October 2021
Adult Reviews
Fiction
*Diney Costeloe. The French Wife.
Read by Georgia Maguire.
13 CDs. 15.25 hrs.
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books. 2020.


Diney Costeloe's The French Wife is a romantic and very complicated tale of two families - the St.Clairs of France and the Chalfonts of England. The novel captures the drama, suspense, and unexpected twists of a good audiobook.

When Lucas Barineau invites his English friend, Rupert Chalfont, to his wedding in France to Clarice St.Clair, little does he know how the meeting between Rupert and Clarice's younger sister, Hélène would develop. Rupert who uses the invitation to escape embarrassing situations at home, falls immediately and completely in love with Hélène, whose prior history was recounted in Costeloe's previous novel, Children of the Siege but which is concealed from her and others by her family. Gradually, the listener comes to understand the happenings of that story and the resulting close alliance forged between Hélène, kidnapped as a child in Paris during the 1871 siege, and Annette, a poor girl she met in the orphanage and who helped her return to her family. Annette, after leaving the orphanage, endures severe abuse at the hands of her employer/priest, prior to her employment with the St.Clairs. After Rupert returns to his English family, however, Hélène is relentlessly pursued by the dastardly bully, Simon Barnier, who wishes to "possess her" in marriage. When, through a series of mishaps – stolen letters, secrets, deaths – and the customs of the times, Hélène learns that Rupert has married his dead brother's fiancé, Kitty, her family determines that she must now marry Simon. She resigns herself to her fate, until moments before the wedding when Simon gives her an unpleasant foretaste of what marriage with him, as his "possession," will be like. Understanding the effect of such abuse from her own previous experience, Annette convinces Hélène to reject Simon by running away with her to Paris where they stay in an apartment owned by a friend, Mme. Sauze, who also works for the St.Clairs. The action is fast and furious and suspenseful as the predatory Simon closes in on his prey.

This excellent audiobook describes the friendship across class lines between Annette and Hélène, and how they manage to help and teach each other. The author describes late 19th century France and England's class structure at this time within families – in the relationships between husband and wife, family and staff, parents and children – and within society – between members of different social classes, for titled families, for men and women, and the expectations and protocols of society. The lives and treatment of women receive close attention – Annette, Hélène, her mother, Agathe Sauze, and Fran (Rupert's interfering sister).

Skillful narrator, Georgia Maguire, successfully captures the language, sex, social class, temperament, and educational level appropriate in the voices she creates for each character. Her ability to present these characters consistently and realistically enables the listener to better comprehend and follow the complexities of the story and its changing venues.

Adults and some teens who will enjoy this audiobook will include lovers of historical novels, romantic novels, family stories, and women's fiction, as well as those who like novels of suspense and intrigue.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
*Robert Harris. V2. A novel of World War II.
Read by David Rintoul.
7 CDs. 8.5 hrs.
PenguinRandomHouseAudio. 2020.

This is the story of the London blitz in 1944 from two sides.. First is Kay Caton-Walsh, a WAF assigned to work on trigonometry. She and the others have six minutes to assess the parabolic curve of rockets bombing London so that the RAF can bomb the launch site. Ironically, she and her RAF lover are nearly killed by a V2. She then volunteers to go to Belgium, where some are spies and others are loyal to Germany. On the other side is a German engineer, Dr. Rudi Graf, working with Wernher von Braun, whose ultimate goal is sending rockets to the moon. However, he must use Hitler and the Nazis to fund his research. Rudi is suspected by the SS. He and von Braun are even arrested over failed rockets, but Himmler lets them go. The SS says, "We are the Vengeance Division." Kay is also embroiled in espionage. Wernher von Braun has secretly been microfilming information about the rocket research. The Gestapo question Graf but he refuses to tell them anything, claiming the information is classified. Finally the war is over. Von Braun is welcomed in America to continue rocket research. As he doesn't die until 1977, he sees results of his research. But what is Rudi Graf to do? After some 1,300 V2 rockets were fired at England, would the West welcome him?

British Stage and television actor David Rintoul narrates. His accents are admirable, characterizations appropriate dramatic. His performance Of Robert Harris exciting thriller is exemplary all around and will be enjoyed by listeners, especially students of history. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Janet Julian

*Catherine Ryan Hyde. My Name is Anton.
Read by Michael Crouch.
9 CDs. 11.5 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2020.


Seventeen-year-old Anton Addison-Rice was named for his grandfather who had passed away the preceding year. Through his whole life, his mother and father wanted him to be called Anton, but he preferred to be called Anthony. When he turned eighteen, however, after a visit with his Grandma Marion when he claimed and was given his grandfather's old fedora hat, he decided to keep the name they had shared, Anton. This was the starting point of becoming his own person, though not without an ongoing struggle with his family. In an unfortunate accident the previous year, Anton had tried unsuccessfully to save his mentally disturbed brother's life. When his brother tried to kill himself, he succeeded, but the recoil of his rifle also caused Anton to lose his hand. Although Anton continues to suffer from the trauma of that event a year later, his parents now choose to leave him home alone for three months, leaving just before Christmas in 1965 for a three-month trip to South America. Although they give him his long-wished-for telescope as a Christmas present and ask his Uncle Gregor and his Grandma Marion to look in on him, Anton is essentially alone with his unresolved grief.

While looking through his telescope one evening, Anton inadvertently points the scope toward an apartment across the street, where he sees a man brutally abusing his wife. Anton determines to help her escape that relationship. Through a series of engineered meetings, Anton introduces himself to Edith, who is thirty-three, offering his apartment as a refuge if she wants or needs to escape her marriage. Eventually, Edith accepts his offer. When it is safe and with money provided by Anton, Edith leaves the city without telling him where she is going. Anton, who has fallen deeply in love with her, accepts her mother's wedding ring as a remembrance when she leaves. After fifteen long years and increasing tension with his parents, Anton, now a divorce lawyer, meets Edith on a train and their romance is rekindled. The rest of the story deals with the vicissitudes of their lives which involve family relationships, adoption, and difficult choices. Theirs is a beautiful love, inspired by an ideal of selflessness that they share, and that he had learned from his Grandma Marion. A timeless message. Catherine Ryan Hyde has written an excellent audiobook, although it is at times rather slow moving and given to long passages of inner examination and analysis.

Michael Crouch's gift of narration comes through in the tone, pacing, and emotion in his rendering of this story. As he demonstrated in Hyde's earlier audiobook Have You Seen Luis Valdez? (2019), Crouch has the perfect storytelling voice to capture the nuances of a young man, hesitant and careful at first, who gradually gains confidence and maturity to stand his ground while maintaining respect for others. Thoughtful adults who like stories about family, love, and emotional strength against all obstacles, and some teens who, like Anton, have suffered traumatic family experiences, will appreciate the detailed and emotional journey through Anton's and Edith's lives, which are joined in love for over forty years.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
Lisa Jackson. Paranoid.
Read by Christa Lewis.
14 hrs.
Brilliance. 2019.

Lisa Jackson's latest thriller, Paranoid, opens with a scene in a therapist's office, where a traumatized woman recounts her memories of the terrible night, twenty years before, when Luke Hollander was shot in an abandoned fish cannery in Edgewater, Oregon. While the patient is not named, we learn that she had been at the cannery that night, one of many teenagers, like Luke, who thought she was playing with a toy gun.

While the mystery of what really happened in the cannery lasts for the duration of this quick-paced novel, it is clear that the people associated with Luke Hollander are forever changed by his death. The story's main character, Luke's half-sister, Rachel, relives the trauma through bad dreams, paranoia, and hypervigilance for her teenaged children and Cade Ryder, her ex-husband. Others, like Lila, Luke's girlfriend who was pregnant when he died, want to move on. Lila is focused on the present, specifically organizing the twenty-year high school reunion. But someone is processing the anniversary of Luke's death very differently, as becomes obvious when two of the women who witnessed the shooting are murdered.

As Cade, who is a detective in the small town's police force, digs through the original investigation, seeking to tie the new murders to Luke's death, Rachel's fears increase. She's sure that someone is following her and lurking around her yard. Although Rachel's children are quick to attribute her behavior to paranoia, when her front door is vandalized with the word "Killer," she knows it's not all in her head.

Jackson builds tension and the uncomfortable feeling of being watched as Paranoia plays out, introducing enough false clues and suspicious behavior to make the story's resolution come as a satisfying surprise. The story also includes an element of "will they or won't they" about Cade and Rachel, which leavens an otherwise grisly plot.

Unfortunately, narrator Christa Lewis leans too far into the thriller component in her vocalization. Lewis is so breathless and spoke so fast, particularly when voicing the nameless patient, that it became difficult to understand the author's words. Because Paranoia includes plenty of tension, Lewis' reading style pushed the story towards melodrama, a disservice to this well-crafted novel.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
Annie England Noblin. Maps for the Getaway.
Narrated by Sarah Naughton.
Digital download. 8 hours, 4 min.
HarperAudio. 2021.


This engaging road trip story centers around high school friends, and the curveballs that life throws at them. Although the book deals with some heavy topics, including loss, there's a sense of fun that permeates the story. Boy bands, a bus full of male exotic dancers, a so-ugly-it's-cute stray dog...the list goes on! Although this could easily have fallen into the trap of being predictable, the characters are well-developed and relatable. Each character gets enough story time so that no one feels like a minor plot line. They grow and change over the course of their epic adventure from Missouri to Las Vegas. The trip and their friendship allow them the opportunity for self reflection so they can remember who they once were and what they wanted out of life, and how they can allow those dreams to shape their next stages of life.

Narrated by Sarah Naughton, an Earphones award winner who has many contemporary fiction audiobook credits to her name. Naughton lends a distinctive voice for each of the characters in the book which is very helpful in keeping track of who's who in the story. The characters she narrates lend themselves well to her warm and friendly voice. I look forward to listening to more books she's narrated, and given the range of genres she's narrated for, it won't be hard to find another great listen.

Reviewed by Stacey Charbonneau

Louise Penny. The Madness of Crowds.
Read by Robert Bathurst.
12 CDs. 15 hrs.
Macmillan. 2021

Louise Penny, in this seventeenth novel in her series, continues the saga of Montreal Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, this time dealing with the timely topic of mercy killing, which raises many serious and passionate moral issues. Narrator Robert Bathurst, reader of many other Penny audiobooks, continues his excellent delivery, which through tone, pace, and clarity, leads the listeners through the maze of innuendo and detail as the story unfolds. Penny interweaves many plot threads to produce a nuanced, complex tapestry of mystery.

In the wake of the Covid pandemic, Prof. Abigail Robinson mounts a campaign to endorse mercy killing to control the range of costs to both individuals and the Canadian government of managing and caring for the population of elderly and handicapped. Her own family has been forced to deal with this issue in the past, although details of her sister's and mother's deaths only gradually emerge. The topic hits close to home for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, whose granddaughter has Downs Syndrome and is the daughter of son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache's second-in-command.

Chief Inspector Gamache is intimately involved because he must provide protection for Prof. Robinson who is scheduled to speak at the local University. Previously, her inflammatory talks on this controversial topic have drawn large and sometimes violent crowds. Strangely, Colette Roberge, chancellor of the university was responsible for inviting Prof. Robinson to speak on campus. Her refusal to cancel the program seems to indicate that she has a past history with the young woman. When Debby Schneider, Robinson's companion and assistant, is murdered following the lecture, Gamache's team must wrestle with conflicting accounts and determine responsibility for the murder and an earlier attempt on Robinson's life. Two other significant characters include the Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Haniya Daoud, a rebellious, young woman who fought extremism in her country of Sudan, and Vincent Gilbert, the "Ass-hole Saint," who participated in experiments with Canadian psychiatrist, Ewen Cameron, who used both psychological and medical torture techniques on his patients without their consent.

The story operates on many levels as the team – Gamage, Beauvoir, and Isabelle Lacoste – tries to unravel clues, research leads, and painstakingly visit and revisit those involved and their testimonies. Thus, the listener, too, participates in the evolution of the investigation, sometimes requiring extremely close attention to arguments, implications, and evidence. This audiobook is sure to appeal to adults and some teens who are devotees of Louise Penny's novels, as well as those who love complex mysteries full of twists and turns.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
*Brandon Sanderson. Rhythm of War.
Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading.
46 CDs. 57.5 hrs.
Macmillan. 2020.


Prolific, popular, multiple award-winning fantasy author Brandon Sanderson's Rhythm of War is the the fourth novel in a projected ten novel series (with The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and Oathbringer). The setting is Sanderson's Cosmere on the planet of Rosharan with many non-Human characters. The many plots in this wide-ranging novel basically follow four main characters: the warrior Kaladin, Queen Navani, the ambitious Singer Venli, and the multiple-personality Shallon along with dozens of minor characters. Since I had not read or listened to the first three novels in this series, I was lost much of the time as the focus shifted to different characters in different parts of Rosharan. By the end, I had a fairly good idea of what was happening but I am sure that I missed a lot along the way. Nonetheless, I still recommend this incredible series. In the Cosmere, there are many non-human actors including powerful god-like beings, different anthropomorphic beings who could take on different forms, and ethereal Spren who have a variety of different semi-magical powers. By the end of this massive novel, the human forces have gained an upper hand against the forces of evil who follow the god-like being Odium.

In addition to his many science fiction and fantasy novels for adults, Sanderson is also the author of the middle grade novel Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians. Three additional novels in the series have been released.

Reviewed by Hugh E. Flick, Jr.
*David R. Slayton. White Trash Warlock. (The Adam Binder Novels Book 1)
Read by Michael David Axtell.
8 CDs. 9.5 hrs.
Blackstone. 2020.


White Trash Warlock, Book One of Slayton's projected series on Adam Binder, is an urban fantasy novel about a young gay wizard who is trying to find his place in the world and to come to terms with his family. He suspects that his father is an evil warlock and is still angry about the fact that his older brother and mother had him committed to an asylum because they did not understand Adam's magical insight and magical powers. When his older brother asks him to save the older brother's wife from a powerful magical demon, Adam must deal with his various personal memories and his personal needs. He enlists the help of some elves and must make some risky deals with Death herself. Adam eventually saves his sister-in-law from the demon, learns information about his family including the fact that his brother had killed their father in order to save Adam, and begins to come to terms with his magical abilities and his personal characteristics. Narrator David Axtell's excellent, first-class, semi-voiced reading captures the nuances of Adam's personal struggles as well as the personalities of the various characters Adam confronts.
Reviewed by Hugh E. Flick, Jr.
Nonfiction
Elizabeth Hinton. America On Fire: the Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s.
Read by Shayna Small.
Digital download. 11 hours.
Recorded Books. 2021.


Between 1960 and the present, Hinton describes in great- and well-researched detail, the unbelievable brutality and racism against Blacks and other people of color, that have poisoned American society. Much of the narrative focuses on police violence that has been going on for years but didn't spur protests and public outrage until the filmed killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. Lacking, as Hinton so clearly points out, were the measures necessary to solve the underlying issues: poverty, persistent racism, and inequality in all areas of American culture including education. Experienced narrator Shayna Small's reading is perhaps not the best match for a book that addresses this very serious subject. Her voice is light and young, and, it seemed to me to lack the gravitas needed to grip the listener's attention. She reads with little or no tempo changes, always at a fast pace. The subject matter of this well-written book should be available to a wide audience.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
*Erik Larson. No One Goes Alone.
Read by Julian Rhind-Tutt
Digital download. 7.5 hrs
Random House audiobook original. 2021.


No One Goes Alone marks Erik Larson's first venture into fiction with this audio-only novella. As anyone familiar with Larson might expect, there is a lot of historical fact mixed into his fictional tale. Many characters are based on real people, such as William James, a leading philosopher and psychologist in the late 1800s.

Larson himself speaks at the end of the novella about why he intended that this should be published only as audio – ghost stories, he says, are best enjoyed read aloud. The story was originally going to be published on his website for fans to read, but Larson was convinced to publish it more widely.

Julian Rhind-Tutt is our narrator for this ghostly tale, an actor and veteran audiobook narrator whose distinct voice lends itself well to narrating 19th century ghost stories. Rhind-Tutt performs a semi-voiced reading, where he shifts his tone, inflection, and accent for most of the characters. He ensures that readers can distinguish between the American characters, like William James, and our protagonist, Josiah (a completely fictional character).

I was surprised that this story was being released as audio only – at first, I found it difficult to keep track of all the 8 major characters in my head, but as I kept going things fell into place. I did enjoy the experience of listening to this story, although I do wish it had been even scarier, but I always say that because I can never find anything scary enough!

One thing I judge all audiobooks by is if they make me want to keep driving so that I can keep listening – and I don't love driving! This book passed the test. I was hooked by the mysteriousness of the plot and Rhind-Tutt's captivating narration. It is Larson's first foray into writing fiction, but I think he did a fine job, and I would definitely read more in the future.

Reviewed by Sarah Dennison

*Helen Macdonald. Vesper Flights.
Read by the author.
9 CDs. 10.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Given the dire state of the earth's climate, it's easy to become depressed. You might unsee the natural beauty that still, despite our efforts, surrounds us. You might go to a beach and not appreciate the shore birds or the light glinting off of the waves, but see only the plastic waste and discarded bottle caps. If this sounds familiar, naturalist Helen Macdonald's latest collection of essays, Vesper Flights, will refocus your vision and help you separate the sea grass from the drinking straw.

Macdonald is not naively optimistic, nor ignorant of the realities of climate change, and many of her essays contemplate endings. Throughout, she grieves the loss of a parent, the end of a relationship, and the physical loss of a meadow in which she used to play as a child. And because she is a naturalist and a lover of wildlife, Macdonald freely mourns the losses owing to human recklessness: the number of birds that we've lost in the last fifty years, the many species that are extinct and will never return. Even the human traditions that accompanied an appreciation for our natural world which have changed because of habitat and species destruction are given a moment of silence within these essays. But Macdonald not only has hope for the future, she writes about the present state of the natural world with joy, grace, and humor. The sheer wonder Macdonald feels for birds is infectious, such as when she describes the glories of swifts in her title essay, and through her astonishment at watching migratory birds from an observation deck of the Empire State Building. Macdonald is also a canny observer of human beings and their quirks. While listening to "Hiding," I laughed out loud at Macdonald's descriptions of sitting in a wildlife hide, watching birds with other bird lovers, who judge each other's expertise and speak only in whispers. Of one such experience, Macdonald writes: "I remember the chill in the air one Spring day in Suffolk after a man confidently told his companion that what he was watching was a water vole. Everyone else in the hide knew this lumbering creature with a long tail was a large brown rat. No one said anything."Given the personal nature of these essays, and Macdonald's depths of experience and knowledge in her subjects, it is only fitting that Macdonald narrates Vesper Flights herself. Macdonald's voice – low-pitched but level, weary but hopeful – is a lovely accompaniment to her words, not unlike a swift at sunset.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
©2019 SoundCommentary.com