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Some Kind of Courage

Dan Gemeinhart, read by Andrew Eiden. Scholastic Audio, unabridged, 5 CDs, 5.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-0-545-91012-5

Gemeinhart (The Honest Truth) delivers another emotional page-turner in this gripping historical novel about 12-year-old orphan Joseph Johnson. It’s 1890 and Joseph is alone in the Wild West. His father, mother, and little sister have all died, and the only family he has left is his beloved horse, Sarah. When the drunk old man who looks after Joseph sells Sarah without asking permission, the young boy sets out to get his pony back. He is joined, for part of this quest, by a young boy named Ah-Kee. Both boys are alone, both are searching for something, and although they do not share a language, they bolster each other on their journeys. Voice actor Eiden performs as though he is telling readers a yarn over a campfire, performing Joseph and most of the other characters with a cowboy-like twang. The sound is crisp and clear, and there is a pleasant warmth to Eiden’s voice. He handles this middle-grade story with aplomb, making it interesting for adults as well as the intended audience. Ages 8–12. A Scholastic Press hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Language of Sisters

Luanne Rice, read by Kate Rudd and Brittany Pressley. Scholastic Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 10 hrs., $42.99 ISBN 978-0-545-91087-3

Rice’s YA novel begins with talented and beautiful 16-year-old Roo McCabe texting while driving, overturning her car, and winding up in a hospital, bloodied and paralyzed. Seemingly in a coma, she can see and hear everything, but can’t respond in any way. She’s filled with guilt and despair, while her 14-year-old sister and best friend, Tilly, on the other end of the text, blames herself for causing the crash. The sisters narrate the book in alternate chapters, with Pressley giving voice to Roo and Rudd portraying Tilly. Both actors do extremely well with the highly emotional story, which follows the sisters’ reestablishment of communication and includes several rocky impediments, including Tilly’s short-lived crush on Roo’s boyfriend. The actors convey a genuine sense of teenage angst and ebullience and are just as successful in presenting the few adults—the girls’ concerned mother, dedicated doctors, and a kindly and philosophical older woman whose dog was mildly hurt during the accident. Ages 12–up. A Scholastic/Point hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Salt to the Sea

Ruta Sepetys, read by multiple narrators. Listening Library, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 9 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-14-752543-7

Set in East Prussia during the brutal winter of 1945, these stories of four very different teenagers—three refugees escaping their disparate war-torn homelands, and a Nazi sailor obsessed with Hitler—Intertwine when they all end up on the doomed ship Wilhelm Gustloff. The four narrators (Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, and Michael Crouch) are superbly cast, each taking on the role of a main character with a distinctive voice that perfectly matches his or her role: the young, vulnerable voice of Emilia, a sweet Polish 16-year-old who has suffered too much tragedy and emotional trauma; the warm, caring tones of Joana, a Latvian nurse, who is nurturing and perceptive; the deep, guarded voice of Florian, a mysterious Prussian hiding a secret; and most memorable of all, the high, thin, nasal voice of the Nazi sailor Alfred, dripping with smug arrogance and self-righteousness. The story’s plot and pacing translate beautifully to the audio medium; the intimate interior monologues reveal character development while fast-paced, gripping action scenes of danger and narrow escapes create a sense of suspense. The result is a riveting audiobook that will have listeners on the edge of their seats while also educating them about a little-known but tragic chapter of WWII history. Ages 12–up. A Philomel hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Demon Dentist

David Walliams, read by the author. Harper Audio, unabridged, 4 CDs, 5 hrs., $22.99 ISBN 978-0-06-244397-7

Alfie has enough to deal with given his father’s ailing health, but now his social worker is insisting that he see the new dentist in town because his teeth are in such a state of disrepair that his smile is fear-inducing. Yet the new dentist is clearly up to no good, and Alfie is determined to prove it, even if he has to have his teeth examined. Author Walliams, also an actor and comedian with considerable experience performing in the U.K., effectively narrates his own book with a soft but throaty voice. His English accent remains appealing and engaging throughout the production. He captures Alfie’s mood while also presenting realistic vocal characters for Alfie and other male characters. Voice actors Jocelyn Lee Esien and Nittin Gantra provide additional lively and colorful characters in this production. The three distinct voices provide a solid mixture of aural enticements, and their parts are well-woven into the narration so that it flows smoothly from each character. Accompanying each chapter’s end is music that also adds to the tone and mood of the story. Ages 8–12. A Harper hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi, read by Sunil Malhotra and Cassandra Campbell. Books on Tape, library exclusive, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 5.5 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-399-56618-9

Malhotra is a youthful actor who embodies the thoughtful, genial yet inquisitive and energetic mien that Kalanithi exhibits in his life and in his book. Malhotra seems to mature, like Kalanithi, from an exuberant college student seeking the meaning of life and death in literature, philosophy and science to a studious and ambitious medical student to a devoted and exhausted intern and resident. At the age of 36, already recognized as an eminent brain surgeon, Kalanithi suddenly finds himself on the other side of the bed—as a stage-four lung cancer patient. The shock and confusion—the struggle first to conquer the disease, then simply to survive, then to accept his imminent death—is the day-to-day reality Kalanithi and his wife face with the wise medical and personal counsel of his oncologist. In his last year he condenses all his experience as student, doctor, patient, husband, and father into this contemplative, profoundly moving and beautifully written memoir. After his death, Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, completes the book with her own words of anguish and love. Audiobook veteran Campbell reads her section in a soft, sure voice that may bring the listener to tears. A Random hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places, from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley

Eric Weiner, read by the author. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 12 CDs, 14 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-14423-9407-0

In an ambitious attempt to determine the genesis of genius and the conception of creativity, former NPR correspondent Weiner (The Geography of Bliss) travels to history’s great hot spots of innovation. As he walks the hallowed streets of Athens, Calcutta, Edinburgh, Hangzhou, Silicon Valley, and other storied locales, he investigates the elements and factors that came together to turn these places into centers of cultural and technological advancement. In the audio edition, Weiner reads with a clear and articulate voice while also communicating the fun and amusement of his travels. He is most entertaining when recalling the people encounter amid his research. These interactions provide clear cut opportunities to change pace and pitch, which helps not only to clarify who is speaking but also add texture to the performance. Other times, during long bouts of straight prose, his straight forward narration does not keep the listener fully attuned. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders

Brady Carlson, read by Tom Zingarelli. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-68168-044-6

Inspired by a lifelong fascination with America’s chief executives, Carlson, a reporter and NPR host, adopts a novel perspective on American history by exploring the ways in which past presidents have been remembered and memorialized. It’s hard to imagine a better narrator for this audio book. Zingarelli’s deep and gravelly voice naturally contains the right amount of gravitas for the subject, especially during the more somber moments when the author visits the tombstones of the deceased American leaders. Zingarelli just as aptly captures the humor and curiosity that arises from quirky and morbid approach to American history. He uses a fittingly regal voice for the quotes and passages from the presidents themselves. With good pacing and emphasis, and a congenial tone, he keeps listeners’ interest long enough for readers to discover the fascinating ways that Carlson connects the different presidential deaths. A Norton hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Point Is: Making Sense of Birth, Death, and Everything in Between

Lee Eisenberg, read by the author. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-1-4789-6479-7

“What is the point?” Former Esquire editor-in-chief Eisenberg tackles the big question in this memoir about writing and life. He draws on his own experiences, past thinkers and philosophers, and current research to dive into understanding how individuals construct and conduct their lives. Eisenberg narrates his book with pacing and projection that sound robotic at times. He is unable to connect the tone of his reading voice to the content of his book in a meaningful way. His narration sounds more cartoonish than contemplative. Given the subject matter, listeners will wish there were more emotional nuance to drive home the bigger points. A Hachette/Twelve hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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In Other Words

Jhumpa Lahiri, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, read by Jhumpa Lahiri. Random House Audio, unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-399-56620-2

Lahiri, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist of Interpreter of Maladies, tries her hand at memoir—and audiobook narration—with this brief recounting of her quest to immerse herself in the Italian language. She tells of her initial passion for learning Italian, her third language after Bengali and English, and her decision to move her husband and two children to Rome for the full experience. In the print version of this memoir, which Lahiri wrote in Italian, Lahiri’s Italian words and their English translation are side by side on facing pages; here, she narrates the entire memoir in English before doing it all over again in Italian, starting in the third compact disc. In English, Lahiri makes for a quiet and unassuming narrator. Her emotional register feels monochromatic even when she is giving voice to her deepest longings, and the performance falls flat, particularly during the very short pieces of fiction she weaves in: every character sounds the same. Speaking in Italian, however, her voice takes on added depth and fervor. It’s not just that her accent is flawless but that Italian allows her access to a more avid, colorful, uninhibited version of herself. This is what she tells listeners during the English chapters that open the book, but the truth of it is not apparent until they hear the story told all over again in the language of her choosing. A Knopf hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero

Timothy Egan, read by Gerard Doyle. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 14.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4805-6274-5

Gerard Doyle does a grand job presenting Egan’s dizzying tableau of the life of his restless subject, Irish revolutionary Thomas Francis Meagher (1823–1867). Meagher was condemned to death by the British but then exiled to Tasmania. He then escaped to America, where he lived in New York City and became active in Irish-American politics. He was later appointed general of the Union army’s Irish Brigade. With an appealing Irish lilt to his voice, Doyle narrates Egan’s book with a clear, easy delivery that draws the listener in chapter after chapter as Meagher’s remarkable story plays out against history’s backdrop. A Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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