"Mecca," by Susan Straight. (Recorded Books, unabridged, 12 3/4 hours)
Susan Straight's compelling novel carries listeners through Southern California with a large cast of characters whose personalities are enriched by the voices of three gifted narrators. Shaun Taylor-Corbett narrates the sections devoted to Johnny Frías, a California Highway Patrol officer who shot and secretly buried a rapist, an act which eventually pulls together the stories of the central players. Patricia R. Floyd takes on the sections devoted to Matelasse Rodrigue, whose husband left her and their two young sons for an Instagram-inspired lifestyle. She also gives us Merry, mourning her only child, her son, shot by a cop. Frankie Corzo is the voice of Ximena, an undocumented migrant from Oaxaca who saves an abandoned infant, becomes a target of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and must run from her precariously held job. The intersecting stories are dominated by family origins — many going back before European settlement — as well as language and the attendant hazards of looking or sounding Hispanic when ICE comes to call. This is a moving, ultimately exultant novel that will stay with you long after the final words have been uttered.
"Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals," by Laurie Zaleski. (Blackstone, Unabridged, 8 1/4 hours)
Laurie Zaleski's memoir is, in turn, harrowing, heartwarming and very funny. Escaping a brutal husband, Zaleski's mother, Annie, took the author and her two siblings to live in a wreck of a shack in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Slowly, and in the face of persecution and vandalism from both local youth and her husband, Annie made the place a safe home for her children and, eventually, for hundreds of rescue animals. Zaleski's account of her mother's courage and determination is bracing, as is her own dedication and later establishment of a full-scale animal sanctuary. Most engaging of all are the stories of the animals, their personalities, eccentricities and odd friendships: llama and donkey, kitten and duck, horse and UPS driver. At first, narrator Erin Moon's buoyant, high-pitched voice seems to be more suited to a high school pep rally than a memoir, but once we get to know Zaleski's mother — a woman who battled adversity with upbeat maxims" — The more you cry, the less you pee" — we see that Moon's delivery could not be more fitting.
"All the Queen's Men," by SJ Bennett. (HarperAudio, unabridged, 10 1/4 hours)
Famously discreet and attentive to duty, Queen Elizabeth II, it seems, also has a gift for detection — or at least she does in SJ Bennett's entertaining novel, in which Her Majesty takes on the role of sleuth, solving crimes committed in her various residences. This follow-up to last year's "The Windsor Knot" is set in the summer of 2016: Brexit and America's presidential race dominate the news, but at Buckingham Palace, the Queen would like to know what happened to one of her favorite paintings. Seeking an answer, she calls in Assistant Private Secretary Rozie Oshodi, who was so helpful in clearing up earlier unpleasantness. Soon, the mystery of the painting is overshadowed by the discovery of a housekeeper's murdered body, followed by revelations of poison-pen harassment, slander, theft, fraud and yet another murder. Jane Copland narrates the book, subtly altering tone and manner to capture the many characters afoot in this entertaining whodunnit — a word that would never pass Her Majesty's lips. Copland favors the Queen with a lightly commanding voice, one that the actual Queen, should she listen to this account of her adventures, could not fault.
A Minnesota native, Katherine A. Powers reviews for the Star Tribune and Wall Street Journal. She writes this column monthly for the Washington Post.