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A Life in Parts

Bryan Cranston, read by the author. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-2631-4

Cranston recalls the highs and the lows of his life, from his early aimless years and his moment of Zen inspiration to be an actor to his acting success on Breaking Bad. Listeners are likely to be fascinated by his growing up in a family of actors and his early career as a police officer. Both his words and tone convey a fitting amount of humbleness and sincerity that are likely to endear listeners all the more. Cranston sprinkles more sobering moments throughout the memoir, including losses, mistakes, and epiphanies, which gives the production depth. As the narrator, it’s perfect Cranston, drawing upon his acting skills to determine the right amount of emotional energy in any given passage. Listeners can all but hear the tears starting to trickle when he talks about the loss of loved ones, and he leaves no doubt about how much joy his wife and daughter bring him. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In

Bernie Sanders, read by the author and Mark Ruffalo. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, 16 CDs, 18 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-8533-1

Senator Sanders’s gravelly voice and dramatic presentation are surely familiar to listeners. He reads with the same sincerity and earnestness he brought to audiences throughout his extraordinary primary campaign for president of the United States. A seasoned orator, he’s particularly good at changing speed and intonation to emphasize the points he wants you to understand and absorb. Actor Ruffalo sounds subdued by comparison; though he is an ardent fan of Sanders, he doesn’t muster the energy, urgency and hopefulness that Sanders does. Though the text touches on many points from his recent campaign, it adds much personal and political history and detailed plans on every issue. The recording was made prior to the 2016 election, and Sanders’s optimistic tone reflects his high hopes that in the coming administration his “future to believe in” might begin to be realized. A Thomas Dunne hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Steven Johnson, read by George Newbern. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-7352-8829-4

An impressive look at how much of our modern world’s accomplishments have grown out of mankind’s need for play and relaxation. The desire for entertainment has, according to Johnson, led us to many of our cultural, industrial and technological advancements and revolutions. Johnson traces the rise of coffee from being viewed as a vile-tasting brew to, when properly promoted, popularizing coffee houses, which became stimulating and sober gathering places that sparked the sharing of ideas, eventually giving rise to revolutionary thoughts that would change society and the world. He follows the trail from basic musical instruments made out of bone to computer punch cards to modern laptops and cellphones. Newbern syncs easily with the author’s prose. His reading is straightforward and engaging. He keeps the book flowing with an earnest and sincere delivery that holds the listener’s attention. Even though he presents a lot of information in a relatively short amount of time, he never rushes and keeps his tone light. The end result is a relaxing listen that is as informative as it is enjoyable. A Riverhead hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Untold Story of the Talking Book

Matthew Rubery, read by Jim Denison. Blackstone Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-5047-4388-4

Audiobooks have become a billion-dollar industry. Rubery provides the fascinating and rarely told history of the audiobook industry, connecting the dots from the birth of the phonograph and the first narration of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by Thomas Edison to the rise of Audible, the blockbuster digital audiobook retailer and producer. He identifies the challenges and critiques that the format seems to encounter in every generation, including cultural acceptance (is it reading or not?), concerns about the proper way to produce an audiobook, and censorship. Actor Denison narrates with the right amount of emphasis and speed. He knows how to distill the meaning of Rubery’s prose and tease out nuance, which is especially crucial given the subject. He does not complicate his reading with vocal flourishes but employs a controlled and steady pace, which fits Rubery’s preference for narrative delivery discussed in the book. A Harvard Univ. hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Wonder

Emma Donoghue, read by Kate Lock. Hachette Audio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 13 hrs., $30 ISBN 978-1-4789-1501-0

In the mid-19th century, English nurse Lib Wright is sent to a tiny Irish village for an unusual task. An 11-year-old girl, Anna, is being hailed as a miracle and potential saint because, it is claimed, she has eaten nothing in four months yet survives in good health. Lib’s job is to watch the girl like a hawk for two weeks and either confirm that she doesn’t eat or expose her as a fraud. But over the course of her watch, she uncovers a dark secret and faces an urgent moral dilemma. Voice actor Lock’s narration is masterful: she creates a wide variety of memorable voices with authentic accents (from Lib’s English accent to many different types of Irish voices—lower-class rural people, men, women, the elderly, and innocent little Anna). During scenes of conversations and arguments, listeners may think they are hearing a full cast of actors, so distinct are the voices and so committed is Lock’s performance. At every moment, Lock is fully engaged, giving every word meaning and emotion and suspense. It’s a thrilling, award-worthy performance of this dark and suspenseful mystery with a rich historical background. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Mothers

Brit Bennett, read by Adenrele Ojo. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-7352-8825-6

In a black Southern California community, 17-year-old Nadia deals with the grief of her mother’s suicide by throwing herself into a relationship with Luke, the pastor’s son. The resulting pregnancy and abortion are hastily covered up, and Nadia and Luke go their separate ways. Yet years later, the secret causes ripples that deeply affect their adult lives. Meanwhile, the elderly women of the church—“the mothers,” as they are called—act as a kind of Greek chorus, having their say in alternating chapters, gossip mixed with wisdom. Reader Ojo creates believable voices for all the characters—the church women and Nadia, Luke, and Nadia’s friend Aubrey both as teens and as adults. She ably brings out all the characters’ conflicting emotions and their complicated relationships. A Riverhead hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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News of the World

Paulette Jiles, read by Grover Gardner. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5113-5677-0

Reader Gardner proves yet again that he is one of the best voice actors in the audiobook industry today with his reading of Jiles’s evocative story of post–Civil War Texas. His deep, warm voice is such a perfect match for the character of the elderly widowed Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd that listeners immediately fall under his spell. Gardner’s rich vocal tones and his faultless timing of Jiles’s prose rhythms draw listeners quickly and deeply into the premise of the story and the lives of its characters. In 1870, the captain is called upon to escort 10-year-old Joanna—rescued from the Kiowa tribe that abducted and raised her—to distant relatives in northern Texas. As they travel in his rickety wagon on their 400-mile journey they share dangerous adventures and form a bond that leaves them with difficult decisions when they finally reach their destination. A Morrow hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Most Novel Revenge

Ashley Weaver, read by Alison Larkin. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-5200-1900-0

Larkin’s rather high-pitched, upper-class British voice is sometimes scratchy and a bit stuffy, but it’s entirely appropriate for Amory Ames, the free-spirited, feminist amateur detective in Weaver’s series. The novel, the second in the series, mimics both Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers: in other words, everyone is stuck in an elaborate countryside estate where murder did and does occur, and the characters, as well as the detective, are very upper-crust. Larkin handles nicely the book’s balance of horror and humor, including the jousting between Amory and her husband Milo and the fears and follies of the disparate characters in the party. She makes this an easy and fun listen. A Minotaur hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Ragtime

E.L. Doctorow, read by the author. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, 7 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-5318-3720-4

It isn’t easy to imitate musical syncopation in prose, but Doctorow pulls it off in the audio edition of his now-classic 1975 novel. The ebb and flow and swing of his sentences, reflecting turn-of-the-century jazz genres, are captured perfectly in his low-key, fast-paced reading. Doctorow seamlessly interweaves his invented characters and incidents with a wide range of historical events and people like Houdini, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Sigmund Freud, and others to create a portrait of early-20th-century America that presages the rise of the civil rights and women’s movements and our involvement in two world wars. Doctorow’s novel and his narration are gifts to savor. A Random House paperback. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Faithful

Alice Hoffman, read by Amber Tamblyn. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5082-2511-9

Actress Tamblyn, known for playing the title role in the TV series Joan of Arcadia, inhabits Hoffman’s story so naturally it is almost as if it was written for her. The novel opens with a car accident involving two high school seniors on a snowy night on Long Island. The accident leaves one of the young women, Helen, in a coma and the other, Shelby Richmond, who was driving the car, seemingly determined to punish herself in perpetuity for what happened to her friend. Tamblyn captures the bleak despair of the novel’s opening and then slowly, gingerly, traces Shelby’s fledgling attempts to build a life for herself. Sometimes Shelby’s early behavior is appalling, but it stems from her self-hatred and survivor’s guilt; the challenge for Tamblyn is to depict the raw fury of Shelby’s aftermath but also show listeners enough of the character’s goodness and humanity that they champion her cause. She portrays Shelby as tough as nails but also achingly vulnerable. She also turns in fabulous interpretations of other characters, particularly of Maravelle, a single mom trying to make ends meet in New York whom Shelby befriends later in life. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/26/2017 | Details & Permalink

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