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,
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
LOWE: There's a problem we'd all
love. Remind folks of your humble beginnings.
What got you started writing, and what is
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
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,
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
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
LOWE: She captures Stephanie's
character very well, and does a marvelous
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 Stormwrestling.com,
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
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
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
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
LOWE: At this point, can you even
remember being at a signing where few people
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
LOWE: No more Cheez Doodles for
you, then, Janet!