September 2020
Adult Reviews
V. S. Alexander. The Traitor.
Read by Christa Lewis.
9 CDs. 11.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

V.S. Alexander's novel The Traitor is based on the true story of a secret group in the German resistance called the White Rose. Natalya Petrovich, a university student in Munich, finds herself helping the group by writing and distributing pamphlets aimed at chipping away at the morale of Hitler's army, that is until she is captured and sent to one of the Nazi's infamous prison camps.

Voicing tales set deep in Nazi Germany necessitates the talent bringing the title to life to speak with an authentic Germanic accent. Fortunately, narrator Christa Lewis does. Her command of the language is evident as she deftly pronounces streets, towns, prison camps, and common vernaculars with ease. The characters, including members of the White Rose, the S.S. guard, the university, and the prison camps, have the necessary abrupt and guttural native sounds common to the language. The supporting characters throughout the novel don the necessary authentic tones. What is odd, however, is the very midwestern inflections of the protagonist of the story. Natalya, who was born in Russia and raised in Germany, sounds as if she was born and bred in Kansas or Nebraska or Iowa. Listeners won't hear a hint of German emanate from the main character.

Lewis has narrated close to 200 audiobooks, including Forgiven by S.J. West, Pathfinders Way by T.A. White, and The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
*Julia Alvarez. Afterlife. A novel.
Read by Alma Cuervo
6 CDs. 6.25 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Alma Cuervo has a soothing narrative voice well suited to the elegiac tone and pacing of Julia Alvarez's wonderful new novel, Afterlife, which is about exactly what the title suggests -- the living dealing with the death of loved ones with some philosophical asides about dealing with their absence.

Antonia Vegas, a retired professor of a small college in Vermont has recently lost her husband, a small-town doctor, and both of her parents. The novel revolves around these passings and the sometimes very funny poignant travails of her three sisters. Antonia is an unpaid translator for her little town in Vermont, where there is a significant undocumented Mexican population, for whom she translates and writes things, letters, and such. This brings her into contact with a pregnant undocumented worker whose story is worked deftly into this wonderful little novel.

Antonia and her sisters are from the Dominican Republic, survivors of the Trujillo regime and their interaction and reminiscences are sources for some hilarity. There are quite a few deaths in the small book but it is not without laughter and mirth. Antonio's sisters are a strange bunch and the source of the book's humor and pathos.

Alma Cuervo's performance is steady and clear, with a concise, intimate narrative style, as if she is speaking directly to the listener. She is believable in every character she inhabits. Her tone and timbre suit this story that deals with family, filial obligations, politics, especially prescient on issues relating to immigration. She vividly brings to life the eccentricities of the sisters with attention to their quirks and mannerism which make them as real as people we know. Her narrative voice suits the laconic, lyrical prose style. Her pacing is laid back and confidential. Cuervo gives a fulfilling performance of an entertaining, sad, funny novel.

Reviewed by Berkley W. Semple
Elizabeth Berg. The Confession Club
Read by the author.
Digital download. 7 hours, 56 minutes.
Recorded Books. 2019.

With a familiar setting and new friends, The Confession Club returns to the town of Mason, Missouri from the beloved books, The Story of Arthur Truluv and Night of Miracles. Maddy, who was in both previous books, returns to visit with her young daughter.

Women of all ages meet for their monthly supper club turned confession club. Each month, one woman will host, and one woman will confess and be forgiven. Mason is a small town, so everyone knows everyone else. But the sharing of confidences and the sympathy shared quickly develop into close friendships. Maddy joins the club and discovers that she is not alone in feeling self-doubt. There are no instant fixes but having supportive friends offering their kindness and cookies certainly helps!

The characters feel like friends to the listener, especially as the author gives them their true voices. This story is well suited for audio as the characters confide in each other and the listener. It is a heartwarming story that is easy to listen to and enjoy.

Reviewed by Christine Nault

*Chris Bohjalian. The Red Lotus.
Read by Rebecca Lowman.
10 CDs. 12 hrs.
PenguinRandomHouse Audio. 2020.

Alexis and Austin both work at the same hospital. Austin in fundraising, Alexis in the ER. The pair don't meet until Austin finds himself a patient in Alexis' care in the ER with a gunshot wound.

Fast forward six months and the pair are in a relationship. Austin, an avid biker, takes Alexis on a bike tour in Vietnam. As part of this trip, he wants to see where his father and uncle fought in the war. One day, as Austin goes off alone to see a site, he disappears. As Alexis begins investigating the mystery behind his disappearance, more questions arise. Austin is not what he seemed. Did she even know him at all? Alexis finds herself being drawn more into the mystery, all the while making herself a target to those with nefarious intentions.

Chris Bohjalian's newest novel is a mystery set across the globe from Vietnam to the United States. This intriguing novel has a great mystery at it's core with plenty of history and science thrown in to make a truly captivating story. Though, this novel will not be for everyone. This is a slow-burning story, action doesn't happen at a breakneck pace. Readers who take the time and enjoy the ride will be rewarded with a great experience.

Rebecca Lowman's soft and measured narration mixes well with the story's evenly paced plot.

The Red Lotus is a great mystery, best recommended to readers and listeners who enjoy a gradual buildup of tension and a slow-burning storyline.

Reviewed by Lynn Blair
*Andrea Bramhall. Under Parr. Norfolk Coast Investigation Story Book 2.
Read by Henrietta Meire.
Digital download. 9.5 hrs.
Tantor Media 2020.

A work crew discovers a skeleton in an abandoned WW2 military bunker off of the English coast of Norfolk while they are cleaning it out. Detective Sargent Kate Brannon and her crew of investigators from Kings Lynn's Criminal Investigation Department in North Norfolk are assigned to the case and she is tasked with not only finding the identity of the skeleton but how this person died as well. With very little to go on, Kate must use all her resources to solve this mysterious case. The only lead they have is the fact that the skeleton is wearing somebody else's clothes and dentures. Determining that the male person was elderly and from a care home is the only starting point she has.

Besides the mysterious skeleton, Kate has issues in her personal life as well. Her girlfriend Gina was viciously attacked by a drug smuggler and is struggling with recovery and the pending trial. Kate has to balance work and life as they intertwine and become more complicated. How can she protect Gina and solve her case simultaneously?

Author Andrea Bramhall, just like her character Gina Temple in her Norfolk Coast Investigation Stories, runs a campsite and hostel on the North Norfolk Coast. Besides writing, Andrea is an avid outdoors person and photographer.

Narrator Henrietta Meire is a full-time voice-over artist, actor and audiobook narrator. She studied at the Royal National Theater in London and has performed in theater productions in the West End of London and Los Angeles, California. She has voiced many audiobooks, video games, and animations. Her talents shine in her semi-voiced reading of Under Parr.

Reviewed by Mercedes Smith
*C.J. Box. Long Range.
Read by David Chandler.
11 CDs. 10.5 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2020.

In a riveting beginning, the "long range" is a long range rifle that sends a bullet speeding across a Wyoming landscape to its target in a distant upscale resort home. The intended victim is Judge Hewitt, who is highly unpopular for his severe penalties, but it strikes his beloved wife instead. The judge then summons game warden Joe Pickett, who has successfully solved other crimes, from his investigation of the killing of a hunting guide by a grizzly bear to apprehend the assassin.

Thus begins a tough and bloody account of murders, vengeful Sinaloa drug dealers, inept and clueless law enforcers, lies, betrayals, cruelty, blackmail, and kidnapping. After a series of plot twists amid dangerous situations, Joe and his close friend Nate, a falconer who disdains civility, arrive at surprising conclusions involving unrequited love and its consequences, along with a thirst for revenge.

The author excels in his vividly detailed descriptions of the terrain and wildlife of western Wyoming, famous for the spectacular Grand Tetons and the elegant resorts of Jackson Hole, and his in-depth knowledge of firearms. both of which give his work definite authenticity.

David Chandler, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, has excellent control of the male and female voices, differentiating them well by character. He uses a deliberate and serious tone with dramatic pauses and changes in volume to befit a suspenseful and violent story.

Reviewed by Pat Dole
Diane Chamberlain. Big Lies In A Small Town.
Read by Susan Bennett.
11 CDs. 13.5 hrs.
Macmillan Audio. 2020.

"Big Lies in a Small Town" starts with Morgan Christopher, an artist who is in prison. Morgan is released from prison on the premise that she will help restore the mural of an artist, Anna Dale, from the 1940's who began the mural but then disappeared from history. The story follows Anna in the 1940's and Morgan in 2018.

In the present, Morgan is trying to learn how to restore the earlier mural (which was never hung) on a tight deadline. Morgan wonders why she was chosen- yes, she is an artist, but she has no restoration experience and the mural is in poor shape. As Morgan begins cleaning, she notices several things not quite right with the mural. Could Anna possibly have gone insane?

Anna in the 1940's arrives in the small Southern town of Edenton to begin painting their town mural. Facing racism, sexism, Anna's opinions and forward thinking ideals clash with some of the townspeople. She runs into the jealousy and anger of a local artist who applied to do the mural, but was not chosen.

Although each chapter switches back and forth, the story has a nice flow. Both Morgan's and Anna's stories are intriguing. The carefully constructed characters of Anna and Morgan come alive on the page and the reader can truly understand the issues, strangely similar, that two very different women face in two very different times. This book is one for many -- those interested in history, artwork, and social justice.

Narrator Susan Bennett captures the nuances of the characters and although it isn't a fast paced story, readers are sucked into the tale, eager to reach the conclusion and learn the truth about the mystery of Anna's strange painting. Bennett's ease in creating a unique voice for her characters makes this an interesting listen.

Reviewed by Lynn Blair
Laura Childs. Lavender Blue Murder. A Tea Shop Mystery Book 21.
Read by Barbara McCulloh.
Digital download. 9.5 hours.
Recorded Books. 2020.

Lavender Blue Murder is a charming cozy mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. Theodosia Browning is the proprietor of the Indigo Tea Shop located in the Historical District of picturesque Charleston, South Carolina. She and her dapper tea sommelier Drayton Connelly are invited to an authentic English style bird hunt at Creekmore Plantation, home of Meredith and Reginald Doyle who are self-proclaimed Anglophiles. The guests end up with more than shooting, tweeds, tea, and cucumber sandwiches, as Reginald Doyle is found shot dead among the reeds. Meredith begs Theodosia and Drayton to spend the night at the plantation to comfort her, but their slumber is interrupted as a fire breaks out in the house.

At the behest of Reginald's wife, Theodosia agrees to investigate his death. With the help of Drayton and her police detective boyfriend Peter Riley, Theodosia inquires into the incident taking on a bit more than she cares to handle. Between running the tea shop, hosting themed tea parties, and a bit of sleuthing, she manages to charm the suspects into giving up information.

Best selling author Laura Childs (pseudonym for Garry Schmitt) is the acclaimed author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and the Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Former director of her own marketing firm, she has penned several screenplays and 59 books to date. Laura is a lover of travel and through her writing, this is clearly shown in her books as she describes the beauty of South Carolina.

Barbara McCulloh has narrated over 100 books during her 25 year career. Her love of theater earned her a scholarship to study Shakespeare in England where she furthered her passion of the arts. She has traveled the globe performing in plays and acting in movies. She lends her artistic talents to Lavender Blue Murder, making it a delightful listen. Tea drinkers and mystery lovers will truly enjoy this recording. There are even tea recipes at the conclusion of the book.

Reviewed by Mercedes Smith
*Cassandra Clark. Murder at Whitby Abbey.
Read by Pearl Hewitt.
Digital download. 9 hours, 15 minutes.
Highbridge. 2020.

In 1389, during the reign of King Richard, Hildegard, a nun of the Abbey of Muse, is sent by her Prioress to the Abbey of Whitby in order to purchase a holy relic. She is sent on this quest with Brother Luke, a priest and two monks of the Order of Jerusalem, Brothers Gregory and Egbert, as bodyguards. Upon her arrival to the Abbey, she finds out that there are two other bidders for the lock of hair of St. Hild and the sale of the holy relic is not as straightforward as she was led to believe.

During their stay, a monk of the Abbey is found dead under suspicious circumstances. Since it was Hildegard and the Brothers who found the monk's body, the Abbot ask if they could investigate the death since they are outsiders. During their inquiries, they find out that there is much animosity between the people of the town and the Abbey due to unfair taxation. Hildegard soon finds herself battling to win the bid for the holy relic, embroiled in the feud and investigating more than just a murder.

Cassandra Clark, author of Murder at Whitby Abbey is a native of Yorkshire, England. Graduate of the University of East Angelia, she focuses her writing on historical fiction, crime, and mysteries. She taught history, philosophy, music and religion on a university level. Cassandra also ran a lunchtime theater in York, England above a medieval coaching inn, which fueled her passion for the theater. Her love of historical fiction came from growing up in a medieval village with a castle that was built by the Black Prince, King Richard's father. Murder at Whitby Abbey showcases her love of Medieval history and her penchant for mysteries.

Pear Hewitt, the narrator, is originally from England, currently living inTexas. Prompted by her young son, she began taking classes in voice arts. In 2007 her career took off and she is now the narrator of over 100 audiobooks in all genres. She was nominated for the IAAIS award for the Voice Arts Award. In 2019 she won the Independent Audiobook Award. She brings her skill to this semi-voiced narration which lends it an air of authenticity with her English accent. There is no discernible background noises in the recording.

Reviewed by Mercedes Smith

*Harlan Coben. The Boy From The Woods.
Read by Steven Weber.
8 CDs. 10 hrs.
Brilliance Audio. 2020.

The Boy From the Woods is Harlan Coben at his best. It is a suspenseful, tense, and dramatic thriller beginning with the main character Wilde (so called because he was found as a child living feral in the woods with no recollection of his past) who is called upon to locate Naomi Pine, a girl who has mysteriously disappeared in a dangerous place. The novel is so exciting that it is hard to imagine any narrator enhancing the suspense. Steven Weber manages to do it with an excellent performance; all the characters, carefully delineated, leap to life off the pages. With surprising twists and turns, this should appeal to a wide audience. Harlan Coben fans will be ecstatic.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig

*Ralph Compton. Phantom Hill.
Narrated by George Guidall.
6 CDs. 6.5 hrs.
Recorded Books, 2020.

I encountered narrator George Guidall when I first began listening to audiobooks many years ago – near twenty? - and he is still my very favorite reader. I even have a photo of myself with him when I had the wonderful opportunity to MEET him! So, needless to say, he once again shines in narrating Phantom Hill. He is a master.

Ralph Compton was (he died in 1998) also a Master in writing around one hundred tales of Western historical fiction that included many different series. In this story Coy Jennings finds himself in a small Texas town, Phantom Hill, when his horse is bitten by a snake. A quiet, introspective and honest man, he finds himself employed by a crooked rancher who is taking over the area by illicit means that include buying out other farmers by burning their houses and by stealing cattle from other ranches. Elected sheriff by the town, Coy, along with many of the townsfolk, goes about putting the criminal behind bars.

What I really appreciated in this story was the goodness of the townspeople for a change, their unity in saving themselves and their town. Now I've only got another 99 books to read!

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
*Ann Howard Creel. Mercy Road. A Novel.
Read by Saskia Maarleveld.
7 CDs. 9 hrs.
Brilliance Audio. 2019.

Former registered nurse Ann Howard Creel's classic story is based on the life of a young heroic woman and a very real WWI in France.

Arlene Favier lives on her family's horse farm in Kentucky in the early Twentieth Century. Her French father has a great talent raising horses for racing. He has taught his daughter most of what he knows and she too has talent with horses. She also learned French from him. In 1917, their house burns to the ground; her father who had run back into the house to retrieve something is killed in the fire. Arlene is now in charge of taking care of her mother and younger brother who also loves horses, but is still too young to carry on without her. Apparently her father lost all their money and only the barn and a few horses remain. Arlene looks for a job and lucks into an opportunity to train as an ambulance driver (she speaks French) and is sent to France to help in the war. She has the promise of good pay and a chance for a bonus which would enable her to build a new smaller house for her family at the end of her tour of duty. Arlene takes to the job immediately. She also reunites with a male school friend who is also an ambulance driver. All is well until an older male officer begins to stalk Arlene. The war ends. Arlene is sabotaged by the officer who accuses her of misdeeds. The author describes scenery, characters and settings very well.

Experienced narrator Saskia Maaleveld fills out the characters and distinguishes the good from the evil very well. I'm not usually a fan of romance novels, but Creel's historical accuracy and description and Maalevel's excellent narration offered more, and I listened to the end.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Mark Dawson. The House in the Woods.
Read by Simon Vance.
MP3-CD. 10 hours.
Tantor Media, 2020.

Author Mark Dawson has a number of different series ( his John Milton series has 18 titles!) but this is his first Atticus Priest. Atticus is an ex-cop, now PI. He is incredibly good at reading people's body language and gaining insight by carefully observing. When he is hired by the wife of a man accused of killing his parents and siblings, he shows us what a complete investigation looks like. This one has some interesting red herrings which, accompanied by the honest and intriguing character of Atticus, his dog Bandit, and friend Detective Mac Jones (once his boss before being fired) makes for a riveting who-dun-it.

Stage and television actor and prolific narrator Simon Vance claims to have made his first audiobook recording at the age of six with Winnie the Pooh. His expertise (he has won multiple Audie Awards for his narrations) is demonstrated here with his astute rendering of all the characters in The House in the Woods.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
John DeSimone. The Road to Delano.
Read by Ramon De Ocampo.
11 CDs. 14 hrs.
HighBridge. 2019.

High school seniors and best friends Jack and Adrian love playing baseball, and they're hoping to be recruited by UCLA before graduation. But there is a lot standing in their way—striking fieldworkers, intense prejudices, and corrupt land owners. Set during the early 1970s, The Road to Delano shows just how far some will go to keep power and how hard others will work to recoup what is rightfully theirs.

John DeSimone's weighty novel about prejudices and abuse in the Central Valley of California is filled with colorful characters. Audie Award nominee narrator Ramon De Ocampo handles each with ease. His smooth vocals vacillate confidently between characters with contrasting personalities, including land-owning tyrant Kolcinivitch and peaceful protester Cesar Chavez. Kolcinivitch's whisky drinking, cigar smoking, shoot-first-ask-later persona is clear in his vocal tones, and Chavez's soft spoken and violence-free mannerisms draw admiration. John's Puerto Rican and Adrian's Mexican accents are flawless. And Shirley's melancholic desperation and Ella's confident youthfulness flow. The vocal support for each of the character's individuality enhances the important theme.

De Ocampo has narrated more than 100 titles, including Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff, The Summer of Riley by Eve Bunting, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. He is also a seasoned small screen and stage actor.

John DeSimone is also the author of the novels Leonard's Chair and No Ordinary Man.

Reviewed by Lisa Arnold
*Harry Dolan. The Good Killer.
Read by James Patrick Cronin.
8 CDs. 9.5 Hours.
Highbridge Audio. 2020.

Sean and Molly have secrets that they need to keep. They have changed their names and now live in Houston. Things are going well until Sean happens to be at a shopping mall when a shooter opens up on shoppers. A prior military soldier, Sean brings the shooter down and is instantly on the news around the country – thus revealing his whereabouts to those searching for him. One is searching for him because he holds Sean responsible for his brother's death. Cole, an adept safe-cracker and best friend to Sean, rob a house together where Cole gets shot and dies. Cole's brother holds Sean responsible and the man who was robbed of his illicit goods wants them back. Sean is really a good guy but can he survive the relentless hunt?

The highlight of this story being narrated is the constant conversations that Sean and the dead Cole (who is definitely somewhat of a cheeky wise guy) have. They are hilarious showcasing the skill and expertise of both author and narrator.

Dolan is relatively new to the mystery-writing genre having four other books to his credit. James Patrick Cronin, an Audie award Finalist having narrated numerous audiobooks, is more than adept in realizing the voices of the characters.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
*Robert Dugoni. A Cold Trail.
Read by Emily Sutton Smith.
9 CDs. 10.5 hrs.
Brilliance. 2020.

Book seven in the series featuring Tracy Crosswhite of the Seattle violent crimes division and her attorney husband Dan O'Leary find the pair back in their hometown of Cedar Grove, Washington. Tracy is on maternity leave for two months while their house in Redmond is being remodeled to accommodate 2-month-old Daniella. They have also hired an Irish nanny, 26-year-old Therese. And to guard them all they have Sherlock and Rex, two Rhodesian mastiffs.

It is a bittersweet homecoming for Tracy. Her father, Doc Crosswhite, had committed suicide before her sister Sarah was murdered in 2013. Edmund House had been convicted of the crime, but now Tracy is not sure of his guilt and wants a retrial. There are several other crimes to be investigated. Someone bashed in the head of Heather Johansen, who may or may not have been pregnant. Then someone has shot and killed Jason Matthews, a lawyer hired by Heather's father. Also dead is Kimberly Armstrong, Heather's best friend, who is investigating the crime. She is the wife of Finlay Armstrong, acting chief of police. Someone bashed in Kimberly's skull and set fire to the house to cover it up. Finlay is the obvious suspect for all the murders, but Tracy doubts his guilt. Someone tries twice to kill her while Dan is away on a case involving real estate fraud in Cedar Grove.

Tracy's story by this bestselling author is brilliantly narrated by seasoned actress on film and tv and award winning narrator Emily Sutton-Smith. She shows off her skill at accents with Therese's Irish brogue, the Johansen's Norwegian, and retired police chief Roy Calloway's old man's gruffness. Many characters, all convincingly rendered. She brings the book alive. Both the novel and the narration are highly recommended. Book 8 is already out. Let's hear it for Book 9!

Reviewed by Janet Julian
*Patricia Falvey. The Yellow House.
Read by Sarah-Jane Drummey.
13 CDs. 16.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2009/2019.

Sarah Jane Drummey's narration in this novel is so good to listen to, full of lilting voices, Irish slang, music and anger that listeners may find themselves repeating aloud, as I did, what was said, just to see if I could make my voice do what I was hearing. The reading really added to the content of the story which takes place in the early 1900's in Northern Ireland during the Irish fight for independence.

Eileen O'Neill's family is Catholic in an area that is mostly Protestant. She comes from a large family who live in a Yellow House greatly in need of fixing up until it was set on fire by the Protestant army, and her father was killed. Her goal in life is to regain ownership of that house and to bring back her family members living in poverty. When her younger sister becomes ill, her mother takes her to the hospital where they are told she has died.

Eileen is a big strong girl who plays in an Irish band and works at a mill to earn money to buy back the Yellow House. She marries a young local Catholic man who becomes a leader of the Catholic fighters and she joins him in nightly raids until she becomes pregnant. She has also caught the eye of one of the mill's owners who is a Quaker, rich and does not live locally. The story continues as Eileen's mother is put in an asylum because of her reaction to her losses; and Eileen and her older brother vie for control of the family. The relationships become complicated and the local war more intense; but good things happen as well. Some of the story is farfetched, but it takes place in Ireland which has its own set of rules and expectations. It was a pleasure to listen to and to relate to such a strong female character as Eileen.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss

*John Farrow. Ball Park. An Emile Cinq Mars thriller.
Read by Gabriel Vaughan.
9 CDs. 10 hrs.
HighBridge. 2019/2020.

Quinn Tanner is a teenage thief, something she very much enjoys. She has perfected breaking into houses. The only snag is needing a getaway driver, she has a boyfriend who complies. This time, however, she discovers that not only is the house not empty, she is heard. A man comes running down the stairs. Back at the car, Quinn finds that her boyfriend has been murdered.

When Detective Emile Cinq-Mars is sent to investigate the burglary, he also finds the murdered boy. Cinq-Mars has just transferred from years doing night patrol; this is first case on day patrol. Emile's old boss and his new boss are somewhat similar in their constant sarcastic mockery of him – which is hilarious.

Gabriel Vaughn has been given some real, excellent dialog in narrating this story – and he is superbly up to the task. Growing up in Massachusetts without television(!), he listened to a lot of audiobooks – where he obviously learned his skill. He is also an actor having performed twelve of Shakespeare's plays on stage.

John Farrow (aka Trevor Ferguson) is a Canadian novelist (Ball Park takes place in Montreal) who has written fourteen novels and four plays. I am going to look for them!

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka

*Christopher Fowler. Bryant & May: England's Finest.
Read by Tim Goodman.
9 CDs. 11 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019.

Bryant & May's: England's Finest is a collection of quickly solved Peculiar Crimes Unit cases with UK Detective Bryant & May from across many years. For fans of Bryant and May, this short story format might disappoint, especially since the stories are very uneven in quality. However, thank goodness we have the talented Tim Goodman, whose ability to voice characters so perfectly is a gift and he has it in spades. Bryant and May and all the rest of the PCU crew come to life and will be comfortably familiar to fans. Those who have not yet found the series will be well advised to begin with the full length novels.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
*C. S. Harris. Who Speaks for the Damned: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery
Narrated by Davina Porter.
8 CDs. 9.75 hours.
Recorded Books, 2020.

C. S. Harris (Catherine Proctor) is the author of more than two dozen novels. A major interesting fact about her is that she has also worked as an archeologist on sites around the world! This is her fifteenth Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery so it goes without saying that they are very popular.

In this story, which takes place in 1814, heads of many countries are meeting in London to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. At the same time a body is found of a man thought to already have been dead, a criminal (though the son of an Earl) who was convicted of murder and sent to Botany Bay. It appears that he returned to London with a young boy. Who is the boy and where is he?

Davina Porter is a twenty-year veteran in narrating audiobooks. For those who love audiobooks, her name will certainly be familiar. She applies her expertise here with professional ease.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
Joe Ide. Hi Five. An IQ Novel.
Read by Zeno Robinson.
10 CDs. 12 hrs.
Hachette Audio. 2020.

Private Eye IQ (Isaiah Quintabe) has been ordered by arms dealer Angus Byrne to make sure his daughter is not charged for the murder of a man in her dress shop – or Angus will go after IQ's girlfriend. Big Problem, the daughter, Christiana, has multiple personalities (due to abuse from her mother growing up). All of her personalities are quite distinctive, not one of which actually viewed the entire murder.

Joe Ide is of Japanese American descent, growing up in Los Angeles. Hi Five is the 4th in the IQ series.

Zeno Robinson, also a Los Angeles native, has done voices in anime, movies, video games and audiobooks. He more than meets the challenge here with not only IQ, Angus and his henchmen, but also all of Christiana's many and varied personalities. Stand out might be IQ's sometimes sidekick Dodson, who lightens the darkest moments.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
*Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen. Hindsight.
Read by Elisabeth Rodgers.
9 CDs. 10.5 hrs.
Hachette Audio. 2020.

This is Iris Johansen's and Roy Johansen's seventh FBI consultant Kendra Michaels novel, and the setting hits close to home for Kendra. Woodward Academy for the Physically Disabled in Oceanside, California was home to Kendra during years of childhood blindness, which was eventually cured surgically. She has been called in to help solve the murders of one of her former teachers and a school groundskeeper. Adam Lynch, a black ops specialist, is on hand to assist her. Danger seems to face them at every turn and in order to untangle the threads, they turn to the volumes of books documenting the history of the school building and its grounds. For dog lovers, Harly, a huge rescue animal with unusual and endearing traits, plays a major role in the story. Prolific narrator Elisabeth Rogers' voices are terrific and her professional narration is expressive and dramatic. Rogers' excellent performance enhances the suspense.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
*Marian Keyes. Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married.
Narrated by Amy McAllister.
15 CDs. 17.75 hours.
Recorded Books. 2019.

You would decidedly be missing a lot by not listening to this story as an audiobook. Amy McAllister is brilliant. Her Australian and Scottish accents are over the top and her Irish and English ones are pretty darn close. She is not just a narrator but an actress (Call the Midwife) and poet as well! Here she brings life to Lucy Sullivan, a 26-year-old Irish girl living in London and working a dead-end job to pay the rent. Her three companions at work are as original and unique as her two flat mates, a very lively bunch to say the least. All are just living life, working, dating, partying and hoping to be in a long-term relationship. The story was feeling rather predictable until nearly three-quarters in when things really change. Lucy moves back home to care for her alcoholic father after her mother leaves him. Reality hits her very hard. And she really needed it.

Marian Keyes is one funny writer. Viewing a picture of her – I see Lucy Sullivan! She has thirteen novels to her credit and also writes non-fiction.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
*William Kent Krueger. Red Knife.
Read by David Chandler.
9 CDs. 10.25 hrs.
Recorded Books, 2020.

This is the first time I have encountered William Kent Kruger although Red Knife is his eighteenth (!!) Cork O'Connor mystery.

A daughter is found dead due to a meth addiction. Her father chooses an Ojibwe gang, the Red Boyz, to blame. Suddenly the leader of the Red Boyz and his wife are murdered. Former sheriff Cork O'Connor is recruited to uncover the truth. There is great character development here from Cork, his lawyer wife, their daughter, the present sheriff, and many others which leads the one into family stories and relationships. The reader is kept guessing, going back and forth as to who is to blame and for what. There are twists and complications one did not see coming that cause this to be a riveting mystery.

I felt right at home when I recognized David Chandler immediately from his narration of the Joe Picket novels. He demonstrates that he is also more than capable of bringing life to the characters in Red Knife.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
Mercedes Lackey. By the Sword.
Read by Amy Landon.
Digital download. 19 hours, 12 minutes.
Tantor Media. 1991/2020.

Kerowyn isn't a "typical" nobleman's daughter. She prefers to be out hunting, learning to fight, or ride; any of these activities are better than helping run the household after the death of her mother. Her brother is about to get married, and she hopes the new bride will take her place dealing with domestic issues. In one instant, everything changes when the wedding party is attacked and almost everyone is killed or injured, and the bride-to-be, Dierna, is abducted. As one of the only able-bodied citizens left, Kerowyn decides she must rescue Dierna and avenge her father's death. She rides to her estranged grandmother Kethry's keep and receives help in the form of a magic sword called Need. Once Dierna is safely returned, Kero begins training to become a mercenary, befriends fellow student Prince Daren, and discovers she has the gift of mindspeech.

Years pass, and Kerowyn joins a bonded mercenary company called the Skybolts. Amid a campaign against Karse, she gets separated from them and is lost behind enemy lines. Eventually, she encounters Herald Eldan and rescues him from his Karsite captors. It is this fateful meeting that ultimately determines her future in Valdemar.

Narrator Amy Landon, also a classically trained actress, has recorded over 300 audiobooks and received several Audie nominations. She employs different accents for a few characters and does a fine job distinguishing between them.

This novel By the Sword is part of Lackey's prolific Valdemar universe, but is set in the country of Rethwellan. It could be read as a stand-alone, but listeners would likely prefer to start with another book in the series for some background. Those familiar with the series will recognize some returning characters. I look forward to the next in the series.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant
*Walter Mosley. Trouble Is What I Do. A Novel.
Read by Dion Graham.
3 CDs. 3.5 hrs.
Hachette Audio. 2020

Dion Graham narrates the fifth novel in award-winning writer Walter Mosley's Leonard McGill series, Trouble Is What I Do. Graham so inhabits the characters in this book that they come to life with a wonderful reality. He switches between characters with a seamlessness that speaks to his experience as a performer. He is equally adept at rendering female as well as male characters, young and old. His choice of tone and rhythm for the speech of the old blues singer Phillip "Catfish" Worry is especially wonderful. The weary trembly bluesy speech pattern is there, as is age and infirmity in each word. No one does Southern American accents like Graham. Here he inhabits a slew of southern black folk with knowing accuracy and authenticity. Leonard McGill is Graham at his best, imbibing the character's tough talk with a sense of confidence and vulnerability, making the tough guy real to the reader.

This brief novel is about many things; it is ultimately about stories; stories told now and stories remembered; stories of the past and stories about the present. In this novel, the New York private eye Leonard McGill plays the postman. He is hired by a 92-year-old southern bluesman, Phillip Worry, popularly known as Catfish to deliver a letter. The letter is addressed to the old man's granddaughter. It is from her deceased grandmother, the old man's lover, with whom he had a son, father of the recipient of the letter. The old man was black, his lover white, their son, a master of the universe-type business is a self-hating mixed-race child passing as white. He does not want the truth revealed about his heritage. This is an American story in which race is salient. Playing the postman is not easy. All kinds of obstacles get in McGill's way. There are hired killers on his trail, mean men who will not hesitate to shoot a 92-year-old man. McGill has to employ his wily ways to avoid getting killed while ensuring that the letter gets delivered. The stories here are told in the past and the present; McGill's history is fleshed out with a few deft strokes, so are those of his acquaintances who are often dangerous killers as wily as himself.

Trouble Is What I Do is brief, more a novella than a novel, but it packs a punch. This audiobook benefits greatly from Dione Graham's performance. His narration is perfect, his rendering of the characters, especially their south folksy-blues idiom, real and authentic and poignant.

Reviewed by Berkley W. Semple
*D. J. Palmer. The New Husband.
Read by January LaVoy and Rebecca Soler.
10 CDs. 12 hours.
Macmillan. 2020.

Nina's husband, Glen, disappeared two years ago when he was presumed drown during a boating accident. She has allowed herself to be consoled by a teacher from her daughter's school and is moving in with him, bringing her son and daughter with her. The son likes all the attention he is receiving from new man Simon that he had never received from his father. The daughter can't stand the guy, highly disapproving of her mother's actions and also believing that her father is still alive. A major bombshell is revealed well on into the story that changes everything. Things get very, very tense as Simon ups his game. This is an excellent thriller made even more so by veteran narrator, January LaVoy (you will surely recognize her voice!) and assisted by Rebecca Soler who is fairly new to narrating audiobooks but has done many voice-overs for anime and animated films. D. J. Palmer (Daniel Palmer) has written a number of thrillers and resides in New Hampshire.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
*Henry Porter. White Hot Silence. A Paul Samson Thriller.
Read by Matt Addis.
11 CDs. 12 hrs.
HighBridge. 2019.

Award-Winning, and best-selling author Henry Porter's spy thriller White Hot Silence involves a love triangle, espionage spread around North America and Europe and many references to current international politics. The three major characters are: strong, beautiful, smart heroine Anastasia Hisami and two international businessmen: Paul Samson who was an English spy, now runs a restaurant and is a private investigator, and wealthy financier Denis Hisami. Samson was once Anastasia's lover. Anastasia is the now the wife of the Hisami, who started a Foundation to help refugees in Italy which Anastasia runs.

Anastasia is kidnapped in Italy and subsequently held captive on a container ship. Before she reaches the ship she manages to get all kinds of relevant information to her husband's cell phone, even as she is threatened by three different bad guys. In order to rescue his wife, Denis calls on Paul, which stirs up all kinds of old feelings - jealousy, love, regret. Other financiers, who were all meeting in California when Anastasia was kidnapped in Italy, also become involved because of some of their investments.

Listeners may struggle with figuring out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. However it is very clear that the strongest most interesting character is Anastasia. She never loses her cool. It's no wonder both of these men love and admire her

These main characters are supplemented by other international rogues including Anastasia's Russian captor who waxes philosophical and makes some too close to the mark comments about the current status of Russia and the U.S.

Narrator Matt Addis is excellent. He has one of those voices that is smooth and deep, with an accent which I can only describe as cosmopolitan as it seems to fit all the characters wherever they come from.

Reviewed by Nola Theiss
*Vikram Paralkar. Night Theater. A Novel.
Read by Raj Ghatak.
5 CDs. 5.5 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

The intelligent living dead play a large part in Vikram Paralkar's magical novel, Night Theater, which has an exemplary performance by narrator by Raj Ghatak. Ghatak has the smooth confident delivery of a seasoned professional. His skillful narration is pitch-perfect, with every word enunciated just right. He attends to the finer details of each character and the characters are wonderfully realized with auras of people the listener might actually know, people with whom they have conversed. He is a dexterous reader, droll and deadpan now, angst-ridden, humorous, and confused later. He embodies the emotional rollercoaster of the characters. He switches seamlessly between characters, making them come alive with a knowing precision. His poignant rendering of the pregnant mother and her dead son is particularly good, incisively done, as is his very humorous reading of a drunken beggar, a scamp of sorts who provides welcome comedy relief, in this strange dark tale.

Night Theater is not a zombie novel, yet there are some elements of the walking dead subgenre in it. There are living dead people in the book, but they are not interested in a meal of naked brain, they want to be alive. The novel's plot hinges on this impossibility. Night Theater is literary fiction with zombies, like Colson Whitehead's Zone One. The comparison stops there. Night Theatre is comprised of about seven main characters, a doctor, the pharmacist who is his assistant, her husband, a health inspector, and three dead people. The dead people are a family made up of a pregnant mother, a father, and their son who were recently waylaid in the village where the doctor practices. They were murdered by bandits who stabbed them to death. They have come to the doctor to fix them, to make them alive again. How this family came to be the walking, talking dead is enigmatic, a bit of magical realism. There is much to sort out in this surreal tale. There is genuine suspense in the thing, not the kind found in a thriller, but the quiet kind that hinges on whether the doctor can achieve the height of a god.

Ghatak is attentive to all the wonderful things in the novel. He keeps the pacing steady. The often lyrical prose of the book is pronounced in his smooth narration so that the poetry is heard and the rhythm is sustained throughout. This is a wonderful performance of a well-written novel.

Reviewed by Berkley W. Semple
*Lucinda Riley. The Sun Sister.
Read by Weruche Opia and Sophie Roberts.
22 CDs. 26.25 hours.
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books. 2019

The sixth book in the Seven Sisters series, The Sun Sister, focuses on Electra d'Apliese, a woman of color and beautiful, and a rich, famous Manhattan fashion model, whose total self-absorption doesn't allow her to fit easily into Pa Salt's unique family. Like her other sisters, Electra receives a letter from Pa after his death, revealing details about her past and clues to reconnecting with her birth family.

All of the seven sisters were adopted by millionaire Pa from around the world for various reasons. Five of Electra's other sisters have read their letters from Pa and followed the trail to discover their identity, but Electra resists. She was devastated by Pa's death and feels like an outsider in the family. In her life of luxury and world fame, however, fortified by drugs and alcohol, Electra isn't happy; in fact, she is depressed much of the time. A letter from her grandmother, Stella, leads to a tenuous first meeting. Electra, very upset, overdoses on alcohol and drugs, ending up in the hospital. Stella and others who love her, urge her to attend a recovery clinic. She grudgingly agrees to go, but is resistant to the limitations imposed by that setting. While there she finally reads Pa's letter, in which she learns a little more about her background.

At the clinic Electra makes some friends, renews ties with her family, and starts to clean up her life. When she returns to Manhattan, no longer dependent on drugs and alcohol, Electra begins a series of conversations with Stella, which reveal Electra's very complicated family history – both in New York City and in Kenya beginning in 1939. Ultimately, Electra realizes that she has choices in her life and begins making changes in her priorities. The question is whether she can succeed in her new life.

This is an excellent audiobook spread over 22 discs, very long, indeed, but well worth the journey. Narrators, Weruche Opia and Sophie Roberts expertly manage to represent each distinct character, providing appropriate accents for those from other countries. Lucinda Riley's novels have a special quality in that they tell each sister's story, weaving them into the fabric of the family's story.

The seventh sister, missing in the series so far, is just discovered at the end of this book, so another installment is coming. Readers who like generational and somewhat exotic, family stories, detailed introspective novels, and stories about relationships will enjoy The Sun Sister and the other seven sisters books.

Reviewed by Susan Allison
*Rebecca Roanhorse. Star Wars Resistance Reborn. Journal to Star War: The Rise of Skywalker.
Read by Marc Thompson.
10 CDs. 11.5 hrs.
Random House Audio. 2019.

Award-winning speculative fiction writer Rebecca Roanhorse's Resistance Reborn is a prequel to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. As they flee their defeat at the hands of the First Order which was portrayed in Star Wars, the Last Jedi, Leia Organa and Poe Dameron must find a new base of operations for the few remaining Resistance fighters. Leia sends out several teams to search for some proven leaders and fighters who had fought against the Empire in the past. One of the teams is trying to get hold of a First Order list of the enemies of the First Order which has been stolen from the First Order and is being auctioned off by the criminal Collective. Another team is sent to rescue a key leader who has already been captured by the First Order. A third team is sent to steal some more star fighters. There is lots of action in this installment of the Star Wars tale since every team runs into unexpected problems. Each team more or less succeeds in the end, although they still have not found a secure base of operations. There are some interesting sound effects that accompany Thompson's excellent semi-voiced reading. Thompson consistently portrays each main character as well as the challenges that each character faces.

Reviewed by Hugh M. Flick, Jr.
*J. D. Robb. Golden in Death.
Read by Susan Ericksen.
Digital download. 11 CDs. 14 hours.
Macmillan Audio. 2020.

A loving father, grandfather, husband and pediatrician opens a package and suffers a horrible death. Who and why would someone kill such a good person? Eve Dallas is the investigating cop. As she and her crew try to put the pieces together another identical death occurs – to yet another good person. Are the deaths connected?

This is J.D. Robb's fiftieth (!!!) title in the Eve Dallas series and she has definitely not lost her touch. J.D. Robb is the pseudonym for Nora Roberts, who writes romances.

Narrator Susan Ericksen has recorded over 500 audiobooks and won numerous awards. Her acting talents are audible here in bringing Eve, her husband and all other characters into distinct existence.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
Alexis Schaitkin. Saint X. Read by Alex Hyde-White and 14 others.
11 CDs. 12 hours, 25 minutes.
Macmillan. 2020.

An island vacation becomes a nightmare when 7-year-old Claire's teenage sister is murdered. The police are unsuccessful in proving who did it after questioning likely suspects. Twenty years later Claire, now living in NYC, is riding in a taxi when she realizes the driver, Clive, is one of the men charged and found not guilty. She is convinced he is the one who killed her sister. She becomes absolutely obsessed, following him around, even becoming a friend. When the author shifts to Clive's point of view, we get a much fuller picture.

This is a debut novel for Alexis Schaitkin who lives in Massachusetts. There are fifteen narrators for this story, the main ones being Alex Hyde-White who is an actor and stage manager in addition to narrating audiobooks and Dana Dae, an actress and producer. It is not often that one is treated to individual distinct voices for all the characters in a story so this is definitely an added bonus.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
*Larry D. Sweazy. The Rattlesnake Season, A Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger Novel.
Narrated by Chris Henry Coffey.
7 CDs. 8.5 hours.
Recorded Books, 2020.

The Rattlesnake Season is the first in a series of seven Josiah Wolfe novels and the first novel Larry D. Sweazy published at the age of 49. He was born in, and still lives in, Indiana.

Josiah Wolf lost his two daughters to sickness and then his wife in childbirth. All he has to live for now is his infant son. But he has to rejoin the Texas Rangers to escort a convicted killer, Charlie Langdon– and a man he knows- to trial. Josiah just wants the job over with so he can get back home to his son. Unfortunately Langdon is rescued by members of his gang while the leader of the Texas Rangers is shot and killed. Everything has become a whole lot more complicated.

Chris Henry Coffey is an award-winning actor in movies, plays and television. In addition he has narrated more than twenty audiobooks. Here he displays his acting talent on a variety of characters, flawlessly displaying their emotions and unique voices.

Reviewed by Katrina Yurenka
Susan Wiggs. The Lost and Found Bookshop.
Narrated by Emily Rankin.
Digital download. 12 hours, 20 minutes.
HarperAudio. 2020.

Natalie is a successful businesswoman who has just been promoted at her job and thinks her life will follow a particular trajectory. In one tragic moment, that all changes when she discovers her mother and boyfriend have been killed in a plane crash. She is left with her mom's bookstore and her beloved grandfather, who is showing increased signs of dementia. The bookstore is drowning in debt and the building itself is in disrepair. Unable to liquidate inventory and sell the place, Natalie must figure out how to make the business viable again while dealing with her grief. Enter two potential suitors: a down-to-earth handyman and a wildly famous children's book author. Listeners will know right away who is better for her, but it takes Natalie much longer to figure out. The ending is somewhat rushed, with a couple of unlikely plot points inserted, and this reviewer feels that it negatively altered the overall tone of the story. Wiggs' fans may be disappointed.

Emily Rankin (previously credited as Emily Janice Card) has narrated more than 250 audiobooks, co-authors the manga series Laddertop, and is also the creator of the web short Jane Austen's Fight Club. Her semi-voiced performance mirrors the poignancy of the novel and listeners will be drawn in by its sincerity.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant
Rachael Denhollander. What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth About Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics.
Narrated by Rachael Denhollander.
Digital download. 11 hours, 13 minutes.
Recorded Books. 2019.

Rachael Denhollander, now a lawyer and mother of four, began gymnastic lessons at an older age than many of today's elite gymnasts. Her persistence led her to both successes and injuries. It was these injuries that eventually brought teenaged Rachael to the office of Larry Nassar, known best for his work with the USA Gymnastics Olympic team. He is warm and personable, instantly putting Rachael and her mother at ease. When the abuse begins, Rachael has a difficult time believing her own impressions of the situation, especially since her mother is in the exam room with her, surely knowing what's happening. When there is no longer any doubt about Nassar's abuse, Rachael initially stays silent, certain that because of his credentials, no one in power will believe her. As several years pass, she begins compiling evidence in the hopes of having an eventual opportunity to speak out against him. Her law school training is apparent as she puts together a compelling case to help potential law enforcement officials and prosecutors. She becomes the first person to speak publicly about Nassar's abuse, opening the floodgates for others to come forward. This chronicle of Denhollander's healing process also touches upon her faith journey and experiences as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse within her religious community.

While this is primarily the story of Rachael's life and her fight to hold Nassar accountable, it is also a commentary on the gymnastics community and the world at large; its inability to put children's safety first, its willingness to sweep problematic and abusive behavior under the rug in order to maintain the status quo, and its shaming of victims who speak up.

The choice of Denhollander to read her own writing is appropriate and impactful. While not a polished narrator, she reads with expression and poise. Listeners who hear her describe her struggles and eventual triumph can't help but be uplifted by her journey. Her strength as she transforms from a victim to a victims' advocate is inspiring.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant
*Kent Garrett and Jeanne Ellsworth. The Last Negroes at Harvard. The Class of 1963 and The 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever.
Read by Peter Jay Fernandez.
9 CDs. 10.75 hrs.
Recorded Books. 2019/2020

When Kent Garrett began his freshman year at Harvard in 1959, African Americans were regularly known as "Negroes." In the four years he was there, the word had grown out of favor. Not only had the terminology begun to change, but the way that Garrett, and the other African Americans in his class, perceived themselves had, too.

Growing up in a working-class home in Queens, Garrett excelled in academics, skipping grades and attending the prestigious Boy's High, and he lived mostly among other Black people. The experience of attending college at overwhelmingly-white Harvard, sitting side by side with the sons of bankers and politicians – even living in the same house as David Rockefeller – shocked his world view.

But The Last Negroes at Harvard is more than just a coming of age story. The book weaves the biographies of Garrett and the young men with whom Garrett began at Harvard into a thorough examination of the historical moment and the struggle for civil rights at that time. The authors, Garrett and longtime educator Jeanne Ellsworth, tell the story by relying upon Garrett's memories, interviews with his classmates, administrators, and other Black alumni, and contemporary sources, like the Harvard newspaper, college yearbooks, and cringy "studies" of African American students at Harvard in which Garrett reluctantly participated. As Garrett explains in the introduction, his work on the book showed him how his time at Harvard shaped his later activism and desire to bring the Black perspective to television journalism. Because of the authors' efforts and thoughtfulness in putting together the book, The Last Negroes at Harvard serves three purposes: it's a well-researched group of biographies of courageous Black men willing to brave the WASPy world of Cambridge to get a stellar education; a detailed history of the civil rights movement during a crucial four-year period; and a reminder of how far we have come and how much further we have to go to achieve racial equality in education.

Because the authors chose to tell the story in the first person from Garrett's point of view, the choice of film actor Peter Jay Fernandez to narrate the book was an excellent one. Fernandez's sonorous voice and his often-exasperated delivery when narrating the most despicable moments of this country's racism complemented the tone and pacing of the book very well.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
*Fenton Johnson. At The Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life.
Read by Sean Runnette.
7 CDs. 8 hrs.
HighBridge. 2020.

"Spinsterhood is a calling. Bachelorhood is a legitimate vocation," writes Fenton Johnson in his compelling memoir cum biography of the value of aloneness (not loneliness) in the lives of many creative people, including himself.

Johnson poetically weaves in his own story, as the youngest in a large family in rural Kentucky, and illustrates how bachelorhood and solitude have given him the space to create. Like many of the writers and artists he profiles, Johnson embraces deep friendships and love affairs, but his creativity flows when he shuts out the noise – of smart phones and constant media chatter – and through his choice to forgo the domestic obligations that come with marriage and children.

While some of the creative "solitaries" that Johnson includes here are well-known recluses, many were married, had children, or had a lively group of friends and correspondents. Johnson's through-line is that they, and their art, thrived when they were alone. He also defends the solitaries against the assumption that there was something wrong with them if they chose to stay unmarried, or married but lived apart from a spouse, or chose not to have children. Instead, Johnson sees these as signs of free-spirited and creative natures.

Johnson's work covers many artists, and there are limitations on how far his thesis can go. It is impossible to know whether Walt Whitman, who is believed to have been gay, would have married and lived with a partner had society permitted it. And while Johnson is humble in the face of changing times, I continue to be bothered by some of his musings on race. Writing about Eudora Welty's short story "Powerhouse," which features a musician based on Fats Waller, Johnson discusses her tolerance, but desire, like other privileged white people living in the South, for change to come slowly. Johnson writes, "Racism was never simple. Maybe what has gone away since Welty's time is a willingness, or capacity, of many black people to forgive, in the measure white people required of them, to live in a white society." Whether intentional or not, this statement places the burden on black people to excuse racism, rather than on white people to eradicate it. If Johnson did not mean it in these terms, I would have liked to hear further clarification, since the remark felt out of place in his inclusive, loving attitude towards the solitary creatives he features here.

Sean Runnette's reading, in a slow, calming baritone, is in perfect harmony with Johnson's pacing in At the Center of All Beauty. Runnette does not attempt accents to match any of the quotations, which helps the listener focus on Johnson's poetic treatment of a subject which is so dear to him.

Reviewed by Joanna Theiss
*Kate Murphy. You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why it Matters.
Read by the author.
6.5 hrs. 6 CDs.
Macmillan Audio. 2020.

Kate Murphy is a Houston, Texas-based journalist who has spent two years doing research through interviews from Boise to Beijing, with influential people as well as those she met on the train or at a restaurant. During this pandemic the skill of listening is more critical than ever, so put down those devices and listen up.

Quotes from some notable folks. Albert Einstein once said, "Any fool can know. The point is to understand." Calvin Coolidge noted that "No man ever listened himself out of a job." For Helen Keller deafness was worse than blindness.

The dangers of not listening include loneliness, isolation, negative health effects, premature death, feeling disconnected, and even suicide. The World Health Organization notes that suicide rates world wide have gone up 60%. Today we text, tweet, use social media. Cell phones shut people out. We no longer have face-to-face deep conversations.

Consider Congressional hearings today to deal with the coronavirus crisis. They talk over one another and reach no compromise. Fake news and outrage get attention.

Murphy interviewed a CIA agent chief interrogator whose job was critical in gathering information. His tactics? Make eye contact, don't interrupt, and repeat what you heard. You need curiosity, like little kids asking questions. To listen is to be interested. We can even learn from toddlers. Active listening means asking questions and paying attention to non-verbal cues.

The FBI's lead negotiator, who retired in 2003 after a 30-year career, interviewed mass shooters who were alienated from society. No one listened to them. So while it feels safer to listen to those we agree with, this does not solve problems. Steve Jobs of Apple hired employees who would stand up to him, How else could he learn?

And learn to tolerate silence. Don't just jump in to fill up the gap. In Japan and Finland silence is tolerated more. But the Dutch and Germans, like Americans, don't pause before speaking.

Finally, you don't learn if you speak. You only learn if you listen.

So listen to Kate Murphy as she narrates her own book. You will learn something. She has also written for The New York Times, The Economist, Agence France-Presse, and Texas Monthly. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Janet Julian
*Denver Nicks & John Nicks. Conviction. The Murder Trial That Powered Thurgood Marshall's Fight for Civil Rights.
Read by Ron Butler.
6 CDs. 6.5 hrs.
Blackstone. 2019.

This timely book about Thurgood Marshall, who, as the young chief counsel of the NAACP's new Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) is sent (in the 1940's) to defend W.D. Lyons, a teenage black farmhand in rural Oklahoma who has been accused of a triple murder. Along the way, listeners learn about the history of the NAACP and the LDF and Thurgood Marshall's eventual rise to Supreme Court Justice. This is not for the faint-hearted as the brutal and horrific scenes of violence, torture and racism are vivid and heartbreaking. This is an important book about a little-known incident that ultimately led to Thurgood Marshall's role in the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and the social revolution in the U.S. that followed and is still ongoing.

Author Denver Nicks, former staff writer for Time magazine and has contributed to Rolling Stone magazine. He is the author of the books Private: Bradley Manning, Wikileaks, and the Biggest Exposure of Official Secrets in American History and Hot Sauce Nation: America's Burning Obsession. John Nicks is an attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma, specializing in civil rights law.

Film/television/theater actor and award-winning narrator Ron Butler provides a strong sense of the period, setting, and atmosphere. His tempo matches the writing perfectly. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Susan Rosenzweig
Kristen Richardson. The Season: A Social History of the Debutante.
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell.
Digital download. 9 hours, 52 minutes.
Highbridge. 2020.

Kristen Richardson grew up in a family of debutantes, though she did not "come out" herself. She explores the history of debutante balls and their like throughout the ages, beginning with Henry VIII's era and ending with present day society. Along the way, she analyzes the deeper connotations of many traditional rituals, some regional, and what they mean in a larger context. Primary source material such as diary entries, interviews, and letters sheds light on what these young women felt and experienced and how it affected their lives. Commentary regarding financial elitism and white supremacy and how the debutante process has often reinforced these problems is fascinating and timely.

Narrator Cassandra Campbell, winner of several Audie Awards, has performed several hundred audiobooks, and is known for her great expression and ability to build tension. She gives a subtle, somewhat understated reading here, likely based more on the nature of the source material rather than any deficiencies on her part. Recommend this title to listeners interested in social histories.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant
*Gretchen Sorin. Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights. Narrated by Janina Edwards and Gretchen Sorin.
Digital download. 9 hours, 8 minutes.
Highbridge. 2020.

Until motorcars were invented, African Americans were much more dependent on public transportation and were very likely to encounter harsh discrimination and sometimes life threatening situations during their journeys. Once the car gave them greater freedom to travel, more obstacles appeared. Where could a black traveler stay? Most hotels didn't accept people of color. Where could they buy gasoline? Service stations were likely to refuse to sell them any, or allow them use of the restroom. One important contribution to safe travel was "The Negro Motorist Green Book,"an annual guide which advised the traveler of places to stay, restaurants, and gas stations, plus even the best routes to use. It was published for thirty years, and the number of entries it contained grew with each edition. Similar guidebooks appeared, but The Green Book set the standard. Sorin's extensive research and personal family recollections blend seamlessly to inform the listener of what African Americans experienced daily, beginning with the pre-Civil Rights period and ending with the present day. She smoothly narrates the introduction.

Janina Edwards has spent over thirty years as a narrator, using her voice talents in many genres. Born in Chicago, she graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. She gives an engaging and clear performance. Her pacing is excellent. This audiobook is essential for anyone who wishes to learn more about Twentieth Century African American history and how those early struggles have shaped today.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant
Amy Shira Teitel. Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight.
Read by the Author.
Digital download. 11 hours.
Hachette Audio. 2020.

The quest to put an American woman into space hasn't been clear or linear. Two stellar female pilots, twenty-five years apart in age, each had a major impact on the question of women joining NASA's space program in its infancy. On the surface, both Jackie Cochran and Jerrie Cobb had several things in common: they each came from difficult circumstances, both fought tooth and nail to get into the cockpit, and both were fiercely determined to reach their personal flying goals.

Jackie was a dynamo who hid her origins from everyone. She led the Women's Auxiliary Service Pilots (WASPs) during the Second World War, accomplished numerous airspeed records, and spent her career continually pushing the envelope. Thanks to the help of her aviator friend, Chuck Yeager, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier.

Jerrie, the younger of the two, was just as crazy about flying. She skipped school to watch planes, and did as many jobs as she could in order to earn enough money to pay for flight time. When the space program was announced, Jerrie decided to do whatever it took to become an astronaut. Even though she was rejected at every turn, she persisted, and found a way to take the identical tests the Mercury astronauts had taken. Eventually, numerous other women were recruited for the same tests, and this sparked further activism on Jerrie's part for women's inclusion into the space program.

Jackie and Jerrie never saw eye-to-eye on what role women should take in spaceflight, but both of them passionately advocated their positions. Their lives are fascinating and their achievements groundbreaking, especially during a time when many doors were closed to women.

Author Amy Shira Teitel is an accomplished science writer; this is her third book focusing on spaceflight. She writes her own blog called Vintage Space and has a master's degree in science and technology studies. Her enthusiasm comes through in this semi-voiced performance, which can sound a bit breathless at times. The book includes an accompanying pdf containing photos and correspondence which will give listeners a fuller picture of both Jackie and Jerrie.

Reviewed by Olivia Durant