Forget those plastic hanging bags used to store read-alongs in
most libraries. Vox Books is ushering in a new era.
BY KRISTI ELLE JEMTEGAARD
The read-along format is worth a second look by librarians who think the tactile xperience of thick pages and glorious color in hardcover picture books are still great things to put in the hands of a child. The tantalizing idea of combin-
ing circulating picture books with an audio component gave birth to the read-along,
but there have always been mind-boggling, hair-tearing challenges with the format.
Library workrooms all over the U.S. are probably even now filled with mismatched
and unmatched books and CDs, out of circulation until their complementary com-
ponent shows up.
Vox Books means to change all that. With a small, MP3-size audio unit permanently attached to the inside front cover of a Vox book, there are no stray CDs to
leave behind under the sofa cushions or in the backseat of the car when the book
itself is returned to the library. Another library-friendly (and user-friendly) advantage
of Vox titles is the simple array of buttons grouped by twos (On/Pause, Off; Volume
Up/Down; Page Forward/Back) that makes these innovative volumes easy to use
and almost explanation-free (although color-coding for quicker recognition would
be a huge plus for young listeners). And there’s more: battery life that Vox says accommodates up to 200 plays (a single recharger is included with every three items
purchased); flexible playback either with or without headphones, thus accommodating a variety of listening situations; automatic shutoff at the end of playback to
preserve battery life; a slim (3/8 inch) profile, which means items can be integrated
into the regular picture-book collection with only a minor loss of shelf space (and
no plastic hanging bags!); reasonable audio fidelity and durability at least as good as
a disc (given the tendency of many to use CDs as Frisbees), with a dozen or more
circulations and probably more longevity; and a price point (between $30 and $35)
that will impact but not implode an audio budget.
Yes, Vox Books may well give a new life to the read-along. See reviews of four
newly released Vox titles—Shannon Zemlicka’s From Tadpole to Frog, Peter Brown’s
My Teacher Is a Monster (No, I Am Not.), Richard T. Morris’ This Is a Moose, and Ame
Dyckman’s Wolfie the Bunny—are boxed on p. 67 of this issue.
By Ann Patchett. Read by Hope Davis.
2016. 10.5hr. Harper, CD, $39.99 (9780062561725).
Drawing on her own life, Patchett’s latest
novel follows a blended family over several decades. The novel opens when Bert,
father to three children (and one on the
way), meets Beverly at her second daughter Franny’s christening. The story follows
them through an affair and their marriage,
which joins the two families. The family’s
complicated history becomes fodder for an
award-winning novelist after law school
dropout turned waitress Franny serves drinks
to the prominent author and subsequently
relays the story of a childhood tragedy. Davis, who narrated Patchett’s State of Wonder
(2011), gives a satisfying performance of this
compelling novel. The story moves back and
forth in time, follows the perspectives of a
large cast of characters, and includes many
dialogue-heavy scenes, making it a challenging audio adaptation. Davis engages listeners
in the circular structure of the story with her
immersive and engrossing reading. The suspense builds, thanks to her unhurried and
understated performance. —Molly Wetta
The Couple Next Door.
By Shari Lapena. Read by Kirsten Potter.
2016. 8.5hr. Books on Tape, CD, $35 (9780735288805).
When parents leave their infant daughter
home alone to attend a dinner party and the
child is abducted, the media glare is both
immediate and hostile—and almost more
than the fragile mother, Anne, can take. Suffering from postpartum depression, she and
her husband, Marco, hold out hope that the
kidnappers will accept a hefty ransom, but as
days go by, Anne’s tenuous grip on sanity begins to slip. Veteran narrator Potter keeps the
tension palpable while events slowly unfold
and reveal the true, and frequently unlikable, nature of each person. Marco is first
distraught but later sounds annoyingly self-entitled; Anne’s stepfather is teeth-gratingly
haughty; and the persistent detective, blunt
and pedantic. She is most sympathetic with
Anne, keeping her tone hopeful yet tremulous, even as Anne doubts her own memory
of the fateful evening. Potter indeed builds
up so much emotional engagement with the
devastated mother’s plight that the final plot
twist will leave readers frustrated despite the
abundant foreshadowing. —Renee Young
By Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton.
Read by Lorelei King.
2016. 7hr. Books on Tape, CD, $35 (9780553551440).
Evanovich, best-selling author of the
Stephanie Plum novels, launches a new series with a thriller about missing gold and a
nefarious plot to disrupt the world’s finances.
When eccentric Emerson Knight demands
to withdraw his gold from Blane-Grunwald,
a privately held bank, Riley Moon, low (wo)