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The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle

Rick Riordan, read by Robbie Daymond. Listening Library, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-0-451-48519-9

In this book, the first in Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series (a spin-off of his bestselling Percy Jackson series), the god Apollo is punished by Zeus and sent to Earth in the form of a gawky teenage boy. He is forced to serve a 12-year-old demigod girl who just recently discovered her powers, faces danger from an ongoing series of mythological creatures trying to kill him, and attempts to solve the mystery of why the Oracle of Delphi has gone silent. Narrator Daymond’s narration is delightful: lively and comical, he perfectly captures the lovably conceited and pompous Apollo, who is constantly being brought down a peg in his humiliating human state, and creates memorable voices for a myriad of creatures, including gurgly, raspy plague ghouls, an authoritative centaur, and a grain spirit in the form of a wailing baby. Percy Jackson fans will eagerly take to this new series, and Daymond’s entertaining narration only adds to the fun. Ages 10–14. A Disney-Hyperion hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss

Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt, read by the authors. HarperAudio, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-0-06-246656-3

Prominent CNN anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent Cooper and his mother, Vanderbilt, a famous designer, artist, and cultural icon who has contended with the ups and downs of the spotlight for over nine decades, provide a heartfelt dialogue in their new title, which is timed to coincide with an HBO documentary film. Cooper and Vanderbilt perform the audio edition in a highly conversational format, though they each draw on their own backgrounds in how they play the parts. As a high-powered television journalist reaching midlife, Cooper asks his questions with focus and drive that viewers have come to expect from him on the air, while the more contemplative and artistic Vanderbilt presents her content largely in a spoken form of letter writing from a bygone era. They demonstrate some of their most revealing traits and perspectives through the “agree to disagree” exchanges of the narrative, such as their ideas about whether everything in life happens for a reason. Listeners steeped in pop culture history probably represent the most obvious target audience; the palpable expressions of grace and tenderness will also hold appeal for a larger audience of parents and adult children coming to terms with the past. A Harper hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Sebastian Junger, read by the author. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 3 CDs, 3 hrs., $25 ISBN 978-1-4789-3687-9

Journalist Junger proffers a straightforward reading of his latest. He has a limited vocal range but a good narrator’s voice, excellent pacing, clear diction, and just enough dramatic flair to engage listeners in his extended essay on the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suffered by so many veterans on their return from combat. His thesis is that war offers men and women conditions in which to make close friends, to feel an integral part of a community, and to feel there are always buddies to watch their backs. At home, in a nation of individualists, vets often feel they don’t belong among those who haven’t shared their experiences. Junger’s sense of the significance and urgency of his conclusions manifests in his heartfelt narration. A Twelve hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

Chris Anderson, read by the author, Tom Rielly, and Kelly Stoezel. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 9 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5012-3046-2

In 2002, Anderson shifted his career in journalism to lead TED, the conference-based public speaking venture that eventually became a social media sensation thanks to the development of online video streaming. Now he offers a resource covering all facets of presentation preparation. He has a plethora of excellent advice to offer based on past TED talks, including some of the most successful and popular ones. He covers important topics such as making a personal connection with audiences, explaining complicated subjects to laypeople, priming people to accept counterintuitive ideas, and cultivating a sense of showmanship. In giving voice to the audio edition of his title, Anderson faces the same overall dilemma that he addresses in his material. A “how-to” text—even one covering the matter of public speaking itself—does not necessarily lend itself to an inspiring listening experience. Anderson has no doubt mastered the fine points of vocal style, and his TED colleagues Rielly and Stoezel chime in to read the book’s checklists, bringing a welcome change of pace. But those in search of the same adrenaline rush that they get from actual TED Talks will not find it here, as Anderson earnestly seeks to keep his focus primarily instructional. A Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Gene: An Intimate History

Siddhartha Mukherjee, read by Dennis Boutsikaris. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 16 CDs, 19.5 hrs., $49.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-1138-9

Veteran voice actor Boutsikaris’s talents are on full display in the audio edition of the latest from oncologist and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Mukherjee. He uses vocal flexibility to stress phrases, words, and even syllables to illuminate the grand tale of how scientists have come to understand the role genes play in human development, behavior, and physiology. Boutsikaris has such control of grammatical structure that every sentence, no matter the length, is clear, and he includes frequent transitional pauses that help the listener retain focus all the way through Mukherjee’s complex but fascinating narrative, chronicling breakthroughs in the quest to understand human heredity, from the work of Darwin and Mendel to current research in the field of genetics. A Scribner hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present as If It Were the Past

Chuck Klosterman, read by Fiona Hardingham. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-451-48487-1

Veteran voice actor Hardingham certainly brings impressive credentials to any narration project. At first glance, the British woman may not seem an obvious choice to tackle the latest title from noted cultural critic and essayist Klosterman, a man who originally hails from deep in the American Heartland, but Hardingham manages to pull off her duties with an effective tone that balances the sometimes whimsical quality of Klosterman’s musings with the serious nature of the larger questions he raises. Klosterman draws on personal anecdotes to make his case, including several references to the generational transition between an analog world and the digital media revolution. Hardingham’s professional and poised approach to narration keeps the displays of personal catharsis in check to keep listeners’ attention on the bigger picture. Her earnest vocal style seems akin to what listeners would expect in a highbrow broadcast setting such as public radio. A Blue Rider hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Dominic Smith, read by Edoardo Ballerini. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-6825-9

The Dutch golden age is reimagined through a haunting landscape painting and three interwoven characters, timelines, and locales in this luminous audio adaptation of Smith’s novel. In 1636, while grieving the death of her young daughter, artist Sara de Vos paints At the Edge of a Wood. The painting remains in the De Groot family for 300 years until it is stolen from wealthy Manhattanite Marty De Groot in 1958 and replaced with a forgery. An investigator leads Marty to Ellie Shipley, a local art history student and the creator of the fake. As Marty embarks on a deceptive relationship with Ellie, reader Ballerini’s brilliant execution conveys the hesitancy, awkwardness, tension, and guile. Decades later, Marty and Ellie are reunited in Australia, where the appearance of both the original and the fake paintings threatens Ellie’s career. Ballerini’s versatility with intonation and timing convey the thrill of foreboding. His voice travels easily, equally confident in 17th-century Dutch life and in a 1950s New York jazz bar; he also segues seamlessly between American and Australian accents. This is an excellent audio. An FSG/Crichton hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sweetbitter: A Novel

Stephanie Danler, read by Alex McKenna. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-399-56628-8

With her breathless, raspy voice, reader McKenna embodies the sheer physical sensuality of Danler’s foodie novel; with her youthful sound and tendency to inflect the ends of sentences as though they were questions, she catches the generational zeitgeist of the novel’s protagonist, Tess, who’s fresh out of college and trying to make it as a server in one of New York’s trendiest restaurants. McKenna’s performance ably captures the chaos of the kitchen, ruled by a terrifying chef who bellows “Pick up!” and proclaims the church-like sanctity of his domain. McKenna succeeds at breathing life into book’s main character, who captivates with humor and sensitivity. It all falls flat, however, in her voicing of the other characters, who sound mostly the same except for those who McKenna voices with poorly executed foreign or regional accents, such as the on-again, off-again Slavic cadence of Sasha, a Russian employee of the restaurant. These missteps make the listening experience uneven enough to be distracting. A Knopf hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Defense

Steve Cavanagh, read by Adam Sims. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-7275-1

Cavanagh’s years as a Belfast civil rights lawyer add a layer of reality to the courtroom sequences of this razzle-dazzle debut legal thriller. All the ingredients needed for a compulsive listen are in place. Hero Eddie Flynn, a top Manhattan defense attorney with a previous career as a master-class con man, is as likable as he is resourceful. The villain, Olek Volchek, is a ruthless Russian Mafia chieftain on trial for a murder that, thanks to an eyewitness, is literally indefensible. Cavanagh’s wickedly clever premise has the despicable Volchek forcing Eddie to represent him by kidnapping and threatening to torture and kill the lawyer’s 10-year-old daughter, Amy. British theater actor Sims employs a tone-perfect tough-but-educated American accent for the wily Flynn, who, in the true style of a man on the hustle, masks his desperation with a hardboiled confidence. Sims’s Russian accent is just as effective, capturing not only the harshness of boss Volchek and his second-in-command, Arturas, but their differing attitudes, the former sounding flat and coldly unemotional when speaking of Amy’s possibly grim fate, the latter exhibiting a chilling, sadistic eagerness to do the job himself. A Flatiron hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Fireman

oe Hill, read by Kate Mulgrew. HarperAudio, , unabridged, 18 CDs, 22.5 hrs., $65.99 ISBN 978-0-06-244378-6

Hill’s ultimate survivor tale follows Harper Grayson, a young nurse adrift in a savage, not-very-distant postapocalyptic New Hampshire. She has contracted dragonscale, a rapidly spreading disease that causes its victims to spontaneously combust. She’s on the run from her homicidal husband as well as Cremation Crews, self-assigned “patriots” trying to destroy all infected humans. And she’s pregnant. Fortunately, she crosses paths with the magical, almost legendary John Rockwood, the Fireman, who leads her to a community that has developed a method for controlling dragonscale. But Camp Wyndham is not the safe harbor it seems. Hill has packed his epic novel with thrills, suspense, action, and adventure, and actress Mulgrew (best known for her roles on Star Trek: Voyager and Orange Is the New Black) delivers a dramatic rendition that intensifies all of Harper’s emotions—her selfless care for her patients, her fear of her husband’s wrath and the perils of a dangerous world, and her fierce determination to have a safe birth for her baby. She also has the versatility to provide satisfying voices for the unusually large cast of young girls, mean teens, bickering adults, and, yes, a few sweetly kind and gentle souls. Mulgrew is particularly effective in capturing the tougher, gruffer characters, particularly the stalwart, powerful Rockwood and the snarling, hate-spewing leader of the Cremation Crews. A Morrow hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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