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Audio Book Review
Books to read with your eyes on the road

by Jonathan Lowe
Audio Book Reviewer

Cross country
In this latest installment of the bestselling “Left Behind” series, Global Community Potentate Nicolae Carpathia has come back from the dead to proclaim himself God, and has begun the executions of those who do not take his mark of subservience in their foreheads (in the form of implanted bio-identification chips). Nicolae then proceeds with his plan for world domination of all economic and social activity. With “The Mark,” the drama of this tribulation series has finally achieved a level that holds interest throughout. 

The book is superbly read by Frank Muller, too, who goes for dramatic effect at every opportunity, utilizing crisp diction and an innate skill for foreshadowing in his tone, in both abridged from Tyndale and unabridged from Recorded Books. Frank Muller is everywhere this year, but for a more folksy rendition, which is perhaps more believable because it seems to be happening next door, you might also try Jack Sondericker’s unabridged reading for rent from Books in Motion at truckstops. (10 hrs.; Books in Motion; 1-800-752-3199) 

In Tom Clancy’s latest, “The Bear and the Dragon,” the character of Jack Ryan – Clancy’s alter ego – once again finds political intrigue, even in our post-Cold War world. What begins with the assassination of a former KGB chief by an unknown entity quickly moves to China, where inflexible communist leaders plan to invade a weakened Russia for its Siberian gold and oil. Why? Well, mainly because we’ve canceled their favored trade status! Escalation naturally builds to the ultimate nuclear showdown. Known for political thrillers utilizing high-tech weapons, Clancy is scrambling of late for conspiracies to incorporate into his fiction. But this time out he’s put aside terrorism for his favorite – near full-scale war. Teamed with narrator Frank Muller, Clancy looks satisfied on the book’s jacket in his trademark USS Iowa hat, aviator glasses and bomber jacket … but is that a beer belly, Tom? (6 hrs.; Random House Audio; ISBN 1-375-41582-3)

Now we go from Frank Muller’s present to his past. One of Muller’s best readings, originally for Recorded Books in 1992, is of Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses,” now re-released by Harper Audio due to the release of the movie starring Matt Damon. Here is a more contemplative and subtle reading, befitting a literary novel that is powerful with description while being probative of human nature. There is a lot of horse riding in this book, and the destination for John Grady Cole, the young man in search of destiny, is not merely Mexico, but truth in all its many forms. (10 hrs.; Harper Audio; ISBN 0-694-52280-5)

Television actor Richard M. Davidson narrates Michael Connelly’s latest “A Darkness More Than Night,” a police novel about two murder investigators whose individual cases seem to cross in Hollywood when a serial killer surfaces. Unfortunately, the book relies too heavily this time on courtroom “drama,” and although Davidson’s narration is on target in capturing the story’s characters, Connelly’s detective Harry Bosch is better served in the more interesting earlier novel “Angel’s Flight” narrated by Dick Hill for Brilliance Audio. (12 hrs.; Time Warner Audio; ISBN 1-57042-972-3) 

“The past cannot exist in your presence, only in your absence.” This simple truth is the key to “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, an amazing guide to spiritual enlightenment extolled by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. This is not a far-out reverie involving deep breathing exercises like so many “spiritual” self-help books, but a profound eye-opener that reveals if you live for the future or in the past, you can’t be truly happy in the present or experience your true identity. A much needed book in an age of unnecessary goal-oriented anxiety. Read by the author, who is totally believable and devoid of hype, this audio book is one I recommend to anyone who thinks there are no surprises or gems left to find in that picked-over heap of rubble known as pop psychology/self help. (7.5 hrs.; New World Library; ISBN 1-57731-176-0)

An interesting women’s mystery involving an unusual psychopath in a small town in Maine, “Darkness Peering” by Alice Blanchard contains believable characters and an empathy for the damage children can undergo. Ultimately, though, one is responsible for his or her own actions. This is the theme of a story believingly narrated by Alyssa Bresnahan. (12 hrs.; Recorded Books; ISBN 0-7887-4075-X) 

Although I don’t profess to know much about the “Wheel of Time” bestselling fantasy series by Robert Jordan, I can say that the latest – book nine, titled “Winter’s Heart” – is well read by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer. Both voice actors are professionals (with Kate’s last name, she was born to it!), and are pleasant to listen to. Jordan’s latest is 27 hours on 18 unabridged cassettes. For those familiar with the series (which I’m told is quite complex), Rand is on the run with Min, and Mazrim Taim is proved to be a liar … as leader of the Black Tower, what is Taim up to? You’ll have to listen and let me know. So many audio books, so little time. (27 hrs.; Publishing Mills/Books on Tape; ISBN 0-7366-5609-X)

Audio book sources 
If you don’t see an 800 number for the book you want, call 1-800-532-7385 or visit for rent or sale of books.

Short cuts worth taking

A new kid on the block in audio publishing is Americana Audiobooks, and with radio man Jim Williams we have the perfect voice for “Tall Tales of the Old West,” a tongue-in-cheek collection of over-the-campfire humor and adventure. Many radio men trying to narrate audio books sound like they’re doing commercials, but Williams is also the author here, so he has a handle on how to “mix it up” for some light fun and adventure. (3 hrs.; Americana Audio; ISBN 1-58807-019-0)

Frustrated by housecleaning? Here’s Linda Cobb reading her short book “Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean,” a tape containing tips on how to clean just about anything using white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, club soda and carpet stain remover. (1 hr.; Simon & Schuster; ISBN 0-7435-0492-5)

“The Substance of Fire” by Jon Robin Baitz is an audio play performed by Ron Rifkin, Shirley Knight, Mitchell Hebert, Gretchen Cleevely and Stephen Schmidt. In it, a publisher is in a feud with his sons over the proposed publication of a series of books on Nazi war experiments, which will surely bankrupt their company. This powerful play was also made into a film. (87 min.; L.A. Theatre Works; ISBN 1-58081-201-5)

Walk an offbeat path to the delicious “Double or Nothing” by M.D. Baer, a fully dramatized mystery in the comic-noir tradition performed by singers Leif Garrett, Michael Hutchence and 23 other actors. Narrated by Michael Greene, with original music by Myron McClellan and Steve Jackson. (3 hrs.; Audio Movies; ISBN 0-9667581-0-2)

Finally, Calvin Trillin offers up humorous and tasty food criticism in “The Tummy Trilogy,” a collection of his New Yorker pieces. (3 hrs.; Highbridge Audio; ISBN 1-56511-405-1)

About the author
Jonathan Lowe is the author of the radio play production for charity, “Mystery & Mirth For Anyone Stuck in Traffic.”