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AUDIOBOOKS: Trips for armchair travelers

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By Sunday, Dec 9, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

Armchair travelers have quite a trip in store for them this week, as our audiobooks are set in France, San Francisco, the islands of the Pacific, and Botswana.  

Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers
Simon Winchester; read by the author
Harper Audio; 12 CDs; 14 hours and 15 minutes $19.99; www.audible.com download, $34.22

Listening to Winchester read his fascinating exploration of our world is like sitting down at a dinner party and overhearing a conversation that is both personal and revelatory. He takes us on a journey that is biological, geological, political, historical and even meteorological, but is always told from his quirky and insightful perspective. His subjects include atomic testing, colonial control in the Pacific, volcanic eruptions and giant tube worms. Winchester’s narration is as enjoyable as the material. His voice, a bit raspier than in his youth, has a smooth British accent. His fast-paced delivery and timing are expressive as he evokes both humor and occasional frustration and sadness. Grade: A 

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine
Alexander McCall Smith; read by Lisette Lecat
Recorded Books, though this version was downloaded from Audible, 9 hours and 20 minutes; $34.99; www.audible.com download, $24.49

Precious Ramotswe reluctantly decides to take a vacation but can’t actually stay away from her No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in this latest installment from McCall Smith. The plot is rather thin, but it matters not, as the characters take over and delight us with their unique perspectives on everything from holidays to politics to marriage. South African native Lecat seduces us with her perfect pronunciations, including rolled R’s and elongated M’s. Each character is given his or her own voice and her pronunciations in Setswana are perfect. Don’t worry too much that the plot is rather thin, just enjoy this charming escape. Grade: B-plus

The Japanese Lover
Isabel Allende; read by Joanna Gleason
Simon & Schuster Audio; 8 CDs; 9 hours; $29.99; www.audible.com download, $20.99

Even when not at her best, Allende still entertains, but just barely. Her most recent novel tells the story of a Polish refugee who arrives in America in 1939 and the Japanese gardener she loves for nearly five decades. The story is mostly expository, with long stretches devoid of dialogue and much world history crammed into small sections. Still, Allende writes with a soothing sentimentality that pulls you into this love story with its friendships and family ties that meander and wind around our protagonists. Narrator Gleason was a poor choice, as she is often monotone and never sounds completely engaged with the material. Grade: B

The Diamond Caper
Peter Mayle; read by Erik Davies
Random House Audio; 5 CDs; 6 hours; $30; www.audible.com download, $21

This will only fit the bill if you are looking for light entertainment, as this tale of beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes and going to beautiful places is all rather cliché. The mystery is not all that taxing, but Mayle charms us with his many vivid descriptions of French landscapes, foods, wines and traditions. Fans of his “Caper” novels will enjoy the return of Sam Levitt, the retired consultant who investigates crimes in his spare time; his stunning girlfriend and insurance executive, Elena Morales; and their ultra wealthy friend, Francis Reboul. Narrator Davies matches the breezy pace with an energetic pacing and a first-rate French accent. Grade: B-minus


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