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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

April 2009

by Jonathan Lowe

Madness Under the Royal Palm by Laurence Leamer If the rich are—as it's said—not like you or me, does our wanting to be rich mean we agree with the assumption that we're ignorant, lazy, and/or inept by comparison? If you want to leave behind such a delusion, allow the green eyed monster of envy to be impaled on MADNESS UNDER THE ROYAL PALMS, a new book by Laurence Leamer about the sociopathic society mavens, gluttons and sex fiends of Palm Beach. Here, scores of beautiful young women fall prey to the same rich bastards (one of whom finances their breast implants, dumps them upon getting bored, and then sues them for the cost of the operation.) Here, murders can either be hushed or trumpeted, depending on one's social standing with the editor of the "shiny sheet," the local paper's society page, which Palm Beach multi-millionaires read and worship like the Bible. Then there are the endless dinner parties and shopping excursions along Worth Avenue, the trust fund brats vying for admittance to exclusive clubs that shun Jews, the old money heirs gloating over the scandals or downfalls of rivals, the endless buffets and open bars at charity balls where one can pretend to be virtuous while displaying not the slightest concern for homeless people living only two miles away from one's protected mansion/enclave. It all begins to erode whatever awe or envy the listener might have entertained, prior to hearing. Because when narrator Todd McLaren has finished chronicling all the pretentious misadventures of the wealthy, (with an ear for irony) it's difficult not to reevaluate one's own values. You might even come away not caring about the rich or famous, anymore. Or at least not caring (or hoping) to become one of them. A good companion to this ear-opening expose would be the documentary "Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama," in which the producer concludes that many of the happiest people on earth have the fewest possessions of all. An enigma until you ask yourself this question: do I really own my stuff, or does my stuff own me? (Tantor Media; 11 1/2 hours unabridged)
The Book of Love by Kathleen McGowan If you loved the arcane side of The DaVinci Code, you'll enjoy Kathleen McGowan's sequel to "The Expected One" titled THE BOOK OF LOVE. Her earlier novel fictionally explored the mysteries of Mary Magdalene, while this new novel has the character of Maureen Paschal being invaded by a dream telling her to search for a missing gospel written by Jesus himself. Paschal joins her former lover in France, and together they begin to piece together the mystery, following clues which lead them to Italy and Belgium, while being blocked from uncovering the truth by those who want the deepest secrets kept secret. This densely involved story eventually climaxes at Chartres Cathedral, after a lengthy pursuit of the diaries of Countess Matilda of Tuscany. As a Broadway stage and film actress, narrator Linda Stevens does justice to the lengthy text, and although the book might have been cut a fourth for pacing's sake, if such historical postulations involving the church interest you, you won't be disappointed. (Simon & Schuster Audio; 22 hours unabridged)
Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein Mystery authors and publishers are enamored of series because it's a means of retaining their audience with continuing characters. Once you're hooked on a seres, though, how likely are you to try other series? And how would you know whether you'd like another series less or more unless you try it? This month let's consider Linda Fairstein's legal thrillers, the 11th of which is LETHAL LEGACY, featuring an assistant district attorney named Alexandra Cooper, who works out of the Manhattan Sex Crime Unit. Before she became a writer, Fairstein worked in that very unit for over twenty years. Her first novel, published in 1996, introduced the character of Alex Cooper, and was titled Final Jeopardy. In this new novel, with a plot involving rare books and maps, a librarian named Tina Barr is burglarized by a man posing as a fireman, but is unwilling to cooperate with police until a woman is found murdered in her very apartment building. What follows is an investigation by Alex into a family of wealthy benefactors to the New York Public Library. The novel is not as gritty or clinical as, say, Patricia Cornwell, but moves toward cozy with characters who also display their lighter side. Narrator is actress Blair Brown, who won a Tony award on Broadway, and has appeared in many films. Brown is good at dramatizing all angles of a character's personality, hinting at how they think, while steering the story forward with the appropriate degree of mystery. As for the series itself, it's not literature in the sense that classic series by John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, or even James Lee Burke are. Mostly it's believable fun. (Random House Audio)
English by Wang Gang Next, sometimes the simplest language is the best way to tell a story. In the case of ENGLISH by Wang Gang, the subject is language itself. Originally published in 2004 in China, the novel was a bestseller there, and concerns a twelve year old boy named Love Liu who comes of age during the Cultural Revolution in the town of Xinjiang in a remote northwest province. When a teacher from Shanghai arrives to teach English, Love Liu becomes fascinated with the prospect of studying an English dictionary, which opens a new world for him that he never envisioned in such repressive times. When accusations are made about the phrase "down with Chairman Mao" that appeared written on the wall at the school, the plot turns to one confrontation and sacrifice, while revealing the effects of repression through which maturity can triumph. Narrator is, appropriately enough, a young actor named Michael Sun Lee, who conveys Love Liu's innocent fascination with remarkable understatement. The book is about friendship and courage against the insanity of one's times, and shows the effects on individuals from policies that ignore the humanity and dignity that comes from individuality itself. (Penguin Audio; 10 hours unabridged)
A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson Finally, don't miss A STIR OF ECHOES by Richard Matheson, as read by Scott Brick. A film starring Kevin Bacon is based on this novel about a man whose psychic abilities are awakened so that he can now hear the thoughts of other people. Then, with his existence like a waking nightmare, Tom receives a message from beyond the grave in a ghost story that's chillingly interpreted by Brick. Scott told me recently: "Richard Matheson has been my favorite author since I was a little kid. Getting asked to narrate one of his books made my heart skip a beat. I was literally stunned. I almost told them, "Don't tease me!" I actually got to meet Matheson a few days ago at a book signing, and I continually marvel at the amount of amazing material that's come out of that man's head. Somewhere In Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, I Am Legend, Hell House, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek. . . the list goes on and on, and never ceases to blow me away." (Blackstone Audio; 6 1/2 hours unabridged)

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