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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

August 2007

reviewed by Jonathan Lowe

Whether novel or novella, English author Ian McEwan's latest, ON CHESIL BEACH, is an emotional exploration of the disparate experiences of two young people--and the evolution of one--centering on their lack of experience in matters of sex. The couple in the white hot spotlight are Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting, who marry in their twenties in 1962, then attempt to consummate their love in a honeymoon suite on the Dorset Coast. Edward is a history student with a growing love of rock music, while Florence loves classical music, as the daughter of an Oxford philosophy professor. If she is serious and sensitive, he is impatient and naively expectant. So when their painfully embarrassing first union fails on all levels, she runs out onto the beach to be alone, and--unfortunately--he follows. Because when accusations are traded, they part. This forces Edward to push past the unspeakable to the ultimate question that later haunts him: had he given her space, might time have healed their pain, and mended their relationship for a second chance? Since "there was no language to say what needed to be said," Edward goes on alone, later wondering what might have been, had he possessed patience as well as love. A wistful yet profound book, ON CHESIL BEACH is all the more attractive in its audio version, since the author himself dramatizes the book's fears and emotions as its capable narrator. Able to be listened to in one sitting, the audiobook also includes a surprising interview with McEwan at the end, and what's best about this is that Ian's interviewer doesn't ask him how he works, but rather engages him in a probing discussion of how universally frightening real intimacy can be, even today. In this way, we learn more about the author than had the questions been limited to writing habits, book deals, and other celebrity trivia. Which is exactly the point of McEwan's writing--to get under the surface to the truth, however uncomfortable the act may be. (Random House Audio; 4 hours unabridged)


In BANGKOK HAUNTS, author John Burdett explores the more heartless and empty world of pornography and corruption in Thailand, as his Royal Thai detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep investigates the murder of a woman he once loved. His girlfriend Damrong was killed in a snuff film made available for sale, which naturally motivates him to enter the dangerous, exotic world of street gangs and shady men's clubs to expose those who profit from other people's misery. The pervasive acceptance of exploitation is most disturbing for Sonchai as his own boss becomes involved, to boot. As read by Glen McCready, Burdett's novel succeeds in illuminating how Bangkok became a tourist destination for perverts, too, although in real life there have been laws implemented in recent years to discourage the practice. Given the societal commentary such a plot undertakes, it's superior to simple serial killer plots set in America, although perhaps our lone, home-grown killers also say something about the estrangement of our own violent, competition-obsessed society as well. (Recorded Books; 12 3/4 hours unabridged) AMAZON.COM


Clive Cussler's thirty-fourth book, THE NAVIGATOR, is his seventh collaboration with Paul Kemprecos, and again utilizes the National Underwater & Marine Agency's "Special Assignments Team." When an ancient Phoenician statue was stolen from a Baghdad museum in 900 BCE, the secret it carried from the past reach into the future of the present day to inspire murderous lust. Victims of the men seeking the statue soon include a crooked antiques dealer, and--very nearly-- a UN investigator. With ties to the lost treasure of King Solomon, plus documents encoded by president Thomas Jefferson, the mystery follows a well-worn formula of surprise, deceit, action and intrigue. Narrator here is actor Richard Ferrone, whose gravelly voice is well known in mystery productions, primarily for Recorded Books, and he acquits his duties well. As for the writing, it is not without cliches and some painfully overwrought metaphors, but fans will forgive almost any transgressions to keep both the Kurt Austin and the Dirk Pitt series from ending. (Penguin Audio; 6 hours abridged) AMAZON.COM


According to author Travis Bradberry in THE PERSONALITY CODE, there just fourteen fundamental personality types. His research is based on a global study of half a million people, showing that these fourteen types result from an intermingling of only four major traits--Dominant, Interpersonal, Steady, and Conscientious. Knowing which type you are, and how your type typically interacts with other types, can supposedly help you decipher your reactions to other people, and their reactions to you. You find out which type you are by taking an online test, using the code supplied inside the cover of the audiobook. Sound too easy to be true? I took the test, which calculated my type as "Architect." Looking at descriptions of the fourteen, I could see that it was mostly true, although I probably wouldn't have guessed it for myself. Perhaps this means I don't know myself as much as I should? That's certainly the book's major claim: that self awareness is the key to success in all areas of life, and that few people truly know who they are. Since types change little over a lifetime, I'm also told I now have a tool to understand conflict, within and without. Narrated by Lloyd James, it all sounds convincing, even if the waters seem, at times, a bit muddy. (Tantor Media; 4 hours unabridged) AMAZON.COM

  Finally, narrators are obviously story tellers, but there are other professional story tellers whose stories have more to do with fables and anecdotes than actual books. Joel ben Izzy is one such person, and his own true story is told in THE BEGGAR KING AND THE SECRET OF HAPPINESS, which is about the loss of his voice, and how it changed his perspective and led him to an understanding of happiness and true success. Along the way, Izzy uses the timeless wisdom of ancient tales to illustrate his points. Beggars, kings, monks, tigers, buried treasures--they all serve as fuel to warm the heart of this small but powerful volume, which is essentially about unexpected truth. The book is narrated by the author, whose gentle and sensitive reading make it an excellent gift for Christmas or Birthdays. (Highbridge Audio; 4 1/2 hours unabridged) AMAZON.COM


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