Best Audio Books of the Year

Furman

The following are chosen by Tower Review as the Best Audio Books of the Year. They are also available at up to 75% off as audiobooks from Audiobooks Today and TR during Cyber Monday week, which began with Black Friday. Ebook versions also available.  

Hillbilly Elegy written and read by J.D. Vance

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, read by Anne Marie Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, narrated by Alfred Molina

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells, read by the author

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, read by Michael Sheen

Things That Can and Cannot Be Said by Arundhati Roy and John Cusack, read by Sneha Mathan and Jim Meskimen

The Best of Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle, read by a full cast 

The Lost Get-Back Boogie by James Lee Burke, read by Will Patton

Dear World by Bana Alabed, read by the author

Popular by Mitch Prinstein, read by the author

Was privileged to be one of the judges in the VoiceArts awards this year in the Science Fiction category, held in New York City at Lincoln Center. All areas of voiceover are judged, but a few of the winners related to books this year include: Scott Brick in Crime & Thriller and Fiction categories for Dead City and The Last Tribe, respectively. Sneha Mathan and Jeff Wilburn for Classics, The God of Small Things and Moonlight, respectively. Simon Vance for Fantasy, The Wolf of the North. Lisa Flanagan for Mystery, The Unseen World. John Malone for Science Fiction, Dredging Up Memories. Ed Asner and cast for Storytelling, Powder Burns. Adam Verner for Teens, York: The Shadow Cipher. Neil deGrasse Tyson for Author Performance, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Andi Arndt & Zachary Webber for Romance, The Hot One. Brian Blessed for Inspirational, The Cat of Bubastes. R.C. Bray for Short Story Anthology, Diary of an Asscan. January LaVoy for Non-Fiction, Bette & Joan: The Devine Feud. Nicholas Guy Smith for Biography, Notes on Blindness. Malcolm Hillgartner for History, Dunkirk: The Complete Story of the First Step in the Defeat of Hitler. Zak George for Self Help, Dog Training Revolution. Will Damron, Metaphysical, Satan’s Harvest. Joe Barrett, Humor, A Really Big Lunch.   

VoiceArts awards

Desperate Voyage

PalmIslandSVG

Treasure comes at great cost: hard work, mental exhaustion, love, vision, and never giving up. Such was the life of John Caldwell, author of the sailing classic Desperate Voyage, about his sailing alone from Panama after WW2 into bad weather to get to his bride in Australia. He then had given up the normal, quiet life in LA, and set off on sailing advertures, his heart with the ocean tides. It was never an easy life, but he was never mesmerized by other dreams: money, cars, or a gold watch after a long stint at the factory or in a cubical. His dream was travel on the open ocean, in small boats, his hand on the wheel. No flash in the pan, his life was about force of will, fitness of spirit—a life spent fighting storms, invaders, his dogs at his side, his sons and wife Mary sharing his vision. Digging for treasure? No. Planting palm trees. On his island, a mosquito infested place which he bought for a song and transformed into a paradise. Over decades. Still at it, he died at 80, walking his “Highway 90,” which he told me meant “I hope for 90 years, and the devil take the rest.” The island is now an upscale resort, one of the best in the Caribbean. They say every paradise has a backstory, whoever “they” are. And not just in the Grenadines. Now imagine a Powerball winner who disappears, then discovers he has a son, and hires the tabloid writer who finds him, to fight off pirates just as John did. To buy an island. Palm Island. The Powerball winner in the shadows, out of danger, paying others to risk everything, so he can emerge rich and famous, not JUST for 15 minutes. Fame Island. Based on John’s true story. Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean was partly filmed nearby. Both books DESPERATE VOYAGE and LOTTERY  ISLAND links at TowerReview.com/Travel.html.

 

 

Nelson DeMille on Florida

Nelson Demille

Nelson Richard DeMille, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, was born in New York City. He was a first lieutenant in the United States Army (1966–69) and saw action as an infantry platoon leader with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam. His first major novel, By the Rivers of Babylon, is still in print, as are all his succeeding novels. He attended Hofstra University, where he received a degree in political science and history. He is the author of By the Rivers of Babylon, Cathedral, The Talbot Odyssey, Word of Honor, The Charm School, The Gold Coast, The General’s Daughter, Spencerville, Plum Island, The Lion’s Game, Up Country, The Gate House, Night Fall, Wild Fire, and The Lion. He also coauthored Mayday with Thomas Block and has contributed short stories, book reviews, and articles to magazines and newspapers. A member of the Authors Guild, the Mystery Writers of America, and American Mensa, he holds honorary doctorates from Hofstra University, Long Island University, and Dowling College.

We spoke to Nelson DeMille briefly about Florida and his older novel The Gate House. Several of his books became movies, notably The General’s Daughter starring John Travolta. His new book is The Cuban Affair.

JONATHAN LOWE: To what extent are Sutter and Bellarosa based on real people you’ve known living on Long Island, and what’s your attraction to them as characters of fiction?

NELSON DeMILLE: I’ve never used a single real person as a character in my novels, but I do base my characters on composites of people I know or have met, or who are public figures. John Sutter is a type that I’ve known among the old families of Long Island, but, of course, I’ve given him some quirks, and a self-awareness that is not all that common in this class of people. Frank Bellarosa as a Mafia don could have easily been a stock figure from Central Casting, but I gave him a lot of brains, a good eduation, and he, too, has a self-awareness that would be unusual in his profession. Both characters – Sutter and Bellarosa – have a good sense of humor, and together they are more than the sum of their parts.

JL: I once interviewed Ronald Kessler about his book “The Season,” which described the social undercurrent of billionaires living in Palm Beach, Florida near Trump. One of your characters makes a comment of disdain toward those “living in Florida,” so I’m wondering what are the similarities and differences between these playgrounds of the world’s super wealthy. Is there a rivalry there, as between those living in New York and Los Angeles?

ND: New Yorkers take some pleasure in looking down on other New Yorkers who move permanently to Florida. Maybe, though, it’s jealousy. In any case, it isn’t rivalry as it is with Los Angeles because these “Floridians” are, for the most part, New Yorkers who’ve chosen to leave New York. As for Palm Beach, this is a seasonal town, and becomes New York South from Christmas to Easter, then empties out.

JL: Do you listen to audiobook performances of your novels, and if so, in what ways do you think the personalities of the characters are illuminated by the actors? Any which have nailed the way you perceived a character by voicing him or her, as in films?

ND: Yes, I listen to all my audiobooks, and I think that Scott Brick has nailed down my character of John Corey in PLUM ISLAND, THE LION’S GAME, NIGHT FALL, WILD FIRE, and THE LION.

James Lee Burke

Agatha Christie

 

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Radiomen

Eleanor Lerman, who lives in New York, is the author of numerous award-winning collections of poetry, short stories, and novels. She is a National Book Award finalist, the recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2016, her novel, Radiomen, was awarded the John W. Campbell Prize for the Best Book of Science Fiction.

Tower Review:  What inspired RADIOMEN?
Eleanor Lerman:  Whitely Strieber said something once that I’ve never forgotten: when he wrote Communion and then subsequent books about his encounters with aliens, he said that people kept asking him why the aliens abducted people, why they seemed to be doing some kind of experiments on them, etc. His reply was that how could he, a human being, possibly understand the beliefs and motivations of other beings? They might have a completely different view of the universe, of living beings’ purpose and place in the universe. He thought it was almost arrogant of human beings to think that their understanding of the universe would be the starting point for any other being’s understanding in any other part of the cosmos. I thought that was a brilliant and profound idea–with one little spin of my own. I imagine that wherever there is life, there is probably some yearning for connection with a higher being and probably the same kind of confusion about who He/She/It is. That’s what began the story for me. But there’s one other thing: when I was a little girl, my uncle rigged a radio receiver that allowed us to hear the sound of one of the later Sputnik satellites. The Soviets wanted people to pick up the signal because they thought it would scare Americans, in particular, into thinking that the Soviets were way ahead of them in the space race. But when I heard Sputnik, I wasn’t scared–I think I fell in love with the idea of sounds traveling through space and being able to hear them on a radio. (When I was a teenager, living in New York, I remembered this feeling when I could pick up a rock and roll station at night from a distant city like Chicago.) Many years later, I came across an audio tape of Sputnik’s telemetry signal online, and when I heard it, it was like hearing the voice of an old friend.

Q:  How important was tone to you, related to audiences outside the scifi community?
A:  It is very important to me that Radiomen be accessible to both the scifi community and others who are more focused on reading “literary” novels. Most speculative fiction and scifi written by women tends to be dystopian in nature. I’m not really interested in speculating about the end of the world or apocalyptic times. For me, the question of whether or not we’re being visited by aliens and if so, why, is a framework for speculating about why actually lies beyond the human horizon. Questions about why we exist, what our lives mean, whether we are alone in the universe–big questions like that–are the kind of thing that you talk about with your friends when you’re young. But you sort of forget about them in the middle of your life when you’re caught up with work and raising kids and the everyday stuff of life. But as you get older, the questions return again when you start staring mortality in the face. Once that happened to me, as a writer, it seemed almost trivial to be writing about anything else, but I needed a big framework to deal with such outsized, almost metaphysical questions, and that’s how I moved towards scifi. But I was hoping that anyone who wonders about what we can’t see beyond the night sky and the stars would like Radiomen.

Q:  Did you hear the audiobook, and if so, what did you think?
A:  I have not heard the book yet but I was very impressed by how much effort Dawn Harvey put into making sure that her pronunciation of names and words was something I was comfortable with. I very much appreciated that and I can’t wait to listen, some late night, to a reading of the story.

Q:  Will there be a sequel?
A:  In a way. A new book called The Stargazer’s Embassy. New characters and, sadly, no dog–but alien beings are once again main characters, although this time what they are confused about is the nature of death. The Betty Hill star map–-her claim that when she and her husband Barney were abducted in 1961, the aliens showed her a map of the Zeta Reticuli star system and said that’s where they were from–plays a role in the story, as does a Hello Kitty phone app and a character based on Ted Serios (who was once famous for being able to take “mental pictures”–-meaning, to transfer images from his mind to the film in a camera).

Review of Radiomen here: 

http://audiobookstoday.blogspot.com/2015/02/radiomen-by-eleanor-lerman.html

science books

ANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer

jeff vandermeerANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer. Plot: Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition. The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself. They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers. Narrated by Carolyn McCormick on audio, the stand-alone novel is not your typical scifi listen, but has been picked up for a movie adaptation starring Natalie Portman and directed by Alex Garland, who did Ex Machina. It is a subjective account told through the protagonist’s viewpoint. Sensations are key, and the almost stream of consciousness revelations seem like diary entries. There are no Predator creatures hunting them down, using invisibility shields. It’s more cryptic, moody, the influence on the scientists more like the supernatural. And like “The X Files,” not everything can be explained. Which is the whole point. You can see why Garland was attracted to the material. The mystery lingers, and the purpose of such books and films is not to do a neat little Hollywood feel-good wrap-up, complete with one-liners, but to present the dilemma. To incite debate while stimulating the imagination.

For a change or pace, the video below is classical violinist Sarah Chang talking about ethics. Sarah is one of the best musicians in the world, a prodigy who grew into one of the most demanded performers. What is special about her, outside of music, is her honesty and dedication to kids and learning. No diva with a massive ego, she is the real deal. She once showed up in a tiny club in Buenos Aires, just out of love of Latin fusion tango music, although she has played with every major orchestra, including (as a child) with John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl. Our interview with her is HERE.

Sarah Chang

TAXI?

Tony DanzaUber is threatening the taxi cab industry. Competitors are threatening Uber. Stock prices fluctuate, while the public looks for the cheapest fares. Long before he starred on some of television’s most beloved and long-running series such as Taxi and Who’s the Boss? and went on to distinguish himself in a variety of film and stage roles, Tony Danza was a walking contradiction: an indifferent student who dreamed of being a teacher. Inspiring a classroom of students was an aspiration he put aside for decades until one day it seemed that the most meaningful thing he could do was give his dream a shot. What followed was a year spent teaching tenth-grade English at Northeast High — Philadelphia’s largest high school with 3,600 students. Entering Northeast’s crowded halls in September 2009, Tony found his way to a classroom filled with twenty-six students who were determined not to cut him any slack. They cared nothing about “Mr. Danza’s” showbiz credentials, and they immediately put him on the hot seat. It was only after experiencing abject terror for several weeks — and even dissolving into tears on several occasions — that Tony began to pick up the tricks of how to get kids to learn. Featuring indelible portraits of students and teachers alike, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had reveals just how hard it is to keep today’s technologically savvy — and often alienated — students engaged, how impressively committed most teachers are, and the outsized role counseling plays in a teacher’s day, given the psychological burdens many students carry. The audiobook also makes vivid how a modern high school works, showing Tony in a myriad of roles — from lecturing on To Kill a Mockingbird to coaching the football team, organizing a talent show, leading far-flung field trips, and hosting teacher gripe sessions. Interesting, heart-opening.

Taxi

First Book of Fiction by Tom Hanks!

Tom Hanks book

A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor. A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game–and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!
“Wait—Tom Hanks can write, too? Funny, moving, deftly surprising stories? That’s just swell. Maybe there’s no crying in baseball, pal, but it’s perfectly acceptable in the book business. That’s how we drown envy.” —Carl Hiaasen
“It turns out that Tom Hanks is also a wise and hilarious writer with an endlessly surprising mind. Damn it.” —Steve Martin
Tom Hanks narrates, with additional performances on the story “Stay with Us” by five other voice actors. Hanks has won Academy Awards for best actor for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. He has starred in many other films, including Big, Sleepless in Seattle, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Cast Away, Catch Me If You Can, Captain Phillips, Bridge of Spies, and Sully. His other awards include Golden Globes, Primetime Emmys, and the American Comedy Award, among others. His first work of fiction is the short-story collection Uncommon Type. Order ebook version at http://TowerReview.com and audiobook version at https://AudiobooksToday.blogspot.com