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Not too long ago I got the chance to narrate the book Doll Bones by Holly Black.  So as not to confuse those of you who are audiobook fans, let me explain that you will not find my read of this story at an online retailer nor in your local bookstore.  This project was a noncommercial narration for the Library of Congress which makes it available as part of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).  If you are interested in this book but are not a member of the NLS, the book can be found at the usual places in hardback, paperback, and kindle with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler.  There is also a commercially available audiobook on CD.  Now for a bit …

About The Author *

Her first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster. Tithe was called “dark, edgy, beautifully written and compulsively readable” by Booklist, received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, and was included in the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults. Holly has since written two other books in the same universe, Valiant (2005), and the sequel to Tithe, Ironside (2007), which spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Valiant was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award for Young Readers and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

Holly collaborated with her long-time friend, Caldecott award winning artist, Tony DiTerlizzi, to create the bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles. The first two books, The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone were released together in 2003 by Simon & Schuster, with the next three, Lucinda’s Secret (2003), The Ironwood Tree (2004) and The Wrath of Mulgarath (2004), following in rapid succession. The Wrath of Mulgarath climbed to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The five-book serial has been called “vintage Victorian fantasy” by the New York Post and Time Magazine reported that “the books wallow in their dusty Olde Worlde charm.”

The Spiderwick Chronicles were adapted into a film by Paramount Pictures in conjunction with Nickelodeon Films and released in February 2008.

Doll Bones is the tale of an adventure experienced/undertaken by three close friends.   The book is written about and for readers in the Middle Grades but could probably be enjoyed by younger and even older readers, too.  In relating her story, Ms. Black is able to reach into the world of Middle Graders and touch on some of the issues that present themselves to folks in her target audience in such a way as to make it relevant even to someone like myself who graduated from 8th grade quite some time ago.  Anyway here’s more …

About The Book *

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her.

But they are in middle school now. Zach’s father pushes him to give up make-believe, and Zach quits the game. Their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she’s been having dreams about the Queen—and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave.

Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll or something more sinister? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?

* The excerpts about Holly Black and Doll Bones are quoted from Ms.Black’s own website at


Those of you who have read this blog before know that book narration is one of the performance jobs I pursue (successfully – lol).   “The Prisoner Of Heaven: A Novel” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves is the latest in my narration efforts.

I think it’s a very interesting book.  I’m drawn to mysteries, and this one is definitely a mystery.  At it’s core it tells the tale of a young man who becomes imprisoned during the reign of Generalissimo Franco in Spain – in Barcelona, in fact.  Woven, tangled even, around that tale are several others involving people we meet via the protagonist.   This book certainly gives us a full cast of characters – heroic, despicable, sympathetic and repulsive – to enjoy.  I found the dialogue extremely honest and touching at times.  On the other hand there are spots in which I felt the story was a bit sluggish.  I think this may be in part due to Mr. Zafon’s time hopping.  He skips back and forth in time to tell his story which requires setting the scene with each hop and can become a little confusing if you’re not on your toes.  Or perhaps it’s an artifact of the translation.  Then again, it could just be my TV-addled brain.  Ha!

Here’s a brief synopsis from the book jacket:

The internationally acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Carlos Ruiz Zafon takes us into a dark, gothic Barcelona and creates a rich, labyrinthine tale of love, literature, passion, and revenge in which the heroes of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game must contend with a nemesis that threatens to destroy them.

I recently completed narration of the fiction thriller Final Theory by Mark Alpert.  I have to say that I would never have thought you could create so much suspense, excitement and murder out of a few mathematical equations.  But that is exactly what Mark Alpert has done in his  Final Theory.

The plot of the book rests on the premise that Einstein did actually manage to solve the puzzle of the Einheitliches Feldtheorie which would basically be the holy grail for physicists – a theory that explains just how the universe works and all it’s fantastic mysteries.  From black holes to quarks to antimatter, etc., this theory would tie it all up in a package with a bow. 

But it’s hidden.  Not surprisingly, there are several folks interested in finding it — at all costs.  That’s because, as with almost any major scientific breakthrough, you can do lots of good knowing the Einheitliches Feldtheorie or you can do lots of damage with it.  Then along comes our unsuspecting hero —  David Swift — a former physics major who has become a college professor teaching and writing books about the history of science because he just didn’t have the makings of a true physicist.   (It was the math that did him in.)  As former assistants to Dr. Einstein begin suddenly dying out – with a little help from a suspected terrorist  – Swift is given a key that will unlock the mystery of the Einheitliches Feldtheorie and told to protect it.  And just like that … he and those around him are suddenly beset with all kinds of intrigue and mayhem.

I won’t give the whole story away here.  Suffice it to say that I enjoyed the book.  If you like a lot of action mixed with your scientific theories (not to mention ex-wives, former girlfriends, the FBI, elite military squads, and more), you’re going to have a good time reading this book.  If you haven’t already read it, I’d say this could definitely be a good book for the beach or sitting by the pool in summer 2011.

My current narration project is a sequal to another book I narrated by David Baldacci.  The previous book, The Whole Truth, was my introduction to an American operative, Shaw, and the cast of characters who populate his fast-paced world of mystery and intrigue.  In Deliver Us From Evil, Shaw returns to take out yet another very bad man. 

Once again, it’s an entertaining read.  The characters are fairly well-developed and the dialogue clips along nicely.  I  am especially enjoying the crusty antics of one character, an Irishman named Whit.  Of course, there is a romantic element in this story amidst all the mystery and mayhem.  I’m not sure Shaw deserves to be the object of every woman’s desires.  But for now, at least, it seems he is.  There are some surprises along the way as well, so I won’t say any more. 

Here is the publisher’s summary of the book from Mr. Baldacci’s website.

Evan Waller is a monster. He has built a fortune from his willingness to buy and sell anything… and anyone. In search of new opportunities, Waller has just begun a new business venture: one that could lead to millions of deaths all over the globe.

On Waller’s trail is Shaw, the mysterious operative from The Whole Truth, who must prevent Waller from closing his latest deal. Shaw’s one chance to bring him down will come in the most unlikely of places: a serene, bucolic village in Provence.

But Waller’s depravity and ruthlessness go deeper than Shaw knows. And now, there is someone else pursuing Waller in Provence—Reggie Campion, an agent for a secret vigilante group headquartered in a musty old English estate—and she has an agenda of her own.

Hunting the same man, unaware of each other’s mission, Shaw and Reggie will be caught in a deadly duel of nerve and wits. Hitchcockian in its intimate buildup of suspense, and filled with the kind of breathtaking plot turns and remarkable characters that are David Baldacci’s hallmark, Deliver Us From Evil is the most gripping thriller of the year.

I recently finished narrating a book by Jodi Picoult titled “House Rules.”  On the surface it seemed like just another murder mystery novel with a family focus (thus, HOUSE rules).  But that was far from the case. 

In this book, the protagonist – an 18-year old boy named Jason – has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.  And while the book was a murder mystery, it was rich in information about Asperger’s and in the kind of internal and external conflict (and joy) that can come from both being and living with a person like Jason.  What an  interesting read this book was!  Ms. Picoult explores how Asperger’s affects the parents, the sibling, strangers, and even delved into how a person with Asperger’s might think about the condition themselves.  Fascinating stuff.  At times difficult.  At times poignant.  But always interesting from cover to cover.

Here is the book synopsis posted on Ms. Picoult’s website:

HOUSE RULES is about Jacob Hunt, a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject – in his case, forensic analysis. He’s always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do…and he’s usually right. But then one day his tutor is found dead, and the police come to question him. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger’s – not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, inappropriate affect – can look a heck of a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel — and suddenly, Jacob finds himself accused of murder. HOUSE RULES looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how our legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way – but lousy for those who don’t.

I have just finished narrating a quick-paced, action-packed mystery novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge called Worst Case.

After having gotten through all those historical novels and research-heavy stories, it was a pleasure to have the chance to narrate a fun story.  Not that the novel itself was all fun.  The story – one in the Detective Michael Bennett series – certainly has it’s dark side.  But the characters Patterson and Ledwidge bring us are approachable and sympathetic – even when they’re being bad.  And like any enjoyable mystery, the story has some interesting twists and surprises. 

Below is text from the book cover and Patterson’s website describing Worst Case.

Best case: Survival
The son of one of New York’s wealthiest families is snatched off the street and held hostage. His parents can’t save him, because this kidnapper isn’t demanding money. Instead, he quizzes his prisoner on the price others pay for his life of luxury. In this exam, wrong answers are fatal.

Worst case: Death
Detective Michael Bennett leads the investigation. With ten kids of his own, he can’t begin to understand what could lead someone to target anyone’s children. As another student disappears, another powerful family uses their leverage and connections to turn up the heat on the mayor, the press—anyone who will listen—to stop this killer. Their reach extends all the way to the FBI, which sends its top Abduction Specialist, Agent Emily Parker. Bennett’s life—and love life—suddenly get even more complicated.

This case: Detective Michael Bennett is on it
Before Bennett has a chance to protest the FBI’s intrusion on his case, the mastermind changes his routine. His plan leads up to the most devastating demonstration yet—one that could bring cataclysmic ruin to every inch of New York City. From the shocking first page to the last exhilarating scene, Worst Case is a nonstop thriller from “America’s #1 storyteller” (Forbes).

I am not going to claim that I’m truly up to snuff on my French these days – despite that sheepskin that says B.A. & French on it.  I had heretofore put it to so little use after graduation that much had been lost.  But then came not one, not two, not three, but four books my way in the past several months to narrate — all with a significant amount of French in them.  So I’ve been brushing the cobwebs off my college studies.   The most recent in this “French Series” for me is The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. 

The conceit of this book is interesting.  There is an artist who married another artist then had an affair with yet a third artist and became obsessed with a French artist from the 19th century who herself had an affair with another artist.  Our first artist goes a little nuts and receives care from a psychiatrist – our sixth artist – trying to unravel the mystery of that initial artist’s illness.  Get the drift?  Even the book’s title is a clear tip-off to the artistic design Ms. Kostova had when writing this book.

I think it’s all very clever indeed.  And the issues which are being explored in the book reverberate in and among the characters many times over so as not to be lost to the reader.  Ms. Kostova also goes to great lengths to explore the mind of an artist as her characters make their way through the story and their everyday lives – entering a room, having dinner on a restaurant patio, etc.  After all, each of her significant characters is an artist.  And there’s my only complaint: the reader is treated to so much minutiae about the colors, the light, the textures, etc. of everything around these characters over and over again because they are artists looking with an artist’s eye.  If this book were a movie, it would be breathtakingly beautiful or horrifyingly grotesque in it’s turn – and absolutely visually riveting.  As a novel, it moves very slowly.

Ms. Kostova has done some great character work, I think.  And the dialogue works well.  I don’t mind the back-and-forth points of view – each chapter declares at the beginning who is the narrator for that particular chapter.  If you like the cinematic treatment in written form, you’ll love the book.  If you’re an artist or aspiring artist, you’ll probably enjoy the care Ms. Kostova has taken to ensure her characters share what they see in the world around them and in the paintings they create, critique, and appreciate. 

Here is text from the book jacket:

Robert Oliver, a renowned painter, has brutally attacked a canvas in the National Gallery of Art.  What would compel an artist to destroy something he values beyond all else?  From the confines of his hospital room, Olive maintains a stubborn silence, offering only the briefest explanation before he stops speaking altogether: “I did it for her.”

But who is she?  Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow prides himself on his ability to make even a stone talk, but he gets nowhere with Oliver.  Driven at first by professional curiosity, and then by a determination that disrupts his ordered, careful world, Marlow embarks on an unconventional pursuit of the answers his patient won’t provide, and on a journey into the lives of the women Oliver left behind.

As these women paint a portrait of love, betrayal, and artistic obsession, Marlow is pulled deeper within the mind of a troubled genius.  Carefully braiding the strands of a life undone, he finds surprising possibilities in a package of century-old love letters.  The voices in these letters soon tell their own story, one of secret passions and heartbreaking treachery, and they bring France of the late 1800’s blazingly alive.  Does the key to unlock the mystery lie in a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism?

Richly told, beautifully imagined, The Swan Thieves takes us across centuries, from American cities to the coast of Normandy, from young love to last love.  Elizabeth Kostova deftly explores the Painter’s universe – passion, creativity, secrets, madness – and, with the gift for storytelling that made The Historian an international sensation, conjures a world that lingers long after the final page has turned.

I recently finished narrating the mystery novel “New Tricks” by David Rosenfelt.  New tricks is part of the Andy Carpenter series by Mr. Rosenfelt, and the second of the series that I have narrated. 

All told it is an enjoyable story.  After all, it has pretty girls, loyal dogs, people being killed, an FBI connection and even international corporate espionage.   Oh, and did I mention lawyers?  I especially appreciated Andy Carpenter’s ever present sense of irony as well as his somewhat sarcastic wit.    And, still, Mr. Rosenfelt makes Andy a sympathetic character – not too different from someone you might know and like.

Here’s what the author’s website has to say about the book:

Andy Carpenter gains possesion of an adorable Bernese puppy whose owner was brutally murdered.  Few can rival Andy’s affection for dogs, and he will do whatever it takes to insure that this little pup doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.  However, his playful new friend is valued by several people, many of whom are willing to resort to violence to get what they want.  It will take more than Andy’s usual courtroom theatrics to save this dog, including a little help from his beloved golden retriever, Tara.  Andy soon discovers that anyone around him is in danger, including his long-time girlfriend Laurie, and he will have to muster all of his wits to save those he holds most dear.

This was a nice change from the usual narration job — a kid’s book for grades 2 through 4 — The Graffiti Mystery: Damian Drooth Supersleuth by Barbara Mitchelhill (illustrated by Tony Ross).

This was a fun 72 pages of story and learning exercises.  In this installment of the Damian Drooth series graffiti is discovered on a wall in the boy’s bathroom at Damian’s school.  The principal, Mr. Spratt, is so incensed that he threatens to punish the entire student body unless the responsible individual comes forward.  Damian Drooth, known ace detective, undertakes the investigation and winds up putting himself into the hot seat for his efforts.  In the end, of course, Damian gets his man with clever detective work and help from his friends.

I have just begun narrating the fiction novel, The Last Witness, by Joel Goldman.

I haven’t really gotten very far in yet, but I am a sucker for a good murder mystery.  So I am really enjoying it a lot.  I like the characters Mr. Goldman has created, the interesting and complicated interpersonal connections among those characters, and the excitement in the action and confrontation that grabs you right from the start.

Released in 2003, the book jacket describes the story as follows:

Kansas City trial attorney Lou Mason is back … and this time, it’s personal.  Hired to defend the accused murderer of local lawyer and political fixer Jack Cullan, he finds himself putting everyhting on the line to exonerate none other than his friend and menotr, ex-cop Wilson “Blues” Bluestone, Jr.

With private files that rivaled those of J. Edgar Hoover, Cullan had the goods on any number of Kansas City high-rollers, from Mayor Billy Sunshine on down.  But the homicide detective on the case has it in for Blues, who faces the death penalty if he’s convicted.  DIgging deeper, Mason unearths the kind of secrets someone will do anything to keep.  And as he closes in on a desperate killer who’s leaving a bloody trail through very high places, Mason may be setting himself up as the next target …

I’m looking forward to seeing how this story ends.  But I will resist the urge to flip to the last page and read ahead.