by Sukey HowardNovember 2012
Voices of les misérables
If you don’t count your blessings every day, you will after listening to Jonathan Kozol’s Fire in the Ashes, read by Keythe Farley; and if you’re not affected by these true stories from the sordid, shameful inner city, better check for a pulse. For many decades and in many books, Kozol has given a voice to the voiceless: children who grow up in punishing poverty and their parents. He’s not an observer, but part of the fabric of their lives. Here, he tells the stories of young men and women who spent their very early years in the notorious Hotel Martinique, a hellish, filthy, drug-infested homeless shelter right across from Macy’s on New York’s Herald Square, and were later moved to the poorest section of the Bronx. They’re grown now—the ones who survived—some terminally damaged, while some, with the aid of a few truly good people, including Kozol and a determined parent, found their way out, and found the spark that lights the fire. Listen—there’s much to be learned.
MURDER IN THE MONASTERY
The Beautiful Mystery, Louise Penny’s latest, brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his close comrade Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir to Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, a remote monastery deep in the Quebec wilderness, to investigate the murder of the choirmaster. Long hidden from the world, these cloistered monks have lived in quiet self-sufficiency, praising God in simple, glorious Gregorian chant for centuries. But now a recording made to raise much-needed money has become a global sensation—and one of the monks has become a murderer. Gamache and Beauvoir find deep discord beneath the harmonious surface of the abbey and, in its devout solemnity, find themselves face to face with their own doubts, demons and insecurities. This is much more than a whodunit; Penny renders her characters with real depth and puts them in an unusually intriguing setting and situation. And Ralph Cosham’s excellent, empathetic narration enhances it all.
TOP PICK IN AUDIO
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an epistolary novel, without epistles—at least, not the conventional kind. Instead, author Maria Semple weaves together emails, school report cards, police reports, FBI files, an emergency room bill, a psychiatrist’s notes, a fundraising letter and more. The only narrative is offered by 15-year-old Bee, one of the most charming teenagers I’ve met in ages. And Bee is not the only charmer. Bernadette—who, as you know from the title, does a disappearing act—is a fabulous creation: an architect who only built one house, won a MacArthur “genius” grant, then gave it all up in a grand snit; an agoraphobic, Seattle-hating Seattleite who can quip with the best; and Bee’s mother, who cherishes her brilliant daughter. The other characters are drawn with the same wit, the subplots unleashed with an accurate, antic take on our world. Kathleen Wilhoite’s reading, lit by a range of voices, accents, cadences and emotions, is a true treat.