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Still Life With Tornado

A.S. King, read by Karissa Vacker. Listening Library, unabridged, 7 CDs, 9 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-7352-8751-8

Sarah is 16 and going through an emotional crisis. She is a talented artist but she has stopped creating art, as well as going to school. Instead, she spends her days wandering around Philadelphia, where she literally encounters other versions of herself. She meets 10-year-old Sarah, 23-year-old Sarah, and even 40-year-old Sarah—all of whom try to get her to face traumatic memories and truths that she has been repressing and denying. Voice actor Vacker’s first-person narration empathetically conveys all the complexities and nuances of Sarah’s emotional state: denial and defensiveness, confusion, fear, anger, and pain. Listeners feel the character struggling to understand her family problems and work out her inner turmoil, while simultaneously trying to avoid doing so by creating a stable facade. Vacker subtly differentiates among the book’s characters but doesn’t create unique voices for them. For example, she uses a higher pitch to sound childish for 10-year-old Sarah, a deeper, angry pitch for Sarah’s father. This production excellently brings to life the novel’s portrayal of a teenager struggling to survive and overcome childhood trauma. Ages 14–up. A Dutton hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Best Man

Richard Peck, read by Michael Crouch. Listening Library, $30 ISBN 978-0-7352-8886-7

In this hilarious coming-of-age story, listeners follow Archer Magill from first grade in elementary through to middle school as puberty quickly approaches. The book recounts milestones in Archer’s life thus far and introduces readers to the male role models in his life, particularly his father (who restores vintage cars for a living), stylish uncle, and thoughtful grandfather. Voice actor Crouch perfectly enacts the young and curious Archer and creates fun, unique voices for the other colorful characters. His emphasis and pacing capture the story’s progression and humor, much of which is rooted in Archer’s precociousness. His insights and observations are mature and rendered in sophisticated language, which Crouch’s youthful voice helps accentuate. Ages 9–12. A Dial hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Ugly: A Memoir

Robert Hoge, read by the author. Listening Library, unabridged, 4 CDs, 4 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-0-7352-8759-4

Born with physical abnormalities that distorted his face and legs, Hoge grew up dealing with the typical issues of youth but also others’ aversion to his physical appearance. His reflection on the challenges of that coming of age are powerful; he wants his tale known, but it soon becomes clear with the narration that sadness isn’t the message he is selling. Hoge admits to the pain caused by social exclusion and ridicule but also draws upon a well of hope and love from family and friends. His story sparks hope in listeners for humankind and energizes them to love more and judge less. In a slightly nasal British voice, Hoge’s narration proves a perfect match for the emotional tone and surprising humor embedded throughout. His jovial tone helps listeners derive more from the production than readers will from the book. Ages 8–12. A Viking hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Adam Gidwitz, read by the author and a full cast. Listening Library, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-7352-8736-5

In 1242 France, weary travelers at an inn exchange stories of their encounters with a group of three children accompanied by their dog who are set to be brought before the king for the threat they pose. The story is framed as an inquisition, with an agent of the king serving as the main narrator and questioning the travelers to discern the true nature of the children, who are rumored to have magical abilities. The structure lends itself clearly to the audio format, with one narrator acting as the interviewer while more than a half-dozen others take up the rest of the characters sharing the tales of these adventurers. It’s more entertaining with multiple voices and it brings the conversational elements of the story to the forefront, but not always seamlessly; there are points in this production when it sounds as if the actors were all recorded separately and the dialogue pieced together later. Still, the variety of voice actors at work plays well with the story and makes for a lively listening experience. Ages 10–up. A Dutton hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Littlest Bigfoot

Jennifer Weiner, read by Emma Galvin, Keith Nobbs, and Jen Ponton. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-2261-3

This sweet and engaging middle school story about a budding friendship translates beautifully to audio. Twelve-year-old Alice Mayfair feels like a misfit: ignored by her rich socialite parents, shuttled from school to school, self-conscious about her large size and wild untameable hair. Millie Maximus is part of a clan that lives in the woods, known to humans as “Bigfoots.” She longs for adventure and wants to learn more about the human world, but her tribe insists she must stay hidden for her own safety. When the two meet and become fast friends, but their friendship puts the Bigfoots in danger, especially when Jeremy, a teenage boy obsessed with finding Bigfoots, follows Alice into the woods. While all three voice actors are tremendous, actress Galvin gives the standout performance. She creates a memorable voice not only for Alice but also for several secondary characters, including a sniffling young girl with allergies, a snobby rich “mean girl,” and an idealistic, free-spirited school principal. As Millie, actor Ponton strays from the textual description of her character, giving her a grittier, tomboyish voice instead of the beautiful musical voice with the pure sound of a triangle described in the book, but her Millie is immediately likable and relatable. Nobbs sounds exactly like an awkward adolescent kid in his narration of Jeremy. This is a fun and engaging tale that kids will love. Ages 8–12. An Aladdin hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair

Margaret Creighton, read by Callie Beaulieu. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8248-8

In the tradition and style of Erik Larsen, Creighton explores the intersecting lives of common and elite people as they came together at the 1901 World’s Fair in Buffalo, N.Y., where President McKinley was assassinated. Though McKinley’s assassination is a major focus, Creighton presents many other fascinating people who were also present, from animal tamers and barrel riders over the Niagara Falls to the man who tried to protect the president and many others. Reader Beaulieu moves deliberately through the narration, with intentional pauses and hesitations when the prose demands it and a bit more pitch and vigor in the more intense scenes. Her straightforward style of delivery coupled with Creighton’s keen scene setting and mix of characters serves listeners well in this fascinating slice of history. A Norton hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Not Dead Yet: The Memoir

Phil Collins, read by the author. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-7352-0896-4

Fans of pop star Collins will relish the friendly sound of his voice as he revisits his childhood and his early career as a child actor, his eventual ascent into music fame, and his most recent return from retirement. He opens up about his personal problems, including alcohol and drug abuse and failed marriages, providing context but not necessarily excusing his actions or shortcomings. He is the ideal narrator for his tale and keeps the flow of the narration highly conversational and intimate, so that listeners feel as if he is right there with him. His emotional projection perfectly aligns with the narrative as he recounts the highs and lows of his life: listeners can feel the happiness, sorrow, and anxiety in his tone and energy as he moves through his life story. A Crown Archetype hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal That Undid Him, and All the Justice That Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein

James Patterson and John Connolly, with Tim Malloy, read by Jason Culp. Hachette Audio, unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-1-4789-4168-2

The picture painted of Jeffrey Epstein—and the abuse and miscarriages of justice—in this white-collar crime account will haunt listeners. The authors stick with evidence they uncovered rather than delving too deep into whys and wherefores. The story covers Epstein’s upbringing, financial exploits, extravagant sexual misconduct involving the solicitation of underage girls (of which he was found guilty), and how he attempted to cover his tracks during the investigation and bypassed real punishment for his crimes. Culp reads with a deep, coarse voice that draws out the raw and malicious elements of this true crime tale, but can quickly alter his voice to convey the emotions in the quotes from victims. His pacing and emphasis draw out the tension and heighten the drama. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy

Mike Love, with James S. Hirsch, read by
Mike Love. Penguin Audio, 15 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-7352-8882-9

For the audio edition of his candid memoir, Love, a founding member of the Beach Boys, adopts a style that seems more akin to reading than performing the text. He keeps the pace relaxed and the tone generally understated. He subtly interjects emotion at key intervals, however, particularly with regard to the abusive antics of his uncle and the tragic losses in his band and family. Love seems wistful rather than desperate or heavy-handed when discussing his complicated relationship with his cousin Brian Wilson. He lets his voice crack without completely breaking in these moments, leaving the listener with a sense of someone seeking to stay above the fray to the greatest extent possible. Fans of the Beach Boys will most appreciate hearing Love’s story told in his own voice. A Blue Rider hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

Ronald C. White Jr., read by Arthur Morey. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 22 CDs, 27.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5226-3301-3

Voice actor Morey tackles White’s sprawling biography of the larger-than-life Civil War commander and popular but often scandal-plagued president with characteristic poise and dignity. The audiobook veteran never misses a beat with regard to diction and pacing. The style of delivery seems akin to the narration of a made-for-TV historical documentary. It’s not that Morey doesn’t let himself demonstrate emotion—a couple of scenes in which Grant angrily disciplines soldiers for their mistreatment of horses certainly grab the listener’s attention, and the portrayal of Grant’s bitter feud with President Andrew Johnson adds an air of palpable soap-opera drama—but Morey maintains a somber presence befitting the nature of both the text and Grant himself. A Random House hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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