Behind Her Eyes.
By Sarah Pinborough. Read by Bea
Holland and others.
2016. 11.5hr. Macmillan, CD, $39.99 (9781427282279).
In what is essentially a play-within-a novel
starring two women, this compelling tale shifts
from a deceptively mundane love triangle to a
riveting and suspenseful page-turner. Adele is
the affluent wife of
David, while Louise
is a struggling single
mom, who is also
and current lover. By
chance, the women
become fast friends,
leaving Louise torn between guilty love and
friendship. However, neither of the characters
is exactly who she seems to be, and as the artifices peel away, tension builds.
Josie Dunn, one of four readers, beautifully
expresses Louise’s inner conflict, filling her
voice with longing and despair, and powerfully depicting her painful need to confess
her position in David’s office to Adele and her
friendship with Adele to David. Dunn’s portrayal reveals a loving mom whose part-time
job, tiny flat, and concerns about money and
security drive her actions. Adele’s character is
more restrained and secretive as voiced by Bea
Holland; although she comes from money, she
is closely watched and dominated by David.
As the unfaithful, often violent David, Huw
Parmenter conveys the outward appearance of
normality, a caring husband and successful psychiatrist, but this mask hides an abuser whose
true nature is revealed as the drama progresses.
Through short chapters and alternating points
of view, the skilled cast puts listeners inside the
characters’ heads in this menacing tale of obsession and deceit. —Whitney Scott
The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City:
Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901
By Margaret Creighton. Read by Callie
2016. 9.5hr. HighBridge, CD, $34.99 (9781681682488).
The 1901 Pan American Exposition, held
in Buffalo, was host to a panoply of events
ranging from spectacular to tragic. Creighton’s account weaves together the stories of
President McKinley’s assassination, midway performers, exotic animals, and stunt
performers drawn to nearby Niagara Falls.
What was designed to outshine Chicago’s
1893 White City was marred by lower-than-
expected attendance, high costs, and the
assassination of the president. Despite the
story being populated by a range of unsavory
and unsympathetic characters, Beaulieu reads
with an objective evenness that prevents the
listener from choosing sides. She avoids em-
ploying accents (except mildly in the case of
the midway’s “Plantation” exhibit) or empha-
sizing a particular story line. She presents the
fate of the elephant Jumbo II with the same
weight as the president’s death. The result is
a multifaceted and well-rounded account of
the ambitious and ill-fated Rainbow City that
would complement Erik Larson’s The Devil in
the White City nicely. —Jane Philbrick
Friday on My Mind.
By Nicci French. Read by Beth Chalmers.
2016. 9.5hr. Books on Tape, CD, $45 (9781101925065).
In this fifth series entry, Frieda Klein once
again finds herself involved in a police investigation when her former lover is found
murdered. Despite scanty evidence, the police
focus on Frieda to the exclusion of any other
suspects, and she decides the only way to find
the killer is to conduct her own investigation.
Series narrator Chalmers flawlessly personifies
Frieda and her close circle of friends. Although Frieda appears cold and uncaring to
acquaintances, Chalmers’ performance reveals
the caring nature and generous spirit that are
masked by her clinical manner. Forgoing any
verbal acrobatics, Chalmers uses her crisp, well-modulated tones to create realistic voices for
the expanded cast of diverse characters, ranging
from Eastern European roommates to the children that Frieda (briefly) nannies. Serial-killer
and stalker Dean Reeve’s shadowy presence is
still felt, and a brief scene at the end reveals the
close watch he keeps on Frieda, as the tension
builds to the expected final confrontation between Reeve and Frieda. —Renee Young
A Gambler’s Anatomy.
By Jonathan Lethem. Read by Mark
2016. 10.5hr. Books on Tape, CD, $40 (9780147520814).
Professional backgammon player Alexander
Bruno finds his vision impaired by a slowly
growing “blot” behind his eyes. An MRI
reveals a precarious growth that only one surgeon will even try to remove. Bruno returns
to Berkeley, California, for the surgery, with
the operation to be paid for by Keith, a high-school acquaintance whose business success
finally makes him feel more powerful than
the handsome gambler. Keith’s joy in degrading Bruno is deeply disturbing. (And that’s
saying a lot in a book that includes a long
passage about literally cutting someone’s face
off.) Deakins uses the omniscient narrator to
characterize Bruno as a spectator of his own
life. Initially, Deakins’ choice not to play up
Bruno’s narcissism (think TV’s Archer) seems
like a missed opportunity. But when listeners
learn the character’s ultimate fate, the decision to keep him a cipher seems well played.
Subtle characterizations and an evenly paced
delivery complement the book’s slow reveal.
By B. J. Daniels. Read by Graham
2016. 9.5hr. Recorded Books, CD, $123.75
Here’s a Romeo and Juliet–Hatfields and
McCoys mash-up, with romance and mystery
woven in. Set in contemporary Montana, this
compelling story involves secrets, forbidden
love, presidential aspirations, and scandal.
When trysting couple Harper Hamilton and
Brody McTavish discover the mummified
remains of Brody’s cousin Maggie, they determine to uncover the truth about Harper’s
deceased grandfather’s alleged dalliance with
Maggie—and possibly her murder. Generations
of distrust and outright hatred, both within
these families and from the outside, surface,
along with Maggie’s remains. Winton easily
delineates the many voices in this large cast.
Brody’s baritone reflects years of eating prairie
dust; the gruff-voiced, world-weary sheriff’s
voice suggests he’s seen decades of discord; and
the threatened elder Hamilton’s voice tightens
with endangered secrets. Winton’s readings of
women are also convincing, never falsely high-pitched or stereotypical, in this high-voltage
tale that’s sure to entertain. —Whitney Scott
Hero of the Empire: The Boer War,
a Daring Escape, and the Making of
By Candice Millard. Read by Simon Vance.
2016. 10.5hr. Books on Tape, CD, $40 (9780307987990).
Contemporary readers know Winston
Churchill primarily for his larger-than-life role
as a leading participant in WWII. What may be
less familiar are the origins of his immortality,
which date back to his youthful exploits during the Boer War, at the turn of the twentieth
century. In an adventure yarn that foreshadows
elements of both world wars, Millard tells the
story of Churchill’s ambition, which led him
into battle, capture, and daring escape. Vance,
a perennial favorite, reads Millard’s tale with a
subtle drama that keeps the narrative moving
and illuminates a dynamic cast of characters.
His performance is warm and energetic, even
when describing what could be dry military
maneuvers. His smooth British accent is suited
to the setting, and he seamlessly mixes in mild
accents, including when quoting an American
newspaper and Churchill himself. The end result is a moving tale of derring-do that shows
listeners a heroic Churchill, on his way to creating his own legend. —Jane Philbrick
Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love,
By Jennifer Weiner. Read by the author.
2016. 13hr. Simon & Schuster Audio, CD, $39.99
Weiner’s fans will become immersed in her
youthful voice and expressive reading of this
collection of autobiographical essays. Weiner
spent most of her youth in Connecticut, where
she felt neither pretty nor preppy, two requisites
for popularity. Following a disastrous summer
in Israel with other teens, she came home and