Audiobooks: New Voices in Literature
Librarians speak for books, but sometimes those books can also speak for themselves. Audiobooks, always popular at the local library, are rapidly growing in popularity among consumers of books. Our reviewers are listening to them, too, and we’ve picked out these six indie audiobooks as among the best in our May/June 2017 issue.
Naxos Audio Books
Offering encouragement and advice to women facing mid-career changes, Sachs’s is an uplifting work.
Wendy Sachs, whose background includes work in politics, television, and content production, offers women inspiration and solid advice in Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot—and Relaunch Their Careers.
Sachs argues that men generally find it easier to navigate this changing, diverse job market than do women, who more often struggle to apply for, create, and thrive in new jobs with confidence. Her book moves beyond these pitfalls, offering examples of notable women, including Hillary Clinton and Jill Abramson alongside lesser-known women, who changed careers. Theirs are moves that followed planning, or getting fired, or disappointment like lost elections; Sachs details how they started businesses or were guided by serendipity to take on new roles.
These women’s stories emphasize the importance of confidence, even if it’s an act at first. They encourage willingness to reframe skills, especially those earned through volunteer work, and focus on the importance of consistent networking to develop a personal brand. Sachs tells her listeners to own their experiences, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to feel the fear and do it anyway.
These stories mean that the book is sometimes light on practical advice, though it includes good tips for women who haven’t done any job hunting in a while. The book seems to be targeted at women looking to re-enter the job market and at mid-career professionals who want to change their career trajectories, though some younger women are profiled as well.
The disks are somewhat hard to navigate without a table of contents, and they do not always end where chapters end. Joyce Bean’s reading sometimes sounds sharp, and some voices come out almost as caricatures.
These stories of women who have successfully altered their career courses are uplifting, and the positive advice they offer would be great to listen to before a job interview—or just as an encouragement when considering a career change.
Healing the Angry Brain: How Understanding the Way Your Brain Works Can Help You Control Anger and Aggression
Though the focus is on anger, the information provided in this book is helpful in understanding the full range of human emotions.
Healing the Angry Brain by Ronald Potter-Efron is a remarkable examination of emotional response in the brain. At just under six hours in length, the contents offer incredible insight into how the human brain responds to stimulus and how an individual might retrain the brain to take control of the anger response.
The book includes eight chapters that cover a range of topics, starting with a review of the basic biological and psychological processes of the brain and moving through emotional response, the causes of anger, and how to improve the brain’s neural network in response to angry feelings. Practical advice on recognizing triggers, avoiding bad choices, and learning empathy round out the content.
Though highly scientific and full of clinical terminology, the information is presented in a manner that is easy to understand. The narration in this audiobook is clean, with no extraneous sounds to distract from the content. The narrator is clear, with a calm, measured voice that is easy to listen to. The pace is fairly slow, allowing for a comfortable listening experience with plenty of time to digest the information that is being provided, even when it is complex. The book is also very well organized, so it is not difficult to return to a previous chapter to listen again.
Potter-Efron offers a fascinating explanation of the purpose of different emotions, providing a context that allows an academic, clinical examination of feelings. On its own this is very worthwhile, but the power of this book is in the practical suggestions for changing neural pathways, becoming aware of emotional responses, and learning to modify both the physical and the behavioral response. “When you train yourself to develop more bodily awareness, you’ll be able to recognize that you’re becoming angry, and you can make conscious decisions sooner than if you wait until your conscious mind knows it’s angry.”
Healing the Angry Brain offers an amazing opportunity to modify behavior. Though the focus is on anger, the information provided in this book is helpful in understanding the full range of human emotions.
John M. Perkins
Perkins calls for a new reality in race relations, one in which “true justice is wrapped up in love.”
John M. Perkins’s Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win is the powerful testament of a man who was brought to the brink by racism, yet chose to follow a path of peace, love, and reconciliation.
“How in the world did I get here?” asks Perkins, now in his eighties. He holds thirteen honorary doctorates, founded the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation, and shares platforms with leaders and luminaries worldwide—and is still in awe of the way his life turned out.
Born in rural Mississippi to a family of sharecroppers and bootleggers, Perkins knew hardship and racism firsthand. He dropped out of school in the third grade, and was sixteen when his beloved brother, a World War II veteran, was shot and killed by a police officer while waiting to see a movie.
Instead of turning his pain and anger to destruction, Perkins immersed himself in the civil rights movement, registering voters, putting his own children’s lives on the line to desegregate schools, and organizing efforts toward economic independence in black communities. Arrested, tortured, and nearly killed by white law-enforcement officers, he remained committed to the real American Dream—that of liberty and justice for all.
“Neither clenched fists nor helping hands alone can bring about the complete transformation God wants,” writes Perkins. “Only love can touch us at the point of our pain and begin to heal us and make us whole, individually and collectively.”
Read in a strong, rich, expressive voice by Calvin Robinson, John M. Perkins’s Dream with Me evokes the raw stories of the American Civil Rights Movement and calls for a new reality in race relations, one in which “true justice is wrapped up in love.”
False Flag pits nations against each other with two headstrong women front and center.
John Altman’s False Flag examines the costs of extremism, pitting two strong women against each other in a complex plot to wage global war.
Chameleonesque femme fatale Mossad agent Jana infiltrates a neo-Nazi group in Washington. It has a large cache of weapons, explosives, and sarin gas. Under orders from a small cadre of Israeli fanatics, Jana goes rogue and disappears with the weapons in tow.
Jana’s superiors put into motion a plan involving the stolen cache and a PTSD-suffering American veteran, hoping to stir America into blindly attacking Israel’s enemies and allowing Israel the freedom to operate on the global stage unimpeded. Professor Dalia Artzi is recruited to stop Jana before the fanatics’ plot unfolds.
While nearly all the characters are fully realized, the dynamics between Jana and Dalia serve as the crux of the story. Both are women who suffered because of the instability in the Middle East. While Jana believes she can turn the instability around in her favor, Dalia’s life is dedicated to studying war in the hopes of preventing it. Both women are well fleshed out, with their motivations, no matter how shocking, always remaining clear.
Narrator Edoardo Ballerini’s languid reading complements the tension and suspense of the story. Onomatopoeia is employed to great effect, and Ballerini layers the sounds of footfalls and distant noises well. Even in the most violent scenes, his voice flows carefully forward while allowing Altman’s writing to shine through. Characters with accents sound believable, and despite a rather large cast, each has a distinct enough voice.
False Flag pits nations against each other with two headstrong women front and center. Altman’s captivating thriller masterfully examines morality in a time of upheaval, joining the ranks of Vince Flynn and David Baldacci with his engrossing and contemplative spy thriller.
This artfully narrated mystery lures readers into a town with a dark secret.
Finders Keepers, by Belinda Bauer, pits an elusive kidnapper against a close-knit town. This is an engrossing and atmospheric crime thriller with a coming-of-age tale at its core.
In the already troubled town of Shipcott, children are snatched from their families with only an accusatory note of “You don’t love them” left behind. Jonas Holly—a cop on leave after the recent murder of his wife—finds himself drawn into the mystery, even as the locals shift their suspicions onto him. The disappearances mount, and with no clear evidence, the once idyllic town grows ever more claustrophobic. It becomes increasingly clear that the abductor lives and works among them.
The final book in the Exmoor Trilogy, Finders Keepers is an accessible and engaging story in its own right. Bauer lovingly crafts the village of Shipcott and its villagers, with special attention given to the children. A slow start allows tension to build, and atmospheric unease slowly sets in as the story reaches a shocking crescendo.
Jonas Holly’s descent into and out of madness plays a large role, but Steven Lamb’s recovery from the previous book steals the show. Steven overcomes trauma without losing his innocence, even while violence once again sets off around him.
Narrator John Sackville’s crisp British accent and sharp command of local dialects heightens the tension of the novel, especially with the inflection he places on certain words and pauses. Subtle jokes pop because of this artful narrative attention, while taut moments tighten even more. Distinct voices and flowing prose complement each other nicely, even within the more violent and gruesome events.
Finders Keepers starts off with a strange abduction and slowly builds to a satisfying, if bittersweet, ending. Flashbacks and subtle explanations lure new readers into the series while unspooling a mystery that will shock extant fans.
Naxos Audio Books
This is a clear, conversational presentation of a classic Christian work.
In Naxos’s new audio recording of The Confessions of Saint Augustine, British actor Mark Meadows offers a compelling, earnest interpretation of one of the most influential works in Christian theology and Western literature.
Meadows’s delivery is measured and impassioned, and forwards an engrossing sense of urgency. St. Augustine’s Confessions was written to be read aloud, and this recording makes it clear how involving and immersive it is to listen to Augustine’s timeless words.
Born in Hippo in North Africa in 354 CE, Augustine lived during a critical juncture in the history of Christianity. With a brilliant mind and access to the leading thinkers of the day, Augustine wrestled with several conflicting worldviews in the early years of his life.
His narration recalls how he was raised a Christian before becoming attracted to Manichaeism in his teens; he also explored the neo-Platonic philosophies of Plotinus before returning to Christianity in his thirties. He wrote Confessions a decade later; in it, he reflects on the sinful and lustful choices he made during the early decades of his life. He also details his internal struggles with key tenets of Christian thought, from the natures of evil, beauty, and time to the experience of original sin, grace, and redemption.
Drawing from R. S. Pine-Coffin’s respected 1961 translation, Meadows animates The Confessions with an accessible and contemporary cadence. Augustine’s words sound as relevant and involving today as they were nearly 1700 years ago. The nearly fifteen hours of recording are logically divided into ten-minute segments that are clearly titled and easy to navigate.
In an era when we are deluged with information and often too eager to rush to judgment, Augustine’s Confessions offers a refreshing, engrossing contemplation of the deeper questions around human nature. Meadows’s clear, conversational exploration includes careful pauses that allow for reflection, providing an opportunity to internalize and wrestle with the sincere and brilliant questions raised in this classic work.