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AUDIOBOOKS: A great week for audio

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By Thursday, Feb 7, 2019 Arts & Entertainment

This is a great week for audio, as we have an inventive, charming novel; a heartfelt memoir; a well-researched historical fiction; and a taut thriller.

The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd; read by Jenna Lamia, Adapero Oduye, with an afterward by Kidd
Penguin Audiobooks; 11 CDs; 13.5 hours; $24.99; wwww.audible.com download, $31.50

This is the audiobook that you will want to lend to everyone you know, as it is enlightening, resonant and extremely entertaining. Set in Charlton, 1803, this historical fiction begins when Sarah Grimké is given the slave Hetty, also known as “Handful,” as an 11th birthday present. A strident abolitionist, Sarah tries to return her “gift” but is rebuffed harshly by her family. Thus sets the tone for her life. The story is based loosely on the actual Sarah Grimke, her sister Angelina, and Hetty, and delves into the suffragette movement as well as slavery. Beautifully narrated by Lamia (as Sarah) and Oduye (as Handful), they bring out the sadness and strong temperaments of these Southern women living in a most difficult era. It is a joy to hear. Grade: A

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Gabrielle Zevin; read by Scott Brick
HighBridge Audio; six CDs; seven hours; $29.95; wwww.audible.com download, $20.97

Often when an audiobook has an extended conceit, it eventually wears thin, but in this endearing novel, it only adds to our pleasure. Each chapter begins with the name of a book beloved by the eponymous protagonist, such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The plot follows a middle-aged man who owns a failing independent bookstore on Alice Island, off the coast of Massachusetts. A depressed literary snob who drinks too much, his life is turned upside-down when a baby is dropped into his life and a pretty publishing rep befriends him. Witty and engaging, this is enhanced only by the well-seasoned and nuanced reading of Brick.Grade: A 

New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir
Gail Caldwell; read by the author
Random House Audio; four CDs; 4.5 hours; $30; wwww.audible.com download, $21

This third memoir by Caldwell, a former book critic and Pulitzer Prize winner for Criticism, may not be the strongest of her audiobooks, but it remains eminently enjoyable. She writes with grace and elegance about her struggle with post-polio syndrome and her love for her dogs. She asks, “What do you do when the story changes in midlife?” and then describes her struggles both physically and psychically, because what she believed was causing her crippling pain was something she had not anticipated—and sadly, neither had her doctors. The health care system, at its appalling worst and helpful best, is a major part of the story. You can hear whispers of Caldwell’s Amarillo roots in her narration, and she reads smoothly and surprisingly well for a nonprofessional. Grade: B-plus

Invisible City
Julia Dahl; read by Andi Arndt
Macmillan Audiobooks; six CDs, eight hours; $29.99; wwww.audible.com download, $20.99

Working as a stringer at a bottom-feeding tabloid, Rebekah Roberts sets out to find herself a source and a scoop, which is the best way to land a permanent job, hopefully at a better paper. When she finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery in the Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, she also discovers a connection to her past that is both painful and surprisingly healing. Dahl’s writing can be startlingly blunt, especially when discussing sex, but also thoughtful and evocative. Happily, a sequel is on the way. Narrator Arndt sounds appropriately youthful and her performance is perfectly adequate, but not memorable. Someone with a little more grit in her voice would have better suited this hard-edged thriller.Grade: B-plus

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