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Audiobook reviews: The Book of Dust; Turtles All the Way Down; The Midnight Line

In audiobook review, Books, Reviews, Uncategorized on April 22, 2018 at 10:43 am
Dust, Turtles, MidnightJenni Laidman
Chicago Tribune
Nov. 20, 2017

“The Midnight Line” by Lee Child, narrated by Dick Hill, Random House Audio, 13 hours, 6 minutes

Dick Hill is Jack Reacher for audiobook fans. Hill narrated the last 18 of the 22 books in this Lee Child series. Although he missed books two through four, he spoke at the genesis with the first Reacher book, “Killing Floor.” So it pains me to say this, but: It’s time for Hill to go. Somewhere around book 19, “Personal,” Hill’s voice developed a warble. With each successive novel, Reacher sounds less like a tough guy and more like someone’s uncertain grandpa. The problem is more of tone than age. There is little in the books to remind us that Reacher, who fights with the ferocity and experience of a 30-something brawler, is actually 57. But Hill’s narration turns him geriatric. While it is delightful to imagine pops taking on seven outlaw bikers — none of whom so much as scuffs his shoes — it strains even my very elastic credulity when it comes to Jack Reacher. (I also miss the days when Reacher still took an occasional punch.)

More problematic: It’s often difficult to tell who’s talking. Is it Reacher or the private investigator he’s teamed with? Is it Reacher or the general who runs West Point? They are frequently indistinguishable. You can regain a younger Reacher if you speed the playback to 1.25x on your smartphone, but that doesn’t fix the dialogue confusion. Hill is a celebrated narrator, with more than 500 titles to his name and three Audie awards. He’s earned his place among the great voices. But for Jack Reacher, his voice is great no longer.

“The Book of Dust” by Philip Pullman, narrated by Michael Sheen, Listening Library, 13 hours, 7 minutes

“His Dark Materials,” Philip Pullman’s beloved trilogy about the indomitable girl hero, Lyra Belacqua, are full-cast recordings, Technicolor feasts of memorable voices. Lyra’s scrappy breathlessness remains my favorite girl voice, and the rumbling Iorek Byrnison, my favorite bear. So what were they thinking, giving a single actor the “Dark Materials” prequel, “The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage”?

For the rest of this review, plus “Turtles All the Way Down,” follow the link.

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Audiobook Reviews: The Music Shop; My Absolute Darling; Montpelier Parade

In audiobook review, Books, Reviews on April 22, 2018 at 10:27 am
Music, My Absolute, MontpelierJenni Laidman
Chicago Tribune

“The Music Shop” by Rachel Joyce, narrated by Steven Hartley, Random House Audiobooks, 8 hours, 33 minutes

Rachel Joyce, the author of the delightful and not-quite believable “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” has done it again with the often laugh-out-loud funny and similarly unbelievable “The Music Shop.” The shop is owned by Frank, who sells only vinyl records. One day Ilse Brauchmann stops by his shop and collapses, and thus the love story begins. Frank has a special musical gift. He can look at anyone and know what music they need to hear. He’s done it for Father Anthony, who runs the small religious gift shop next door. He’s done it for Maud, who owns the nearby tattoo studio. But his gift fails him in the face of Ilse Brauchmann.

English actor Steven Hartley approaches this narration with the good humor it requires, gamely singing when it’s called for — just don’t expect to be reminded of Aretha Franklin or Handel’s Messiah when he tackles them. Joyce is clearly an author who loves her characters, and Hartley helps make each memorable, from the prickly Maud, not-so-secretly in love with Frank, to Frank’s lovable and clumsy assistant, Kit, who, in one of the book’s most adorable chapters, dances around the record shop to the tune of “Shaft.” Frank is ill-prepared to believe he has the right to love, which leads to the plot twists that just don’t bear scrutiny. But, do you really expect believability from a story built around one man’s magical ability to find the music to save your life? Of course not. So just sit back and enjoy the music.

“Montpelier Parade” by Karl Geary, narrated by Geary, Audible Studios, 5 hours, 51 minutes

Actor and club owner Karl Geary, who left Dublin for the United States as a teenager, adds a mournful shade to every sentence in “Montpelier Parade,” his debut novel shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. It’s an appropriate tone for a story so full of longing.

To read the rest of this review, and a review of “My Absolute Darling,” click here.

Audiobook reviews: Munich, Anatomy of a Scandal, This Could Hurt

In audiobook review, Books, Reviews, Uncategorized on April 22, 2018 at 10:15 am
Anatomy, This, MunichJenni Laidman
Chicago Tribune
April 10, 2018

“Munich” by Robert Harris, narrated by David Rintoul, Random House Audio, 9 hours, 38 minutes

Actor David Rintoul, the narrator of Robert Harris’ thriller, “Munich,” summons a grumbling chorus of voices as the diplomatic maneuvers to prevent World War II unfurl. Not only must Rintoul manage the dry-leaves delivery of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the beer-hall harshness of Adolf Hitler, he has all the politicians and civil servants at the hearts of the British and German governments to enliven. Rintoul keeps a taut rein on the growing tension as a pair of young men — one German, one English — try to change the course of history.

The story of Chamberlain’s effort to forestall war is so well-worn, it’s lost its edges for many, but Harris’ story snaps the prime minister’s motivations into place. Chamberlain is a wily negotiator, working hard to outflank Hitler. If words could bind a criminal, Chamberlain’s desperate machinations would have changed history. But the prime minister disregarded Hitler’s essence; Paul von Hartmann, temporarily assigned to Hitler’s staff, has information he hopes will change Chamberlain’s course. His only hope of passing it along is a former Oxford friend, Hugh Legat, a low-ranking member of Chamberlain’s staff. Harris, who wrote “Fatherland” and the Cicero Trilogy, is a master of layering detail for tightly plotted, immersive fiction. His two young schemers are positioned to provide an intimate view of the political and defense calculations on both sides of the channel, while on the streets of London, workers scurry with sandbags and shovels to prepare for the worst — the only efforts that, in the end, really mattered.

To read the other reviews, follow the link here.

Man Booker Short List Predictions, sort of

In Books, Man Booker, Reviews on September 6, 2014 at 6:40 am

I still haven’t read all the Man Booker long list entries, but, for the hell of it, here are the six I’d put into the short list if I was the one making the announcement on Sept. 9 — if anyone was mad enough to  let me have a say. This isn’t a prediction — despite my misleading headline. My track record at predicting this prize could not be worse. Last year, the short list book I hated ran away with the prize.

And of course, the best book may still be among the short stack of entries I haven’t yet read. I need to quit my job and catch up with my reading.

My list, in no particular order:

The History of the Rain by Niall Williams

Us by David Nicholls

Orfeo by Richard Powers

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

 

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