Audiobook News


Even the ones which get the boot are worth a look, or listen…

Through the Audie Awards® competition, publishers enter titles in various categories for recognition of excellence. Finalists are selected by a diverse group of experienced judges and one winner is awarded the Audie in each category. Finalists for Industry Awards for Excellence in Design, Marketing, and Production and for Audiobook of the Year announced. For more information and to see a list of all of the nominees, visit

Some of the nominees we recommend are:  Glass Houses by Louise Penny, narrated by Robert Bathurst, published by Macmillan Audio / How to Work for an Idiot (Revised and Expanded with More Idiots, More Insanity, and More Incompetency): Survive and Thrive Without Killing Your Boss by John Hoover, narrated by Brian Sutherland, published by Audible Studios / Peak Performance by Brad Stullberg and Steve Magness, narrated by Christopher Lane, published by Brilliance Publishing / The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss, narrated by Kate Reading, published by Simon & Schuster Audio / Beartown by Fredrik Backman, narrated by Marin Ireland, published by Simon & Schuster Audio / Code Girls by Liza Mundy, narrated by Erin Bennett, published by Hachette Audio / Carpet Diem: Or…How to Save the World by Accident by Justin Lee Anderson, narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies, published by Tantor Audio, a division of Recorded Books / The Handmaid’s Tale: Special Edition by Margaret Atwood and Valerie Martin, narrated by Claire Danes, Margaret Atwood, and a full cast, published by Audible Studios / Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope, narrated by David Shaw-Parker, published by Naxos AudioBooks / The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, narrated by Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimiko Glenn, and others, published by Simon & Schuster Audio / Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry, narrated by Simon Vance, published by Macmillan Audio / Nevertheless We Persisted, edited by Tanya Eby: Blunder Woman Productions / Nights of the Living Dead: An Anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry and George A. Romero, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Rex Linn, Gabrielle de Cuir, Adenrele Ojo, Richard Gilliland, Ray Porter, Kristoffer Tabori, and Kasey Lansdale, published by Blackstone Publishing / Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray, narrated by January LaVoy, published by Listening Library / Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork, narrated by Roxana Ortega and Christian Barillas, published by Scholastic Audio / Now, isn’t this all “The Voice” for Voice Actors? Somebody call Adam Levine. Today is his birthday. On today, March 18, if you say, “Alexa, Hello,” into your Amazon Echo, she will tell you this. Scary? She’s an AI. What happens when AI happens for real, with real emotions? Real narrations, robot actors? For now, Alexa can play your Audible audiobooks, and keep track of chapters and how much time is left in the book! AGT.

Whiskey Business

If your audiobook doesn’t win, you could turn to whiskey. Whiskey Business, that is! An audiobook narrated by Barry Abrams. A Powerball winner was announced today, too. Consolation prize? Or you could win next time.


Interview with Ctein


Ctein has a double-degree from Caltech in English and Physics. He has written over 500 articles, columns, books, and manuals on photographic topics, and done research in everything from solar astronomy to computer screens, and from the seventy-year-old dye transfer printmaking process to state-of-the-art electronic color displays. He has made new discoveries about ordinary B&W photographic printing and new designs for computer printers. Most recently, he became a novelist, co-authoring Saturn Run with John Sandford, and is hard at work on a new novel, a disaster thriller, with Scifi author David Gerrold (who, among many novels, wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles” script for Star Trek.) 

Jonathan Lowe) How did your book collab with John Sandford come about? I heard he wrote you, and you didn’t want to do it at first, money being “the root of all evil.”

Ctein) This is, in fact, 99% true. We concatenated a couple of different conversations for the sake of narrative, and I never said money was the root of all evil. John stuck that in – he thought it amusing, but it is true to life.

Lowe) And the new book project? Not with Sandford?

Ctein) No. After Saturn Run, I had an idea for a natural disaster thriller, based upon a paper that appeared in Nature about 15 years ago – a computer model of what kind of tidal wave would occur after a major Hawaiian offshore landslide, which happens every couple of hundred thousand years. John wasn’t available to write another book with me. He and I like working together, but he’s contractually obligated to turning out two of his series novels a year, and there are only so many hours in the day. We may well work together at some point in the future. I’ve got this idea for next book. I could write it myself, but it happens I like collaborating. More fun. About the time the Saturn Run was coming out a long time good friend of mine and science fiction author David Gerrold asked me if I might be interested in having him as a collaborator at some point. So I rung him up on the phone, pitched the natural disaster novel idea to him and asked him if he’d be interested in doing something like that, and he said hell yes. The new novel is tentatively titled “Ripple Effect” and it’s about 75% done. Can’t tell you when it will come out, but I’m hoping within a year. In the meantime, a 35,000 word excerpt from it that stands on its own will be appearing in the May/June issue of Asimov’s science fiction magazine under the title “Bubble & Squeak.” To be clear, Ripple Effect isn’t science fiction. It’s a contemporary natural disaster thriller, set a few years from now for convenience, but it doesn’t make particular use of that. But it is hard science – all the actual disaster/geology stuff is as accurate as we know how to make it.

Lowe) Sounds great. Look forward to it. Do you have a mentor or someone who influenced you to write? Mine was Ray Bradbury, who answered every letter I wrote him as a teen fan.

Ctein) I met Ray Bradbury when I was in college. Several of us got to go out to dinner with him. It was not long after I had decided that my chosen career would be photographer, not physicist, and nobody was objecting but it was not the sort of thing that one got a lot of  explicit support for at Caltech. After dinner, Ray asked us what we planned to do with our lives. He got to me and I very hesitantly said, “Well, I was planning on becoming a photographer.” Ray clapped his hands and boisterously exclaimed, “Good for you!” It was the first time anyone had shown enthusiasm over my choice. It made a huge difference to me. That is why my first book was dedicated to Ray Bradbury.

Lowe) As was one of mine! Incredible. It’s a small world, after all. Thanks.

Saturn Run

Science Fiction

Vintage scifi, with a early Ray Bradbury story. Note AE Van Vogt. His novel “Voyage of the Space Beagle” (Darwin’s ship) inspired the Alien series. His estate sued, and Ridley Scott settled out of court. The new HBO series Fahrenheit 451 was inspired by a story Ray wrote called “The Pedestrian,” which later featured David Ogden Stiers in a Bradbury TV series, and foretold driverless cars and drones. The drone helicopter, piloted by a robot, takes two men out for a walk (instead of watching sports on their “viewing screens” –flat screen TVs) to the “Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.” The 2002 movie Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale, is another reinterpretation on Fahrenheit 451…this time featuring burning and guns. It is also interesting to note that “Voyage of the Space Beagle” inspired David Gerrold. His seeing “The Man Trap” on Star Trek caused him to submit his “The Trouble with Tribbles” script, and the “The Man Trap” was inspired by the Van Vogt novel. Gerrold also used the animal, a “Coeurl” in his book “A Season for Slaughter,” which is the creature’s name in the Van Vogt novel. Trivia, but interesting, no?


Becoming Meryl Streep

Meryl StreepHer Again is an intimate look at the artistic coming-of-age of the greatest actress of her generation, from the homecoming float at her suburban New Jersey high school, through her early days on the stage at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama during its golden years, to her star-making roles in The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, and Kramer vs. Kramer. New Yorker contributor Michael Schulman brings into focus Meryl’s heady rise to stardom on the New York stage; her passionate, tragically short-lived love affair with fellow actor John Cazale; her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer; and her evolution as a young woman of the 1970s wrestling with changing ideas of feminism, marriage, love, and sacrifice.

Featuring eight pages of black-and-white photos in a PDF, this captivating story of the making of one of the most revered artistic careers of our time reveals a gifted young woman coming into her extraordinary talents at a time of immense transformation, offering a rare glimpse into the life of the actress long before she became an icon.

THE POST was nominated for Best Picture, and Streep for Best Actress. The story is appropriate for our times for several reasons: newspapers are dying in favor of online McNews video and sound bites. Many local news stations have folded their investigative departments, and instead chase viral videos just like TMZ does. It is all about sports and weather. “Scores” (whether on the football field or killing fields) are tallied and delivered, accompanied by ads for junk food and prescription drugs. War stories and political secrets are particularly suppressed or debated, with only a few outlets like the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post (along with 60 Minutes and Frontline) spending time and money to get to the truth. Disinformation and fake news attack these efforts relentlessly. Many of the movies up for Oscars were based on books. Writing, like reporting, takes work that many do not want to take in a “winner-take-all” culture. Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, had this to say about it: “Factoids are clips posted to make people believe they know more than they do. The less people read, the more violent the world becomes.”


Elon Musk’s Favorite Book


Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. How do we know this? A copy exists onboard the Tesla now traveling to Mars. It’s in the glovebox! A sign on dash reads “Don’t Panic!” That’s also from the book. 

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor. Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox—the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years. Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!


How to Debunk Bad Science, Conspiracy, and Fake News

Star trek

Fake News, “alternative facts,” and bogus science is more viral now than ever. Over 100,000 videos on Youtube tell us the Earth is flat. Our President denies basic science, and thanked InfoWars (a conspiracy site) for help in his election. The “History” Channel suggests the pyramids were built by Ancient Aliens, relying on ancient writings and drawings as “evidence.” Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand life’s mysteries, from the mundane to the seemingly miraculous. Static societies endured for ages, without progress, because creativity was suppressed. Challenges to dogma were met with death. In THE BEGINNING OF INFINITY, David Deutsch, an award-winning pioneer in the field of quantum computation, shows why man’s ego colors his faulty interpretations of events and observations. The human eye, he argues, is the least important tool of science, and the most easily fooled. Things are rarely what they seem, and no justification or authority is needed to arrive at truth. What is needed is to recognize flaws of logic, which have plagued mankind for thousands of years. Static thinking, mired in superstition and error, is our past, but need not be our future. Listening to this 20 hour audiobook is like getting a college degree in physics, biology, math, and geology. You will no longer be victim to those who would manipulate your beliefs for profit. Called one of the most profound science books ever written by the NY Times, it shows why explanations have a fundamental place in the universe. They have unlimited scope and power to cause change, and the quest to improve them is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach. Optimistic in outlook, the book shows how we are subject only to the laws of physics, but they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve. A most relevant Must Read or Hear.

work it

Sports Flu


From Walter Witty: “Is everything a sport? iThink so. Politics, culture, business, you name it. In sports, you have two sides, rarely three. This is why there’s no third party or team on the killing fields. (Gridirons.) What did George Orwell say? “Sports is war minus the shooting.” Spock: “Fascinating.” That’s Dr. Spock too. (Sex and babies is a sport too, alias. I mean alas.) Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 (about burning books) has one of the firemen (who find books inside hollowed out TVs, and burn them) say: “More sports for everyone.” Videos on Youtube talking about becoming rich say things like, “If you’re not a player or ball club owner, or gambling on games, stop watching sports on TV. It’s a waste of time, and health. Like junk food.” Tasty, though! Alas, diabetes and obesity (and health care costs) are epidemic, to say nothing of concussions. Do we love sports like football because it’s a proxy for going to war, for feeling like winners? iThink so. Alias, the players and owners will change cities in a heartbeat for better parking and free booze (if not pills) elsewhere. It is a vicarious thrill, cheering, imagining it is us out there! (Or in the case of the Olympics, U.S.) More than just a game? Yup. A religion. There are fistfights in bars over games, cars overturned after games, riots and stampedes over the “score.” Everyone wants to “score,” even the President. He’s a wrestling fan, and former game show host. He and Kim Jong un are in a game, too. “It’s not a game!” people shout, but it IS. Everything is a game. But what exactly do we “win?” A bigger button? A trophy? Who even reads the record books, except overpaid sports commentators in Trivial Pursuit? What about FICA scores and exam scores and…and no doubt you’re angry now. Oh yes. You want to throw junk food at me at high velocity…send me to Gitmo for waterboarding with high fructose corn syrup. But consider: One satire book out of 10,000 about sports, and ESPN can’t bring themselves to mention it, even though the narrator of the audiobook version writes for ESPN?”


From The New York Times: “To say that Texans love football would be an understatement. Texans love football the way Johnny loved June. Texans love football the way Donald Trump loves his hair. Texans love football the way Kanye West loves Kanye West. The religious-like attendance at high school football games all across Texas is a testament to our devotion to the sport. The passion can get even more intense the further you get from the city. When traveling through small-town Texas on a Friday night in the Fall, it’s liable to seem like a ghost town unless you happen to pass the stadium, and the only stations you’ll get out in the boonies will be gospel, country, and broadcasts of high school football games.”

The Quest for the Deepest Place on Earth


Don Leslie reads BLIND DESCENT by James M. Tabor, a fascinating true story about a team of adventurers who race to find the deepest place on Earth, in a cave in the Republic of Georgia. The expedition took weeks and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the author.  Tabor is author of FOREVER ON THE MOUNTAIN, narrated by Scott Brick, and also FROZEN SOLID. Here’s my interview with him:

Tower Review)  After being an Army brat and having so many unusual jobs, before and after grad school at Johns Hopkins, what brought you to writing about caving?

James M. Tabor)  I had visited touristic caves, such as Luray Caverns, in Virginia as a very young child.  My parents liked caves and my father grew up down there.  Some about them grabbed me hard right off the bat.  I’m still not sure how that capture happens, but I’ve heard many serious cavers say the same thing: first time they went into a cave, bam, they were hooked. After Hopkins, I ended up writing nonfiction features for a number of national magazines such as TIME, Smithsonian, Outside, and Readers Digest on a wide variety of subjects. When one gave me an assignment to profile an internationally famous caver, I jumped at it.  Then a subsequent assignment took me on an extreme cave expedition. I did it actively for awhile but, to do anything like that at a high level is expensive, dangerous, and time consuming.  Starting a second family eased me out of active caving.  I never lost the fascination with caves, though, and ended up co-creating and executive-producing a History Channel Special about caving—the one you saw.  During the production, I learned about Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk and their race to find the deepest cave, and that produced Blind Descent.

Q)   There are quite a few touristy caves like Carlsbad, Mammoth, and Colossal.  Kartchner Caverns in southern Arizona is oppressively paranoid about preservation, which makes visiting it an ordeal, like having a nanny hold your hand.   What caving experience was most fun for you, and how accessible are the wild caves for teams like those you wrote about?

A)  The most fun I had was accompanying a team into a wild cave in TAG–Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia–called Run To The Mill.  RTTM is now closed because of its hazards.  It had all the challenges that make caving exciting: exhalation squeezes, chin-deep sumps, 250-foot vertical drops, and a tunnel, called a borehole because it was bored by an underground watercourse, a mile long, 65 feet wide, and 35 feet high.  You could have driven two freight trains side by side down that borehole.  The purpose of this particular penetration was to put a diver into a sump at the cave’s then-terminus, to extend the cave’s length.  I was basically a Sherpa, hauling gear to support the dive.  It was grueling work, but the cave was ample reward.  Accessibility of wild caves varies, well, wildly.  Many are on privately owned land, and access is entirely dependent on owners’ good will.  A great challenge for all cavers is creating and maintaining positive relationships with landowners.  Access to caves on public land–in national parks and forests–also varies, but at least the entry requirements are standardized, whereas every cave on private land presents a unique challenge.

Q)  What most surprised you in research for this book?

A)  Unquestionably the scale of supercave expeditions. As a climber, I was very familiar with the immense logistics of big Himalayan expeditions.  But supercave expeditions dwarfed even those. I learned that they involved scores of people who remain on-site in base camps for months.  They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the most extreme teams can stay underground, working on dangerous, technical terrain, for three weeks and more.

Q)  What is the most beautiful cave in the world, the deepest, and the most dangerous?

A)  The deepest cave on earth is Krubera, located in Abkhazia in the Republic of Georgia.  Roughly 7,200 feet.  I didn’t do in-depth research on the great European supercaves in my book, but I think that, all things considered, Krubera would also qualify as the most dangerous.  That’s a highly subjective judgment, of course, but here are some number.  The cave is easily the deepest on earth, and 90% of its terrain is vertical. Air temperature in summer varies from 35-40F.  Water temperature is just above freezing, around 32F so that frigid water, plus the air that’s always moving through caves, makes lethal hypothermia a constant threat.  After a point, judging beauty of supercaves is like trying to figure out whether Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor was more beautiful.  Each one is fantastically beautiful in its own ways.  So that’s the best sidestep I can do on that one!

Q)  You produced a History channel special, which I just saw on video.  What surprised me is hearing that drill bits melt at a certain depth due to heat.  The frozen methane pocket that the Deepwater Horizon supposedly met…can oil drilling accidents really be prevented with current technology?

A)  Honestly, I’m not an expert on oil drilling but I will say this. Several decades ago, an engineer named Charles Perrow wrote a book, which has since become a classic, called NORMAL ACCIDENTS: Living with High Risk Technologies.  Its central thesis is that once any technology achieves a certain degree of complexity, accidents become not less likely but more so—inevitable, in fact.  He supports that theory convincingly by examining in great detail Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the Bhopal Chemical Plant accident, and the Challenger space shuttle explosion.  The Deepwater Horizon debacle is only the most recent example.  So I think the answer, from my perspective, is that accidents like that will never be entirely preventable.  The question then becomes what level of frequency we are willing to accept and live with.

Q)   Do you listen to audiobooks?

A)  Constantly!  Where I live in Vermont, it’s a good long drive to get anywhere.  I love NPR, but one needs variety, and audiobooks save my sanity on long trips.  I’ve just finished listening to Simon Winchester’s book on Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded.  Charles Frazier’s Civil War novel, Cold Mountain, is next in the player.  I’ve listened to it once already, but Frazier’s writing is so miraculous that I’ll probably listen five or six times.

Q)  What’s next for you?

A)  I was originally trained as a fiction writer in the MFA program at Johns Hopkins.  My first published short story won an O. Henry Award.  I quickly learned that it was much easier to make a living writing nonfiction, however, so did that for along time, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I decided to go back to fiction after Blind Descent.  The Deep Zone was published in early 2012.  You probably aren’t surprised to learn that a supercave figures prominently in the action.  A follow-up novel featuring the same heroine, Hallie Leland, was called Frozen Solid.  It takes place at the South Pole, an environment equally fascinating for its many extremities.