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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

June 2008

by Jonathan Lowe

Prepare to be moved by FINAL SALUTE, easily one of the most emotionally gripping tributes to American soldiers dying in Iraq ever written. With the subtitle "A Story of Unfinished Lives," this account, by Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Sheeler, chronicles the job of Major Steve Beck, a casualty notification officer for the Marines. Beck's mission is one without weapons, in which he and an assistant must inform the parents of dead soldiers in person, before anyone else does. Narrated by actor Mark Deakins, the book is stunning in its power, especially on audio. Accordingly, I predict it will be nominated for an Audie award next time around. One mother is in the act of reading an encouraging letter from her son when Beck's car arrives. Another has just seen President Bush on TV declaring the war is over. When Beck mispronounces her last name, the mother argues that he must be mistaken about her son being dead, too. Haunted by their eyes when they first catch sight of him, "like a snapshot that will stay with me forever," Beck serves his country -and his President- by taking on the "worst job in the military," a job he never asked for, and for which he was never trained. And when he goes home to his own family, Beck cries alone in the dark, haunted as well by the eyes of little girls and boys whose fathers will never play with them again. Be warned: you will cry too. (Penguin Audio; 5 1/2 hours unabridged; a photo booklet accompanies the audiobook)

How do we get on with our lives? By remembering our values -family, faith, hope. Garrison Keillor has been hosting live radio theater for decades, and his show A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION was made into a movie two years ago that starred Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan. One of the most endearing segments of the show has always been his "News from Lake Wobegon," in which Garrison reports on a small Minnesota town's eccentric citizens. Wry, inventive, spontaneous, Garrison has been called "the funniest American writer still open for business" by Time magazine, and you will hear the truth of it in HOPE - MORE NEWS FROM LAKE WOBEGON, a CD that includes four stories, the first being "Truckstop," about a man who inadvertently leaves his wife behind while on an RV trip, then gets lost, unable to find his way back to her. There is nothing sensational about Keillor's quirky stories, except that their ring of truth is so authentic that Keillor himself doesn't even admit to their ad lib creation. This is the America we dearly hope has not already vanished forever. (Highbridge Audio; 73 minutes unabridged)

For humor, no problem is too ridiculous and no solution too absurd for the Car Talk guys, "Click and Clack." Their latest audiobook, FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN WACKO, is billed as a "radio road trip across America," and features call-ins taken during four of their NPR shows, including a man from Minnesota who attempted to get his Chevy Cavalier home from Alaska with the help of a rusty barbecue grill. Also, a guy named Dinesh, who is more concerned about how his car will hold up in Death Valley than he is about whether he'll survive, himself. Then there's the single guy who wonders if he should tidy up his vehicle for a first date, or reveal his trashy side. Land of the Free, Home of the Wacko? Hosts Tom & Ray are pretty wacky themselves, but with a gift for gab, and the chops for wild laughter, at least they're having infectious fun. (Highbridge Audio; 3 1/2 Hours unabridged)

Any six hour rumination about hitting small dimpled balls across acres of manicured grass must, by necessity, get around to talking philosophy. Carl Hiaasen gets right to it in the title: THE DOWNHILL LIE - A HACKER'S RETURN TO A RUINOUS SPORT. Narrated by the author (who has also authored fourteen novels), the audiobook is an often funny memoir exploring the game as played by the average Joe (or, in this case, Carl). Just like so many players first get hooked, Hiaasen was drawn to golf by his father, then left it as a failure, and here returns to it in order to compete in a tournament for which he is unprepared. Calling himself "one sick bastard" for doing so, Hiaasen describes the allure of the "infernal game" as being because "it surrenders just enough good shots to let you talk yourself out of quitting." In continuing the tradition of instilling in his own son the seeds of future frustration, the author (who is also a columnist for the Miami Herald) waxes poetic about condo development in south Florida, too, where high end tract houses line a hundred golf courses (as real estate developers attempt to squeeze every dime they can out of dwindling acreage.) He speaks of Tiger Woods, of high tech golf technology, and of an entire subculture of devotees whose very lives may end through being stuck by lightning on a golf course somewhere, or via heart attack in their golden years when hit by a stray ball while sipping margaritas on their patio. Tone here is natural and appropriate to someone who feels a duty to try again at a past obsession, while realizing the futility of it all. For narrative skills, and for keeping it in perspective, Hiaasen finishes under par, with the help of a microphone and a sand wedge. (Random House Audio; 6 hours unabridged)

Finally, Janet Evanovich has written fourteen bestselling novels featuring a would-be detective named Stephanie Plum, who is actually a bounty hunter. Her latest books include TWELVE SHARP, LEAN MEAN THIRTEEN, and now FEARLESS FOURTEEN. The books are produced on audio by either Brilliance Audio or by Audio Renaissance. I caught up with Janet by phone and via email.

JONATHAN LOWE: Hi, Janet. Started the new book tour yet?

JANET EVANOVICH: No, not yet. Soon.


LOWE: No more little mystery bookstores, this time?

EVANOVICH: I'd love to do those, but they need to have shelter and restrooms for at least 700 people, and most just can't handle that.


LOWE: There's a problem we'd all love. Remind folks of your humble beginnings. What got you started writing, and what is your background?

EVANOVICH: Well, I majored in fine arts in college. I was a painter. Somewhere in my late twenties I realized painting wasn't where I wanted to be and started searching out other avenues of creative endeavor. . . like baking chocolate chip cookies and making party dresses for my daughter. I was a stay-at-home mom and when the kids went off to school the chocolate chip cookie baking somehow morphed into trying to write a book. Previous to this my only English background was Freshman English 101. I learned to write by analyzing books I loved and hated.


LOWE: A bounty hunter is certainly more interesting than the typical sleuth. Where did your character Stephanie Plum come from? And how did you come up with the name?

EVANOVICH: I have a lot of history with Stephanies. My favorite niece was named Stephanie, and there were a lot of Stephanies in my home town. I think it's a pretty name with a lot of music to it, and I used it once as a pseudonym back when I was writing romance as Stephanie Hall. I chose Plum because it seems to go well with Stephanie, and I wanted people to think of something that was ripe and juicy. When I decided to move into crime fiction (reached menopause and had a lot more ideas about murder than about sex!) I searched around for the perfect job for my protagonist. One day I happened onto the movie Midnight Run. It's about a bounty hunter and I thought the job suited my purposes. Stephanie Plum is probably not the world's best bounty hunter, either.


LOWE: You like to keep things humorous. . . murder mysteries with a light touch. Is this Stephanie's modus operandi, in order to stay sane, or do you also react to tense situations with humor?

EVANOVICH: I'm one of those people always laughing at inappropriate moments. I suspect I see things at a slightly off-center point of view. I also think laughter is important. Some of my humor comes from my formative years watching I LOVE LUCY, and some of my humor is social commentary.


LOWE: Describe FEARLESS FOURTEEN, if you will.

EVANOVICH: There's a monkey named Carl, a kid who's a Blybold Wizard, Moonman Dunphy saves the day with his potato rocket and there's a dead guy in Joe Morelli's basement.


LOWE: Quirky, to say the least! Look forward to hearing it. How many numbers do you anticipate writing? Those Alphabet mystery novels have an end point at Z, but you can go on forever, at least in theory, can't you?

EVANOVICH: I'll continue writing as long as people keep reading. I'm contracted through book fifteen.


LOWE: Do you listen to your own audiobooks? What do you think of Lorelie King?

EVANOVICH: I do listen. And I love Lorelie King! She was actually my request. She'd been doing my UK books, and I was having a hard time finding someone to do my books in this country. The Recorded Books reader C.J. Critt does the library editions here, but she was contracted to them, and although I love her, she wasn't available. So I asked to get Lorelie. What do you think of her?


LOWE: She captures Stephanie's character very well, and does a marvelous job.

EVANOVICH: Yes, she's articulate and consistent. By the way, do you know Lance Storm? Have we ever talked about Lance?


LOWE: Not that I recall.

EVANOVICH: Well, Lance was a wrestler, and I don't know if you realize it, but Cracker Barrel plays a big part with WWF wrestlers. If you go to his website at, and read his links, he lists his favorite restaurant as Cracker Barrel. Reason I know him is that he has a book club, and we trade off a lot of readers, and when he's in town we hang out with Lance.


LOWE: (Note: I was audiobook reviewer for Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores when I first interviewed Janet.) That's a hoot. A wrestler with a book club. So who influenced you? Who are your favorite authors?

EVANOVICH: The earliest influence was Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. They were always setting off on adventures. And of course, there was Lucille Ball. On my last book tour the book that traveled with me was SLIGHTLY SHADY by Amanda Quick. SHADY is a regency romance and I love reading about the regency period. They're comedies of manners much like the Plum books.


LOWE: Is anything going to film? Have you written any screenplays yet?

EVANOVICH: TriStar bought the rights to ONE FOR THE MONEY, the first book in the series. I've never written a screenplay but think it might be a fun future project.


LOWE: Am trying to think of who might best play Stephanie. Ashley Judd? Cameron Diaz? Sandra Bullock?

EVANOVICH: Or maybe Ann Hathaway or Ellen Page.


LOWE: Wow, that's even younger than I imagined. A Stephanie Plum for a new generation. Now, you are truly everywhere, these days. Ever signed books overseas, and does any of this ever interfere with the writing?

EVANOVICH: Once I did a month long tour of Australia, three weeks in England, Scotland, Ireland, and then a month long tour of the US. The result of all that touring is that you can get behind on the writing. I love the signings and media but hate the flying.


LOWE: At this point, can you even remember being at a signing where few people showed up?

EVANOVICH: When I first started touring I had signings where NO ONE showed up. It takes a lot of Cheez Doodles and beer to get over that sort of thing! An average signing now runs anywhere from 500 to 5,000 people.


LOWE: No more Cheez Doodles for you, then, Janet!

2008 Past Columns

David Baldacci / Mar Reviews

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