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Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates, read by the author. Random House Audio, , unabridged, digital download, 3.5 hrs., $17.50 ISBN 978-0-147-52050-0

Coates, a national correspondent at the Atlantic, delivers a mesmerizing, must-listen performance in this audio edition of his powerful meditation on race in America. Framed as a letter to his adolescent son and echoing the work of James Baldwin, the book mixes tales of the author’s childhood, and his time at Howard University and in Paris, with reflections on the history of American empire, police violence, education, the destruction of black bodies, and the ongoing racial crisis in the United States. The author’s reading is both conversational and compelling. Coates’s well-paced narration adds depth to his prose, hooking listeners from the very start and presenting his ideas in a manner that is thoughtful, wise, and full of emotion. Coates is the only person who could have narrated this audiobook—and it should be required listening for all Americans. A Random/Spiegel & Grau hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Circus Mirandus

Cassie Beasley, read by Bronson Pinchot. Listening Library, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 6.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-101-89231-2

Fifth grader Micah Tuttle has grown up on his grandfather’s stories of the magical Circus Mirandus, but when Grandpa Ephraim gets sick, the parentless Micah and his friend Jenny try to find the circus, learning just how much power there can be in illusion. Beasley fills her middle-grade novel with over-the-top characters—elderly folk, young kids, magical circus performers, haughty and evil villainesses, talking circus animals—and reader Pinchot sinks his teeth into them all. The wicked aunt is creaky and growly. The loving grandfather is warm and twinkling. The children are enthusiastic and hopeful. Pinchot does a terrific impersonation of a talking parrot. The stakes are high, the action is wild, the resolution satisfying; Pinchon embodies the whimsy of the text, yet he also takes it seriously. He narrates with a sense of wonder in his voice that makes the magic of the book come alive. Ages 9–12. A Dial hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace

Patricia Raybon and Alana Raybon, read by Suzie Althens and Simona Chitescu-Weik. Thomas Nelson on Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $24.99 ISBN 978-1-5012-2235-1

In this joint memoir, an evangelical Christian mother and her Muslim daughter try to come to terms with the daughter’s conversion to Islam over a decade ago. Althens, who reads the mother’s perspective, has a soft and careful voice that feels at times too reticent for the assertive statements she makes about absolute truth. Chitescu-Weik’s performance is interesting and animated, but her girlish voice sounds like she is playing a teenager rather than a teacher in her early 30s. At times, her voice also fades off at the end of her sentences, making her difficult to understand. Both women make occasional pronunciation errors with Islam (pronouncing Eid as “Ide” instead of “Eed,” for example). A Thomas Nelson/W hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer

Heather Lende, read by the author. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 3 CDs, 2.75 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-570-3

Lende hones the skills she learned as an obituary writer for the town of Haines, Alaska, in her memoir, capturing big and small moments to tell her life’s story. She teases out great moments within her life and the people she encounters through her work, reinforcing the book’s message, which is reflected in the title. Her skills as a writer are not as useful, however, when it comes to narrating the audio version of her memoir. Though she reads with passion in some passages, at other times her voice is flat, and she seems uninterested in what she is reading. The narration would be more powerful in a professional narrator’s voice. Despite this, listeners can still take much from the message and the compassion in the writing. An Algonquin hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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On the Move: A Life

Oliver Sacks, read by Dan Woren. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-80419229-3

Sacks, an esteemed neurologist and the author of such bestsellers as Awakenings (1973) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1983), offers a candid memoir chronicling his colorful personal and professional journey, made all the more poignant given his recent diagnosis of terminal cancer. Actor and voice-over artist Woren delivers a generally pleasant and competent reading of the audio edition of the momentous title. Yet somehow his delivery does not match the emotional power found in Sacks’s narrative. It doesn’t help matters that—even though Sacks is a native of the United Kingdom—Woren chooses not to add any traces of a British accent in his performance of the first-person elements of the book, though he does provide a mix of accents for various supporting figures sprinkled into the real-life events. Given such intense subject matter as wild experimentation with LSD and similar hallucinogens in the 1960s, extreme sports and California body-building culture, mingling with the literary and pop-culture elite of the past half century, and of course numerous groundbreaking medical discoveries, Woren’s mild approach just doesn’t fit the occasion. A Knopf hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Monologue: What Makes America Laugh Before Bed

Jon Macks, read by Johnny Heller. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 4 CDs, 4.5 hrs., $35.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0874-6

Macks, a veteran writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, explores the history of late-night comedy shows in America and the different styles of hosts and jokes that continue to draw audiences. He argues that late-night comedy provides a way to make sense of the ever-increasing news-media overload. He devotes most of the coverage to his former employer Jay Leno, but manages to draw out interesting views on many of the most popular hosts, including Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Jimmy Fallon. Reader Heller rises to the task of narrating a book that is about comedy and contains its fair share of jokes, derived from Mack and the various hosts. When it’s clear who is telling the joke, Heller provides a hint of impersonation, just to give the listener the flavor of the speaker. In general, Heller has the comic timing down, which improves the laughs in this book, but he still must deal with a good deal of jokes, often one-liners, that themselves feel a bit flat. A Penguin/Blue Rider hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers

Nick Offerman, read by the author. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-1-61176-431-4

Offerman explores some of his favorite historical and present-day people, all under the theme of gumption: an ability to charge ahead, be one’s own person, and find not just the right way but one’s own unique way in the world. His list begins with figures of American history such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Theodore Roosevelt, but evolves to include some unexpected and fascinating characters such as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, furniture maker George Nakashima, and comedian Conan O’Brien. Offerman has a deep and projective voice that is lovably languid. He’s in no rush to relay his thoughts and clearly relishes the telling. His enthusiasm for his subjects is always evident but never over-the-top. Several mistakes in the production of the second half of the audiobook (such as background noise and repeated lines) distract from an otherwise entertaining performance by Offerman. A Dutton hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News

A. Brad Schwartz, read by Sean Runnette. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-755-4

Schwartz provides a definitive account of Orson Welles’s infamous radio docudrama The War of Worlds, performed on Oct. 30, 1938, by the Mercury Theater and broadcast over national radio. Reader Runnette, with his clear, deep voice, proves a fantastic narrator for this production. He chooses the right amount of emphasis in each section. Given that Schwartz’s text covers news reports, excerpts from many different people (both famous and unknown), and historical information, there is much to juggle in terms of tone and rhythm, but Runnette never misses a beat and keeps the listener wanting more, well after the book has ended. A Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Smartest Book in the World: A Lexicon of Literacy, a Rancorous Reportage, a Concise Curriculum of Cool

Greg Proops, read by the author. Tantor Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0856-2

This audiobook takes an amusing look into what Proops considers the most important things in the world: baseball, movies, words, books, poetry, history, and more. It’s an irreverent jaunt through things that Proops wants to share (or has already shared in some form, as this book is adapted from his iTunes podcast series). Proops narrates with all the zeal and zaniness that one comes to expect from the comedian. Beyond knowing how to deadpan and deliver jokes, he does well with speed and emphasis. He reads quickly and fluidly through a paragraph in one section but slows down to recite a poem in the next section. He is a lively and emotional reader, never leaving listeners to doubt where he stands on a given subject. This fun and versatile collection of personal tidbits works well in the audio format; listeners quickly realize that if the current section doesn’t entirely engage them, there is something new coming up shortly. A S&S/Touchstone hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Delicious Foods: A Novel

James Hannaham, read by the author. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 11 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-1-4789-0053-5

Hannaham proves to be just as savvy a voice narrator as he is an author, bringing the story to life in the audio edition of his latest literary tome. His performance is a memorable one. It’s roughly divided between two distinct voices: an elegant, deep tone Hannaham employs for straight narration, and the fast-talking, hilarious, street-infused inflections of Scotty, the personified voice of crack cocaine. Hannaham clearly has fun with Scotty, so much that listeners will begin to feel the seductive pull of the drug and the intimate, exclusive relationship it promises. Along the way Hannaham shows off a warm, graceful singing voice when he briefly portrays a musician turned wino. He gives depth to his main characters, including the resourceful tween Eddie and his mother, Darlene, whose downfall over the course of the novel takes her from a life as a respectable college graduate to a crack-addicted slave on a modern plantation. A first-class performance of a darkly satirical novel. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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