Audiobooks by Altman, Baldacci, Collins, Gill, Korelitz, McCall Smith, Vallere, & Verducci | Xpress Reviews

Week ending September 15, 2017

Altman, John. False Flag. 9 CDs. 10:19 hrs. Blackstone. May 2017. ISBN 9781504796217. $35. F
When a radical Israeli agent discovers and steals a cache of explosives and chemical weapons from a white supremacist group, her handlers decide to use the materials themselves. After all, the apparent use of such inhumane weapons by Iranian agents should permanently shift American public opinion to the Israeli side. Fortunately, the plot is discovered by a group of Israelis, Americans, and other spymasters, who band together to prevent it. This is a straightforward, albeit well-written, suspense novel, complete with stock characters, superficial moral angst, and a plotline retread. Jana, the antiheroine, lost her love to a suicide bomber; Dalia, the heroine, her son to an Arab prison; Michael, the American ex-GI, his leg to a roadside bomb, etc. Edoardo Ballerini is, as always, a pleasure to listen to, even adroitly handling the minimal Hebrew.
Verdict For listeners who enjoy the suspense genre.—I. Pour-El, AJC-Ames, IA

Baldacci, David. The Fix. (Amos Decker, Bk. 3). 10 CDs. 12 hrs. Hachette Audio. Apr. 2017. ISBN 9781478930020. $40. digital download. F
Amos Decker, because of an injury on the football field, has a perfect memory and can never forget anything. Decker witnesses a murder and suicide in front of the FBI building. The victim, a seemingly innocent schoolteacher and the shooter, a wealthy consultant, apparently have nothing in common and had not met before the incident. Harper Brown, a Defense Intelligence Agency agent, informs Decker that the DIA will take over the investigation because it involves very sensitive information crucial to national security. Decker insists on continuing his role in the case, and Brown reluctantly agrees to include him. Kyf Brewer and Olagh Cassidy do an excellent job bringing the characters to life. Most notably, they ably capture the underlying, subtle tension between Decker and Alexandra Jamison, his sympathetic partner.
Verdict Recommended for series fans.—Ilka Gordon, Beachwood, OH

Collins, Ace. The Cutting Edge. 8 CDs. 9:05 hrs. Dreamscape. Jan. 2017. ISBN 9781520054797. $59.99. 1 MP3-CD. F
Twenty-four-year-old Leslie Rhoads had it all. A model on the rise, she received an offer to star in a provocative ad and returned home to discuss the offer with her parents. As she waits for a cab at the dark, deserted airport, she’s attacked by a gang of thugs and her face is disfigured with a broken bottle. With her dreams shattered, she becomes bitter and discouraged. Sadly, she receives no sympathy from her disappointed mother but is supported and encouraged by her cousin Meg and her high school boyfriend Hunter Jefferson. Leslie’s greatest inspiration is Angel, an abused six-year-old girl, as she and Leslie help each other learn what real beauty is. Narrator Patricia Rodriguez’s assured delivery keeps the text interesting, and characters of all ages are done well. Her most emotive and sometimes amusing creation is Carly, Leslie’s agent, who is a temptress and solely in it for herself.
Verdict Recommend to listeners who enjoy uplifting contemporary fiction.—Susan G. Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL

Gill, John Freeman. The Gargoyle Hunters. 9 CDs. 11:30 hrs. Books on Tape. Mar. 2017. ISBN 9780147524133. $40. digital download. F
At 13, Griffin Watts hopes to bond with his secretive father by helping him steal ornamental plaques, terra cotta images, and even of cast iron façades from New York City buildings in order to save them from being removed during renovation or destroyed at demolition. His relationship with his dad ends up only slightly colder than Griffin’s strained relations with his mother, sister, girlfriend, and others. The father’s preservation obsession and inability to pay his bills force him into making a secret stash of objects to avoid his creditors. Adventure/danger/suspense sequences are overwrought, but wry humor abounds. Keep a dictionary handy if you’re not an architecture buff. This novel is capably read by the author.
Verdict Recommended for adult audio collections but will be best appreciated by those who knew the city of the 1960s and 1970s during urban renewal and those with some feeling for architectural ornamentation.—Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH

Korelitz, Jean Hanff. The Devil and Webster. digital download. 11:09 hrs. Hachette Audio. Mar. 2017. ISBN 9781478934868. $30. F
The first years of Naomi Roth’s tenure as president of Webster College have been defined by run-of-the-mill administrative tasks, but that’s all about to change. When the novel opens, Naomi is about to face her biggest challenge—a rising storm of student protest led by a soft-spoken sophomore, who is, to her consternation, Naomi’s daughter. The demonstrations drag on for months, and Naomi feels the challenge will not only unravel her presidency but be the undoing of the entire college. This novel works best when it’s focused on the present-day action, but far too often it detours into long-winded and repetitive reflections of the characters’ pasts, the history of the school, and the minute workings of a university. Kate Burton portrays the sharp-witted and insightful Naomi extremely well, but her voices for other characters miss the mark.
Verdict This book strives to accomplish a lot but falls short.—Samantha Facciolo, New York

McCall Smith, Alexander. My Italian Bulldozer. 6 CDs. 6:45 hrs. Recorded Bks. Apr. 2017. ISBN 9781501924958. $72.75. 1 MP3-CD, digital download. F
When food writer Paul Stuart’s longtime girlfriend dumps him for her personal trainer, he’s depressed and also experiences writer’s block in this stand-alone novel. Paul’s editor Gloria suggests he make a sojourn to Tuscany for further research, to finish his book, and to regain his confidence. After he agrees, he has numerous adventures both good and bad and meets many people, both pleasant and not so. Most entertaining is a car theft misunderstanding that leads to Paul being jailed with a hardened criminal whom he cows with talk about his own criminal past. Things become even more challenging when Paul fails, yet again, to rent a car and must use a bulldozer to get around the countryside. Narrator Timothy Ackroyd skillfully plays this offbeat work to the hilt. As well, his conversational style enhances McCall Smith’s lush descriptions.
Verdict Recommend this sometimes melodramatic story to fans of the author or fish-out-of-water stories.—Susan G. Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL

Vallere, Diane. Pillow Stalk. 7 CDs. 8:19 hrs. ISBN 9781520063553.
Vallere, Diane. With Vics You Get Eggroll. 7 CDs. 7:54 hrs. ISBN 9781520064215.
Vallere, Diane. That Touch of Ink. 6 CDs. 7:28 hrs. ISBN 9781520063911.
ea. vol: Dreamscape. Jan. 2017. $59.99. 1 MP3-CD. F
Doris Day isn’t just an iconic movie star and an animal right’s activist, she’s a way of life for Madison Night, a fortysomething interior designer with a love of all things midcentury. Madison and Doris share the same birthday, the same body type and hairstyle, the same fashion sense, the same taste in home decor, and the tendency to be in the middle of every police investigation in Dallas. In Pillow Stalk, Madison has moved to Texas to heal a twisted knee and her broken heart. She’s caught up in a decades-old murder mystery and nearly becomes a victim herself. That Touch of Ink involves Madison’s former lover who involves her in a complicated counterfeit operation. Madison enlists the help of Det. Tex Allen, the local cop who can’t keep his hands off her, and Hudson, her long-suffering handyman. Madison’s relationship with Tex begins to heat up in With Vics You Get Eggroll and then fizzles as he distances himself from the police force while defending himself against kidnapping accusations. Throughout the series, Madison vehemently decries her self-sufficiency and independence but, with her poor decision-making skills, ends up being rescued by the hunky men in her life. And then they’re given their marching orders because Madison didn’t need to be rescued after all. Susie Berneis narrates without inflection or attitude.
Verdict What starts out as a clever whodunit series quickly turns into a narcissistic romp that grows tired and clichéd.—Laura Brosie, Wentzville, MO

Verducci, Tom. The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse. 11 CDs. 13:03 hrs. Books on Tape. Mar. 2017. ISBN 9780525493006. $45. digital download. SPORTS
A baseball has 108 stitches—the exact number of years between 1908, the last time that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and the Cubs’ remarkable 2016 season. From Moneyball to neuroscouting, from batting to chunking, from the Billy Goat Curse to total elation, this title imparts myriad statistics, situations, happenstances, and stars—both astronomical bodies and baseball pros—that aligned in just the right way for the Cubs to win again. Verducci delves into the lives and times, thoughts, and philosophies of manager Joe Maddon, president of baseball operations John Epstein, and the roster of players who came together for this monumental feat that meant so much to a city and a franchise and its long-suffering fan base. A bonus for the audiobook is a truly fascinating downloadable PDF of Maddon’s World Series game seven lineup card. Jumping as it does among years, teams, and individuals, the book’s arrangement is less effective for an audio experience. The author gives an inexpert, though admittedly spirited, vocal performance, providing little differentiation among direct quotes, researched data, and his own opinions. His obvious adoration for the subject matter does not overcome his lack of nuance.
Verdict Though the details and insider information presented will doubtless be of interest to Cubs fans and many other lovers of the sport, this work will appeal to few audiobook listeners and casual baseball devotees. [“This volume will be cherished by Cubs fans and appreciated by all baseball lovers as a memorable and well-written account of a legendary sports story”: LJ 4/1/17 review of the Crown hc.]—Lisa Youngblood, Harker Heights P.L., TX

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