Tag Archives: Sound Bytes

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Audio) & Musing About Series @BlackstoneAudio

cover image of How the Light Gets InHow the Light Gets In, published by Blackstone Audio at the end of August, is another fine example of the great partnership of author Louise Penny and audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham. It’s the ninth novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

If you haven’t heard of these books yet, where have you been? The author writes a unique blend of police procedural and cozy mystery that seems to please both literary fiction fans and suspense fans, as well as readers who “don’t read mysteries.” Louise Penny blends dark and light themes, using humor and the fully developed personalities of her characters to keep death and its attendant depression and despair from overwhelming the reader.

Also, the audiobook narrator Ralph Cosham, as I and many other audiobook listeners have said before, IS Armand Gamache. No other voice will do.

These books about Chief Inspector Gamache and his fellow homicide detectives, their families, and their friends in the remote village of Three Pines, are also a good example of why they should be called a sequence, not a series. “Series” used to mean that you could pick up any book – the first or the thirty-first – and find a complete story with just enough about the characters to get by on, and you would get the skinny on the characters in every book, because they stayed pretty much the same from one book to the next. It was often even different authors writing the books, all under the same pen name. Series books were formulaic, so readers familiar with the series would get what they expected and new readers could jump in any time with no problem.

Series books are different now. They are sequential in more ways than by publication date. Characters develop. Circumstances change. If you read a book out of order, you’re going to hit major spoilers for the book that came before. The main character could be married or newly divorced, thought dead, gone into retirement or come back out of retirement; secondary characters could actually BE dead, or be double agents, or be having an affair.

This is a problem for publishers, and librarians, and probably booksellers too. And not just because publishers seem to be unwilling to print the series titles in order inside the book anymore. We all want people to be as excited as we are that the latest book in one of our favorite series is out, but a reader who starts reading Louise Penny with How the Light Gets In is not going to have the benefit of understanding how events in the earlier eight books have built up to the crucial moments for Chief Inspector Gamache and his department that take place in How the Light Gets In.

So the bad news about these books being a sequence and not a series is: you need to start with Still Life and keep reading until you get to this one. The good news is: you’re going to love all of them.

If you’re an audiobook listener, you will want to listen to these! Even if you don’t like mysteries.

How the Light Gets In
Penny, Louise
Cosham, Ralph
Blackstone Audio
August 2013
9781427233011
$39.99 US
approx 13 hours on 11 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.

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Who’s Afraid of MIT?: The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (Audio) @MatthewPearl @atRandom @MassBook

cover image of The Technologists audiobookIf you like historical thrillers, you’re going to love The Technologists by Matthew Pearl. Don’t let the reference to technology in the title scare you off!

From the author of The Dante Club, another novel set in 1860s Boston,  The Technologists focuses on scientific advances of the time and the field of technology, instead of on the literary luminaries of the day. As in The Dante Club, author Matthew Pearl places historical personages in his imagined story, so readers are introduced to MIT founder and president William Barton Rogers; MIT’s first female MIT student, Ellen Swallow; and other actual people.

A small group of students form the secret society of Technologists when the fledgling Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston is about to graduate its first class. (MIT hasn’t yet moved across the Charles to Cambridge.)

But The Technologists isn’t only for historical fiction readers! Infused with steampunk-like elements and a good amount of philosophizing and theorizing about science and technology, this novel about a college students who decide to investigate mysterious attacks on the city of Boston independently of authorities should also appeal to adventure quest fans and science fiction readers.

With a length of just over 18 hours, the book had a few slow spots, but for the most part the story moved briskly along with increasing suspense. Audiobook narrator Stephen Hoye used a sonorous tone for his reading that seemed well suited to the story’s place and time. He distinguishes the voices of the different characters clearly, using variations on a Boston accent for the upper-class academics and working-class folk. Importantly, he has a light touch when changing the pitch of his voice for the female characters.

The Technologists‘ main character and hero, Marcus Mansfield – a factory boy and Civil War veteran turned scholarship student – teams up with a few other MIT students (including Ellen Swallow) to solve the mystery of who is terrorizing the city of Boston with escalating acts of technological sabotage and why. Woven into the suspenseful mystery plot are strands of romance; elements of rivalry (the growing one between traditional Harvard and upstart MIT); the idea of rights for women and workers; and the theme of injustice in the clear inequality of opportunity for society’s rich and poor classes.

Massachusetts Book Award sealIts strong story line, well-researched historical setting, and numerous thought-provoking themes combine to make The Technologists a great choice for a book discussion group, and most likely contributed to its winning the 2013 Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction. Massachusetts Book Award winners and Must Reads are books by Massachusetts authors, or that have a Massachusetts theme, that will foster meaningful discussions in libraries and elsewhere around the state. Author Matthew Pearl will receive the honor at an awards ceremony at the Massachusetts State House on October 17, at 2:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome!

(A note of warning: Although published over a year before the Boston Marathon bombings linked the words “Boston” and “terrorism” together in people’s minds and there is no similarity in methods or motives, The Technologists does describe horrific acts in the city of Boston that cause death and maiming of civilians; extra sensitivity is required when choosing this book for a book group. The Massachusetts Book Award winners were chosen and announced in March 2013, before the terrorist acts at this year’s Boston Marathon.)

The author takes small liberties with the timeline (for example, Ellen Swallow didn’t come to MIT until 1871) but The Technologists is historically accurate as to the people and science of the day. You don’t, however, have to be either an American history buff or a techno-geek to enjoy it as a suspenseful, thought-provoking story.

The Technologists
Pearl, Matthew
Hoye, Stephen, narr.
Random House Audio
February 2012
9780739344309
$29.98 US/$32.98 CAN
18 hours, 19 minutes on 15 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.

Sound Bytes badgeThis review is linked up to Sound Bytes, a weekly link-up of audiobook reviews at Devourer of Books.

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The Wising Off that Comes with Age: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (Audio) @HachetteAudio

cover image of audiobookLet’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, the latest collection of humorous essays by David Sedaris, should win back all of the author’s fans who didn’t like his foray into fables, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.

Read by the author, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls has 20 essays in all, some of which were previously recorded in front of an audience. Some of the essays appeared in print in The New Yorker magazine and maybe elsewhere, but they really do seem funnier when the author reads them in his dryly knowing, who-me? voice.

As a humorist, David Sedaris has a definite liberal bias, but politics is very rarely the subject of an essay, except as it relates to health care, President Barack Obama, and marriage laws. These are subjects in the titles of some of the essays, but the subjects of most of the essays are the author’s own experiences, or as they would be if they had all taken place on days when everything struck him as being highly significant or indicative of a universal truth, while being, at the same time, extremely annoying.

In Obama!!!!! the author, an American living in England with his partner Hugh, describes the experience of traveling in Europe after the 2008 election of President Obama and hearing “Obama!!!!” from everyone he meets, including shop clerks and waiters. At first, he doesn’t mind being constantly congratulated on his country’s behavior, and smiles along at the constant cry of “Obama!!!!!”, but after a while, he starts to tire of the implication that underlies the surprise and pride that Europeans keep expressing to him – that America, as a country, had been thought too immature, too ignorant, and too racist to elect a black president, but look! they did it!

At the end of the book, after the 20 essays, the author includes six monologues that are ostensibly there for teens to perform in their forensics competitions in school, which he included, he says, because he had learned that teens have been using his work to read in front of panels of judges for these competitions. In each of the six monologues, he takes on a different persona, each one more offensive than the last. So these missed the mark for me as comedy, but maybe I took them too seriously.

This collection has several essays dealing with aging, travel, learning foreign languages, doing book tours, and living abroad. It also includes a special addition to the audio edition of Pimsleur phrases in Japanese that were not taught on the Pimsleur language learning CDs.

If you’ve enjoyed other David Sedaris audiobook collections in the past, you will probably enjoy this one. If not, probably not. If you’ve never listened to any before, I would recommend starting with one of the earlier collections, maybe Holidays on Ice or Naked, to get a feel for his humor and the personality he takes on in his essays (which I assume is a more highly concentrated version of his own actual personality).

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
Sedaris, David
Narrated by the author
Hachette Audio
April 2013
9781619696990
$29.98 US/$32.98 CAN
7 hours on 6 CDs

Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook from the public library.

Sound Bytes badgeThis review is linked up to Sound Bytes, a weekly link-up of audiobook reviews at Devourer of Books.

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