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REVIEWS

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Lauren Willig, Kate Reading Penguin Audiobooks $34.95 (0p) ISBN 978-5-559-08370-4
It's difficult to narrate one book, much less a story within a story that spans two different time periods, but Reading meets this challenge with a bravado befitting Willig's swashbuckling tale. American academic Eloise Kelly has come to London to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation, a British spy who infiltrated Napoleonic France. Eloise, who's given an appropriately flat American inflection, hits a vein of gold when she uncovers letters describing a love affair between the Purple Gentian, another famous spy, and Amy Balcourt, who may be the Pink Carnation. Much of the novel focuses on the far-fetched love story between Amy and Richard Selwick (aka the Purple Gentian), and here Reading truly demonstrates her vocal prowess. Amy's accent smacks strongly of her British roots but also proves as impish as her character, and Richard possesses a deep voice that actually sounds sexy. As the adventure progresses, evil French spies and formidable dowagers roll off of Reading's agile tongue, making this a fun, dynamic listen."


Private Life
Jane Smiley, read by Kate Reading, Random Audio, unabridged, 11 CDs, 13.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-3077-1591-9
Raised in post–Civil War Missouri, Margaret Mayfield Early has witnessed vast changes in the U.S. and around the world in her 60 years, and her observations and recollections make for a captivating listen. Kate Reading is well cast; her rich voice and difficult to place accents are perfect for characters that grew up in the Midwest but have lived all over the country. The audio production is flawless, and the narration is suffused with mood, heavy introspection, and wistfulness.

The Book of Spies
Gayle Lynds, read by Kate Reading, Blackstone Audio, unabridged, 12 CDs, 14.5 hrs., $39.96 ISBN 978-1-4417-2689-6
Rare-book expert Eva Blake is pulled into a frantic search for the Library of Gold--a collection of illuminated manuscripts thought to be lost in the 15th century--and embroiled in a conspiracy that reaches to the mountains of Afghanistan. As in the novels of Robert Ludlum, with whom Lynds has collaborated, the pace is unrelenting and the villains unbelievably efficient and prescient. While the story is tense and exciting in some places, the protagonists are too thinly drawn to invite emotional investment. Still, Kate Reading wrings every last drop of drama from the story; she handles the characterizations exceedingly well, creates plausible female and male characters of all age and accents, and keeps her audience enraptured.

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
Lauren Willig, read by Kate Reading, Penguin Audio, unabridged, 12 CDs, 15 hrs., $39.95 ISBN 978-0-1431-4533-2
Harvard grad student Eloise Kelly continues her dissertation research on 18th-century British spies among the treasure trove of Colin Selwick’s family archives and finds an unexpected offshoot of the Pink Carnation’s spy network foiling French conspiracies. The documents reveal that Penelope Devereaux is forced into a loveless marriage with Lord Frederick Stains, and they are both sent off to a British enclave in India. As Freddie pursues drinking, gambling, and womanizing, the headstrong Penelope is left to the care and protection of Capt. Alex Reid, who fears a spy hidden in their midst. Slipping easily between the contemporary world and the Napoleonic era, Kate Reading delivers a superb performance in this sixth book of the romantic mystery series as she gives unpolished Eloise her broad mid-America accent and brings her mildly clumsy persona to life. Her Penelope, on the other hand, is suitably aristocratic, and the multitude of supporting vocal characterizations is equally precise and entertaining.

Savages
Don Winslow, read by Michael Kramer, Tantor Media, unabridged, six CDs, 7.5 hrs., unabridged, $34.99 ISBN 978-1-4001-1766-6
Interpreting Winslow's two Southern California beach-bum marijuana dealers--thoughtful philanthropist-environmentalist Ben and his ex-navy SEAL pal Chon--narrator Michael Kramer develops a laid-back, unruffled persona for the former and a harder-edge, restless attitude for the latter. He even manages an acceptably feminine, spacey voice for their mutual girlfriend, Ophelia. Kramer focuses on keeping a moderately fast pace for the trio's witty dialogue, but when the Baja Mexico drug cartel led by its beautiful but vulnerable leader, Elena, demands a piece of their action, things speed up. And when the cartel kidnaps Ophelia and demands a million-dollar ransom, Kramer barely breathes in following the twists and turns devised by Winslow's antiheroes, and matches the novel's mood as it turns from wittily hip to dark and disturbingly violent.