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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

October 2009

by Jonathan Lowe

In THE DEEP BLUE SEA FOR BEGINNERS author Luanne Rice introduces an influential family headed by Lyra Davis, who left her wealthy family in Rhode Island to find a new life on the island of Capri. The daughters she left behind begin to wonder what secret their mother may have hidden in leaving them to be raised by their adoring father. So Pell Davis goes to Capri to discover the truth, and instigates some new complications to Lyra's life there, while inducing guilt, affection, and also desire among the boys on the island. The novel, like many of Rice's, is mainstream literary in nature, unclassifiable in genre. Meaning family relationships, and how they play out, (rather than suspenseful life-or-death plots) make up the substance of these stories. The characters learn to understand and accept themselves, and so grow in ways the typical romance cannot delineate. The writing is descriptive and accessible, walking a tightrope above sentimentality, while the narrator, actress Blair Brown, is a perfect choice to enunciate all the changing emotional discoveries. Having acted in movies like Stealing Home, Ms. Brown is well attuned to how families operate, and the abridgment is particularly deft at honing the text without losing the story's intent. My only complaint is not with this novel, but with novels like this in general: why are these families usually rich? Why not a novel about families set in a trailer park? If you don't have money, are you not still alive, with feelings? A good writer should be able to make such families interesting, too. One might argue that the poor lead more tragic and dramatic lives than the rich, too. Although, granted, they aren't flying off to Rome for the weekend. (Random House Audio; 6 hours abridged)
Next, Dr. Andrew Weil's new book is his most urgent and important yet. It is titled, simply, WHY OUR HEALTH MATTERS, and in it he describes the nightmares afflicting the American health care system, then offers solutions. Dr. Weil is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, and is the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. In the book he exposes the costly myths that have set us on a course to disaster. The first myth is that we have the best and most efficient medical care on the planet. Actually, the United States ranks 37th, on par with Serbia, (how's THAT for a startling secret!) and if we continue to rely on the kind of high-tech, last-minute emergency interventions exclusively dramatized on TV medical shows, (as opposed to prevention via lifestyle changes and nutrition), the current system (along with the American economy) will go bust. This is inevitable, Weil says. Health care costs are spiralling out of control, due to our reliance on costly pharmaceuticals (some pills running $100 each) along with crisis surgeries like heart bypasses. With chilling detail despite Weil's matter-of-fact tone as he narrates the book, many case studies are outlined, revealing that doctors in U.S. medical schools are only taught practices that treat diseases after they occur (with risky end-stage emergency medicine), and are taught virtually nothing about prevention of disease. Under this for-profit system, and with medical malpractice lawsuits rising, doctors are forced to encourage expensive, unnecessary CT and MRI scans as a means to protect themselves (while increasing radiation exposure to the patient.) They perform unnecessary surgeries, too, and prescribe fix-it drugs for all ailments, which do little but cause more problems. Meanwhile, the drug companies get rich, legitimate claims are denied, and little is said to the patient about cutting out junk food, taking vitamins, exercising, and getting more sleep. After all, says Weil, a doctor's life in a hospital today is all about lack of sleep, bad cafeteria food, and lack of exercise. How can we expect them to recommend what they themselves can't practice, especially when their paycheck is tied to the frequent use of high-tech medical intervention procedures? "We have to stop paying for failure," Weil says, before detailing what the American medical system should be doing. I recommend you send this audiobook to your Congressman after hearing it. (Penguin Audio; 6 hours unabridged)
It never fails to amaze me how easily people can be swayed into believing in something for nothing. No doubt television can be blamed for some of this, given its gamut of game shows and focus on the easy riches flaunted by celebrities. But how can even the rich and famous be taken to the cleaners by investment advisors who promise ways of beating the odds? In his book HOW TO SMELL A RAT author Ken Fisher, along with Lara Hoffmans, details the "Five Signs of Financial Fraud." Bernard Madoff's $65 Billion Ponzi scheme was certainly the inspiration for the book, but there are other scams over previous decades from which the authors cull their simple rules. Rule #1 is that you shouldn't allow your decision maker to also have access to your money. Surprisingly, this rule is often overlooked by investors. Money gets pooled together, and before long the hedge fund manager, who may have started out innocently enough, runs into negative returns that he is loathe to report, and so he dips into the new investment stream for some liquidity to save the vines that are withering. Such was the case with Madoff, whose evil began small and good-intentioned, only later blossoming into a giant, man-eating fungus that could no longer be hidden. As narrated by Scott Thomsen, this book is mainly for those whose common sense is limited, or whose predilection for taking risks is above average. The rats are out there, for sure, and they will take whatever cheese you have, be it only crumbs. Don't expect the S.E.C. to protect you, either. They might be at a convention in Miami, while your investment advisor is set up in the Caymans. (Highbridge Audio; 6 hours unabridged)
Next, Larry Niven is an author best known for his Ringworld SF series. He has now teamed with Edward M. Lerner to pen JUGGLER OF WORLDS, about a paranoid Earth agent hired to uncover the schemes of other races. The Puppeteers, an advanced race with superior technologies, have vanished after detecting a core explosion at the center of the galaxy that will one day envelope Earth. But one of the Puppeteers has remained behind, with schemes of his own. What will Sigmund Ausfaller's fate be now, and how is his fate linked to the Earth's? Narrator of this science fiction tale is Tom Weiner, whose alien voices can create startlingly idiosyncratic characters, although he has less success with female voices. Elucidating all the strange and sometimes funny instruments utilized in this future society, Weiner, reading Niven and Lerner's words, succeeds in transporting the listener beyond our own mundane, violent world into one which is even more strange and engrossing. (Blackstone Audio; 13 hours unabridged; available on single Mp3-CD)
Finally, LEVEL 26—DARK ORIGINS by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski is the publishing world's first attempt at combining a book with a movie. They call it a Digi-Novel, in which you can follow "bridges" in the text with actual dramatized scenes online at (Code words allow access.) In the audiobook version, an extra DVD disk containing both the full narration and those acted scenes is included, along with the standard CDs. (Penguin Audio; 9 1/2 hours unabridged) The plot concerns a serial killer whose crimes are so horrific that an unnamed and clandestine task force has been created to deal with him. Headed by a brilliant operative named Steve Dark, who works just as slowly and methodically as the killer, this group knows no laws but its own, and is not averse to executing operatives who fail to deliver the goods. In this, Dark's first tale, (to be continued, alas), his nemesis is named Sqweegel, a smarmy killer who wears a latex suit more appropriate for a kinky sex worker. Out of a possible 25 levels of evil, as classified by law enforcement, he's also the only person to merit a 26. In the digi-movie, he's portrayed as a tall, skinny wannabe contortionist (played by Daniel Buran) who enjoys hiding under his mostly female victim's beds, waiting until they're in deep sleep, and then he sniffs them throughly before waking them up for some slicing and dicing. He also likes to hog-tie his victims and question them before the fun begins. He's done 50 people this way (female and male) over the years, and no one even knows who his is, or why he's doing it. Enter Zuiker's creation, Steve Dark, whose pregnant wife is the next target. The novel itself is Zuiker's first, so the main reason all the stops (up to and past publishing's level 25) were pulled out on this project is because he's the creator of "the most watched television show in the world." Namely, CSI. How's his writing style? Well, picture James Patterson on steroids. It's all about turning that page, or inserting the next CD. What you get at the end is nothing really new or meaningful, you're just along for the ride. Which is why I'm recommending this only for TV addicts who don't read much, or anyone who isn't yet burned out on serial killer books (like this reviewer). Regarding the digi-movie, the atmosphere is certainly intriguing, the acting passable, and although an earlier showing of the characters to the reader might have avoided the surprise of learning that the people your own imagination just created aren't the same as those on the screen, overall it's very stylish. Actor John Glover's audiobook narration is particularly captivating, too, along with the sound effects employed in transitions. Rarely heard as a narrator, Glover is a gifted screen and Broadway actor with a great sense of character and timing. Other actors in the video clips are Michael Ironside, Glenn Morshower, Bill Duke, Kevin Weisman, Daniel Browning Smith, and Tauvia Dawn. Bottom line: my problem is not with the style, but rather the substance. Of course commercial TV is all about style over substance, and since the authors say that the killer may ask for your phone number from their website, to "reach you directly," I thought I'd present Sqeegel with some questions of my own:

  1. Okay, so I'll assume you had a horrid childhood, given what a sick puppy you are today. What can you tell us about that?
  2. At what point did actually sticking pins in caterpillars stop working for you, and why?
  3. Have you ever thought of slicing your own neck, or wrists?
  4. What is this fascination you have with knives, anyway? What about forks and spoons? Or would you be too fat, then, to fit into that latex suit?
  5. Have you ever thought of visiting James Patterson?
  6. What are your favorite TV shows? And have you ever considered putting the remote down, and going for a walk in the park with an iPod playing a great book? Maybe you wouldn't be so screwed up, then.
  7. Do you like the name Sqweegel, and what's with the funny spelling?
  8. Is the whole point here not to know why you're doing this, because if we did learn the truth we'd be laughing our heads off, and then crying about all
  9. the time we wasted?
  10. Have you ever given to charity? It might put a more interesting spin on your persona...maybe get you on the cover of PEOPLE instead of just POLICE DIGEST.
  11. Do you know Satan personally, and if so, is he Level 27? Or is he just bored?

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