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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

February 2008

by Jonathan Lowe

Are science and religion compatible? No, says Douglas Preston in an interview following the audio production of his novel BLASPHEMY. This high concept thriller tackles the question of God by positing a particle accelerator powerful enough to probe the hidden dimensions where God is thought to live. At such extreme temperatures anything is possible--even a mini black hole or singularity where the laws of physics break down in a recreation of that rarified environment milliseconds after the Big Bang. Sides are quickly drawn between the scientist whose vision initiated the development of "Isabella," and a televangelist who plans to use the machine to propel his own career. With the fate of science as mankind's new religion, the main characters in Preston's novel each have their roles in the climactic turn of events. Rev. Don T. Spates succeeds in goading his evangelical Christian followers into murdering, rampaging zealots, bent on stopping lead scientist William North Hazelius (called the AntiChrist) at any cost. Bellowing Scripture like a rabid wolf, Spates attacks with melodramatic glee, in narrator Scott Sowers' interpretation. Meanwhile, Hazelius may or may not be lying about what he's discovered in that other-dimensional "world." Ultimately, although nothing is really answered at the conclusion (Preston isn't stupid), the novel is an entertaining examination of the science/ religion schism, by the author of Tyrannosaur Canyon, Jennie, and The Codex. A bonus here, as revealed in Preston's interview with the editor of Scientific American, is that we also learn what a fraud L. Ron Hubbard (founder of Scientology) may have been, to boot. (Sound Library on CD, or as download; 14 hours unabridged)
Amanda Goldberg and Ruthanna K. Hopper take aim at Hollywood in CELEBUTANTES, a novel which follows the misadventures of Lola Santisi, an ex model and the daughter of a famed director. Lola has been downgraded to the role of a hanger-on, with the new job of trying to convince true celebrities to wear a relatively unknown fashion designer's gowns to the Oscar show. She and her friends, (a talent agent and a struggling actress), move through the maze of parties and preparations leading up to the Oscars, noting the choices everyone ("who's anyone") makes, from "exquisite" to "fashion road kill." It's a vain and vicious world, where privileged multi- millionaires look down their noses on those beneath them on the party list, and demand payoffs and bribes to appear at events. (Or to wear certain designer labels). The authors drop every name in the Variety register, making metaphoric comparisons, and revealing how silly it all is, while Lola is told by her Hollywood therapist to wear a yellow rubber band and to "snap it" whenever she begins to fall for "another actor." (Like the one who broke her heart.) Still, with all the comedic excess on display, amid disparaging their unreal tabloid life, Lola and friends still seem enamored by the glitz, and Lola herself, as narrator, remains trapped by her past. Secretly wanting to find a decent man and to live a normal, happy life, she can't, in the meantime, help but to notice and to name every high-end brand and label in sight---an entire lexicon of Robb Report products from Gucci and Fendi to designer facials made with the placentas of sheep. Before the week is over, and the Vanity Fair after-party arrives, Lola must come to terms with her insecurities, however. As guide, reader Gigi Bermingham plays to these insecurities with aplomb, revealing the desperate side of Lola's character with just the right angst. leaving the listener guessing about whether Lola will surrender her fears about becoming just another one of us "little (but normal) people." (Highbridge Audio; 9.5 hours unabridged)

Turning to health, heart physician Dr. Dean Ornish is a middle aged man with a near zero index of vein obstruction, meaning he's got one of the most healthy hearts around. So if you're overweight from years of holiday cheese balls, and worried about your chances for a heart attack, a life saving tip might be to listen to his latest book, THE SPECTRUM. The title refers to Ornish's system of measuring the health qualities of various foods, from one to five--with one being the most healthy and five being the least. He then lets the listener decide which of the five groupings best fit their own needs and desires. That is, instead of just saying "never eat this," Ornish simply relates the facts behind various foods, and leaves motivation alone. (ie. "You can lead a horse to water...") Some surprising things I learned in listening is that olive oil is inferior to canola oil, although both are superior to animal fats. Coffee leaches calcium from bones, while green tea strengthens bones. And spices are very important too, particularly turmeric, which can help prevent Alsheimers while lowering chronic inflammation, (one of the silent causes of disease). Also, fiber's TRUE benefit is that it makes you feel full, and since it's taken out of most grains (to give snacks longer shelf life) the result is overeating and $$$diabetes$$$ (Sorry, can't resist the dollar signs here, considering latest cost reports in the news). Finally, Ornish says that doctors are trained and paid to do heart surgery like stints and by-pass operations, but these have very poor results compared to radical diet and lifestyle changes. Medicare has finally agreed with him, and is now funding his own program, after wasting billions on typically ineffective surgeries while nearly bankrupting itself. A fascinating short but comprehensive book on diet, The Spectrum is read by the author, with the aid of Anne Ornish, who connects the body with the mind by offering guided meditations. A memorable quote from the audiobook: "If something has a long shelf life, your own shelf life won't be so long, if you eat it." (Random House Audio; 3 1/2 hours abridged)

Finally, what makes a good narrator? Well, obviously, it’s in the voice. A sonorous and pleasing voice is preferable to one that sounds like it’s coming over the speaker at a fast food drive-through. “Want fries with that?” No, thank you. Given a rich or interesting voice, the really good reader enunciates clearly. Words must be crisp and precise in the telling. Finally, a reader must not sound like they are reading, and should be able to present a realistic interpretation. This requires acting skills to jump between dialog, narration, and action while using appropriate dialects and different character voices. It’s rare to find a reader who possesses all of these qualities--golden voice, precise diction, acting skills, versatile dialects. One of the pioneers of the industry was Frank Muller, who beganrecording in the '70s, and along with Barbara Rosenblat, propelled audiobooks out of the vinyl phonograph world into the realm of Recorded Books (tapes and CDs found in libraries everywhere). I had the privilege of having Frank record my own first novel, POSTAL, for The Publishing Mills in 1999, for which he won another of his many Earphones awards. Later, I interviewed him for Cracker Barrel Old Country stores, and was there when one of his last recordings, TISHOMINGO BLUES, by Elmore Leonard, won the prestigious Audie award. (The industry's "Oscar.") The motorcycle accident that ended Frank's career did not, thankfully, end his life or his spirit, and so now, especially if you are new to audiobooks, you owe it to yourself to sample his work.

As an example, TISHOMINGO BLUES features one of Elmore Leonard's typically eccentric characters, the high diver Dennis Lenahan. Lenahan works at a lodge and casino in Tunica, Mississippi, and while up on the diving board one day witnesses a mob hit. A second witness is Robert Taylor, a shady Civil War reenactment participant who lures Dennis into his varied schemes. Both men seem to take naturally to their respective death wishes, and also seem to have weaknesses for women who could also get them killed. With a background of Delta blues, wacky Civil War buffs, and reputed deals with the devil, the novel hums along under the steady and engaged voice of Muller, who lends to Leonard's quirky dialogue his own brand of ambient energy. (Recorded Books & Harper Audio; 7.5 hours unabridged)

2008 Past Columns

David Baldacci / Mar Reviews

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