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By Jonathan Lowe

September 2009

by Jonathan Lowe

THE ANGEL'S GAME by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a puzzling novel set in 1920s Barcelona, about a poor writer named David Martin, whose patron becomes famous while he himself languishes at the end of a leash, so to speak. When a commission comes to write a book that may prove dangerous, David is soon suspected of several murders, which he may or may not have committed himself. As teller of the tale, Martin is both comical and a bit sinister, in a balancing act which must be decided by the reader or hearer, thereby providing the suspense. Much atmosphere and fine writing complement the mix, with stage actor Dan Stevens presenting the audio rendition in a manner suited to the complicated narrative arc of the story. Thumbs up. (Random House Audio; 15 1/2 hours unabridged)
In EVERYTHING MATTERS! by Ron Currie, Jr. the problem for the protagonist Junior Thibodeax is to discover meaning and a reason to go on living in a world which he knows will end on a certain date just 36 years from his birth. The mysterious voice that tells him this secret also reveals other things about his family, about disease, about violence. Junior cracks under the strain, but manages to eke out a life amid the gathering ashes funneling down from his subconscious. There is a lot to tackle here, by this award winning author of God Is Dead, and the multiple viewpoints can be tedious at times, but the ending is great, with its backward countdown. Hope, in this offbeat novel, is a last lifeline thrown into the void. Narrators are Abby Craden, Mark Deakins, Lincoln Hoppe, Hilary Huber, Arthur Morey and Doug Wert. (Penguin Audio; 13 hours unabridged)
Next, have an intriguing Paris adventure listening to non-fiction set in the romantic city of lights, with VANISHED SMILE—THE MYSTERIOUS THEFT OF MONA LISA, by R.A. Scotti, read by Kathe Mazur. This is the true story of the shocking disappearance of what would become the most famous painting in the world. The theft, which occurred at a time of lax security in August of 1911, would be blamed on none other than the young Pablo Picasso, and on provocateur Guillaume Apollinaire. But who really did it, and how? The answer is surprising. During the nearly two year absence of Da Vinci's masterpiece from the Louvre, French detectives investigated the case, using newly developed fingerprinting techniques. Author Scotti delineates the mood of the public at the time, offering glimpses into the backstory of the principals and suspects. Of particular fascination are the lifestyles of painters working in Paris, going back to a traveling Da Vinci himself. Explored, too, is the beguiling nature of this nearly perfect (yet odd) portrait of a Florentine woman, whose subtle smile hides secrets of her own. (Random House Audio; 7 hours unabridged)
Finally, we all know about the French paradox when it comes to food, but what about everything else? An intriguing new book on the subject of love and life (including mindset) is WHAT FRENCH WOMEN KNOW by Debra Ollivier, a freelance journalist who lives in Paris and Los Angeles. She says that the French secret to happiness in and out of bed is simply not to care about the things American women usually do. Like being forever young. Or being rich and popular. There is no war of the sexes in France because French women do not expect men to understand them, nor do they berate them. They love men, just as men love them. (Vive la difference!) They are the opposite of American women in that they place more value on enjoying the present moment instead of fixating on the past or the future, on acceptance over resistance to aging, and on the art of love over the stereotypically American obsession with following dating rules, (or doing what everyone else is doing). In short, French women don't give a damn what others think of them, they are too busy living their lives. Want more shock? Being ambitious, or having money and possessions, comes in last place on their list of desires. But if you're fat in France, don't expect people not to notice and to comment on it. They won't be commenting behind your back, either, because being fat is the one real taboo, unlike in America, where big is considered best, and practically everyone gulps their food instead of savoring it. Narrated by the author, who does her best with what at times reads like literary essays, the book is nonetheless a real eye-opener or ear-opener, full of many borrowed sayings like "American men marry women hoping they'll never change, while American women marry men hoping they will change. . .both are disappointed." Or: "Animals (and Americans) eat, while the French dine." The French way is not the only way to live, obviously, but it is definitely more relaxed, without all the ridiculous obsessions we are constantly instructed to add to our list of hang-ups. A French woman? She would rather laugh and say, "who cares?" or simply "Bof!" (Penguin Audio; 5 1/2 hours unabridged)

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