This month we travel to a dystopian future and go back to the turn-of-the-century Boston for a dose of magical realism and then to current Boston, for a political thriller. Stephen King tries to scare us and Gretchen Rubin hopes she can make us happier. All titles are released on audible.com.
The Dog Stars. By Peter Heller; Read by Mark Deakins.
Random House Audio; 9 CDs, 10.5 hours; $35.
In an unusual approach to the familiar doomsday scenario, a virulent flu has wiped out most Americas. Our protagonist, Hig, is aloft above the former Colorado in his 1956 Cessna, looking for love. Debut novelist Heller's thoughtful and understated book dwells as much on interior peace as on survival. The love story is touching; the overwrought sex scenes are not. Narrator Deakins, however, is a joy, thanks to a moderately deep and resonant voice and a thorough grasp of the material. His work is relaxed and inviting, easily conveying the stream of consciousness that makes up much of the story.
The Other Woman. By Hank Phillippi Ryan; Read by Ilyana Kadushin. MacMillan Audio; 11 CDs, 13.5 hours; $39.99.
In her fifth novel, investigative reporter Ryan draws a Boston politico who discovers that "you can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences." A smart feel for the unglamorous work of a reporter and complex main characters are mitigated by too many fuzzy subplots and a overly-complex, crazy pace. Still, protagonist Jane Ryland is worth a sequel, as she comes across as savvy and realistic. Narrator Kadushin has a great sense of timing, a pretty voice and the ability to express emotion without overdoing it. Her Bostahn accent, however, is lacklustah and uneven.
A Face in the Crowd. Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan; Read by Craig Wasson. Simon & Schuster Audio; 1 CD, 1 hour, $9.99.
Dean Evers, an elderly widower and Florida snowbird, is idling away his life kvetching and watching baseball when he notices a familiar face in the crowd of a televised Devil Rays/Mariners game. Each night another face, familiar and long dead, situated in the same spot behind home plate. Then this novella takes you exactly where you expect Stephen King's fiction to go. At about 6 cents per minute, it is overpriced. Though the material is overly familiar, it is enhanced by actor Wasson, who moves seamlessly from being on the verge of tears, to angry, to incredulous, to jaded.
The Lost Prince. By Selden Edwards, Read by Angela Brazil. AudioGo; 15 CDs, 18.5 hours, $29.99
Eleanor Burden, a society matron in fin de siècle Boston, is completing assignments in a seemingly magical journal given to her by a time traveler. Edwards leaves the journal's provenance and properties unclear, resulting in a strange, complicated story that fails to resolve its many unanswered questions. (Things may be clearer for listeners who heard the preceding novel, "The Little Book.") Still, Edwards writes searing descriptions of war and wonderfully diverse characters. Unfortunately, narrator Brazil's maddening delivery destroys the dialogue with misplaced emotion and a disconcerting knack for stressing the wrong words in almost every sentence.
Happier at Home. By Gretchen Rubin; Read by Kathe Mazur. Random House Audio; 8 CDs, 9.5 hours, $40.
Gretchen Rubin wants us all to be happier, but she's so verbose that listeners experience a spike in contentment by turning her off. Where she might use two examples, she deploys six. Consider the subtitle: "Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life." Rubin doesn't seem to register that not everyone has as much leisure time as she clearly enjoys. Her first audiobook, "The Happiness Project," was stronger. Narrator Mazur is upbeat, pleasant and keen at pacing, but she can't rescue this one.