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AUDIO REVIEW: Fantasy, mystery and fairy tales

By Tuesday, May 29, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

According to the Audio Publisher’s Association, about 25 percent of us have listened to an audiobook in the last year. Whether an avid listener or a newbie, we can all agree that one of the best aspects of an audiobook is the ability to listen while walking the dog or washing dishes. This gives one the chance to discover new authors and titles without wasting valuable time.

While many books are on CD, audiophiles will find a much larger selection by downloading to an MP3 device or to your phone from Audible, Downpour, Audiobookstand, Overdrive, and many smaller sites. You can find over 150,000 titles at audible.com alone.

If you need something while driving the kids, try The Hazel Wood, a sinister fairy tale that will reel in both you and your teens. (Melissa Albert; read by Rebecca Soler; Macmillan Young Listeners; 10.5 hours; $39.99/www.audible.com download; $27.99.)

There are eerie twists and turns as protagonist Alice is drawn into the sinister world of her grandmother, an author who penned a slim volume of creepy fairy tales. Narrator Soler’s voice is sometimes a little sharp, but she sounds age appropriate and easily conveys the novel’s tension as well as teenage snarkiness.

If you want a more grown-up fantasy, plug into The Immortalists (Chloe Benjamin; read by Maggie Hoffman; Penguin Audio; 11.5 hours; www.audible.com download; $28). In 1969 four youthful siblings visit a mystic and are told the exact times of their deaths, which thereafter informs all of their lifetime choices. Sometimes the writing is better than the plot, but this remains difficult to shut off. Enhancing the production is Hoffman, who has a lovely, moderately deep voice, an easy natural style, and a firm command of the material.

Fans of both mysteries and old movies need to hear The Woman in the Window (A.J. Finn; read by Ann Marie Lee; Harper Audio; 13 hours and 41 minutes; $44.99/www.audible.comdownload; $34.22). Narrator Lee, who conjures up several accents and voices, imbues this whodunit with emotional frailty and fear via protagonist Anna. An agoraphobia who binge watches old movies, abuses alcohol and pills, and spies on her neighbors, she is often drunk, which Lee ably conveys. Dark deeds, as well as madness, are revealed, though you may figure it out before the end.

Audible has ventured into new territory with Harry Clarke bundled with the bonus play, Lillian. (David Cale, performed by Billy Crudup and Cale; original recording; 3 hours and 13 minutes; www.audible.com download; $29.95.)

Crudup performed the play off-Broadway and has an almost surreal way of slipping into authentic-sounding accents and dialects within those accents. He plays a withdrawn Midwesterner whose alter ego is a flamboyant Brit, sounding rather like Peter O’Toole. Though a clever writer, Cale is not quite as deft a performer as Crudup, but his “Lillian” is a fascinating and often funny character study about an unhappy middle-age woman who risks everything for romance. This is droll in a Noel Coward sense and Cale is surprisingly believable as a woman.

Calling to mind “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Red Clocks is set in a near future in which abortion is outlawed in America and only a married heterosexual couple is allowed to adopt. (Leni Zumas; read by Erin Bennett and Karissa Vacker; Hachette Audio; 9 hours/www.audible.com download; $29.65.)

Feeling less speculative than prophetic, Zumas lays out the experiences of four women, “The Wife,” “The Biographer,” “The Daughter,” and “The Mender.” Each woman has her own way of speaking and the narrators deftly capture each personality. However, because the narrative is fractured, the producer should have used a bit of music or perhaps a completely different voice to introduce each chapter. It would have easily eliminated initial confusion.

Ijeoma Oluo tapped into the national zeitgeist with So You Want to Talk About Race.(Ijeoma Oluo; read by Bahni Turpin; Blackstone Audio; 7 hours and 41 minutes; $32.95/www.audible.com download; $23.07.)

Ijeoma Oluo. Photo: Nikki Closser

Oluo, a writer, speaker, and “Internet yeller,” lays out life as a black person in a world dominated by white people. She is insightful and the material is both important and relevant. Parents may want to share this with older children, bearing in mind there is cursing and the content is difficult. Police brutality, micro-aggressions at the workplace, and Affirmative Action are all grist for the verbal mill. Narrator Turpin has a soothing voice and perfect diction. She reads with authority, understanding, and passion. Both narrator and author are worth seeking out again.

Lastly, an Internet search will reveal sites offering original maternal and classics at no cost. Overdrive will let you download any title in your library system and even Audible, owned by mega-store Amazon, offers some freebies. If you need a quick respite from work, check out Audible Sessions. A brief sampling revealed entertaining and informative interviews with Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry, each short enough to enjoy during a coffee break.

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