AUDIOBOOKS: Female-centric fiction

This week we feature a female-centric novel, short stories and a scary novel.

This week we feature a female-centric novel, short stories and a scary novel. Please note that all audiobooks are available for download at independent bookstores and at your local library.

The Female Persuasion
Meg Wolitzer; read by Rebecca Lowman
Penguin Audio, 15 hours, 12 CDs, $45/ www.audible.com download, $24.50

Wolitzer ably expresses the angst and uncertainty of young adulthood in this sprawling novel of a writer finding her way in romance, in her career and in her life. The story travels full-circle and shows us how people can bloom with encouragement and that history repeats itself. However, it sometimes comes across as preachy and each character speaks with the same narrative voice. Perfect for women in their 20s, it will likely feels less revelatory and revolutionary to anyone older than 35. Lowman speaks with wonderful articulation and energy, but employs a straight narration that does not differentiate between characters. Also, she maddeningly and repeatedly mispronounces the name of a Massachusetts town. Grade: B-minus 

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories
Kelly Barnhill; read by John Lee
HighBridge Audio, seven hours and 30 minutes, six CDs, $34.99/ www.audible.com download, $24.49

Newbery Medal winner Barnhill usually writes novels for children and young adults, but here she veers off into adult fiction with this weird and wild collection of short stories. Gothic and twisted in the best of ways, the subjects include a widow who takes up with a Sasquatch, a taxidermist who creates the perfect wife, and ghostly love letters. All are fantastical, but some veer into the territory of old-fashioned fairy tales while others are mired in magical realism. Some of these tales are more complete and therefore more memorable, but narrator John Lee does a fine job matching the atmosphere of each. His voice is deep and his manner refined, and his overall approach is appropriately creepy. Grade: B-minus 

The Outsider
Stephen King; read by Will Patton
Simon & Schuster Audio, 18 hours and 41 minutes, 15 CDs, $29.99/www.audible.com download, $34.99

King delivers a solid, somewhat eerie, character-driven novel that would be a perfect beach listen had the ending not fizzled out and had Patton not read it. One could live with a mediocre ending, but Patton squashes any enjoyment that could have derived from this tale of a demon among us. His male voices are not the problem; they are well-executed and varied. His female voices, however, are as aggravating as nails on a chalkboard. King brings back Holly Gibney from his Bill Hodges trilogy and Patton narrates her in a flat falsetto with a halting delivery. The actor is trying to convey her social awkwardness and multiple quirks, but it is an extremely distracting conceit. The novel is about a B-plus, but Patton gets an F for execution. Grade: C