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AUDIOBOOKS: Beach reads

By Sunday, Oct 27, 2019 Arts & Entertainment

Four novels to help us ease into cooler nights and longer days.

The Stars Are Fire
Anita Shreve; read by Suzanne Elise Freeman
Random House Audio, eight hours and 30 minutes, seven CDs, $35/ www.audible.com download, $24.50

In October 1947, young mother Grace Holland finds her life permanently altered after a fire of biblical proportions (and based on fact) destroys her home, along with nine other towns in coastal Maine. New challenges force Grace to find emotional reserves and hidden strengths heretofore untapped. Hearing her grow and embrace a new life is both heartening and surprisingly difficult. This is very much an adult-themed story that occasionally dips close to being mawkish, but Shreve keeps us engaged and, eventually, delighted. Freeman is believable as the protagonist, revealing emotion as needed. Her male voices, however, sound uninspired and unengaged. Grade: A-minus

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
Jennifer Ryan; read by Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogen Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, Mike Grady
Random House Audio, 10 CDs, 12 hours and 30 minutes, $45/www.audible.com download, $31.50

A consummate example of a novel enhanced by the audiobook production, this offers us distinct voices provided by six narrators as well as snippets of music and choir singers expertly used in an understated and effective manner. The narrators are well-matched to their characters and bring energy and personality to the telling. This delightful story of a British village in a time of war unfolds in an epistolary style told from several perspectives. Though not about World War II, it is always looming in the background as the village ladies realize their capabilities; romances unwind; and such topics as homosexuality, greed and unwanted pregnancy keep the gossips busy. Grade: A-minus

My Italian Bulldozer
Alexander McCall Smith; read by Sir Timothy Ackroyd
Recorded Books, six hours and 45 minutes, www.audible.com download, $20.99

The prolific McCall Smith has once again veered away from his many series and given us a sweet, if slight, humorous romance. Food writer Paul Stuart heads for Italy to help mend his broken heart and finish his latest book. He becomes the local eccentric when he rents a bulldozer for local transportation because apparently there isn’t a rental car to be found in all of Tuscany. This bit of whimsy is just charming enough for us to suspend our disbelief, and narrator Ackroyd calls up an array of voices and accents with much aplomb. Witty and surprisingly wise, this makes for breezy summer fun. Grade: B-plus

A House Among the Trees
Julia Glass; read by Mary Stuart Masterson
Random House Audio, 11 CDs, 14 hours, $45/www.audible.com download, $31.50

Tomasina (Tommy) Daulair was the longtime assistant and dear friend to children’s book author Mort Lear. When he dies suddenly, Tommy realizes there were parts of Mort’s life he’d hidden from her and his unexpected legacy profoundly changes her life. Though beautifully written, not much actually happens, so you must be in the mood for a somewhat esoteric account of friendships and discussions about death. Masterson is laid-back and understated. Her pronunciation and pace are perfect, but a little more energy may have kept the listener more attuned. Overall this is mildly entertaining and utterly forgettable. Grade: B-minus

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