Saturday, February 11, 2017

Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

If you follow the news (and I’m sure you do) you have heard reports of cruise ship incidents involving crimes on board (not just accidents and noro viruses.) Most ships are registered in Caribbean or African countries to avoid taxes in the United States, which is why they are such bargains for passengers (and why the cruise lines spend billions on new luxury ships.) In addition to the gambling and drinking which make cruises profitable (they just break even if you don’t gamble or drink or take shore excursions) there is the setting, on the high seas of international waters, that make them appealing to criminals. Thefts, rapes, murders: these happen in descending order of frequency. (Funny footnote: my sister was just called by someone who stole her identity and is now trying to record her voice to obtain…well, nevermind. Just listen to Future Crimes.) The cruise lines do not want publicity on this, and so tend not to report incidents. Even if someone is thrown overboard (unless the FBI might be called because of US connections.) They try to offer compensation: free trips, money, exchange for a non-disclosure signature. Think about it—you are on a ship full of foreign service workers with increasing animosity to American or UK passengers, paid low wages for long hours servicing those a few may perceive as fat or spoiled revelers who get drunk, talk loud, brag, and laugh. Gluttons who return again and again to the lavish buffets that…well, nevermind. (Go Here for that.) How easy would it be to toss someone over the rail? I once wrote a mystery story series for Porthole cruise magazine, and included a “tossed overboard” scenario at the climax of my novel The Methuselah Gene. Anyway, I’ve just completed a great audiobook by debut novelist Catherine Ryan Howard, who was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Here’s Downpour’s description of DISTRESS SIGNALS: “A debut novel that channels Gone Girl. The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads “I’m sorry—S” sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her. Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate—and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground.” Now, first novelists, being unknown, have to do their research and really impress. Remember The Firm by John Grisham, or James Patterson’s first novels before he got famous and started hiring dozens of co-authors? You can’t be lazy, not with a first novel. Bear that in mind when I tell you to give this audiobook a listen. Distress Signals goes deep into character, with many twists and turns, an awesome setting befitting the news, and some great pro narrators like Alan Smyth, actor Bronson Pinchot, and Suzanne Toren. A must hear: AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH. Prior to writing full time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front-desk agent in a hotel in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently as a social media marketer for a major publisher. She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College in Dublin.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Money Pit Radio Show as Audiobooks

In The Money Pit, named among America’s 100 Most Important Radio Shows by Talkers magazine, Tom Kraeutler and Leslie Segrete combine quick wit and clever advice to help listeners tackle a variety of home improvement and d├ęcor projects. It’s a series covering every imaginable home repair project, as download or on CD and Mp3-CD. Entertaining and informative, recommended for anyone looking to buy, flip, or repair. Real estate agents can learn a lot, too! 
Audiobooks Today) How did the show come about, and how has the audience changed and grown? Who is the typical listener?
Tom Kraeutler) The short answer is I spent 20 years as professional home inspector and was frequently asked to be a guest on radio/tv shows on topics related to homes, home safety, remodeling and decor. In the early 90's this led to an opportunity to host my own Saturday morning call-in home improvement show. That led to an opportunity to syndicate which we did n October of 1999. Now, almost 18 years later, we're the largest home improvement show on radio and heard on over 330 stations, covering every state in the nation, and a few cities in Canada. There's a lot more that happened along the way but this was essentially the path.  I eventually left home inspection behind and focused full time on radio. However, there's no way I'd be able to answer all the questions I do without that solid experience learning how homes are put together and how they fall apart.
AT) What is the most heard problem or question, and the most bizarre? 
TK) We tend to get a lot of questions about floors (repair, replace, clean stains, fix squeaks and lots of question on the wide variety of flooring choices). We also get lots of questions about energy efficiency, friendly improvements, kitchen and bath remodels, as well as outdoor living.
AT)  Putting all the shows on audio is genius, given they eliminate commercials and can be paused or replayed by consumers. What gave you this idea, and what is the production process like....any challenges?  
TK) Not my idea. Blackstone approached us actually. Our shows are produced in-house so providing the audio is just a matter of building the files they need for production, which is a higher quality (bit rate) version than what goes out on the radio or by podcast. We remove the commercial breaks but everything else is pretty much the same as the national show.
AT) Vanity Fair is now on audio. Do listen to other radio programs on audio? 
TK) No much other radio programs but I like audio books so listen to those a lot when I'm driving. 
AT)  Used to review for Cracker Barrel stores, which rents audiobooks, and XM. Truckers are big listeners. Do you get many calls from truckers?  
TK) Yes, those calls are always fun. It's like "Joe from North Dakota is calling about the Lanai for his home in Florida."

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

HIT MAKERS by Derek Thompson

HIT MAKERS by Derek Thompson is a new book showing that “hits” in music, movies, and books depend on Chaos theory: a “Happy Days” alignment of people, culture, ideas, and timing. Since we have moved to a Twitter society of many choices and low attention span, people tend to gravitate to fewer things by following what is most popular (instead of what is best.) This creates an environment of many failures and fewer successes, with a “microscopic few” reaping most of the benefits. Essentially, we are bewildered by choice, and look to social media to direct us…while social media platforms spy on us and direct our attention to those things which generate the most profit. (Junk food, prescription drugs, blockbuster cartoon movies, bestsellers.) An interesting sociology and psychology/marketing book with the subtitle, “The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction,” it reveals why things become hits (songs/movies/books/ideas.) Mostly it's the right alignment at the right time. The song "Rock Around the Clock" was a dud when first released. Then, with a different venue, (due to its being the opening song in Blackboard Jungle,) it went viral to become the first and biggest rock song of all time. Same influences could be cited for The DaVinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey, which went viral not simply due to controversy but because celebrities mentioned them, and an aura was created by influencers and fan fiction sites. The author narrates, displaying an ability to maintain interest through an engaged curiosity and fascination with his subject. Recommended for anyone who wants to know how culture and social media affects buying decisions, and also for those who don’t realize why and how they are being manipulated.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS: There’s no such thing as the life you’re “supposed” to have… You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s world, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary. Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our world, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland. It’s an intriguing plot with pathos, anecdotes about love and happiness, science, and the possibility of eight new novels by Kurt Vonnegut. Elan Mastai is a screenwriter who co-wrote the movie FURY, starring Samuel L. Jackson. He also wrote THE F WORD, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan.    
Audiobooks Today) What is your experience related to narration or public speaking, and how was the recording process? 
Elan Mastai) I used to host a radio show back in university, so I'm fairly comfortable sitting in a soundproof booth talking into a microphone for hours at a time. Hopefully that background served me well when recording the audio book.
AT) Regarding the physics of your alternate reality, I've heard it postulated that other parallel worlds may have physics different than ours. Is that part of what gave you the idea? Cat's Cradle defied physics too. 
EM) In terms of the physics of alternate realities, a subject handled with great verve and imagination in Neal Stephenson's novel ANATHEM, I chose to focus primarily on how technological innovation altered the history and society of my parallel world. But of course I also opened the door to potential discrepancies, like a form of radiation that was discovered in the alternate world that we don't have here, what I call "tau radiation"—so the suggests differences do exist.
AT) Writing a novel requires a different skill set than screenplays. Have you written fiction before, like short stories? 
EM) You're absolutely correct that writing a novel requires a different skill set than a screenplay. Screenplays, as you know, are written in the third person present tense, in a visually expressive but lean and laconic style. Of course a terrific novel can be written in that way too, but I chose to write All Our Wrong Todays in the first person, as a kind of faux memoir, because I wanted the protagonist's point of view to explicitly frame the way the story was told. Drawing off my experience writing dialogue for actors, I wrote the novel in a deliberately casual tone, which was a big help when narrating the audio book. I haven't published any short stories, All Our Wrong Todays is both my first novel and my first foray into literary fiction. But I've been writing movies for over a decade and, although a very different form, that experience greatly informed my novel-writing.
AT) Have you written a screenplay version of your novel? Rights sold?
EM) Yes, film rights have been sold to Paramount. Amy Pascal is producing. I'm writing the screenplay..

Friday, January 20, 2017

THE FOUNDER Movie Review

THE FOUNDER movie stars Michael Keaton and Laura Dern, along with Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, Patrick Wilson, BJ Novak, and Linda Cardellini. It’s not Birdman, but there are moments just as fascinating. Keaton plays Ray Kroc, “the founder” who wasn’t really…he was a shake machine salesman, down on his luck. A kind of Willy Loman with huge dreams and little success, shown with sympathy by both director and actor at the opening as he tries and fails again and again, despite listening to an inspirational sales recording on a record player in his hotel rooms on the road. When he sees the McDonald brothers’ restaurant, he is skeptical until it gives him an expansion idea, and then more inspiration than any speech ever could. His ultimate goal isn’t realized by the brothers until near the end, and that is to wrest the company from them, using their formula, and make a killing with it. He’s a typical narcissist, and like Donald Trump, seizes on advantage with an eye for the long term. Accordingly, as also told in more depth in the audiobook RAY & JOAN, he sets his sights on franchises, and his first CEO’s idea that he can only oust the brothers by focusing on real estate, with the line, “You’re not in the hamburger business, Ray, you’re in the real estate business.” So Kroc becomes a real estate tycoon, leasing property to franchises and thereby controlling them. This includes the brothers, who are cheated out of hundreds of millions by a handshake deal for 1% that they couldn’t prove happened. The key to Kroc’s success, as related with always believable tone and nuance by Keaton, is persistence. Never giving up the quest. There was also a huge luck factor, as has been shown in the cases of other titans, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Being at the right place at the right time was vital. Add the right product, a revolutionary idea, and you have what McDonalds has become: the most successful restaurant in history. Is bigger better, though? A key quote is the question asked by Kroc in the film to one of the brothers: “If my competitor was drowning, I’d walk over with a hose and spray him in the mouth. Would you?” McDonald responds, “No, I wouldn’t do that.” And Kroc’s response, “That’s why you’re in one location and I’m nationwide.” The McDonalds are later forced to remove the name from their one store, as Kroc then owned rights to their name. Ironic? Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank would sing along to that tune, and Trump is known to eat at McDonalds, as is Warren Buffett, who owns part of Coke. Amazingly, all were relentless in business during their climb to the top, only to give a major portion of their fortunes to charity after retirement, when they realized they are mortals after all. (In the case of Kroc, his wife was generous…not his first wife but a franchiser's wife, whose husband signed up only because Ray was in love with her. Gates’ wife changed Bill in another way.) Interesting. A must watch, and must hear. Regarding the audiobook, Lisa Napoli is a journalist whose last staff job was on the public radio show Marketplace. An early chronicler of the dawn of the World Wide Web as a columnist at the New York Times CyberTimes, she has also been the Internet correspondent at MSNBC. She began her career at CNN, worked in local news in North Carolina, and has directed several documentaries about Southern culture. Her book sets the record straight on Ray & Joan, including some things the film's screenwriter got wrong. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

BIOPUNK by Marcus Wohlsen

Bill Gates told Wired that if he were a teenager today, he would be hacking biology. “If you want to change the world in some big way,” he says, “that’s where you should start—biological molecules.”  In the 2017 audiobook BIOPUNK author Marcus Wohlsen, a senior technology writer at Wired magazine, explores the recent history and potential of biotechnology, both for good or ill. Subtitle is "Solving Biotech's Biggest Problems in Kitchens and Garages." The audiobook begins with showing how hacking biology by private tinkerers in garage labs may be the wave of the future. (The term “biopunk” elicits visions of punk bands cranking out original songs to stick it to traditional music, but in this case science.) The positive aspects include creating new cancer drugs which Big Pharma can’t do, with their “nuke it from orbit” approach and focus on profits. “A big drug company isn’t interested in tailored drugs for small niche markets” (ie. YOU.) “They want drugs that cover a wide range of cancer patients, and make the most profits.” Problem is, that wide range drug for anything from depression to diabetes can end up making you sick, or killing you with side effects. No cancer is like another, and yours may be unique to you. Wouldn’t you rather have a drug tailored for you, without the side effects which TV commercials always list because they are forced to by law…(”side effects may include vomiting, bleeding, loss of breath…” etc.) Only a biopunk geek has the incentive to work at a small scale. Marcus covers case studies, like the woman who created a genetics test in her apartment, a team that built an open-source DNA replicating machine, and a duo who started a drug company in their kitchen. Wow. Instead of cooking meth or trying to get on The Voice, maybe young people should switch to making legit drugs in their garages. The money is certainly there. Health care costs are “skyrocketing,” as they say. Wohlsen also discusses DIY bioterrorism, GMOs, and whether those fears are unfounded. Will an AI take over the world? How hard is it to engineer a living cell, and until scientists can do it, will real artificial consciousness ever be obtained? These are some of the questions covered in this interesting book. Narrator Paul Michael Garcia, an AudioFile Earphones Award winner and former company member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, received his classical training in theater from Southern Oregon University, where he worked as an actor, director, and designer.