Friday, February 1, 2019

Katherine Kellgren: A Homage to the “Dame” of Audio

TK Starr is here with us today paying homage to one of her favorite audiobook stars, Katharine Kellgren, for a special Drinks with Reader standing in for Drinks with Reads. 

The Tongue Can Paint What The Eye Cannot See
-Chinese Proverb

Katharine Kellgren was indeed a painter.  But her artistry did not involve a brush. Instead, her voice was the tool with which she sketched a scene, layered a character, or colored a mood. A good storyteller will ensure you “get” the story, a great one will move you, but a Master will make you part of it, taking you so far into the story’s world that you may never leave. Katherine Kellgren was a Master.  She passed away far too young on January 10, 2018.

I came to know Ms. Kellgren’s talents through the Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. It was a hopeful Hail Mary choice for a long car drive. Choosing an unknown for travel is risky, as a poor orator can ruin even the best story and make a long commute miserable (been there, suffered that). But since I knew I had a back-up, an Agatha Christie narrated by Hugh Fraser,  the very dependable and much beloved Captain Hastings, I took the chance.  

I needn’t have worried.  Within the first few minutes of Spyness, I was hooked. The Spyness series itself is quite well-written (see my review of “Malice in the Palace”, Mystery Playground, Drinks with Reads, November 13, 2015), but the writing was not what initially captivated me. It was the life breathed into the characters by Ms. Kellgren that drew me into Lady Georgiana Rannoch’s pre-WWII Britain and held me there. She had a wide creative range easily shifting from male to female, cockney to aristocratic, young to old as well as an expert command of context and rhythm. Her creamy inflections and smooth cadence made the story an easy ride. I was so into the series by the end of Book 1 that I downloaded Book 2 for the return trip (sorry Captain Hastings).  The later Spyness books had Ms. Kellgren stretching her vocal abilities even more with Russian, German, Spanish and various American accents (among others). 

It may seem a bit much to be gushing about how well Ms. Kellgren “got” British accents, since, after all, she was British, right?  I certainly thought so. But she wasn’t! Katherine Kellgren was born and raised in New York City. She did, however, study and perform in London.  After many years she returned to the U.S. and settled into voice acting. Over her career, Ms. Kellgren narrated over 250 books of all genres set in a myriad of locations. There are several young adult series (a favorite of hers), romances, general fiction and even non-fiction (see link to Audible list below). Now, is it true that, for example, Lady Constance in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place sounds a bit like Belinda in Royal Spyness? Of course. Ms. Kellgren was brilliant, not limitless. But it doesn’t matter.  Each series stands on its own and within each story Ms. Kellgren stayed true, keeping the audience inside the tale with her. 

I’ve experienced an expansive array of narrators and audiobooks over the years, the result of a daily 80-mile commute and regular cross country trips. Most readers were fine, many excellent. But Ms. Kellgren stands alone for making characters, settings, and eras come alive as no other. I’ve even chosen books, such as The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane or Every Secret Thing, simply because Ms. Kellgren was the narrator. So, no matter how talented the new narrators for any Kellgren series, such as Spyness, will undoubtedly be, I will still “see” Georgie, Darcy, Queenie and the rest as Ms. Kellgren originally painted them in my mind. Her artistry abides. It’s just the way of a Master. 

Ms. Kellgren’s official obituary can be found here and here is a list of Ms. Kellgren’s 250 plus audiobooks.


Although this is usually Drinks with “Reads”, this week it’s Drinks with “Reader“ in honor of Ms. Kellgren. What could be better on a wintry February night than rich hot chocolate mixed with sultry red wine and spiced with cinnamon. Take a mug (or two), settle in the easy chair, put on the headphones and get ready for an adventure. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Red Wine Hot Chocolate (serves 4-can be halved or doubled -make more and save for later!)

2.5 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (to taste)
2 cups whole milk or Half/Half
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup fruity red wine 
Cinnamon sticks, additional cocoa powder, whip cream, marshmallows for serving (optional)

Whisk the chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, and cinnamon together in a large saucepan. Add the milk product and bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until hot and smooth, about 5 minutes. Stir in the salt.
Remove from the heat and add the wine. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a dusting of cocoa powder (or whip cream or mini-marshmallows), if desired, and serve.

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