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Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb

Neal Bascomb, read by Jason Culp. Scholastic Audiobooks, unabridged, 5 CDs, 6.25 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-0-545-94402-1

Voice actor Culp renders a serviceable reading of Bascomb’s enthralling WWII story. The story revolves around the collaboration of a group of ragtag Norwegian resistance fighters and British soldiers who set out, against all odds, to destroy a hydroelectric plant located in a remote section of Norway and thereby to stop Hitler’s nuclear research in its infancy. Culp does a fine job relaying this edge-of-your-seat story. He has a clear, articulate, no-frills reading style that moves the story along at a steady pace. It is a perfectly competent reading, but misses an opportunity to add thrill and excitement to the narration. Ages 12–up. A Scholastic/Levine hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cradle and All

James Patterson, read by Rebecca Soler and Edoardo Ballerini. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $25 ISBN 978-1-4789-1239-2

This updated YA adaptation of Patterson’s 2000 thriller is built on a powerful premise: two pregnant teens, Kathleen of Newport, R.I., and Colleen of Maam Cross, Ireland, are medically confirmed to be virgins. This and further otherworldly occurrences (plagues, droughts) seem to conform to a prophecy given by the Blessed Mother Mary at her 1917 apparition in Fatima, Portugal, that two virgin births would occur, one the Son of God, the other the son of Satan. The Roman Catholic Church assigns Fathers Rosetti and O’Carroll to authenticate the medical claims, while a Boston cardinal hires private detective Anne Fitzgerald. Anne, the novel’s protagonist, is a former nun who gave up the calling because of feelings she had for Father O’Carroll. Her chapters, first-person accounts, are narrated by Soler, an actress who, though her Boston accent is acceptable, sounds a bit too young and too sweet for a practicing PI, even one who’d formerly carried a rosary instead of a gun. Reader Ballerini handles the objective, third-person chapters, which follow the grueling progress of Father Rosetti, whose Italian accent thickens during his many moments of extreme stress in encounters with a deep-voiced Satanic figure. Age 15–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Sun Is Also a Star

Nicola Yoon, read by Bahni Turpin and Raymond Lee, with Dominic Hoffman. Listening Library, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-5247-2138-1

Natasha is 17 and an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica who came to the U.S. as a young child. Her family is to be deported at midnight, but she makes a desperate, last-chance effort to talk to an immigration lawyer in Manhattan. Daniel is a Korean-American whose parents insist he go to Yale and become a doctor even though he loves writing poetry and wants the freedom to figure out his own life path. He is unenthusiastically heading to Manhattan for his Yale interview. When the two meet by chance, they end up having a day full of deep conversations. Turpin and Lee both give award-worthy performances. Both completely inhabit their roles in an absolutely natural and authentic way: we feel that Natasha and Daniel are talking to us directly in their own unique voices, sharing their personal stories, feelings, and frustrations in alternating chapters. Both readers are deft with accents, too, whether it’s the Korean accents of Daniel’s parents or the Jamaican dialect of Natasha’s. The voices of the characters will ring in listeners’ minds long after the book is completed. Ages 12–up. A Delacorte hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely

Lisa TerKeurst, read by Ginny Welsh. Thomas Nelson on Brilliance Audio, unabridged, 4 CDs, 5.5 hrs., $14.99 ISBN 978-1-5318-3154-7

TerKeurst’s books are known for speaking to Christian women in the deepest places, where rejection, anxiety, and insecurity threaten to derail faith and freedom. Yet TerKeurst does so in humorous ways, with self-deprecating anecdotes and wry observations about culture. Capturing this unusual blend of the wacky and the earnest creates a tall order for a narrator, but reader Welsh is up to the task. She has a rapid-fire delivery and a real flair for the dramatic in recounting the highs and lows in TerKeurst’s many stories. The sensibility of this performance is that of a friendly and intimate chat over coffee. Then the conversation turns more serious as each chapter ends in a prayer. Oddly, the combination works, mostly because Welsh’s performance feels so natural that talking to God at each chapter’s end is not all that different in tone from the chatty style throughout. A Thomas Nelson paperback. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Kingdom of Speech

Tom Wolfe, read by Robert Petkoff. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 4 CDs, 4.5 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-1-4789-5316-6

Wolfe stands as one of the towering literary figures of our era, who is known for his distinct style of writing. For a voice actor, conveying Wolfe’s blend of erudite intensity and sardonic wit presents quite a challenge, but Petkoff rises to the occasion. Wolfe’s thesis in this book centers on his belief that the theories of both Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky fail to account for how humans developed language. Petkoff manages to channel the bite of Wolfe’s narrative at every turn, as he declares winners and losers of this grand debate over how humans developed language. Admittedly, nonfiction social criticism in this format probably does not have a wide appeal, but Petkoff helps up the entertainment value for this type of project. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Time Travel: A History

James Gleick, read by Rob Shapiro. Random House Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-7352-8588-0

Voice actor Shapiro chooses a conversational style of delivery for the audio edition of Gleick’s mind-bending book on the cultural history of the concept of time and that concept’s evolution in literature and science. Shapiro does an excellent job of relaying this in-depth look at the impossible. Given the complexity of the author’s research, a narrator could easily fall into professorial lecturing or an exhaustive, ear-numbing exposition of complex concepts, but Shapiro, while keeping his pacing steady, uses cadence to help convey Gleick’s complex ideas and manages to make his delivery upbeat and engaging. He mines the material for its humor and gives what he finds just the right smile-inducing spin. His smooth, confident narration makes the audiobook both entertaining and informative. A Pantheon hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Birth of a Nation: Nat Turner and the Making of a Movement

Nate Parker, read by the author. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 2 CDs, 2 hrs., $14.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-3024-3

Parker is the producer, director, and star of the 2016 film that ironically bears the same name as the famous 1915 D.W. Griffith Civil War movie. This audiobook is the official tie-in to Parker’s film. His diction is precise, his reading clear, and his passionate attachment to resistance against oppression always in evidence. In the first half, he reads his essay explaining his lifelong fascination with Nat Turner, who exemplifies, for Parker, the defiant attitude and conduct of certain 19th-century slaves—an attitude that he believes is evident today in the Black Lives Matter movement. In the second half, Parker reads essays by others exploring the historical context of Turner’s slave rebellion and its relevance to contemporary events and discourse. A 37Ink hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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My Own Words

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams, read by Linda Lavin. S&S Audio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 11 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-2628-4

This collection of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg’s writings, spanning 70 years, is an excellent introduction to the remarkable career of a Renaissance woman whose views on the world, coupled with her sharp, frank commentary on current events, has earned her a cult following on the Internet. Selected by Ginsburg and her authorized biographers, Hartnett and Williams, the collection covers a wide range of subjects, including gender equality, judicial independence, her respect and affection for colleagues with different views, and her passion for opera; there’s even an editorial Ginsburg wrote as an eighth grader in 1946 for her Brooklyn elementary school newspaper on the importance of the new U.N. Charter. The audio edition includes archival recordings of Ginsburg’s speeches. The other pieces are read in a straightforward manner by actress Lavin. This works well. While it’s wonderful to connect directly to Ginsburg, the justice reads aloud very slowly and precisely, with pauses between phrases so nothing is lost; it would be difficult to listen to an audiobook composed entirely of her recordings. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Magnolia Story

Chip and Joanna Gaines, with Mark Dagostino, read by Chip and Joanna Gaines. Thomas Nelson on Brillance Audio, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 5 hrs., $24.99 ISBN 978-1-5318-3388-6

The husband and wife team who host HGTV’s Fixer Upper and own Magnolia Homes, Magnolia Market, and Magnolia Realty in Waco, Tex., shed light on their success in business and family endeavors, giving fans a humble and heartwarming view of the long and bumpy road leading up to their hit show. Their story translates perfectly into the audio format; Joanna and Chip both read with their signature Texas drawl. Joanna’s impressive cadence and pronunciation is on par with professional audiobook narrators. Her voice is clear and she projects well, and she reads with such a fluid, fast pace that she sounds like she is reminiscing with her husband rather than reading off the page. Chip’s reading is slower and his voice not as polished, but he’s nevertheless endearing. With the authors taking turns reading short sections, the audiobook captures the couple’s special dynamic. There is never a dull moment. A Thomas Nelson hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Barkskins

Annie Proulx, read by Robert Petkoff. S&S Audio, unabridged, 21 CDs, 26 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-7006-7

It’s a pleasure to listen to Petkoff’s low-key, straightforward reading of Proulx’s ambitious novel that spans 300 years and multiple locations. His reading is well paced and his diction clean and clear. But he faces the near-impossible task of rendering the foreign sentence structures and accented English dialogue of a huge variety of international characters in different periods of history. Proulx’s characters are French, English, Spanish, Irish, Scottish, Dutch, Chinese, American, Canadian, and Native American. The pidgin English of Native American men, women, and children is especially distracting for the listener when read aloud, for it turns the listener’s focus from the story to the accents. A Scribner hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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