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By Sunday, Feb 16, 2020 Arts & Entertainment

Three works of fiction are on the roster this week: a political thriller, a romance and a family drama.

The Music Shop
Rachel Joyce; read by Steven Hartley
Random House Audio, seven CDs, eight hours and 30 minutes, $40/www.audible.com, $28

If you like offbeat British novels filled with romance and humor, add this gem to your collection. Beginning in 1988, it features Frank, a man so obsessed with vinyl records he refuses to sell CDs in his music shop. His customers are almost as eccentric and as his story unfolds, Frank finds both tragedy and love in his path. What makes this a joy are the quiet spaces between the scenes, those times when actions and explanations left unsaid actually speak volumes. Hartley, whose voice is deep and a bit raspy, perfectly fits the image we have of our protagonist: big, masculine and none too posh. His other voices are varied and distinct, masterfully conveying European accents and gender. Grade: A

Clock Dance
Anne Tyler; read by Kimberly Farr
Random House Audio, eight CDs, nine hours, $40/www.audible.com, $28

One listens to Tyler’s books for her quirky characters and offbeat humor, but little of that is found in this recent novel. The story moves forward at a quick pace, so we don’t learn much about each character, and frankly, none of them are terribly likeable. The protagonist, Willa Drake, spends her entire life trying to find her voice. By the time she does, she is living in a Baltimore neighborhood filled with typical Tyler inhabitants, but the story is winding down. One wishes it had begun there instead. Narrator Farr is a veteran in the studio and her experience can be heard. She expresses angst, frustration, humor and astonishment. She is also adept at youthful voices. Grade: B  

The President Is Missing
Bill Clinton and James Patterson; read by Dennis Quaid with January LaVoy, Peter Ganim, Jeremy Davidson, Mozhan Marno
Hachette Audio, 13 hours, 11 CDs, $40/www.audible.com $30.79, unabridged version 

Overwritten, occasionally repetitive, given to preachiness and delivered with an uneven narration, this remains weirdly hard to turn off. The president is a war hero, a sensitive widower and a single dad. There is a worldwide threat. The bad guys are stereotypically awful and come from exactly the part of the world that one would expect. There is lots of action and some mediocre writing, but it is also fast-paced and kind of thrilling. Quaid is fine as the commander in chief, but tends to shout a lot. His attempts at other voices are cringe-worthy, though the rest of the cast is professional and easy on the ears. Grade: C

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