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AUDIOBOOKS: Four ‘must-listen’ novels

By Sunday, Jul 7, 2019 Arts & Entertainment

Enjoy these four novels. They are, for the most part, very difficult to turn off.

A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles; read by Nicholas Guy Smith
Penguin Audio, 14 CDs, 18 hours, $50/www.audible.com download, $35

Whimsical and clever, this entertaining novel is one of the best audiobooks produced in years. Towles’ sophomore effort covers 40 years of Soviet history as seen from the perspective of a former count-turned-waiter who has been sentenced by the Bolsheviks to live his life inside the gilded walls of the Hotel Metropol. Wryly humorous and carefully plotted, this is lighthearted and pragmatic, though poignancy colors its entirety. Narrator Smith captures the refined manner of the count and provides each character with their own vocal imprint, but most importantly, he fully realizes Towles’ sly humor. Cinema, literature, the culinary arts and human behavior are all fodder for the author’s sharp eye. Grade: A-plus

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife: The Road to Nowhere (Book 1)
Meg Elison; read by Angela Dawe
Brilliance Audio, eight CDs, nine hours and 19 minutes, $14.99/www.audible.com download, $10.49

A plague that wipes out nearly 99 percent of the world’s population has left a decimated society in which there are no children and almost no women. Females become a commodity both hunted and enslaved, making this more gruesome and much more sexually frank than most dystopian novels. A first-person narrative allows Dawes to sound tremulous with fear and later to adopt a steely resolve depending on the situation. Told from the perspective of a nurse who survives the pandemic, this is intriguing enough to watch for the sequel, “The Book of Etta.” Grade: B-plus 

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
Scot Stambach; read by Dan Bittner
Macmillan Audiobooks, seven CDs, eight hours, $34.99/ www.audible.com download, $24.49

This is a strange yet oddly compelling piece of fiction that sounds grimly realistic. Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko has lived his entire life as a resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. Like many other victims of Chernobyl, he is deformed and forgotten. His mind, however, is agile and his story is peppered with tearful revelations and weirdly funny antics. The detailed descriptions of bodily functions may put you off at first, but the story is strong enough to keep you listening. Bittner sounds youthful and snarky and, when necessary, adds a layer of emotion to a surprising but ultimately painful story. Grade: B-plus

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living
Louise Miller; read by Jorjeana Marie
Penguin Audio, eight CDs, 10 hours and 30 minutes, $40/www.audible.com download, $28

Though there is nothing particularly memorable about this light and breezy romance, it does keep one entertained. Olivia Rawlings, an award-winning pastry chef, leaves Boston and an illicit love affair to reinvent herself as a baker at a charming Vermont inn. Predictability aside, the food sounds yummy and this fish-out-of-water story allows Marie to conjure up a variety of voices, though her elderly women do tend to all sound alike. Miller’s plot may be familiar, but she shows a deft hand when conjuring up brisk walks in the woods, the scent of nutmeg and the warmth of a welcoming kitchen. Grade: B-minus

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