AUDIOBOOKS: Distractions from the summer heat

A comedy, two memoirs, and a chillfest offer distraction as we settle into the heat of summer. 

The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats & Ex-Countries
Jessa Crispin; read by Amy McFadden
Tantor Audio, seven CDs, eight hours and 30 minutes, $32.99/ download, $24.95

Crispin, unmarried, unhappy and borderline suicidal, decided to inhabit the worlds of the “writers and artists and composers who kept me company in the late hours of the night.” So she set off on a patchwork journey that took her from the Berlin of Henry James, the Trieste of Nora Barnacle (James Joyce’s muse), and the Sarajevo of Rebecca West, among others. The result is a mélange of travelogue, literary criticism and memoir that is sometimes insightful and wryly funny and sometimes overwritten, though never dull. A narrator who could better handle accents and without the occasional tendency to overemote would have helped this amusing and intellectual material. Grade: A-minus

The Last One
Alexandra Oliva; read by Mike Chamberlain and Nicol Zanzarella
Random House Audio, 10 CDs, 12 hours and 30 minutes, $45/ download, $31.50

This debut novel is an intriguing amalgam of genres that combines a reality TV show and a dystopian end-of-the-world thriller. As a pandemic wipes out much of the U.S, 12 participants vie for first place in bleak survivalist games, never knowing about the outbreak. Most of the story is told through then eyes of a woman nicknamed Zoo, read by Zanzarella, the rest through a narrator (Chamberlain). He is firm and emotionless, which befits the narration. Zanzarella overdoes it in parts, but certainly packs an emotional wallop when need be. Though enjoyable enough, the story lacks depth—it keeps chugging along but remains emotionally distant. Grade: B

We’re All Damaged
Matthew Norman; read by Scott Merriman
Brilliance Audio, seven CDs, eight hours and 32 minutes, $14.99/ download, $10.49

Andy Carter, our hapless protagonist, has returned to Nebraska to visit his dying grandfather. In the past year, he’s lost his job, his life and his sense of self. Once home, Andy discovers that his mother has turned into a gay-bashing right-winger and an odd duck named Daisy has taken him on as her project, determined to make him happy again. Though you won’t be laughing out loud, this is breezy and funny enough to make one want to look for Norman’s other work. Merriman has an inviting, friendly manner that manages a Midwestern sensibility while allowing a snarky attitude to sneak in as needed. Grade: B

Hamilton: The Revolution
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter; read by Mariska Hargitay, Miranda, and McCarter
Hachette Audio, six CDs, six hours, $35/ download, $29.65

Eh. Skip this unless you are a Broadway wonk in desperate need of the chronology behind the Tony Award-winning “Hamilton: An American Musical.” The best part is following along with the PDF for the last hour as Miranda narrates his notes. The photos and libretto are, sadly, the most interesting part of this audiobook. Hargitay has a pleasant voice and warm manner, and Miranda is animated and quick as he narrates his creative process. While this does put the play into a historic context and contains some interesting sections, it is mostly a tedious account of the thought process behind the play and how it came together Grade: B-minus