Audio books are great for providing entertainment for those weary of just sitting in traffic and listening to the woes of the world on news radio, bored with the nattering talking heads mouthing the same opinions over and over; or crazy from the popular songs that you just can’t get out of your head because that’s all the radio is playing these days. Audio books fill the bill and are especially great if you are on a long car trip, alone or with your family. Over the years a reader’s voice can become like an old friend.
Professional book readers can make or break a story. Most readers are actors, some very well-known film and TV performers, and others from the stage and regional theater. Some have made quite a lucrative profession out of reading books and are just plain excellent. Oft-lauded readers include Jim Dale, who has read the whole Harry Potter series, and Simon Vance, who brought the Swedish characters in Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy to life. They excel at providing just the right voices to match the various characters.
I recently had to return a CD to the library without finishing it. I could not get into the Kate Burton version of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, as she just could not portray the characters as distinctly as Kate Reading’s interpretation of the voices of Kay, Benson, Lucy and Marino. It was making me crazy because I could never tell which character was speaking. So, listeners, be warned! Sometimes there are two different versions of the same book from different audio producers and with different readers. Also, be sure to choose the unabridged version of the audio book or you won’t get the full story.
Another audio book problem can be the author’s deciding to read her/his own novels. Some are better than others, and some much worse. One of my all-time favorite authors is Harlan Coben. He decided to read his comeback novel in the Myron Bolitar series, Promise Me, and it was such a disappointment. He just could not give voice to his great characters–Myron, Win, and Esperanza–the way that Jonathan Marosz, Scott Brick, or Steven Weber have done for other titles in this series.
When I recently found out Jane Green was reading her own story, Another Piece of My Heart, my own heart sank. Green’s chick-lit has morphed over her last few books into women’s fiction about more serious subjects. This story is about the joys and sorrows of a stepmother who wants a child of her own, but must make the best of it with her husband’s children from a previous marriage. However, the teenage daughter just hates her. Listening, at first, it was hard to adjust to Green’s very British accent speaking for a very American family. But she pulled it off! Without doing voices per se, she knew the characters so well that she imbued each with personality and passion. A job well done for an author/reader.
Sometimes a story is just confusing on its own, and the best of readers can have problems. An example of this is The Expats, by Chris Pavone. Reader Mozhan Marno portrays the story of a young couple who moves to Europe when the husband accepts a position as a bank security guru, and the wife leaves behind her secret career as a CIA spy/assassin. Her suspicious nature leads her to doubt every aspect of their lives together. I told my friend, who recommended this audio version, that the book was like Pavone wrote the story on index cards and tossed them up in the air. Time shifts constantly: to the distant past, the recent past, days ago, and now. People, locations, and events are in flux, and it is almost impossible to hear from the reader’s tone where we are in this complex tale. I stuck with it, though, and was happy I did.
Here are three other recent audio books I heartily recommend that would be great for a road trip. The readers are excellent and keep these very different stories moving along.
Sophie Kinsella’s laugh-out-loud I’ve Got Your Number, read by a gravelly-voiced, expressive Jayne Entwistle, is the story of a bride-to-be who appropriates an abandoned cell phone when hers is stolen, so she can continue to plan her wedding. She soon insinuates herself into the life of a handsome, successful businessman and his corporate shenanigans.
Lisa Gardner’s Catch Me is read by steady Kirsten Potter. It’s the latest in the D.D. Warren series where the Boston PD detective is approached for help by a woman convinced that she will be murdered in four days. As the clock ticks on this suspenseful story, the women desperately try to identify the potential killer.
Finally, for those who love complex thrillers with a historical twist, try James Rollins’s The Devil Colony, read by Peter Jay Fernandez. Here the expressive reader sustains the plot’s actions that jump from location to location and–incredibly–concern the Great Seal of the United States, the Anasazi Indians, the lost tribes of Israel, Mormon settlers in the west, and nanotechnology! It’s a typical roller coaster of a story in Rollins’s excellent Sigma Force series.
Some final hints about audio book readers: if you listen to a reader you like, you can always check the catalog under their names as a keyword search (editor’s note: an author search works too). Sometimes you will stumble across other great stories that they have read. Or you can check out what readers have won the annual Audie awards, And remember, audio books come in several different formats: CDs, downloadable e-audio, and Playaways. Some older stories are still available as cassette tapes as well (a different editor’s note: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh no longer carries cassettes, but we can borrow them from other libraries for you). Choose the version that best suits your needs.