead character's independent nature and determination to succeed, despite her parents' objections.

Narrator Morgan Hallett's alto vocals bring the serious and focused Vivian to life. Hallett's efforts enhance Vivian's inquisitive mind, as well as her ability to see the world around her in a deeper way.

Hallett easily switches pacing and vocal tones to match Vivian's younger sister's personality. Lyra is newly single after breaking off her engagement to her less-than-faithful fiancé. Lyra's new-found freedom finds her flirting with famous actors on equally adored dance floors. Hallett easily compliments Lyra's vibrant and carefree persona.

Then there's mysterious and sultry Nick Sundridge. Hallett manages to bring out the private investigator's vulnerable side while keeping him confident, thoughtful, and in control.

Hallett is a successful Broadway actress who has also performed voiceover's for the small screen. She has narrated several audiobooks for a variety of authors, including Lisa Wingate, Karen White, and Janette Oke.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
*Spencer Quinn. Of Mutts and Men. (A Chet and Bernie Mystery, #10)
Read by Jim Frangione.
7 CDs. 8.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

What do Slim Jims, leather pumps, and Private Investigator Bernie Little have in common? All are unabashedly adored by Chet the dog, who happens to be Bernie's sidekick at the Little Detective Agency. When the inseparable duo come upon a murdered hydrologist deep in Dollhouse Canyon, they work together to "sniff" out clues for facts they can "sink their teeth into" before the wrong perp takes up permanent residency in the local jail.

If an oversized, lovable, loyal canine could actually talk as humans do, there is no doubt he would sound just like Chet, thanks to the skills of performer Jim Frangione. Chet the dog narrates Spencer Quinn's latest detective novel and is definitely the star of the story. Chet's personality quirks are highlighted using clever pacing and staccato-like thoughts. A police academy flunky, Chet is an intelligent pup, but he struggles with focus, especially when balls or frisbees or food of any kind are nearby. Or when he is hungry. Or confused. Or trying to count above two. Frangione masterfully gives the hero a confidence that comes from a love for his human. All he asks for in return is a scratch at the hard to reach spot between his ears and, perhaps, a Slim Jim or two.

Oh, and Frangione easily portrays Chet's supporting cast, good guys and bad, but really, all that matters is Chet.

Danielle Steel, Megan O'Keefe, Lori Foster, and Stuart Woods are just a handful of authors who have used Frangione to bring their books to life. He is also an stage actor and playwright.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
*Rebekah Weatherspoon. A Cowboy to Remember. (Cowboys of California, book 1)
Read by Lynette R. Freeman.
Digital download. 10.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Evie is a famous, successful TV celebrity chef on her way to an awards dinner in New York City. When she wakes up 'a few weeks later' in the hospital, she has forgotten the last 10 years of her life. Luckily, her best friend has a phone number for Evie in case of emergency, an old friend of the family. Evie doesn't remember old friends Jessie, Zach, and Sam or how she became estranged from them. But she goes back to California with them to recover and explore her past.

I love books about people who lose their memory and have to figure out how they got to the place they are with only their previous life events as a point of reference. This one has a hot cowboy or two so it's even better. This audiobook is especially great because Evie's voice is different when she knows who she is versus when she doesn't. Narrator Lynette R. Freeman does an excellent job with this and with the performance as a whole. I will definitely be picking up other books in the series, each of which focuses on a different brother.

Reviewed by Kenya Malcolm
*Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow. Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness. With A New Preface by the Author. 10th Anniversary Edition.
Read by Karen Chilton.
16 CDs. 17 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2010/2020.

First published in 2010, The New Jim Crow, by distinguished civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, is as relevant today as it was then, with its focus on the imprisonment, often related to nonviolent crimes, of young men of color in far greater numbers than whites. Many arrests deal with the possession of marijuana for personal use, not for distribution, and yet the penalties are severe. As a result of felony convictions, the men, whether incarcerated, on parole, or on probation, are stigmatized for life. They are denied voting rights, food stamps, and the chance of finding gainful employment. They are an embarrassment to their community.

Police departments, increasingly militarized, are awarded extra federal funds for high numbers of arrests and receive additional financial benefits from the seizure of property and assets. Although this treatment is supposedly "colorblind," black or brown young men are their primary target, while white youths are even more likely to be using or dealing in narcotics. Police will stop black drivers for the slightest traffic infraction, such as failing to use a turn signal, and demand to search them and their cars for any amount of drugs. Most victims have no idea that they can legally refuse permission to allow this. Even those who do know are afraid to refuse.

This biased system also benefits private prison operators, who claim they are especially useful because they supply jobs in the rural areas where their operations are usually located. Private prisons receive millions of government dollars which could have provided better housing, education, and employment for the poor, both black and white.

Michelle Alexander writes with clarity, authority, and conviction, offering the challenge that we must face "our racial history, our racial presence, and our collective future with courage, honesty, and fierce commitment to honoring the dignity and value of us all."

Narrator Karen Chilton, speaking as the author, has the same qualities of clarity and authority in her reading that are needed to express a very long but absorbing examination of a long lasting, ongoing injustice.

Reviewed by Pat Dole
*Jessica Bruder. Nomadland. Surviving America in the twenty-first century.
Read by Karen White.
8 CDs. 10 hrs.
HighBridge. 2017. 978-1-6816-8718-6.

Journalist Jessica Bruder interviewed many jobless, retired Americans ("In mind-set and appearance they are largely middle class") devastated by the great recession in 2008 - who find they cannot live on their social security or other retirement funds (if they have any at all) and have 'hit the road,' as people did during the Great Depression, in search of temporary work to pay basic expenses like food and gas. They consider themselves not homeless but "houseless" and, rather than remain fixed and homeless or a burden to their families in one place, these travelers have chosen to live in small vehicles (trailers, vans, RVs) on the road. Bruder packed up her own van and joined the caravans, traveling for "three years and 15,000 miles" from North Dakota to California to Arizona and Texas to research for Nomadland. Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. Most give their vans creative names; one Bruder followed closely called her small trailer "The Squeeze Inn" because visitors had to 'squeeze in' to get inside. Bruder named her own "Van Halen."

This community of intrepid travelers is rich with experiences and information. Meet-ups, like the annual one in Quartzsite Arizona, provide classes taught by fellow travelers/temp workers, for example: installing solar, how to be safe on the road, how to park "stealthily" even in urban areas. Many also write and manage informative and personal blogs. They engage in political action. Temporary jobs included cleaning and maintaining camping facilities in state and national parks and in private campgrounds. In a particularly poignant section Bruder describes in detail's "camperforce" initiative in Amazon "fulfillment centers" (i.e. warehouses) where temporary workers endure 10-hour work days, on their feet, constantly moving, "picking and packing" stuff America wants fast and cheap at. The work is brutal, but the pay is decent and workers can park their vans for free nearby. Machines dispense non-prescription pain killers (Ibuprophen, aspirin) for free to the workers. Amazon finds these elderly workers to be more desirable hires because they are more reliable and upbeat than younger workers. One camperforce worker told told Bruder she even lost weight walking the 10,000plus steps daily. Bruder also joined workers at Amazon's Camperforce and even at the more backbeaking work picking and processing sugar beets in 12 hours shifts.

Bruder explores health care on the road. Many simply take care of each other. She even travels with one intrepid soul to Mexico for excellent affordable dental work. Some are driven to be victims of vulture pay-day loans. Bruder explores "earthship" living off the grid (homes made out of recycled materials)in the desert near Douglas, Arizona, which has friendly lax zoning rules and regulations. There is some discussion of end of life options.

At the end Bruder asks: "In the widening gap between credits and debits hangs a question: what parts of life are you willing to give up, so you can keep on living?" She points out that too many of these nomads are no longer able to share their talents and brainpower for the greater good at decent paying jobs because of the massive and increasing income inequality that is limiting investment in this country that could produce jobs, provide affordable housing, provide healthcare, reduce debt, and reinvigorate prosperity for the common good.

Narrator Karen White's no-nonsense, energetic reading sounds like an enthusiastic reporter researching and reporting every aspect of a topic she cares deeply about. Eye-opening and moving. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Jean Palmer
Elnathan John. Becoming Nigerian.
Read by the author.
Digital download. 4 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Becoming Nigerian is a satire in the form of an instruction manual on how to be successful in Nigeria. The audiobook is narrated by the author which is the best way to go for non- fiction, in my opinion. He knows just the cadence and tone he intended. I laughed out loud a few times while listening to it explore how power is performed in private and public, in politics, at home, in business, and in the church in Nigeria. Americans in the US might feel a little superior if you think about the advice and examples here as only applicable to Nigeria. But if you consider the parallels between the government and rich-people practices there and the practice here, you might feel less so, especially given our most recent political climate.

Reviewed by Kenya Malcolm

Mazur, Linda & John. With writings by Emilee Mazur. Emilee: The Story of a Girl and Her Family Hijacked by Anorexia.
Narrated by the authors and Abbey & John Fitzgerald.
Digital download. 7 hours, 45 minutes.
Jaclin Press. 2020.

Emilee was a clever, talented, and kind young woman from a good family. She lived in a suburb of Rochester, New York, with her parents and younger brother. Her life seemed to be headed in a positive direction; she was engaged and attending pharmacy school. A number of factors contributed to her developing anorexia, a disease from which she never recovered. Told in painstaking detail by her parents, this book also chronicles her struggles with alcoholism and continuously fruitless hospital stays. It exposes some difficult truths about the American health care system's inability to understand and effectively treat eating disorders. In Emilee's case, much earlier and sustained treatment might have made a difference, but constant denials from insurance companies all but sealed her fate.

Linda and John work tirelessly to share Emilee's story and their experiences in an attempt to educate others about the profound effect eating disorders have on everyone in a family. Sharing this memoir via audio is another way to do that. Their narration is steady; listeners will hear the deep emotion throughout, and experience the frustration and sorrow alongside her family.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant
*Melanie Rehak. Girl Sleuth. Nancy Drew and The Women Who Created Her.
Read by Melanie Rehak.
8 CDs. 9.5 hrs.
Tantor. 2020.

In Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, Melanie Rehak explains the often-complicated origins, history, and evolutions of Nancy Drew, America's favorite teenage detective. Author/narrator Rehak dug deeply into primary sources about her authors, building and newspaper archives, the books themselves, the movies, the products, and the many articles analyzing Nancy's importance to the culture. Rehak also narrates the book, which enhances the listening experience thanks to her strong, clear voice and confidence in pronunciation of names and places throughout.

But Girl Sleuth, which is about nine and a half hours long, is about so much more. The book is an encapsulating history of the United States during the last decades of the nineteenth century and well into the twenty-first. Through the story of the creation of Nancy Drew, Rehak explores America. She takes us through working-class New Jersey, frontier Iowa, and the battlefields of the world wars.

Of course, Nancy is always front and center in Girl Sleuth, but since she was a complex composite of the minds of Edward Stratemeyer, the prolific children's book writer and businessman, his daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, Mildred Wirt Benson, and several other ghost-writers for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, Rehak does well to give the listener the cultural and historical background that led to Nancy's creation and popularity for generations of children.

Some of the most fascinating elements of Girl Sleuth are the way that the Stratemeyer Syndicate (which was also responsible for other classics, including The Rover Boys series), wrote so many of these books by committee, with the Syndicate supplying an outline and writers like Mildred Wirt Benson composing the book. These methods, though efficient, were responsible for so many of the legal battles and mystery around who made Nancy Drew the icon she is today.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
Carl Rollyson. The Last Days of Sylvia Plath.
Read by Arthur Morey.
9 CDs. 9.5 hrs.
Blackstone Audio. 2020.

Sylvia Plath's bright, brief, and tragic life is the story of legend. This is not Carl Rollyson's first study of Plath having written "American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath," however, he has focused his attention on the writer's last several months. Rollyson, professor emeritus of journalism at Baruch College, CUNY, author of a dozen biographies, was given access to records at Smith College from Plath's therapist Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse, an important character towards the end of Plath's life.

Plath is a polarizing figure. There are contingents who are clearly pro-Plath or pro-Hughes (as in Ted Hughes, Plath's husband). Rollyson seems to fit into the former and that does shadow heavily over the biography.

Arthur Morey's narration is steady but listeners may find him a tad dry. For those invested in the narration, this can be Rollyson himself who mentions at the beginning that he does not write as typical biographers write- in a linear fashion. Instead, his narration bounces around. Although there is a timeline to assist reader's with following the story in the accompanying PDF CD, some may find the storyline difficult to keep up with if they aren't familiar with Plath's life. In fact, this is one case where listeners might find it easier to have the physical book as well so they have the option of flipping to the timeline for reference.

This thought provoking and intriguing biography may not be the right cup of tea for those wishing to explore an introduction to Plath's story. It will most likely satisfy the curiosities of Plath scholars (who may be fascinated to learn of the contents of the Barnhouse documents), but others who are new to Plath may find the slightly dry narration and non-linear storytelling hard to follow.

Reviewed by Lynn Blair
*Candacy Taylor. Overground Railroad. The Green Book and The Roots of Black Travel in America.
Read by
Lisa Renee Pitts.
8 CDs. 9.5 hrs.
Tantor. 2020.

For those who have not seen the excellent movie The Green Book, the book with the same title, which went through many editions between 1936-1966, listed motels, restaurants, gas stations, clubs, bars, etc. where blacks would be welcomed when they traveled in the US. It became the bible for traveling through the United States if you were an African American. The author uses The Green Book as the scaffolding to frame the history of what life was like for blacks during the period and the racism that existed (and unfortunately still exists though in different forms). It is painful to listen to, with scenes of lynching and other atrocities visited upon people for no other reason than the color of their skin. It is also an eye-opener for those who heretofore thought they were pretty well informed about the history of blacks in America.

Lisa Renee Pitts reads with spirit and drama, and with a lively tempo. This should be required reading/listening for everyone along with Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig